Ramblings Of An Old Hiker - Trail Names
By Steve Grant
In many places (e.g. the Appalachian Trail) Trail Names (not the name of the trail but the name the hiker goes by on the trail) are not only common but part of hiking history and culture. On one of my many hikes with my friend James we were sharing some stories we had read online about how people had earned their trail names and in most cases wear them as a badge of honour. By the end of this hike we decided that we were going to start the tradition within our small hiking circle. Over the years since I have seen many people earn their Trail Name; sometimes it happens early, sometimes after many years of hiking, some names come easy and for some finding the right name is difficult. Many of the Trail Names are simple yet personal like Moose; as James is a stocky guy who hikes at a single pace and is known for going through or over things that many of us navigate around. Most Trail Names are not as simple and require a story to truly appreciate the names sake.
Here are some of my favourites;
Clyde; One of the individuals that Moose and I have hiked with on the Footpath was known for shortening our multi-day hike by a full day by convincing us we should finish the journey home instead of camping over on the final planned night. The first couple of times this happened it was raining so it was easy to agree to extend the hiking day by 4 hours instead of setting up camp and finishing the hike the next day. On subsequent occasions though, regardless of the weather, he would refuse to stay if we were within 4 or 5 hours of home. Although we have a rule that states that no one hikes alone on one occasion while we were in a debate about keeping to our agreed upon plan or heading home he called his wife from his phone to get picked up at the trail-head, told us he would call us at the end of the trail and left us in the campsite. Moose and I speculated that this peculiar behaviour is similar to that of a Clydesdale Workhorse that at the end of the day you can release him from the harness and he will always go home, some are known for starting back home at a particular time of day, even if the work is not complete. Clydesdale got shortened to Clyde.
Rain Man; A number of years ago our church hired a new pastor and shortly after he started I invited him on a day hike. Weeks later I lent him enough gear for an overnighter and at this point he fell in love with the sport and started acquiring his own gear (he still blames me for him being a gear geek). The interesting thing is, each time we went out it always rained, it became a standing joke with my wife and his; if we were going hiking together they would remind us that it was going to rain …. as it always did. His trail name came to be “Rain Man” because of his influence on the weather. The fact that people assume a linkage to the Dustin Hoffman – Rain Man just makes it a little more entertaining.
Blue Sky; The first time Rain Man's teenage son came with us on a hike the weather was sunny and unseasonably hot (Mid October if I remember correctly). This seemed odd to not have at least an hour of rain with Rain Man along but once his son was with us for the third time the trend continued (if it was Rain Man and I there would always be at least an hour of rain but with his son along it never did) we gave him the name Blue Sky or as I like to write it; Blue Sky – Son of Rain Man.
Lucy; This is the only person of the dozens of people I've hike with that earned a trail name but never actually made it to the trail. A colleague of mine asked me to take him on a hike on the Fundy Footpath and since both had busy weekend schedules we each booked a vacation day and agreed on a time and place to meet. That day, I got up early and while having breakfast I checked some messages to find he was canceling on me. It was a nice day so I went anyway and was nice enough to send him a picture while I was having lunch on Long Beach. About a year later he convinced me that we should try the hike again, I agreed and like our previous attempt I booked a vacation day. Similar to before, I got a message from him late the evening before canceling. Again I went anyway and had a great day. The whole situation left me feeling a bit like Charlie Brown who always allowed Lucy to convince him that he should kick the football that she was holding just to have her pull it away, so he became Lucy. He was unhappy with the Trail Name Lucy but some others that read my blog were amused (his name was not attached to the story but they new who it was).
Newbie: Another colleague of mine wanted to go on an overnight hike. Since he was new at the sport of hiking I lent him some gear so we could hike to one of my favourite “On the Beach” camping spots. I was teasing him on the trail about being a newbie and since he's a career IT Guy he saw the connection to the IT Noob term and the name was his.
