I have a teensy obsession with the Appalachian trail. Love reading about other’s hikes along its 2,160 mile length. Even dreamed a sugar dream of thru hiking it in my early twenties. Luckily, the only person we told was Mumsy and she had the good grace to neither laugh hysterically nor take us seriously. Because, honestly, I hate animals, can count on one hand the number of days I’ve gone without showering in the past five years and will only drink water from my own reverse osmosis tap (don’t judge me). These things and a tarp load full of others would preclude me from spending more than two and a half hours in the woods and from anyone wanting to be within swinging range if it ended up being longer. So I choose instead to lay on the monster bed, cocooned in clean sheets and smelling my own sweet smells and read of others doing this insanely cool thing called thru-hiking. This month it’s been Isis and jackrabbit, the barefoot sisters who started at the trail’s northern terminus in Maine and hiked south to Georgia. Upon setting foot on Springer mountain, they decided to keep their packs on and walk back to Maine (those of us in the know call this a yoyo, but you can just call it crazy). Their stories of hiking nearly 5,000 miles, mostly barefooted, are spread over a thousand pages in two books. I’ve been devouring them. Have even been able to ignore the just arrived new release by one of my favorite authors, Sandra Dallas. And here is what struck me on this latest armchair adventure: everyone who hikes the a.t. gets a trail name, something funny or meaningful that becomes your new identity. When you are given your trail name, you shed your old identity and take on this new persona for the duration. Because this journey is so epic that it demands a new identity at the same time as it gives birth to a new person who can fit it. At the beginning, you are just a scared, determined hiker with this new name wrapped around your neck like a scarf and sounding weird to your ears and by the end, you are that name. Somewhere along the trail you break it in and it starts to fit and by the end you can’t even separate yourself from it anymore. And all this is making me think of a particularly rough patch I hit last summer and the sticky hour I spent in my therapist’s office learning that I, too have a trail name. As I learned the rhythms of listening prayer, I began to hear myself addressed by Father in the same way each time i listened. It’s vivid even now, that one session when I sat, listening and she reached out and said, Megan, what does He call you? And I answered unhesitatingly, Beloved. And now whenever He speaks and whenever I stop and quiet myself, really quiet myself enough to listen, it always starts with Beloved. Because this trail is even more epic and I’m walking it slowly and sometimes with weeping blisters and a parched mouth and other times I’m leaping from rock to rock on hinds feet. Because I’d rather be on this trail with this Father than anywhere else, even when it’s hard. And I’m learning to shift my thinking from, He calls me beloved to I am beloved. Trying to become my trail name even though it’s not deserved and even though I don’t wear it well sometimes. Trying to put one foot in front of the other and look up and enjoy the scenery even when it includes twenty one pooping Kevins, even when I snap at Tess that, I’m going to cut your hair short again if you won’t let me do it in the morning. I mean it. Even when my trail mates are bickering unceasingly and the shortest one has been in the throes of wicked pissed all day and I spent another forty three dollars on duct tape this morning. Even then. I am moving forward. I am Beloved. This is me being real. Wondering if you’ve asked Father for your trail name yet?