Trail Names, Revisited…

In a previous post I described a trail name as an alias taken on by a hiker on the trail. People are more commonly known by these pseudonyms than by their real monikers. In that post, I waxed philosophic about the name “Next Step,” and how it may be a suitable trail name to use on my hike. On our December hike in the Smokys, though, Gavin suggested another trail name that I’ve been considering. It is truly incredible how creative he is, and he has a special mastery of the pun.

We were standing in the shelter packing up after a restful night’s sleep and he said, “Dad, I’ve got a trail name for you: Aftermath. Get it? After. Math.” For the uninformed, I have spent the past 29 years teaching high school and community college mathematics. My first impression was that it was a creative name, but I didn’t give it much thought because I was somewhat vested in “Next Step.” Since then, I’ve had some time to ruminate over the name and it has grown on me somewhat.

When I initially looked up the word online, the first thing I saw for a definition on Google was, “consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event.” That didn’t sound too good. Though I had some of “those days,” and a very few students over the years that I didn’t particularly care for, I certainly wouldn’t deem my teaching career as a significant unpleasant event. I also hope that I’m not a consequence or an aftereffect. Those seem to be quite negative terms. Then I looked on down the page for other definitions.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( has “consequence” as the second definition. As Cliff Clavin, of Cheer’s Fame, would say, “It’s a little known fact that…” aftermath dates to the late 1400s and refers to a “second-growth crop.” It seems that in older British English, math refers to mowing a hay crop. Thus, in its originally used form, the word aftermath refers to the second planted crop. Further in the entry, it is stated that this second crop was often used for grazing, or plowed under, presumably to add nutrients to the soil. At least in this sense, aftermath seems to be a helpful thing.

I have to confess that I started writing this post on January 17, and it has been languishing on my hard drive since. I just haven’t been able to come up with a decision or a proper ending. While I truly want to honor Gavin’s creativity, I’m still somewhat selfishly stuck on Next Step. As I wrote in my Trail Names entry, I am partial to that name because of its multifaceted meaning to me and to my hike. I have discussed both names with Gavin, and while he is proud of the trail name he came up with, he understands why I like Next Step. Truth be told, it is still highly likely that I’ll do something dumb on trail and will become known to others as Wrong Way, Breaks the Wind, or something equally as embarrassing, and all the mental effort I’ve spent in this deliberation will be for naught.

At least for the present, I think my decision has been made. I am honored to introduce myself to you by my trail name: Next Step. Now I’ll turn the keyboard over to Gavin to share his thoughts about trail names.

Hi! This is Gavin again, and I’d like to share my thoughts on trail names. I really like the concept of trail names, because they are a way of getting to know someone. I feel like a trail name is more personal when it is given to you based on of your characteristics or actions on the trail. This makes it feel more meaningful to me when other people pick out your name, and that is why I’m going to leave the option of my trail name up to you, my readers, and to those whom I’ll meet along the trail. Whether or not I regret this decision remains to be seen. Do any of you have any suggestions? If so, post them in the comments below. Hopefully, I will be able to respond to all of your comments before the trip.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the trail name Little Bear, because I’m so bad at throwing bear hangs and so good at climbing trees. If you’re wondering why this is funny see the article about the Pisgah National Forest trip. There, we got attacked by a bear. Well, we didn’t get attacked, but our food got attacked by a bear because he was really good at climbing really small trees. In closing thank you for your time. Your comments and suggestions are always appreciated, and remember to just keep taking the Next Step!

6 thoughts on “Trail Names, Revisited…”

    1. A week from Sunday. We’ll be doing the approach trail at Amicalola Falls on the 23rd, and we’ll get dropped off at the top of Springer with packs the next day.

  1. Gavin,

    I REALLY love your choice of Aftermath for your dad! I’ve often considered a license plate that reads “MATHS4U2” for myself. But I’m too cheap to spend the extra bucks! I also really like your suggestion of Little Bear for yourself! I’ve seen your dad on enough mornings to know that without coffee, he can be a bear! I wish you both the very best and enjoy reading your thoughts. I’m excited to read of your upcoming adventures!


  2. Haha. Maybe “Friend of Bear” since you’ll be doing them a favor with your shoddy throwing? Actually, because I know you, I’m thinking “Bear Hug” might be better. We love you guys to pieces (a figure of speech… not like being torn to pieces by bears), and we’ll be praying for you every step.
    PS – I LOVE “Aftermath”! That’s genius!

  3. Gavin, your choice of your father’s name is excellent, even if he chose another. I recall watching the movie Man Of The House with Chevy Chase and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. They join a scouting-type group, The Indian Scouts, and the son’s responsibility is to give their parent leader a native american name to use in the group meetings and outings. His choice for Chevy Chase’s character is Squatting Dog. You are much kinder to your dad than he was! Enjoy your trip!

  4. Looking forward to following the two of you on your epic journey. Like others who have already remarked positively about Gavin’s trail name for you, I have to concur that ‘Aftermath’ is not only brilliant, but as much as I know, original, too. I remember another hiker from 2018 whose trail name was/is Next Step –
    Like you, I’m an educator…….and also like you, I took my oldest son with me on a hike as we hiked the back country near Estes Park, CO. Wow! The memories will stay with us for our lifetimes.
    I had planned on doing a 175 mile section hike on the AT last April but because of a back injury had to postpone that hike. Probably a good thing that I did as my heart started acting up a couple of weeks later while I was at school. I’m frequently reminded that things might not have turned out too well for me had I been on the trail when all that happened. God certainly has His ways – sometimes, delays are a blessing.
    After undergoing a procedure for a pacemaker implant, I’m seemingly doing well and planning on starting that postponed section hike this coming April 29th. Unlike you, I’m still working…so until I do retire, looks like section hikes will be the way for me to experience the AT.
    Praying for the two of you as I await your updates from the trail.

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