Follow along with outdoorsman and writer Johnny Molloy as he treks through the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.
Appalachian Trail hikers often have strange nicknames as they head through the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. And, chances are you’ve ran into a thru-hiker at some point. Ask them their trail name and you may get a surprise, as well as a story.
Trail names add anonymity among a new set of comrades thrown together by chance, each independently concluding this was the time to hike the AT. Their daily pace and trail experiences shape with whom they hike, and from whom they might receive a trail name. The alias becomes an identity among other hikers after they finish the AT, and represents the freedom of trail life long after return to the regular world.
Names With a Story
A man sat against the wooden wall of the Little Laurel Shelter, in the Greene County section of the AT, with legs sprawled out, hiking socks still on his feet. Dim sunlight barely revealed his face. I walked into the shelter and dropped my pack.
“Hi, I’m Lazy,” he said, pushing his glasses back on his nose. “They call me Lazy because I’m lazy.” A young red-haired hiker, lying on another bunk stuck his head out and introduced himself as Camel. He gave no explanation as to his name. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
A girl leaning against a tree outside the shelter shouted her name – Lassie. With a youthful face and challenging eyes, all framed with thick auburn hair, I felt the name suited her well.
“Johnny Molloy,” I replied, while thinking to myself — how can I call these people their respective introduced names – Lazy, Camel and Lassie? It wasn’t their parent-given names; it wasn’t a name you’d have to remember at a party, or after being introduced to someone at a business meeting. It wasn’t a name you’d expect to hear in civilization.
I remember a guy named “Sunset,” because he hiked until sundown every day. He called himself that, and it stuck. There was also a hiker named Bill. His view on trail names mirrored mine. He didn’t have one, didn’t want one, and was actively avoiding ending up with one. As he walked the white-blazed path, he simply introduced himself as “Bill” to others. The most-often stated reply to him was, “What’s your trail name?” His standard answer, “I don’t have a trail name. My name is just Bill.” His trail name became “Just Bill.”
What is a Trail Name?
Trail names are found mostly in the outdoors, and typically within proximity, or in context to the Appalachian Trail. The alias is a tradition on the AT, and even if you start your hike without a trail name, you may end up with one.
Aspiring AT thru-hikers, dreaming of their backwoods long distance hike, quitting jobs, strapping on the pack and fleeing current life, often give themselves trail names. Often hikers end up with a name reflecting some personal or physical trait, eating, or sleeping habit. How about Sweat-n-Stink, Thick Ankles, Mean in the Morning, Butter Pecan, or Lumberjack because you snore so loud?
Leaving Your Mark
AT shelters have registers where hikers record their name, miles traveled, and weather conditions. When reading them, I can’t help but try to picture them: “Hindenburg” – a large guy hiking the trail to lose weight? Or “Winged Angel” – a hiker with long tresses waving in the wind as they effortlessly ascend the lofty heights? Or “Sotty” – someone who chugs whiskey behind the shelter at night?
What’s Your Trail Name?
Next time you head to the mountains, give yourself, or ask your hiking partners to give you a trail name. Have fun with your surroundings, your hiking ability, and most importantly the story crafted by your journey.
By the way, Camel received his name because he went long periods without peeing.
Leave No Trace