Trail names

“At present our only true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who, from his peculiar energy, was called “Buster” by his playmates, and this rightly supplanted his Christian name. Some travelers tell us that an Indian had no name given him at first, but earned it, and his name was his fame; and among some tribes he acquired a new name with every new exploit. It is pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor fame.” – Thoreau

On the practice hike last weekend I started reading Thoreau’s “Walking”. I did this partly because Christy was reading and I wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet, and partly because it was a title that I had been able to download for free to my phone and I wanted to test the battery. I did have other titles from which to choose but I chose this one because the title itself seemed peculiarly suited to my impending adventure. I continued reading it this week and came across this quote which reminded me of the phenomenon of trail names which (to my memory) I have yet to share on this blog.

The AT thru-hiking community has a number of distinguishing characteristics, but one in particular is that every hiker is given a trail name. Trail names are so ubiquitous that hikers are recommended to tell their family back home as soon as they receive one in case something happens to them – other hikers may end up only knowing them by their trail name. I’ve mentioned some that I’ve seen/encountered in previous posts: Zipper, Rusty Bumper, Portrait, Moondoggie, Gumby, Fishhead, Ghost, Buffalo, Peach, The Diva.

It seems everyone on the trail gets a trail name whether they want to or not. Some hikers name themselves before setting foot on the trail. Although I won’t begrudge them the right, I don’t believe in this practice. As they say in the AT community, hike your own hike (HYOK). But why would you willingly remove the sense of community that can be derived from the anointing of nicknames? When I was on the crew team in college (all of 1 year) we made it a point to give each guy a nickname. We derived hours of fun looking for opportunities in the silly things people did, discussing possibilities based on attitude and character, and debating between possibilities. I really believe that the whole exercise of giving each other nicknames brought us all closer together. To this day I can’t see someone from the crew team without being reminded of my nickname! I don’t share it here mostly because I don’t want it to influence the selection of my trail name.

I’m looking forward to getting my trail name. I do feel, as Thoreau said, that a trail name is something that should be earned rather than borne for convenience. As my start date gets closer I sometimes ponder the ways my name might come about. Will it be something about my clothing (as Fishhead’s was)? Will it be some attribute of my personality, background, or hiking style that the other hikers fixate on (as Ghost’s and Peach’s were)? Or will it more likely be something stupid I do that must be forever indelibly assigned to me via a related nickname (as my crew nickname was)? I don’t know, but it is an experience I’m looking forward to no matter how it comes about. And when it does you’ll find out here soon after, complete with backstory.

Random tidbits:


Today I inventoried the stash of dehydrated meals. We’re cooking 2-3 meals per week, but most meals we make divide into 4 meals which can conveniently be spread across the 4 trays of the dehydrator. Currently we have the following:

Meal Count
Beef Stew 4
Black Bean Stew 4
Black Bean Stroganoff 4
Blue Cheese Potato Puff 4
Chicken and Rice Curry 2
Cowboy Pasta 3
Lasagna 5
New Mexican Stew 3
Saucy Tuna 4
Stirfry Salmon 4
Tortilla Casserole 3
Tuna Souffle 3
Turkey Chili 6
Vegetable Stew 4
Zucchini Casserole 4

The plan is to make 1 more batch each of Cowboy Pasta, Tortilla Casserole, New Mexican Stew, Tuna Souffle, and 2 other (probably new) recipes. This should give me an inventory of approximately 75 meals before I leave for the trail. Assuming it takes me about 150 days to finish the trail and that for about 20-30 of them I’ll be either in a town, at a hostel, visiting Christy, or otherwise in a place where I can get a civilized meal, I should only need about 40-50 more dinners. Assuming they are done over 5 months and that each batch makes 4 meals, that leaves Christy with about 2 batches to make per month, which should be do-able. This also leaves some wiggle room in case for whatever reason once I start I realize that I don’t want to eat dehydrated meals the whole way to Katahdin, I can let Christy know and she can stop cooking and simply space my remaining meals across the rest of the trek.


