What’s in a (Trail) Name?

One of the more interesting  rituals of long distance hiking, and especially thru-hikes, is the use of Trail Names. There are many reasons this has become accepted practice from the basic idea of taking on a new identity to the concept of social leveling…plus it’s just fun! If I introduce myself as “Dean” to someone I meet on the trail the other person has really learned nothing about me…but if I introduce myself as Bug Juice there is an instant understanding, even if they don’t know the backstory of the name. Speaking of which…where exactly did the name Bug Juice come from?

What is that Red stuff in the tube?

I have a habit of adding a little powdered drink-mix to my water when I hike. This goes back to the days when water was treated with iodine or chlorine based purifiers. Inevitably, there would be a disagreeable after taste which could be masked by adding a little Kool-Aid, or as the generic variety the camp I worked at affectionately called it, Bug Juice!

Unfortunately, this could only help the taste so much. I distinctly remember treating some water for one group and the kids saying “gross, this tastes like a swimming pool !” (the chlorinated purifier). Being the savvy trip leader that I was, I busted out some lemonade mix and added some to everyone’s water bottle. “How does it taste now?” I asked. To which the kids replied, “Like someone poured lemonade in a swimming pool !!! ”  So, lesson learned, lemonade mix does hide the taste of chlorinated water…but luckily the red stuff does a much better job.

Over the years, while out in the woods someone I’d meet along the way would invevitably ask me “what’s in your water bottle?”  The quick reply, “Bug Juice” which usually brought about a knowing smile, memories of camp and washing down hot dogs with glowing red liquid. Even as water treatments improved, no longer leaving unpleasant after tastes, I continued to use drink mix. Thus the name Bug Juice was born.

Some people even adopt their trail names into everyday life. My good friend Spike was known as Dan for the first 50+ years of his life when I met him. Then on a bicycle tour we did across the USA he became Spike, and anyone who’s met him since that fateful day in 1992 has no idea his real name is Dan!


Bug Juice (notice red color in tube) and Spike at a random rendezvous along the John Muir Trail

To add some gravitas to this idea of Trail Names, here is a link to a great article from today’s Wall Street Journal.

– Bug Juice

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