The origins of a trail name.
I'm not sure how the tradition of trail names came about, there's probably a Wikipedia page for that, but it seems natural that a group of people spending long periods of time in the woods with a finite number of things to occupy their minds, would makeup nicknames for each other.
I was introduced to the concept on the car ride to the start of the AT last year. The driver Ron, a longtime advocate for all things thru-hiking, explained the concept after learning not only did i not have one but I had no idea what they were. Some people come to the trail with names they've picked themselves, some never choose to take one but most are christened on the trail with one. Many times, he mentioned, they typically come from the first goofup a hiker makes on the trail. As a novice to the world of thru-hiking, i assumed i'd have one by nightfall.
Wild and kooky, the names are as varied as the personalities you find out there. Southpaw, because she broke her right arm on the AT; TarpMan, his hammock broke on night 1 and had to sleep with only a tarp until he got to the first town; Dash, he set a fast pace; and 8 paws, a couple with their dog.
Stories are the currency of the trail. Exchanged around the campfire or over a meal break, it's just about all we have to share with each other out there. Hand shakes are a no-no (who knows how long its been since someones washed their hands with soap and water), and money is essentially useless when your far from town. Stories occupy the mind and can take the edge off a long day or the misery of eight straight days in rain. Unreliable access to current events and news from the outisde, the story behind a trail name is a perfect icebreaker and sticks with you long after the often fleating time thru-hikers spend together. Above all else, their memorable, perhaps a perfect one-word description for a thru-hike itself.
Now, on the eve of the start of the PCT, a whole new class of trail named and nameless begin the journey. I can't wait to meet them, I can't wait to share stories.
Catch you on the trail,