It is time for a long overdue introduction.
Hello! Nice to meet you. I am “Free Spirit.”
This is what I’m known as on the trail, this is what my trail family calls me, this is what my hiking partner named me on day three of hiking, this is what I identify with, this is my name for the next 6 months.
In case you’re not familiar with “trail names,” how it works is when you escape from the real world and create a completely new lifestyle and transform into a whole new person on the trail, you no longer identify with your old self and so your old name becomes irrelevant. Therefore, a fellow hiker is given the honor of giving you a “nickname” which is actually a pretty big deal because this will be how you introduce yourself, how you sign the trail register, and what you are known as for the entire duration of your hike.
You can be given a trail name on the first day, or the third month, or somewhere near the end. There really are no rules, except that you should not give yourself a name, but let others do it for you. And when someone else gives you a trail name, it can be for any number of fun reasons.
Last year, I met a hiker named RockStar. He was dubbed RockStar because when he was relaxing in a naturally hot spring with fellow hikers, a local who often frequented that spring looked around at the fit, young men in the water, and asked, “Hey boys, why don’t you take your shorts off?” Mind you, this local was not a beautiful naked woman, but a nude, elderly, overweight man, and therefore, this request was not received well. The boys mumbled, “No, it’s okay,” or something along those lines, and the man fell silent for a minute or two. Then, again, “So, boys, I have an idea. Why don’t you get those shorts off?” The men insisted, “Nah, we’re going to keep our shorts on.” A few minutes later, again, “Hey, so, why don’t we all take those shorts off?” RockStar, who was not yet known as RockStar, turned around and looked directly at the man, and said, “Sir, let’s get this straight. These shorts right here are not coming off, okay?” And the chubby naked man thought about it for a while, and then said, “Oh! I get it! You must be a rock star! A lot of rock stars come to this area to bathe in the hot springs and don’t want to be recognized. I completely understand,” as if that made any sense at all. Rock stars can be recognized based on the appearance of their genitals? Anyway, all of the hikers in the hot water called their friend RockStar ever since then.
You can be given a trail name for various other reasons, such as based on where you’re from (“Philly”), how you look (“Smiley” or “Mad Dog” or “Dirty Kid”), how you walk (“Roadblocker” or “Tailgater”), how you dress (“Fancy Pants”), what you do (“Munchies” or “The Giver”), and the list goes on and on. These are all actual people I’ve met hiking the PCT, and yes, they are known by their nickname for the duration of the time they’re hiking, and often, even afterwards.
When I hiked for a month last year, I was known as Mermaid (I had purple scaly leggings on when I began my hike). I planned to continue as Mermaid this year, but was soon renamed Free Spirit (I began my hike with a shirt my mom gave me with the words “Free Spirit” on it). I also wore a flower headband that was supposed to be a hat band but didn’t stay on my hat for very long, and I brought along my free-spirited personality. Everyone instantly said that “Free Spirit” fit me really well and that I should go by it, and it actually was pretty difficult to mentally shift gears and decide to go by a different name. I felt like I was going through an identity crisis! Haha. But after enough people called me “Free Spirit,” I realized that I liked it, I identified with it more, it did fit me pretty well, and so I let go of “Mermaid” and became “Free Spirit.”
Now that I’m no longer Mermaid, my pack’s name doesn’t really make sense… Last year, my pack was Ursula, this year I call him Leviathan on good days (he is monstrous) and Leech on bad days (he does feel like a parasite latched on to me after 10 hours of hiking). But now that I have a new pack to replace my old one with, I guess a new name is warranted, possibly one that goes along with “Free Spirit.”
This may seem silly to you, but this is what trail life does to you. Don’t ask me what I named my feet! 😉