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A.T. identities: Thru-hikers share their trail names’ origins

Hikers enjoy the view from Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail. Holly Kays photos Hikers enjoy the view from Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail. Holly Kays photos

On the Appalachian Trail, everybody’s story is the same, in a sense — the chill of the cold, the heat of the sun, the constant challenge of placing one foot in front of the other toward the trail’s end in Maine. 

But the stories are just as different as they are similar. Thru-hikers are retirees, recent college grads, folks in the middle of a career change. They’re Appalachian natives, West Coast wanderers, foreign travelers. They’re silly, serious, talkative and silent. 

Likewise, the thru-hiker tradition of taking a trail name produces handles that range from thoughtful to goofy to inscrutable. Two simple questions are all that’s needed to reveal a portrait of any hiker’s personality and motivations: “What’s your trail name? Where did it come from?”

 

out fr butchsundance

Butch and Sundance

(Father and son David S. Sealey, 64, of Dallas, Texas, and David D. Sealey, 37, of Alexander City, Alabama)

Sundance: “We hiked in 2007, and we were Butch and Sundance. We’re Butch and Sundance again. Dad didn’t want to be old fart and snoring man, so we just kind of picked our own. This is our third thru-hike. He did it in ‘05 and ‘07 and now, and I did it in ‘07, ‘11 and now this year. It’s probably my own form of mental health I guess. I was in the Marines for a bit. When I got out Dad came and hiked with me in ‘07. Then I went and worked overseas on a private military contract. That’s kind of hard work too, so in ‘11 I did another one. I’m currently employed as a law enforcement officer in Alabama, so I requested a leave of absence since Dad retired. It’s time just to restore everything, come out and restore your faith in humanity, so to speak.”

 

out fr pdub

P-Dub

(Paul Wilkinson, 65, of Pinewood, South Carolina)

P-Dub: “It’s not a good story. It’s just my initials.”

Sundance: “He puts “PW” on everything, and he started hiking with some kids early on, so they started calling him ‘P-Dub.” We call him the most interesting man on the trail. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does it means something.”

P-Dub: “I retired last year from being a teacher. I grew up in West Virginia and ran in the mountains when I was little, so I might as well do it again before I’m gone.”

 

out fr valk

Valk

(Kerry Ellwanger, 25, of Hickory, North Carolina) 

“I’m assuming you know what a Rubik’s cube is? A Rubik’s is a brand, and there are a lot of other companies that make essentially the same thing. I brought one that’s called a Valk 3, so I brought that with me just for a form of entertainment. When I stop for a break or a rest or whatever, I get it out and just play with it for a bit. Other people saw me with it, and that’s where I got my name. I was really obsessed with them in middle school, so I got pretty fast at it.”

 

out fr spot

Spot

(Scott Bookout, 46, of Durham, North Carolina)

“The first night I was here I didn’t have cell service, so my wife called and the next day she said, ‘You have a SPOT sent to Neel’s Gap, and you will pick it up.’ So I was telling people about it at camp the next day and — Spot. This is basically a GPS unit and you can do a couple different things. I just triggered the OK message because the agreement is when I get to camp I hit this to let them know I’m not going to travel anymore. It’s peace of mind for my wife is what it is. I came out here one, because I’d always wanted to walk it, just to kind of think about stuff while I’m walking. Checking in once a day doesn’t bother me a bit.”

 

out fr smokingbearswissmiss

Swiss Miss and Smoking Bear

(Marianne Seiler, 53, and Urs Seiler, 56, of Switzerland)

Smoking Bear: “We got them (our trail names) by ourselves. Swiss Miss because we are from Switzerland, and my name comes from I’m smoking, and my real name is Urs, and Urs in old European language is the same as the bear. That’s the reason for the names. The dream is to make a long-distance hike, and that is not possible in Europe. It’s very difficult to make such an interesting trail. In Switzerland it is not possible to do such a thing, so we decided to do the Appalachian Trail. We love it. The nights are a little bit cold. The days now, it’s great. The goal is to stay six months on the trail, as long as possible. And if we reach the goal then it’s fine.”

 

Sparrow

(Jack Hufford, 27, of Traverse City, Michigan) 

“My name is Jack and I work on ships, so it’s like Jack Sparrow. It’s better than I’m sure a name I could have gotten for some dumb shit that I do. Instead of getting a goofy name, I like that better. I’m a merchant marine, so I work on big container ships and oil tankers all over the world. It’s good because it allows me to do things like this. I’ll be out on the water for four months straight and then get months off at a time. It doesn’t exactly lead to a stable life, but as far as taking a whole summer off to hike the A.T., it works out perfect.”

 

out Fr happyfeet

Happy Feet

(Anna Michel, 24, of Seattle, Washington) 

“We dance a lot and I was very happy, and apparently it’s a dancing penguin — so, ‘Happy Feet.’ That’s it. My friend who I met on the shuttle here and who I’ve hiked with for the last month, her goal was to have a dance party every morning, so we have a dance party every morning with whoever’s around. Sometimes it’s 15 people and sometimes it’s just the two of us. It’s really terrible, really bad dancing. Sometimes we try to incorporate shoulder rolls, work out the ankles. There’s a different song every day. We do “One Foot in Front of the Other” by Walk the Moon a lot.  We do ‘I’m Blue Da Ba Dee Da Ba Die’ a lot. We do ‘I Want to Dance with Somebody’ a lot.”

 

out fr reggierocket

Reggie Rocket

(Kady Cobb, 22, of Asheville, North Carolina)

“You know ‘Rocket Power,’ the old cartoon? Reggie Rocket was the girl in it, one of the guys’ sister. I was her for Halloween last year. I was in Franklin, I still didn’t have a trail name, and I was just chatting with someone and he was just like, ‘Dude, you totally remind me of Reggie Rocket.’ Out of nowhere. I was like, yes, that makes so much sense because I was just her for Halloween. So I liked it and it stuck. I definitely take it as a compliment because she was pretty cool. The show is about this group of friends who live on the strip in California and they surf and skate and snowboard all the time. She’s the only girl who’s really on the show in a group of boys. Essentially that’s what’s happening out here. There’s very few women out here.”

 

out fr turtlestonecrazylegs

Crazylegs and Turtlestone

(Section hiking partners Jenny Kelley [left], 62, of Wakeman, Ohio, and Joyce Peterson, 67, of Wellington, Ohio)

Crazylegs: “Back in high school I had these argyle socks that came all the way up above my skirt, above my knees, and they were pretty wild even for then. This one guy in my class kept calling me crazy legs. Then when I joined a hiking club several years ago, I didn’t even know what a trail name was, and one of the questions was, ‘What’s your trail name?’ For some reason that story popped into my head.”

Turtlestone: “My husband didn’t want me to have a girly girl name, because I would have been Meadowlark or Bluebird or something like that. We got to thinking about it — what’s a name that nobody’s going to recognize? When I was little, we used to have family reunions and we’d go down along the river and look for turtle stones with our aunts, and I thought, nobody’s really going to know what a turtle stone is. In thinking about it that is really a good earth name too, because I like to think I’m slow like a turtle, but I’m steady. And I like to think that I’m a rock. I’m not a blow-over type.”

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