Zombie Legs, Chupacabra, Shadow, Dilly Willy, and Firefly all are about a day ahead of you the trail log reads. Have these people gone mad from dehydration, have they been pulled into a psychoses of being lost in the wilderness? Who would sign a trail log with such "weird" names. They could not possibly be referring to themselves could they? Yes, not only are they referring to themselves as such, but there is a lot of pride and emotion when someone announces their trail name. Inside of that singular name there is an incredible amount of meaning. There are all the miles that this entity has accomplished, there are all the stories of bad weather and harsh conditions that shaped this hiker into a stronger hiker and person. Inside that name there are all the stories of extreme happiness but also extreme discomfort and pain to achieve this beauty. Stories of eating peanut butter until you are sick, stories of waking up with something licking your face in the night, stories of a misplaced foot on a ice shoot that almost led to certain death. Inside that name there is an infinite amount of meaning. A trail name is not only given but it is earned mile after mile, day after day, and through suffering after suffering. There has never been a question of what trail names mean to who they are bestowed upon, yet there is a question of, how did they start, what is their origin?
Or did Trail Names all begin at the creation of the universe with the Big Bang? Were they always there???
We have been getting asked this question a lot lately. Not only by other thru-hikers but also by people in the outdoor community in general. It has given us pause, because as we said, there is no question behind the meaning of a trail name, but the origin? Every time we try to answer this question we have to begin off with, "Honestly we do not know." We do have theories, however! We are only going to go into our favorite theory, due to this question being so immense and so open to interpretation, that if you gave us the freedom to define it longer, neither of us would ever leave this page!
Our first and favorite theory, is that it lets someone become "their real self". When we say this we do not mean someone's real self is Zombie Legs...no. What we mean is that without the bias and the association over a lifetime of society defining who someone is, a new name gives freedom to find themselves outside of a definition. If you have been called, let's say Jim, for your entire life there is going to be a lot of baggage with Jim. Jim may have been a lawyer in "real" life. Society has demanded he dress a certain way, interact with clients a certain way, and interact with the world a certain way. Jim may not even realize this. He has been doing it for so long now that it has moved past conscious thought and into his subconscious. He looks through the one and only lens of Jim Glasses at the world and only sees it in the way that he has defined and society has defined for himself. We do not mean to say this is bad, it simply is. Neither is it bad nor good, it just is what happens in life. Pressures of life form and shape a person into what is demanded of them to survive, and thus Jim is now a lawyer, interacting and seeing the world as someone who has been shaped by it.
Go to the mountains Jim, go to the mountains!
Now let us say Jim decided to go to hike a long-distance trail for multiple months. Of course, there is still going to be the lawyer side of him, because that is much of who he is. There will be stories around the campfire of cases, there will be conversations and dialect that are unique to him, but there is not a special light that is cast upon him because he is a lawyer. As in society where his status dictates how others interact with him and the power dynamics behind it, he is now just Jim. He may be sitting at a campfire with a firefighter, a student, a business owner, a ski guide, and all walks of life, yet more so now they are all just hikers. There is no classification system, people just start to see Jim for who Jim is and not his status. Jim is funny, Jim makes others laugh, and Jim has a wild streak to push his legs past the limit when going after miles, that in turn make them smell of death. Thus, as his journey continues and those that he has become friends with continue down the same path, his hiking companions bestow upon him the name, "Zombie Legs."
Within this definition Jim has now stepped outside of the Jim of societal demands. He choses how he interacts, he choses his daily choices, he is free to be unbridled by power dynamics and the "fakeness" that the "real" world frequently demands. His interactions have truly become his own. He has stripped away everything that made Jim, fake Jim coating the outside of the real Jim. While a necessity to survive and function in the world, it is a beautiful thing when you can see a person for who they truly are. You catch glimpses of the real person in life and even sometimes find the rare person that does not let society define who they are, but generally there are walls built up. The walls of power, walls of norms, walls of interactions, walls of class, walls of creed, walls of religion, walls of gender, walls of pain, walls of politics, walls of habit, walls of bias, walls upon walls upon walls. Well Jim has now become Zombie Legs, there is just him, his fellow hikers, and the Trail.
Take the walls down Jim, embrace Zombie Legs!
The only walls that are out there now are those that he creates for himself. Mental walls, discomfort walls, hunger walls, tired walls, pain walls, exhaustion walls. Yet, if you look at the two lists of walls you will see a stark difference. The first describes walls of human manufactured creations and invention, while the second only describes walls of human feelings. In one the walls are optional, in the other the walls are a basic and instinctual part of being a human, being a mammal. You can chose to build in the first list, yet in the second you have no choice, the only choice is how high you let the wall become. He has now found universal feelings that everyone around him feels and have felt. He now shares in this universal experience with everyone around him. He has done the hard work of taking the first series of walls down, the optional walls, now hopefully they will not be built back up as high.
Zombie Legs has now been on trail for 2 months now. The laughs flow freely, the smiles are constant, there is freedom in every choice. He has found other like minded souls to wander with down the trail. He has found Chupacabra, Dilly Willy, Shadow and Firefly. Yes, they have talked about their jobs and professions off of trail. Yes, they have shared stories of what made them into who they are today. Yet, the classification and weight upon what they do and how they have to act in society, is non-existent. They have chosen to hike together because they enjoy each others company. They see the person for who they are. The humor, the kindness, the love inside each person. They see Zombie Legs, and call him by this name, but mostly they see the Jim that was born, the Jim that was meant to be in a free world without chains. It is a beautiful sight.
This is Jim. Look at how beautiful he has become! Harnessing his true self! So beautiful it brings tears to our eyes!
So, a trail name origin? Was it people just having fun that were hiking miles upon miles through the landscape with only trees, plants, and the fresh air as their constant daily companions. People that were just sitting around a campfire one night and decided if they called each other by "weird" names it would make them laugh down the trail? Or, is it something deeper? Is it that a trail name, becomes a portal into your true self? Or, are we just reading way too much into this, and have followed our old landlords path too deep into the depths of our mind, where we have become lost? Just like we have answered this question before and will continue to answer it, "Honestly we do not know, but..."
Running out of air and looking for a spare scuba tank in the depths of our mind,