what’s in a name?

Day 9:

Today I signed my first trail register after the southern terminus, here at mile 91 at the Third Gate Cache. They check these registers for our names in case something goes wrong. They will look for the names of missing hikers In past registers to see if they can identify how far the hiker did go, where they might be and how to help them.

I have to use Karen Berg at General Delivery to address a box, but here most of us also have a trail name that we use talking to each other. The name signifies who you are in this sort of other worldly reality, a bit of your personality, more than just simply what your parents thought would sound good together with your last name. In other words, they tend to be a little closer to what we might think of as Native American names.

My trail name is Sassy K. Inchworm, Sr. Yes, it’s a long name, collected like barnacles on a ship sailed around the world. Sassy is the name that I collected from another major community— my burning man family. Many of those who love me abbreviate Karen to K. Inchworm is my original trail name from when I first went backpacking on the Appalachian Trail more than 20 years ago; I was slow, but I was steady. I still don’t make any records, but I get there. Over all these years and thousands of trail miles, it’s very common that my inchworm mascot ends up with me; I will find one on my tent, on my coat, just on the trail when I’m lunching. And finally, I figured I had better put the Sr. on because, come on, “Sassy K. Inchworm” just rolls off the tongue so much that surely someone will copy the name. 😉

Trail names have to do with the things people carry (Canon or Citrus), the things people do (Radio or Beer Hugs), or the way someone just is (Happy Feet, Sunshine). In any case, they have to do with the person, and usually there’s a good story behind it. Most important is that the person who receives the trail name likes it, though sometimes we use it about a person that hasn’t adopted the name, until they get one. For example, Matthew is too common, so we call him Little Citrus, after his dad, until he gets a trail name. It can be self-created, but it can also be given like a great prize.

Domino (originally Matt), came back from the shop with a big pizza to share on our second night on the trail and we all enjoyed it, even though we were full. Someone suggested that his name be Domino and left. When Matt showed up at the water fountain and I asked him what he thought of Domino, he cocked his head to the left, got a glimpse in his eye, lifted a small smile, and said “I could take that.” Domino was born. Now is he committed to Friday night pizza delivery? A couple of days later, he told me that he used to have a cat he really loved named Domino, so that made it even more special. this is how a trail naming goes.

Sometimes the naming fun is just beyond imagination. Like the naming of Dragon. Neither Dragon nor I had ever hitched (in United States) before, so we decided to hitch in to Julian together. On our way, we chatted and I found out that she had seen several kinds of lizards and indeed picked them up. She said she was able to pick up horny toads twice and carry them around, despite the fact that the lizard will spit blood out of its eyes if frightened . It seemed to take to her and didn’t waste it’s blood. It turns out her Mom is afraid she will pick up a rattlesnake. At this I said “gosh your trail name should be something like Reptile Woman” but this was a little too rough and tumble for little Alex, so we sat on it. Later in (the amazing!) Mom‘s Pies*, we talked about this story with the whole team. I said “what about Dragon?” and you should have seen her! The beam on her face! She immediately got on the phone and called home excitedly : “Guess what? I got a trail name! It’s Dragon!!” I’d say that name fits.

And there are names that are pretty self-explanatory like SloMo and Pee Stop (yes actually he named himself that.) Then there is Strangebird —well suffice it to say, the name fits.

*(Mom’s Pie in Julian was incredible! They gave us free pie with ice cream and a complementary drink just because we are crazy enough to walk all these miles and it was so delicious!)



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