I enjoy trail names and the practice of adopting a new name on the trail adds to the culture and the adventure of the journey. Within the cloak of mystery and sometimes the mask of humor, the trail name makes introductions interesting and hikers easier to remember. Because we are all outside our normal circle of influence, our jobs and bank balances; the type of car we drive and size home we live in; our past successes and failure are relatively unimportant and are not the initial topics of conversations. The playing field is pretty flat and your background can be as hidden as you desire. For most hikers I met along my thru-hike, I knew their trail name and maybe their home state and how far they were headed that day. Then there were a few that became friends and deeper insights and information were shared as relationships developed and plans to stay in touch after the hike became real.
Well, there are duplicate names to be found on the trail. I met several rabbits, a few turtles, and two tiggers on my journey. So what are the common names on the Appalachian Trail? I reviewed the data on the self-reported successful thru-hikers during the past 15 years I have discovered the most popular trail names of this century. Of the 9, 760 thru-hikers from 2000 to 2014, 170 individuals did not have a trail name at all (just under 2% of the thru-hikers).
In order to make the top 20 list, the alias had to be used more than eight times. So let’s take a look at the top 20 and see the names that surfaced the most along the AT.
There were four trail names that were used nine times by thru-hikers: PATCHES, RABBIT, SPOON and TUMBLEWEED. Of these four, I was a little surprised by Tumbleweed. Then I remembered that hikers come from all over the US and the world, so I figured that some of the western hikers picked a common picture of the footloose, blown-by-the-wind traveler. Wrong! Those with this trail name came from North Carolina (2), Massachusetts (2), Missouri, New Hampshire, Michigan, West Virginia, and Florida. Maybe they took regular tumbles and were blown off the trail by a gust of wind.
Six names were used ten times by thru-hikers: MOSES, ROCKY, SPARKY, TIMBER, TURTLE, and WALKABOUT. Each time a name is given or selected there is a unique back-story connected to it. Unfortunately, we are unable to know those stories. Is Moses selected because of the Biblical leader of the nation of Israel, the receiver of the Law from God, Himself, a famous bearded man, or the phrase, “Slow as Moses” as he wandered in the wilderness for 40 years? The rate of speed and yet the dogged determination could be behind the name of Turtle (via Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare). Rocky could be a play on Rocky Balboa and the Rocks of Pennsylvania.
Five names have been utilized eleven times this century: BLUE, JAYBIRD, PROFESSOR, STRIDER, and SUNSHINE. I love the name Sunshine because it is probably assigned to those optimistic people that add light and faith to the trail. I also like the trail name Strider and wonder how many are using the walking concept of the Stride along with the Lord of the Rings character, Aragorn, called Strider in the Fellowship of the Rings. The cast of the LOR were hidden all over the trail: I met Frodo, Hobbit, Gandalf and Bilbo on my trek.
And now for the Top Five Trail Names:
Number Five With 12 Hikers – TINMAN (we are off to see the Emerald City)
Number Four With 13 Uses – SHERPA (honoring those who carry huge loads on Mt.Everest)
Number Three also with 13 – DOC (maybe a profession or just the guy/gal with the band aides)
Number Two embraced by 14 hikers is the trail name – STRETCH (possibly a daily routine before starting the hike)
And the Number One trail name used in the past 15 years along the Appalachian Trail carried by 15 successful thru-hikers – MOOSE! (I came to the conclusion that you have a better chance of meeting a hiker named “Moose” than you do of actually seeing the animal in the woods)
P.S. In the past 15 years there have only been two hikers named “Rowdy,” and both of us hiked in 2014 – go figure.