(In case you were wondering where our trail names came from...)
A common hiker tradition is to acquire a new name. This isn’t just any name, but a name that would never make sense in every day life. It’s a badge of honor, a right of passage among thru-hikers. Names are often given based upon a silly event or something that stands out about a person. They are laid upon you by your fellow hikers. Not only does a trail name allow you to become a new version of yourself, but it acts as a reminder that life on a long-distance hike transcends the borders of what we perceive as normal. A new name for a new world.
As Ross’ only hiking partner, I had the honor of choosing his name. Mud suits him for a multitude of reasons. The most obvious is his personality – consistent and grounded with an unwavering draw to the natural world. We call him Mud because he is so down to earth.
But the primary reason he became Mud is due to his choice of clothing. He wears grey, green and brown with a camouflage hat. His pack used to be green, now it’s beige. I’ve never seen him wear anything brighter than a dark blue long-sleeve shirt. When he gets too far away on the trail, the only reason I recognize him as a human is because he moves and the trees don’t. I usually have to pause, squint, and focus before I can identify him on an adjacent slope, moving like a camouflaged spec across the landscape.
And then there’s the way he talks. Ross’s aversion to articulation rivals his aversion to bright colors. At times he speaks perfectly clearly, but other times we are all left wondering – were those words? Maybe he was talking to himself. Then he awaits a response as I struggle to decipher his code. His speech is a murky puddle of mutters and mumbles. Clear as Mud.
My trail name is Bug, short for Love Bug. It was my first nickname, given to me after college when I worked at a cafe, killing time while deciding where to go next in life. I drove my family's 1971 VW bug to work everyday and my manager, Dan, started to call me Love Bug. He was the kind of guy who would buy a girl too many drinks while showing her the tattoos he got in jail. He was eventually fired for fermenting strawberries into wine in a back room at work. Needless to say, it wasn't a lasting relationship, but the name stuck with me.
On my first day setting foot on the PCT in 2012, I met Gourmet. We walked together for most of my first 80 miles. As we set up camp my first night, I changed into long johns and put on my camp shoes – Crocs that my stepmother had given me. They happened to have a small ladybug pin through one of the holes, which caught Gourmet’s attention. I had no explanation as to why the small red and black insect was represented on my shoe.
"I don't know, but I did have a friend who used to call me Love Bug..."
I guess you could say I planted the idea in his head for fear of what else he might come up with. I didn't want to walk around with a name like "Oreo" or "Detour".
The next morning it was official.
"I like Love Bug for you, it fits." Gourmet decided.
From then on, he introduced me to other hikers as Love Bug, and I began to do the same. Months later, on a day-hike with Ross, he called me Bug, testing out his version of my new trail name. His rugged persona prevented him from letting the words ‘Love Bug’ escape his lips, and ‘Bug’ seemed fit me better anyway. I’d felt squirmy and girly as Love Bug and was relieved by the change.
And so it was. We’d spent enough time hiking to settle on trail names long before we began our thru-hike, but never seemed to embrace them. We stuck to Anna and Ross until we first left Harts Pass in July of 2014. But with that, the change was instantaneous. We became Bug and Mud and never looked back.
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