Claiming My Trail Name
I’ve often wondered whether people grow into their names, or somehow manifest them in utero. Shakespeare famously pondered “What’s in a name,” but even school children regularly discover their burgeoning power as they assign names to others. Some people embrace their given names while others shun them, and many newly married women must suddenly come to terms with an overnight identity change. My own daughter was named with an acronym nickname in mind, but once she appeared, it became clear that CJ would never stick.
During a week of hiking and writing on a Pink Pangea retreat in Murren, Switzerland, one of my fellow participants suggested we should all have trail names, nicknames for something we said or did that identified our unique personalities. “Yikes,” I thought, “I hope I don’t say something I regret!”
Nothing fills me with more joy or inspiration than tramping along a mountain trail en route to a high alpine vista or a streamside perch.
Several of the women moved quite easily into their names. One commented that a plant looked like chard, and well, being in Switzerland, “Swiss Chard” was a natural. Another, confusing a conversation about hash (the drug), with one about potatoes, became “Hash Browns.” Someone else conjectured that the TSA allowed travelers to carry one ‘personal’ fruit through security, and was henceforth known as “Personal Fruit.”
By the end of the retreat, when it was time for us to go our separate ways, I still didn’t have a name. Being self-reflective to a fault, I wondered if I had been too guarded to let my true self emerge among relative strangers, or whether my trail name for this trip was simply still incubating. Despite our shared experience, I pondered if anyone really knew me well enough to name me.
I have had other trail names throughout my life, although some of them I would gladly forget. Once, I neglected to pack any underwear on a road trip, and earned an “unmentionable” trail name after dragging my family through the intimates aisle of a Walmart on a desolate stretch of Wyoming highway. For a while, my trail name was “Broken Camera,” as my SLR frustratingly malfunctioned in some of the most photographable places in the world. A stuck shutter in southern Utah and a broken zoom in Kenya taught me to carry my iPhone everywhere, just in case there was a shot I wanted to reliably capture.
Luckily, there were no photo mishaps during my Switzerland travels, as Murren is blessed with astounding scenery, white-capped jagged peaks, green meadows dotted with mountain wildflowers, and ever present Swiss cows. When I returned home and looked through my photos, I noticed a pattern emerging. I had taken dozens of photos of signs reading “Wanderweg,” which I later understood to mean “footpath” or “hiking trail.”
Something about that word made me smile, and I repeated it to myself, enjoying the way it rolled off my tongue. When I am hiking, I am truly in my element, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Nothing fills me with more joy or inspiration than tramping along a mountain trail en route to a high alpine vista or a streamside perch.
I know that customarily, trail names are bestowed by other hikers, but I’ve never been one to stand by tradition. Right in front of me stood a marker, providing direction, affinity, and even humor as it flaunted alliteration and onamonapia. I knew I had to buck tradition and provide my own moniker. My self-appointed trail name, “Wanderweg Woman,” had found me and followed me home like a stray dog determined to comfortably settle. I was eager to take her in, nurture her, and claim her as my own.