I got a physical a few weeks ago and my doctor gave me a clean bill of health – I am physically able to take on the trail! I do still have some nagging injuries including the aforementioned chondromalacia patella. However these all seem to be subsiding. My back feels good (herniated disk almost 10 years ago, started seeing a chiropractor about 2 years ago and made it all better!). My achilles tendonitis from about 2 years ago is pretty much gone. The big question is still the knee, but over the last couple weeks exercising it has made it feel much better. I think I just need to strengthen it a bit more and I’ll be ready to go, although I’ll still be taking the patellar support strap just in case.

One thing I also talked to the doctor about was the possibility of Lyme disease. I read several hikers’ trailjournals last year and almost all of them mentioned that someone they knew on the trail contracted the disease. Apparently last year it was particularly bad on the trail. With the warm weather we’ve had this year I suspect the ticks will be out en masse once I reach Virginia/Maryland. I asked my doctor if he could write a prescription for me in advance in case I observe the tell-tale symptoms (i.e. bullseye rash after a tick bite, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, etc). I was glad when he agreed. He did give me some precautions about side effects of the antibiotics and getting seen by a doctor anyway if I become symptomatic, but I’ll feel much better about carrying the prescription with me so I can begin treatment immediately if necessary.

Delta Society

Only a few days left to donate to Delta Society if you want me to start the trail without any hair on my head! So far it isn’t looking good, but a few large donations could still seal the deal. Don’t forget you’ll be able to deduct the contribution from your 2012 tax returns (assuming you itemize)!

Categories: Preparations, Training | 4 Comments

I almost forgot pictures!

I forgot to add some pictures from the hike this weekend.

First, a view from Skyline Drive

Christy got an action shot of me hiking

An AT trail marker! We were on the AT for about 0.6 miles until we got to the Big Run Portal turn-off.

Christy had to stop and ask for directions

On the way out we saw some deer on the side of the road.

My hike is so close I can almost taste it!

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Last practice trip!

The Trip

My practice is done. Next time will be the real thing.

We didn’t end up getting to post from the wilderness like I thought we would. Christy and I hiked into Shenandoah National Park Saturday afternoon and set up camp down the Big Run Portal trail at a lovely campsite – I need to remember it for the future because it was actually a perfect spot, out of sight from the trail and sufficient distance from the stream. However the downside was there was no cell service, hence no update.

The plan was for a 2 night trip, but due to the cold weather and the impending snow we cut it short in the interest of Christy’s toes. I should mention that although the morning was quite cold, once we got moving I was warmed up and ready for another night, so I consider myself ready for the AT!

We did get to test a few last things I wanted to try. I got a down jacket for Christmas. I asked for a Patagonia down vest and got it (thanks!). But then I decided to go with something a bit warmer and exchanged it with REI for a Marmot Zeus jacket. It worked great during this trip, quite warm! For Christmas I also got a harmonica (thanks!). Although I have already played around with it at home, I got to try it for the first time in the wilderness! Christy was not as excited about this as I was. Finally I got to try using my wool socks as gloves. Although I’ve camped in the cold in the past, this is the first practice hike I’ve had (read as first hike with my AT gear) that got down to freezing temperatures. I’ve decided I don’t want the extra weight of gloves, and I had read that socks do just fine as a substitute. After testing, I agree. My hands were fine. I expect if it rains/snows it will be a bit more difficult, but in that case I’ll just pull my rain jacket sleeves over my hands to get some protection.

As I mentioned, we didn’t get to post from the wilderness. We were in a valley for the evening and had no cell service. This actually let me test a few things. First, the mapping app I am using to update the “Where is Travis?” page doesn’t seem to be able to save GPS coordinates for uploading later. I opened the app and logged coordinates at both the campsite and at the parking lot on the way out. Only the parking lot shows up on the map now. That’s good to know, so I won’t waste my phone battery trying to log coordinates if I’m out of cell service.

My sleeping bag was warm as expected. I did need to wear my short sleeve shirt and my long underwear during the night, but that’s fine. I’m taking an external battery for my phone for the first segment until I convince Christy that I don’t need the extra 4 oz. It worked well though, keeping my phone at maximum charge. It actually worked well because I was able to read a bit of Thoreau on my phone before going to sleep.

Christy took some Mountain House meals to eat but I took one of the dehydrated meals we’ve made. This time it was chicken and rice curry. Besides the rubberiness of the chicken it was pretty good and only took until the water boiled for it to cook.

