5 Ways I Plan to Keep my Relationship Strong During my Thru Hike

Starting a thru hike is a massive undertaking. This is something I’ve been planning for almost an entire year. Amidst the numerous excel spreadsheets and extensive research I’ve only had one real caveat—my relationship.

Of course, I am incredibly happy with my relationship or I wouldn’t still be in it. The problem is leaving my life behind for six months… and my spouse with it. This adds a layer of complexity to my hike, and will be something that requires my constant attention while on trail. So what’s a girl to do?

I am in no way qualified to give any sort of advice. This is especially true of relationship advice. These are just the techniques I plan to implement in my own relationship. Partnership with someone is not a one size fits all situation, so do what works for you!

Why isn’t your partner going with you?

My wife loves backpacking. The two of us have very different hiking styles (I’m a mile-pusher, while she enjoys the flora and fauna),  but we go on small trips any time we can.

My wife is truly an inspirational hiking partner. She reminds me to slow down a bit so as to avoid injury. She points out incredible scenery that I would otherwise miss. Best of all, she doesn’t let my negativity win. When trips and plans don’t go my way, she reminds me to adapt and focus on being present.

Unfortunately, both of us going would have been too messy. When the idea first came about, there were a lot of details we tried to work out–what to do with our cats, what I should do about college, and how to handle a multi-year work contract she needed to fulfill. Eventually we realized it would be years before we could set aside a half year of time together, and she suggested I go alone.

Has this already/do you expect this to change the relationship?

The only thing that has changed pre-trail is the way I see our devotion to one another. I would like to point out that the decision to thru hike was made whilst planning our wedding. When I set foot on trail, we will have been married for only six months. In my opinion, that speaks to an incredibly strong bond. She could feel the importance this hike holds in my mind, so she selflessly agreed to stay at home.

However, I would be foolish to think things are that simple. Six months is a long time to frolic through the forest, while my spouse is home maintaining our bills, pets, and other responsibilities. That’s why we have ongoing discussions about ways to mitigate the stress and bad feelings. Communication is important to us, so establishing a framework for how that communication would continue long-distance was crucial. Here are five things we plan to do to keep our marriage from suffering during my journey.

1. Carrying a satellite communicator

If I had a dollar for every time someone looked over my gear list and said “ditch the satellite thing, it’s unnecessary weight,” I would have many, many dollars. The Zoleo was one of my first gear purchases, and it will accompany me all the way to Katahdin. This 5.5 ounce box will ensure that I can send my wife a message (hopefully) every night to let her know I’m safe. This will also provide me with peace of mind. Her anxiety causes me anxiety, and that’s a vicious cycle I’m not interested in entering on trail.

I chose the Zoleo due to the lower price point and higher character limit for outgoing messages. Of course, if I have cell service, I’ll just send regular text messages. Either way, it’s important for us to be able to communicate at least once a day. On town days, we’ll be able to have lengthier communication, giving us something to look forward to.

2. Shifting my Perspective

This one was tough. In the beginning stages of planning I was so obsessed with all things Trail. I wanted to talk about gear, culture, food options, mail drops… even how long I would go without showering. I expected everyone around me to be equally excited–especially my wife. I wasn’t too thrilled when she told me to “shut up about the stupid AT already.”

I quickly realized that I should not be angry with her. Asking her to stay home, send my resupplies, take care of the bills, cook and clean by herself, and maintain two vehicles was selfish enough. How could I expect her to be ecstatic about that? She’ll see my instagram stories of beautiful views and camaraderie, while stuck at work.

Changing the way I saw things allowed me to be more reserved about my upcoming journey. It allowed space for me to try to see what struggles she will endure while I’m gone. No one’s pain is more or less valid than another’s. When I’m miserable because of “suck” that happens out there, I will still keep in mind that she is dealing with issues of her own.

This is especially important for my next point.

