One of the traditions of thru-hiking a long-distance trail is having a trail name. Most thru-hikers are given a trail name at some point during their hike. A trail name is a nickname that has to be earned, somewhere out on the trail. As part of the tradition, you can’t give yourself a trail name, but you do have the right to decline a name until one comes along that you like and suits you
What makes a trail name special is that there’s usually a pretty good story behind each one. Whenever I meet a PCT thru-hiker for the first time, I always love to ask how they got their trail name because I really want to know. You can learn a lot about a person when you hear them tell their trail name story. I’ve heard some good trail names and some equally good stories.
I think most newbie thru-hikers think about how they’ll get their trail name. I know I did! Before starting my hike along the PCT, I often wondered how I would get my trail name. Would I do something really funny or stupid to get it? Would it be based on a piece of gear I used or something I wore? I didn’t care what my trail name was. All I hoped was that there would be a memorable story behind it. I didn’t have to wonder about the origin of my trail name for long. I earned my trail name on my first night on the PCT. Here’s the story.
My first day on the PCT, I hiked 15 miles to Hauser Creek. I decided to stop here for the day and set up camp, along with a couple of other hikers. Out of all the 15 thru-hikers camping at Hauser Creek, I was surprisingly the ONLY American out of the whole bunch. That’s right. I was the “Token” American at camp that night.
In the morning as we were all packing up, the couple from New Zealand, Mr. Ed and Lightweight came over to my tent and said, “We’ll see you later on at Lake Morena, right Token?” I sat there for a minute and then it hit me – I think I just got my trail name. It happened so naturally and if I’m really being honest, I thought Token sounded pretty cute. When I saw Mr. Ed and Lightweight later on that day, I told them “Token” felt right and I happily accepted it as my trail name.
Turns out I would also be the “Token” American within my trail family too, which made my trail name that much more fitting. As far as my trail family goes and their trail names, there was Punchline, the Australian who earned his name for telling bad jokes daily.
There was KitKat and Amish, the married couple from Canada. KitKat loved her breaks and was named after the famous candy bar. “Give me a break. Give me a break. Break me off a piece of that KitKat bar.” Amish got his name after he picked up an Amish-looking hat and wore it for several miles in the desert.
There was Bleeder from Sweden whom we met on our third day on trail, his second day. We think it was a combination between the heat and dry air that kept giving Bleeder bloody noses on the afternoon we met him.
And of course, of course, there was Grit from Quebec. Grit got his name from another hiker named Jesus who told him he had a lot of “grit” for sticking it out and staying on trail when the odds were against him. Grit means having the courage and strength to be able to stick with something really challenging and being able to do it every day for over 150 days. Grit definitely lived up to his trail name and proudly carried it with him, all the way to Canada.
It sounds funny, but I got super attached to my trail name. I think most thru-hikers do. I felt more comfortable using my trail name than my real, legal name both on and off trail. For over 150 days, the only time someone would call me “Kathleen” was a friend or family member who was off-trail or whenever I had to do something official like rent a car or pay for a hotel room. It felt weird each time I had to tell someone my “real” name.
Even though I’ve been done with hiking on the PCT for over a month, it still feels weird and awkward to hear people call me “Kathleen.” Perhaps it’s because as “Token”, I was living my best life and was the best version of myself out there on the trail. “Kathleen” feels like a girl I don’t even know anymore, someone I left behind at Hauser Creek, on my second day on the PCT.