When backpackers meet another hiker on the trail, they commonly stop for a few moments to chat. Rather than ask “Where are you from?” or “Where do you work?” conversation tends to be hiking specific. “How long are you out here?” Or, “How far are you heading?” If coming from different directions on the trail, the hikers often exchange info about upcoming obstacles, how well the water source is flowing, or what wonderful restaurant is in the next town. They also exchange names. But these are not names you would overhear in your local coffee shop!
Long distance hikers use “Trail Names.” This allows a level of privacy or even protection when meeting strangers. Eventually, if hikers run into each other again and again at evening stopping places, they may share contact information to catch up with each other in an upcoming town or to keep in touch post hike. Sometimes they reach a point of sharing “real names.” It’s funny, though, that there are a few hikers I text with occasionally off-trail, but still have no clue what they are called in real life!
There is some controversy about whether a trail name must be given by others or whether it can be personally chosen. In the long run, however, the origin really doesn’t matter. Once the hiker starts using the name, it becomes their identity on-trail.
Finding the perfect name for characters she imagines is very important to my daughter. She gets very upset if a name doesn’t match her ideas of what is proper or right. Because of this, we decided to choose our own names before starting our first long-distance hiking adventure. She chose “Andowen,” an elven name from a Lord of the Rings role playing game she enjoys. She felt the name perfectly fit what we were doing because, of course, “Elves belong in the woods, Mom!”
It took me longer to choose my name. For years, I used “Mama Duck” on-line because when my kids were little I was like a mama duck with a line of ducklings following behind. I thought about using “colorfulheart,” my current online name. Neither of those quite fit my imagined role while hiking. Finally, I decided on “Story Seeker.” Wherever I go, I look for stories—ones I make up about what I see and do, and ones I hear from others. Time in the woods gives great scope for discovering new stories to share with friends like YOU! (This Native American story-teller figurine was given to me years ago by a friend who recognized my role as story-collector and story-teller…)