Overall I’m feeling great about my gear. I’ve created my final gear checklist based on what I had with me on this last practice hike and I’m uploading it to the gear page. You can see my progression of gear through time (although the two earlier lists actually left some items off such as phone). I’ve replaced some heavier gear (pack, stove, towel), rationalized some other gear (shovel), and even added a couple luxury items (notebook, harmonica).  I also did a weigh-in when we got back to check the weight of the gear versus the sum of each measurement and got all of my calculated weights within 0.3 pounds of what I actually measured (the bathroom scale I did empirical measurements on is probably +/- 0.5 lbs, so that’s great).

Random Tidbits

It appears I will not be shaving my head for the start of the trail. Thanks to everyone who has donated so far (you’ll all be getting a postcard from Amicalola Falls when I start!), but with only 9 days to go I have raised $520 which is $4480 short of the number needed for me to break out the razor. Absent a last-minute surge, I’ll be starting the trail with what’s left of my hair!

$520 is still a great number though and I’m not at all disappointed with it, especially since it makes me the biggest fundraiser for Delta Society through! Don’t forget that the fundraising will still be open throughout my hike, so if you haven’t donated yet but you want to you still have about 6 months. My competitive nature would love for you all to donate so I can thoroughly beat the other Delta Society fundraisers! 🙂

With 1 month left (as of tomorrow) until I’m on the approach trail, I have limited blog posts left to give you background on the trail and my preparation for it. Once I’m on the trail my posts will more often be summaries of what I did each day, so if there’s anything I haven’t covered yet that you still want me to write about, let me know in the comments section!

Categories: Fundraising, Gear, Training, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Training hike number 3, day 4

So I was right about not being the only one at the shelter. Soon after posting, a group of 6 men arrived. They had started around Swift Run Gap and were working their way south, trying to get to Rockfish Gap by Monday. Then more came. And more. By bedtime we had a completely full camp, with the shelter almost full and all of the tent sites taken! The best part? We had some southbounders camping with us! There were about 5 or 6 of them, including Manparty, Lush, and Easy. Manparty and Lush are a husband/wife team. The husband thru-hiked southbound 9 years ago, but his wife wanted to do it too, so they’re doing it together. I got to pick their brains for a little while about thru-hiking, but didn’t get too much new info. I think that means I’m ready for my own hike!

For the last day I started out south on the AT and got to Riprap Trail pretty quickly. The plan for the whole weekend had been to stay within a day’s hike of the car in case my knee started acting up. Instead of acting up it actually felt better as the weekend went on. I think the hiking actually helped strengthen it, so I’m much more confident about starting in March with 5 months left to get the knee back to 100%. So instead of turning down Riprap for another day in the wilderness, I kept hiking another 5 miles or so to get back to the car and return home. Better to get home healthy than stay out another day and risk another injury. About the time I got to my car some thru-hikers were passing me so I gave them my dinner for the night and some of my leftover food to enjoy before heading home.

Things I learned this trip?
1) Take it easy. I’ve always planned only 8 miles or so my first week or two in March. I shouldn’t have been trying to do more than that on my training hikes. This is the first time I’ve really taken it slow, and it paid off.
2) Chapstick. I forgot it again. I need to remember it in March.
3) I’m still taking a little bit too much food. That’s better than the alternative, but only slightly.
4) Northbounders are whiners. This is according to Manparty, who has hiked southbound twice. I think he’s biased.

So, the plan now is to continue working out at the gym to stay in shape, continue fretting over every ounce of weight in my pack, and somehow stay calm as I wait for March to get here.

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Training hike number 3 day 3




Day 3 is in the books! Today wasn’t nearly as interesting as yesterday. I did see 4 horses/riders on the Moorman River trail. That trail is pretty spooky – being right on the edge of the park there are more ruins along with lots of barbed wire and posted signs. I saw an old schoolbus that must have been there for years! I also noticed that some of the leaves, sugar maples especially, have started changing colors. Should be some really pretty views up here in a week or two.

The knee still feels pretty good. I’ve decided the key is going to be to take it slow the first 2 weeks (its a marathon, not a sprint), stretch a lot, and keep wearing the magical knee strap!

I’m the only one at the shelter right now but with it being a holiday weekend I don’t expect it to stay that way for long! Hoping for some good company before tomorrow’s true backcountry night!

Categories: Training, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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