Quite a few of you have asked me what my trail name is. It hasn’t been my intention to be evasive or anything. I just wanted to tell the whole story of my trail name but have been consistently distracted with other pursuits.
So here’s the thing: as soon as the average thru hiker steps foot on Springer Mountain in Georgia, other to-be thru hikers feel the need to label her with a trail name. It doesn’t matter how relevant or personal the match; the motivation seems to be the pride in being the namer.
My name is really important to me. It’s a distinct part of my identity, so I wasn’t too keen on adopting an arbitrary descriptor. If I were going to adopt a trail name, it had to be a right fit. It took about six weeks before I found one that suited my qualifications.
In those six weeks, fellow thru hikers (aggressively) proposed many options. (Did I mention that hikers almost seem offended by another hiker that doesn’t want a trail name? It’s a strange “in crowd” phenomenon.)
First, there was Fancy Feast, proposed since my diet is generally healthy and does not consist of ramen, Pasta Sides, and snack cakes. I wasn’t fond of the cat food brand reference. Also, what if I decided that I wanted to eat plain rice for dinner? Then the name wouldn’t make any sense at all. I couldn’t handle that pressure! No, that wouldn’t do.
After that was Downhill Dancer since I liked to run downhill on the trail in Georgia and NC. Since I’m superstitious, I thought that name could be bad luck. I mean, what if I injured myself running downhill? How senseless would the name be then?
Some of the other suggestions included Egg since I love them, Happy Feet for the penguin duct tape on my busted up boots, and finally Pfeiffer (pronounced Fifer) for the character from the old show The Wonder Years who is known to have said, “I’m allergic to everything…even soap.” I resisted them all.
Well, my first night out of Erwin, TN I camped by myself. After setting up my tent, I took off my socks and noticed a rash on both feet. The first thing I thought was, “Hm, I wonder if I’m having an allergic reaction to the laundry soap.” And then I laughed to myself. “Pfeiffer” was starting to sound like a decent fit. Not only do I have a long list of foods I avoid in addition to down feathers (you’d be surprised how much this comes up on the trail since sleeping bags and jackets are often made of down) but now the laundry soap?
After I mentioned it to a couple of family members and friends and noted their laughter in return, it was decided. Pfeiffer it is. At first it felt strange to introduce myself by this alias, this nebulous androgynous mask of a name. But honestly it’s grown on me, and now it’s second nature. And, ya know, Pfeiffer’s a pretty cute name, if I do say so myself.
*Oh, and by the way, credit goes to Lentil for coming up with it. *
So now that I’ve given you the rundown, let me switch gears and tell you a theory I have. Every thru hiker has his or her equivalent of Kryptonite, that which affects motivation, morale, overall well being.
Speaking of Lentil (well, we were talking about him a minute ago), his Kryptonite is wet boots. He and I haven’t talked about this explicitly yet, but that describes it to a tee. If there is threat of heavy rain or thunderstorms, he broods over the thought of his waterproof boots getting wet and threatening his beautiful feet. And, to his credit, he does have nice feet. I have calluses so gnarly that my feet are numb and only five remaining toenails, whereas Lentil can count on one hand how many blisters he’s gotten in the past three months.
Techie, on the other hand, will willingly walk through a torrential downpour to get to a store, for his Kryptonite is going too many days without a soda. When we discussed this, he said it serves as motivation as opposed to being his downfall, but I still contend that it counts as Kryptonite.
And, last but not least, my Kryptonite is really a two-fer: heat and feet. The day before I made it to Harpers Ferry and the ATC HQ, I had planned to hike 20 miles. By the time I made it 15 miles, I was bordering on crying and couldn’t move another pace. The 90 degree heat had completely sapped my energy, and my feet hurt with every step. The last time I’d felt this pathetic was when I’d first gotten a sunburn and then torn my shoes over 600 miles earlier on April 16.
I’ll be honest. Despite a weekend in the DC area with friends and family, it took a solid week to shake the melancholy that came on me that day. Luckily, I got a new pair of boots, and the temperature cooled down into the 70s again. I also managed to spend a couple of rainy afternoons relaxing in shelters and getting myself recentered.
All things considered, one melancholy mood in three months is a pretty great track record.
And never you fear, the old Pfeiffer is back and excitedly pushing through Pennsylvania on my way north to Mount Katahdin.