Princess: I've done a number of hikes with church youth groups (short and multi-day). On one such day hike, one of the female leaders that I work with over the years was exhibiting a behaviour that I've seen before. She was taking selfies, with and without others, and generally wanting to be in every shot. Without thought I called her Princess and everyone laughed that approving laugh and the name stuck. I usually like a person to accept their Trail Name but sometimes the name just sticks like poop on a shoe. We circulated the pictures to all involved after the hike and there was a special one with a sparkly tiara photoshopped in just for her.
City Girl: Every now and then I do what I like to call “a newbie hike” where I take small group of people with little or no experience on hike, for these I'm more of a guide than a hiking buddy. On this occasion I was taking Princess (she had not yet done an overnight hike and we were coming up to an overnight hike with some youth) and a lady that I've worked with for years that wanted to get some real trail experience. Since the youth hike was going to be on a portion of the Fundy Footpath I decided to use the exact portion of trail that the youth would be on as practice for princess. I thought I had been clear on what to expect with the lady I worked with but I realized shortly beyond the trail-head that I was using terms like path and wilderness and she was hearing trail and park. She was in no way prepared for the trek physically or mentally. She ended up falling face down in a creek but came up laughing. This is where we set-up camp and spent the night, about half way to our planned destination. We hiked out the next day, she was limping from a turned ankle and wearing her new name “City Girl” with pride.
Bushwhacker: A close friend of mine that's known more for his paddling than hiking, that is until we started enjoying the outdoors together a few years ago. Bushwhacker is more comfortable off the trail than on. If I plan our outing we are probably going to be hiking on trails, old roads with some bushwhacking as a way of getting from one trail to another. This guy, on the other hand has the opposite approach and we have found ourselves in a clear cut looking for a trail that might have existed years before to take in the general direction of a camp that he knows is on the other side of the hill we need to climb. It is always an adventure with Bushwhacker, we have never been truly lost and sometimes we even end up at our destination.
Kaldi; This is my trail name, I wear it with pride but the way I earned it is a bit convoluted to bare with me. I'm a lover of coffee and a bit of a story teller so on many occasions if told the accepted folklore story; Some 1200 years ago in a region that we now call Ethiopia there was a goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi noticed that when his goats ate the berries from a particular bush they became dancing goats, hyper goats. Kaldi tried the berries himself and he found that they gave him energy, they even helped him stay awake when he was tired. He took those special berries to a local priest that declared them evil and tossed them in the fire. The aroma was so enticing that he waited around to retrieve the left over beans from the coals. Kaldi ground those beans down, put them in water and enjoyed … yes the first cup of coffee (There is a coffee company in the US called Kaldi's Coffee). Now take us forward several months and a small group of us are on our final homeward leg of a multi-day hike and as luck has it, we are hiking with Clyde who was once again in a hurry to get home and he didn't want to take time to boil water and have a meal. We are standing on a beach and while I'm rifling through my food bag, picking out what I was going to have for a snack … there's my ziplock bag of instant coffee … my beautiful coffee with the spoon tucked in the bag just waiting for me. While Clyde was watching me (and trying to get me to move faster) I picked out the spoon with a heaping load of instant coffee, poured it into my mouth and washed it down with a drink from my camel pack (hard coring the coffee). If you would have seen the look on his face … seeing him uncomfortable at this point was awesome. As many times before I once again demonstrated my love for (or addiction of) coffee. Once the connection was made between my folklore story and my need for coffee I became Kaldi.
The tradition continues, I've been on the trail countless times (with young and old) when discussion erupted assigning a trail name to a someone that doesn't already have one it's both interesting and fun. The discourse is always different identifying (respectively) someone's habits, experiences, talents, behavours or an event that helps define them on the trail, most times someone blurts something out and a Trail Name sticks. It's great discussion material around a campfire, either assigning a new trail name or individuals telling the story on how they earned theirs. If you haven't tried it you should and if we meet on the trail introduce yourself by your Trail Name and if we have time be prepared to explain how it became yours.
Until next time my friend,
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