March 16, 2017 / Comments Off on TRAIL NAMES – Who is “RTK”?


[This post is rated “I” for intermediate, meaning it is neither basic information, nor little known.]**

During the last three years I have been more than fascinated with the AT and the prospects for me to attempt my own challenge of the iconic footpath. I have read blogs (by people like Robo), watched YouTube videos (by Caboose, Highlander, and Spielberg) followed people on Trail Journals (by Signage, Bigfoot and Two Peas), and looked at just about anything I could put my hands on about the Appalachian Trail (including memoirs of thru-hikes by Rethinker, Mighty Blue, Odyssa, Badger, Mountain Slayer, K-One, Faithful, Wingo, Cowabunga, Paddler, Fozzie, Draggin’ Fly, and many others, although Paul was “Paul” and Brad was “Brad” in their books). I watched the “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods,” and, I even read AWOL’s Guide even though I wasn’t hiking anywhere, which is a bit like reading the road atlas for excitement.

Each of those last three years I would select a couple of people to “follow” on Trail Journals and when they’d get to Virginia I’d meet them at a trail head, drive them around town for resupply and buy them dinner. I got to live vicariously through their hike and I could discuss gear and other hike details over dinner. Among my dinner guests over those last three years were Rowdy, Silverback and Rabbit.


“RTK” on the Overland Track in Tasmania

There are many traditions now associated with thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. One of the oldest is that hikers typically use a “trail name” while venturing along the AT. This tradition is now assuredly part of the Trail, but was all but non-existent as recently as the 1970’s. Essentially, thru-hikers are given or give themselves what are essentially “nicknames,” yet these trail names are typically descriptive of the person or of his or her unique behaviors.

“Caboose” was the name one hiker got after she consistently was last in a group to get into camp each day. “Orange Crush” was dressed prominently in an orange shirt and to those naming him he was hiking long distances every day by “crushing out the miles.” Some trail names are unflattering such as Sir Packs-A-Lot or Lumberjack or Cat Hole.

Trail Names add anonymity among a new set of adventurers (“comrades thrown together by chance”). For many trail names symbolize the transition from the old life to the new life, a tangible break from what was to what is or might be. A chance for a “do-over.” A way to make “regret” a more distance memory.

Interestingly, likes some posts on the home page of many blogs, Trail Names appear to be “sticky” – they last. After a thru-hike is over, at least within the Trail community, Steve is still Mighty Blue, Craig is still Spielberg, and Dave is still Rowdy. Some speculate that after returning to the “real” or “regular” world, this continued identification by use of a Trail Name represents an otherwise unspoken longing to return to the freedom of trail life.

Moreover, a small contingent every year swim against the tide and cling tightly to their actual names such that they remain Bob or Jim throughout their thru-hike. A brief, but good article on the topic – “Why I Don’t Want a Trail Name” – is found in Blue Ridge Outdoors (August 2011). As the author concludes, “. . . my humble ‘Johnny’ works just fine. And for me, the best part about hiking the A.T. is not enhancing my identity but losing it in the wild wonder of the woods.” Far enough – hike your own hike, but what about me? Perhaps not as dramatic or urgent as the end of an episode of 24, but I’ll discuss my own thoughts and plans for a Trail Name next week.

Please follow this planned adventure as I use the year prior to starting the trip to discuss planning for my thru-hike as well as the history, personalities, and events about the Trail. (If you have not already, you can sign up at the right to receive an email whenever a new post is made).

Please feel free to pose whatever questions you may have about this planned journey in the “Comments” section below any post.

Finally, please share this site with others who might be interested in the Appalachian Trail or with my plan to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.


** Rating System. Due to the difference experience level people have with the AT, I will “warn” people at the beginning of a post as to whether I consider the information “Basic” or “Beginner” level – for those essentially new to all things Appalachian Trail. I like to think of Beginners as “Day Hikers.” (Follow along and by the end of my hike you will be completely literate about the AT and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.) The other “ratings” will be “I” for “Intermediate.” and “E” for “Expert.” I like to think of those with Intermediate knowledge as “Section Hikers” and those with Expert knowledge as “Thru-Hikers.” [For instance, until this post, a Beginner will not yet know to what Section Hiker or Thru-Hiker refers. More about Section Hikers and Thru-Hikers in a future post.]


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Last modified: December 27, 2017