Appalacian Trail so appealing to me (beyond the thought of a challenging pilgrimage that takes me months away from my comfort zone) is the ritual of the trail name. You see, most everyone that hikes the 2100 or so miles of the AT in one season is given a trail name. I assume this began and survives because of the camaraderie that exists between adventures that spend 4-6 months climbing, crawling, freezing, sweating, and generally surviving their way through the wilderness together.
Last week I spoke of The Ranch, the yearly site of rejuvenation for my family. We are in the midst of preparations for this year's trip: making lists, organizing supplies, and packing everything we'll need for our short sojourn into our own wilderness. The Ranch has a happy familiarity to anyone that is lucky enough to visit. We have our inside jokes, learned tricks for easier tubing, and yes, in our family, everyone gets a ranch name.
Some people pick their own name; my cousin delightedly calls himself The River Goat, while others, like my oldest son, Dozer, gain their names through behavior: Dozer has a tendency to just bulldoze his way right through any bramble and briar that gets in his way, choosing not to steer his way to safety. But however your name comes to you, there is no happier sound than the raucous cheer from the river as everyone sees you coming around the bend and yells out your name. Ranch names are a silly and free-spirited key to the inner circle.
I love the togetherness felt at the river, and although I know the tight knit bonds that come from thru-hikers on the AT exist on a very different level, I believe we share some close similarities. In a few years my husband and I will step foot onto the AT for the first time, earning new names to add to our belt along with new stories to share the next time we fall into our tubes at the ranch.
Until then, I'll wear my ranch name proudly as I wade into the ice cold waters of the Michigan Boardman River.