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Given the Greenlight


Typical section of the AT near Clingman’s Dome

Hey, howzit’ goin’? I’m Greenlight.

When we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Aaron and I went with the intention of getting our trail names, on the Appalachian Trail, that we will use when we eventually thru-hike the AT.

Aaron wants his bestowed spontaneously. I’m more of an opportunist. But there we were, bearing down on Mount Collins Shelter where we’d spend Saturday night. We could smell wood smoke a mile-and-a-half away and knew we were getting close. The shelter is a half-mile off the AT on a side path, and we were told by Firecracker, the first thru-hiker we met on the trail, that there probably wouldn’t be many thru-hikers at Mount Collins because thru-hikers don’t like burning unnecessary miles.

It was, however, a cold and windy night. There were a couple of thru-hikers at the shelter as well as a bunch of section hikers. With Aaron, and me the shelter was completely full. As we were pulling out our food bags and preparing to eat, with the sun going down, I pulled my Browning head lamp out of my pack and turned it on. Scoping out the inside of the shelter and looking around outside for a place to cook my dinner, I figured that my lamp was too bright and probably annoying people as it shined in the their eyes as I passed by.

Half of the shelter occupants had already eaten and were in various states of awake and asleep as they lay on the two tiers of sleeping spaces. I adjusted the light so that it was only emitting a soft green glow. Others were doing the same thing with their lights; all of their “low beam” colors were red. Coming around the side of the shelter, one of the thru-hikers mentioned off-handedly to me, “Hey dude, I like your green light.”

I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as I was drifting off that night (before having to get up at 3 a.m. in nothing but my boots, compression shorts and down jacket to pee) I wondered how active I should be in the solicitation of a trail name. The first thing I did after making a double coffee in my JetBoil the next morning and downing the last of my maple bacon toaster pastries was to gather some firewood and attempt to get the fire started in the shelter fireplace. Having a full can of Zippo lighter fluid in my fire kit helped the process. The two thru-hikers were stirring and I asked which one of them had said he liked my green light last night. The younger one sporting dreads and a friendly “dude” attitude fessed up.

“Do you think that would work for a trail name?” I asked him. “Greenlight. I sort of like that.”

“That or maybe … Green Lantern” he joked.

“Oh, hell no! I gasped. Maybe Deadpool but please, not Green Lantern!”

It was agreed. My trail name would be Greenlight.

I like the fact that I didn’t decide single-handedly what my trail name would be. I like that it was negotiated on my second section hike of the AT itself, which will eventually become my home for four or five months in the not-so-distant future. And lastly, I like that it was the result of give-and-take with current thru-hikers.

Most people in the world have never heard of the Appalachian Trail. Of the ones who have, only a small subset give a rat’s ass how I got my trail name, or that I have one at all.

For me, though, it is important. It moves me one step closer to a dream. Not the dream of beginning, but rather of standing atop Katahdin and saying, with Grandma Gatewood, “I said I’d do it, and I’ve done it.”



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