Evolution of a trail name on the John Muir Trail.
August 2020-- I arrived at Vermillion Valley Ranch on day 4 of our 12 day through hike on the John Muir Trail. It’s me, my brother, and our dad. A real ‘guys trip’ if you will. I had arrived first, lucky enough to hitchhike a ride down a dusty ~5 mi. road off trail, atop a pile of lake toys in the back of a dusty Chevy truck, soon to restock our rations of all things dehydrated before continuing on.
As I passed the first group of people I’d seen in 3 days, I thought about how different it was out here, doing what we were doing. How fast your mind wanders into the depths of yourself while hiking in nature, something so surreal to experience in just 72 hours.
Unsure how I feel to be around people again, I sit quietly, perched on a bench, under a shanty marketplace sign that reads: “Backpackers: Loitering Welcome...” Surely I’m in the right place. Inside, I find a refrigerator stocked with beers. Some things you just can’t pack on this kind of a trip and cold beers are one! I opt for a Michelada and return to my backpack to enjoy the first ice-cold thing to touch my lips in what feels like forever.
The market at VVR is bustling, but I opt to sit alone. The trails got me shy I think. My mind wanders, I sip my beer, I’m happy at my picnic table. I pull out my kindle, but quickly realize that I’m not in the frame of mind for reading, and just like that my attention circles back to my surroundings.I look up, “Mushroom City” reads a sign to the entrance of a dirt patch surrounded by sawed off logs. I chuckle to myself and take a better look. My eyes jump from stump to stump, each one scrawled with a name: KEGGER, TURTLE, CAVEMAN, MILKMAN, RADAR, LEGO, COYOTE, KITCHEN SINK, BUBBLES, BOTTLE BOY, PHOENIX… you get the gist: Nicknames, no doubt. Do I want one? I daydream. I turn back to my kindle, still no luck there.
Something still captivated me about these nicknames! Why so many? How long had they been there? Surely there’s more to the story.
My Dad and brother finally arrive, so now it’s time to get to work. We empty our trash and begin to refill our bear canisters. Before too long we’d need to catch a ferry ride across a lake. Back to the land of no cold beers.
Packing a bear canister is an art form, and my brother and Dad take to it, not wanting any of my help. I sit and chomp a CHOMPS. As we sort through our resupply goods it immediately becomes apparent that we’ve packed too much food. Lucky for us, VVR provides a bin to leave any excess foods for others on the trail.
Before heading out, we quickly fill the bin with CHOMPS snack sticks. A delicacy compared to the normal overstock variety of ramen noodles and bags of questionable dehydrated leftovers that usually frequent the bin. We hear shuffling, possibly running, and maybe even bickering. I have no idea what’s going on at the time, but soon I find out the overstock has been pillaged. All the commotion was to get CHOMPS.
I’m happy to see our CHOMPS sticks being taken advantage of by people who can really use them. Seeing other people so excited is strangely fulfilling. A few people come over and thank us, it’s sort of surreal, and I begin to grasp just how much camaraderie there is amongst the backpacking community. It feels good.
A guy comes up to us and asks “are you the Meat Stick guys?”
A smile creeps up on my face. “Yes.”
He thanks me graciously and says, “I love these things!”
Another in their group asks if I have a Tramily.
“What’s that” I say shyly. Should I?
I ask her about the nicknames on the stumps, and am immediately corrected.
“Those are Trail Names.”
Now I know.
“Trout, Slug, let’s go!” I hear being yelled from a distance. Two backpackers head out.
It turns out word travels fast. The next day on the trail we encountered a new unfamiliar face.
“Did you meet the Meat Stick Guys?”
“Um,” I hesitate, “I think we are the Meat Stick Guys?”
My brother laughs and corrects me.
“Actually, he is the meat stick guy.”
Later that day, we serendipitously rejoined the group that had found the overstock CHOMPS back at VVR. We hike in close proximity for the rest of the day, and that night we camped directly next to the group, purely by coincidence. It’s a rowdy, fun, nice bunch of folks from all over the place. A group of 13 strangers who met on the trail, and persevered through triumph and tragedy: an all around great bunch. A Tramily.
My newly found friends began calling me nothing but ‘‘Meat Stick Man.’ And as conversation continued into the evening, the ‘Man’ somehow disappeared. Just like that, I am ‘MEAT STICK.’
“Hey MEAT STICK, why don’t you leave the trail names to us.”
Later, there’s a moment I hear ‘THE LAW’ say “How am I going to explain to my husband that I’m hanging out with a guy on the trail named ‘MEAT STICK? At that moment, I realized: I am MEAT STICK, thanks to CHOMPS Snack Sticks.
--Matt aka Meat Stick
* A few weeks after we finished our hike, the Creek Fire ravaged the area described in this story and many backpackers had to be emergency airlifted from VVR. We wish our best to all the employees of VVR, others who live in the area, and would especially like to thank all of the rescue crews and firefighters for their hard work and dedication.