I’ve Been A Stranger. I’ve Been In The News. I’ve Tried On Every Single Name But They All Seem Used…
In 2015 I embarked on my first long distance hike. Without any knowledge of the trail or how to succeed, I set out along the Pacific Crest Trail for a 1,000 mile journey. The first two days were treacherous and nearly forced me off trail. I realized the maps I was carrying were for another section, and I nearly walked myself into heat exhaustion. I was ready to give up and concede defeat when I stumbled into Jamieson and Bean at a random lake in Oregon. These two Canadians were thru-hiking the entire 2,649 miles of the PCT while raising money for at-risk youth. After asking them for directions and setting off for a 19 mile day (which would allow me to make it to the next town to decide whether or not to continue), I said thank you and headed out on what seemed an impossible trek.
At mile 10-11 a fork in the trail left me wondering what to do. Being seasoned hikers Jamieson and Bean had not lost ground and soon caught up. Jamieson was gracious enough to show me a program called Guthook, which had the trail mapped in detail and allowed for GPS to find our position on trail. We were only 8 miles from the town. All I could think to myself was “thank goodness!” My muscles were near exhaustion, again.
As darkness filled the sky and the sun’s light receded for the day, we joined forces for a night-hike nearly 4 miles from our objective. Jamieson explained to me that there is always strength in numbers. Hours later we made it to camp and into the safety of the tiny town. That day, two serious thru-hikers befriended this lonely and unprepared wannabe-hiker. Little did I know that a week or so later, I would no longer be just Derek.
A week of 20 mile days had passed and Jamieson, Bean and myself were still hiking together. We had even united as a team under the name the Obsidian Death Posse (if you ever see ODP written in dirt or sand on a trail know that we are not far away). The knowledge of the hike and the intricacies of trail-life I learned from them. They taught me how to organize my pack, how to set up camp quickly, how to always keep moving, how to resupply, how to be a steward of the land; they taught me how to live and breathe long distance hiking. I started to have dreams about switchbacks, summits, massive descents and most of all food!
One the most curious things they taught me though was that many long distance hikers are given a “trail name.” This name can be of one’s own choosing or it can be given by other hikers. It reflects something, or nothing or makes a person laugh. A trail name is not a necessity but it connects one to the trail and the other hikers one encounters. I was keen not to make up my own name, so I waited patiently to be given one.
After a cold morning and a cup of hot chocolate, we set out for another 20 mile day. I cannot recall the exact buildup to the “incident”, but I do remember that I was going to take the lead for a few miles as that honor was typically Jamieson’s. Without thinking about it I turned my head, grinned at them and said, “Toodle-loo” to signal my goodbye. That was all it took, whether it was the animation on my face or the jovial way I said goodbye, they were both adamant that my trail name was to be Toodles.
I remember fondly the feeling of excitement and inclusion a new trail name gave me. Finally it felt like the unprepared Derek had blossomed into the thru-hike machine that was Toodles. I was also relieved that they had not chosen another obvious trail name for me, “Teaspoon.” I took a teaspoon with me instead of a spork and used it for the entire trek.
That my friends is the story of my trail name. Jamieson, Bean and myself hiked for 3 months together and reached the northern terminus of the PCT at the US/Canada border with roughly 10 other hikers. During that time we shared a bond that many people may never know, and the connection I feel to them still runs as deep as the roots of the Redwoods. Until recently I never considered the possibility of being given another trail name. But that is the nature of a trail name, if given in a positive and respectful manner one should embrace it.
I met a total of zero people during my hike along the northern section of California’s Lost Coast. This did not surprise me much because it can be a dangerous wilderness during the winter. However, after two days of muscle-shattering sand-walking and a few defiant climbs, I made it to the southern terminus some 26 miles of mind-blowing natural beauty later.
From Black Sands Beach I hiked into Shelter Cove. About a quarter of a mile before I reached camp, a gentleman stopped and asked me if I needed a ride. I thanked him, said no and informed him I was hiking the entire 1,200 miles of the California Coastal Trail. He seemed enthusiastic about my adventure and asked a few questions. After we had finished talking and he was about to drive off, he looked at me and said “take it easy Sandman.” I laughed and told him to be well.
Just like that I had been given another trail name, even if that was not his intent. As someone who has learned the art of thru-hiking, I know a good trail name when I hear one. So just like that Derek is Toodles and Toodles is Sandman.
Admittedly, when someone asks me my name on trail, I am still going to tell them that I am Toodles. But every once in a while if the mood is right, I just might tell them “I am Sandman!” Until next time, happy trails.
Derek “Toodles” “Sandman” Shanks