It was the at the Holy Family Hiker Hostel in Pearisburg Va. when it happened. It was early June and I had just arrived to find a gentleman checking out the hiker register.
“Hi, I’m Shawn.”
“I’m Warren. When did you start?”
“Wow, you’re a runner aren’t you?”
The Runner… THAT’S IT! Some 600 miles into my AT Thru Hike and I had a trail name. And it came from one of the folklore heroes of the AT. Warren Doyle has hiked the AT 16 times and at one time, held the speed record. I hadn’t chosen a trail name at that point but I was aware of the tradition. Some chose their trail names before they begin their hikes. Some believe it should be bestowed upon you while on the trail. I guess in my case it was more of the latter.
Adopting a trail name is part of the long distance hiker community. Most Thru Hikers on the AT and PCT alike take on some form of alter ego. The name may come from a specific event or it may refer to some aspect of personality. Mouse Slayer carried mousetraps to ward off the beasts in trail shelters. The Umbrella Lady carried, well you know. There was The Snail, The Old Soldier, Hog, Moses, TomNBev and The Exodus and many many others. From Pearisburg on, the thru hikers I met become known more by their trail names than their given names. It always made introductions interesting. A good trail name should come with a good story. Being a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I even gave my pack a handle; The Runnership Jansport America.
The 900 Miler community hasn’t seemed to embrace the tradition, perhaps because most of us are not Thru Hikers. Furthermore, there is no system of communication like the shelter registers in which to document our experiences through our chosen identities. We tend not to congregate at campsites and hiker hostels. Becoming a 900 Miler does not involve a full-time commitment like being a Thru Hiker. We don’t leave behind our civilian lives for the duration of the trek, which diminishes the need for an alter ego.
And yet, there were 30 who became 900 Milers in 2015. There are more than 475 900 Milers registered with the 900 Miler Club. Maybe there is a critical mass necessary to ignite the use of trail names in the 900 Miler community. If you track the list of AT Thru Hikers over the past several decades, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that trail names started to show up at all. The critical mass seemed be reached in the 1990’s and by 2000, it was unusual for a Thru-Hiker not to have one.
This is not a call for the 900 Milers of the world to adopt trail names. That said, it’s not a bad idea and I think I’m going to go there. Perhaps the 900 Miler Club should include a column for trail names like the ATC and the PCTA and see what happens. To this end, I have narrowed down to three possibilities:
Saunter – John Muir rejected the notion that he was a hiker. Borrowing an idea from H.D. Thoreau, he explained that saunterers were spiritual pilgrims who traveled by foot and he preferred the term.
Wayfarer – is a person who travels rather leisurely by foot. Plus, the name reflects my chosen form of protective eyewear.
Strider – reflects one who travels by foot but more swiftly. It is the nickname used by Aragon in the Lord of the Rings while he was a Ranger of the North. Mysterious!
Let’s see which one takes…