3. Giving More before there’s Less

Once it clicked for me that life will continue on for her without me, I was hit with the reality of the loneliness. Not just the twinges of sadness I knew I would feel at night in my tent, but also this image of her going to bed alone night after night. It broke my heart. Neither of us has slept alone like that in years.

Nothing could make this better. I considered holding “training sessions” to see how we could handle time apart. That felt incredibly stupid. Instead I thought, “what if I overload the relationship prior to leaving?”

We both put in a lot of effort to maximize the quality of our time together. I tried to imagine what nostalgia would come to our minds during this separation; all of our goals, cherished moments, and love. If we could have more of those things to draw on while we’re apart, then perhaps, it won’t feel quite as exhaustive. I try my best to build her up as an individual as well as within the relationship on a daily basis. Hopefully when times are tough that will help to manage the pain.

4. Loosely Planned Visits

Obviously it’s difficult to plan meetups along the trail. I have no way of knowing where I’ll be when. The closest point from our house to the trail is still a 5 hour drive. That being said, it’s a hard no for both of us to go six continuous months without seeing one another.

Flexibility is the key here. We have planned a couple of visits, but no specific dates or towns. Rather than trying to figure out the unknown, we have loose timelines on what area I should be in by what month. This will allow her to meet me somewhere on her weekends off with minimal added stress. Plus, it’ll mean a night in a real bed with my human teddy bear!

5. Seeking Encouragement (and not just from each other)

Just knowing how I am in normal life, I know I will need encouragement to not quit. Often I can provide that for myself, but sometimes it’ll be nice to have the additional support.

Encouraging words from my spouse are incredibly powerful for me, but that’s a big ask. In order to keep us both from feeling overwhelmed, we’ve both established outside support networks.  This includes family, friends, and others who have our best interests in mind. These are people we can turn to for support or advice when it would be unfair to ask one another. In my opinion, this will strengthen our bond as well. Being able to support a partner is important, but I feel self-reliance and emotional balance are equally important.

What about after the hike?

I anticipate a slight adjustment period for both of us when I return. We’ve been living together for over 3 years, and I have no way of knowing how such an amount of time apart will affect that. Truthfully, I have no way of knowing if my approach to things is right or wrong. That’s something we will learn by trial and error.

I do know how grateful I am to have the opportunity to accomplish such a challenge, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of my loved ones, especially my spouse.

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Comments 7

  • Les Behan : Feb 6th

    Good luck to you, if I had a wife that ugly I’d give my right ball to be shot of her for 6 months. Hope you meet some errrr quality cougars along the way.

    • Emily : Feb 10th

      Thank you for sharing this, I have been considering a thru hike and my partner would also be staying home. You offer some great perspective on how to handle it, for both the hiker and the spouse staying home. I was upset at first that my partner wasn’t so thrilled about the idea of my thru hike when I was so excited, so I appreciate your tip to stop and see it from their perspective. Finding ways to care for a relationship even when you’re apart is so important so I’m happy to hear your ideas for how to make it work. Wishing you both the best!

      • Jessica Rhane : Feb 10th

        Thanks, Emily! I don’t think I could have convinced her if we didn’t put so much focus on communication. Good luck to you in hopefully getting out there, alone or not! ✌️

    • Jessica Rhane : Feb 10th

      Considering your opinion, I’d say it’s a good thing you’re not the one married to her! 😉 Happy trails! ✌️

  • Sabrina : Mar 15th

    It’s wonderful to see how much thought and effort you are putting into keeping your relationship strong during this hike. I’m rooting for you both!

  • Mark : Mar 16th

    You go, girl. I’m envious of your pluck.

    Mark L.
    AT Class Of ’79

  • Jessica Riggins : Mar 30th

    Hey Jessica,

    Loved this blog. My partner is currently attempting his Thru hike of the AT and it’s definitely been a challenge not being together. We just met up at the NOC for his first zero and to spend some time together. Hopefully you and your wife will get to spend some time together while you’re out there as well! Best of luck on your journey ?


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