Friday, September 7, 2012

Trail Names

Names.  We all have several.  A first name, a last name, and usually a middle name or two.  Names are useful in providing identification, distinguishing us from other people.  I have only known one other person who has the same set of names that I do, and that was my dad.  But a problem with the names given us at birth is that they are not very descriptive.  The name Edwin says nothing about me.  Nor is it really all that unique.

Many people also have nicknames.  A nickname is an alternative name that a person might use, either because they don't care for their given name, because it is easier to say, or simply because they just like it.  It is also possible that you might have a nickname hung on you by others, usually because of something you have done or what you look like. In my life I have had two nicknames, one given me by the nurses in the maternity ward when I was born, because I was very chubby, and the other just a shortened version of my first name.

In the culture of the long distance hiker the idea of a nickname has evolved into the trail name; a name usually given by others, but sometime self adopted: SkinnyD, Love Bird, Ironman, Two Hats, Wired, Half Fast, Drop & Roll, Day Breaker, Silent Joe, Tequila Jack, Butter Cup, Calf, Birdie, Moon Shine, Stride, Barracuda, Sunshine, Trail Bait.  Many of these names trigger an image of something about the person with the name.  But other times the name is just a whimsical handle that a person uses when out on the trail.

Trail names have the added advantage of generally being unique, although you might occasionally run across the same name used by multiple people: Hawkeye being an example this year.  And they also provide a bit of anonymity, which may be important to some folks.  But best of all, at least to me, is that they are fun.  I have known about trail names for a few years now, but had no real experience with them until last year, my first to hike more than a single section of the PCT.  That year I hiked the northern 160 miles of Oregon, south bound.  I met a lot of north bound thru hikers and began asking many of them for their names, something that most seemed quite happy to provide.  It became a game for me during that 8 days to collect and record these names, and was one of my favorite parts of life on the trail.

But it was always a bit of a downer when they in turn would ask for mine and the only reply I could provide was Ed.  I wanted a cool trail name.  But no one is going to give a solo south bounder a trail name (we just don't spend enough time together), and I could not come up with one on my own that I liked.

The 400+ miles on the trail in 2012 were much the same.  I enjoyed talking to the north bounders I would meet, and collected many names.  But until midway through the trip I was just Ed.  And then it hit me.

When my kids were small we all fell in love with Winnie the Pooh.  We watched the adventured of Pooh Bear by the hour, never having to worry about the message that was being passed on to the little ones.  Over time we collected quite a number of VHS tapes of the adventures of Pooh Bear, that we did our best to wear out, as well as all the stuffed characters.  Everyone had their favorite character, and mine was Eeyore.  I do not know just why I related so closely to him (and maybe I am afraid to know), but I did.  And over the years I have been given at least a dozen Eeyore's, from Christmas ornaments to windup toys.  Most of the Pooh stuff is long put away, but there are still Eeyore's hanging around, with at least 4 of them watching as I write this.

And so, I became Eeyore on the trail, a name that my wife thought was perfect.  So, in the years to come, when you see an old, tall, lanky guy moseying down the trail toward you, with Eeyore perched high on a shoulder strap, you'll know who it is.  And if you're not in too big a hurry, take a quick break and give us a howdy.

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