6 Questions My Partner and I Asked While Planning for My Thru-Hike

A topic I haven’t seen much written about (with notable exceptions) is how to talk to your significant other about committing to a solo-thru hike.

According to the Trek’s 2023 Appalachian Trail Hiker Survey, about 12% of hikers in 2023 started their Appalachian Trail thru-hike with their partner (I lumped together married and non-married couples). 49% of hikers on the other hand began a thru-hike leaving behind a significant other.

The individuals who finish the hike with that partner still waiting at home seems to be slightly lower, dropping a few percentage points. This predictably reflects the challenges taking a 4–6-month hike through the woods might have on any relationship.

I thought I’d write about how the conversation has gone for my partner, Annie, and I.

The Trail Has Started “Feeling Real” in Stages

The conversation has been ongoing years because our relationship to the thru-hike changes. Feelings around the trek change as the date gets closer. The prospect of a summer apart feels different a year in advance than it does three months before I set out. For both of us, the trail has come to feel more and more real in stages over the last year. Each phase brings its own unique rollercoaster of emotions.

First comes the brainstorming session. When you look at your finances, your kit, and an apparently open summer a couple years in advance. This stage is when the plan is still just an idea. There is equal measure optimism and skepticism of what fruit that idea will ever bear.

Then you cross the threshold of terror. I’m talking about that watershed moment when fluffy, pie in the sky ideas suddenly feel alarmingly concrete.

For me, this happened when I bought a shiny new pack for the trip over Thanksgiving. It was one of those purchases that would totally unnecessary if I wasn’t planning a thru-hike. It was the bit of gear that would feel like a tremendous waste of money if there wasn’t a very real thru-hike coming in mere months.

Taking the dog for a walk in the woods.

I imagine there are two or three more thresholds of terror we’ll be hopscotching across until the hike starts in earnest. All this is to say that Annie and I are both experiencing these evolving feelings about my hike, but not necessarily at the same time. Some days she is in a state of blissful acceptance and I’m shaking with horror at what I’ve wrought on my friends, my job, my very stable life. The next morning it will be the other way around.

This is another reason to keep the conversation open and fluid.

A Thru-Hike Is a Massive Disruption to Everyone Around You

Annie and I have built a life together over nine years. Beyond the fact that our individual well-beings are entwined, that life was also built with two sets of hands, two incomes in mind. I must imagine that leaving for a 4-6 month thru-hike is a massive disruption to the people in our lives no matter how independently you think you live. Your job, your friends and neighbors, are all affected on some level by your absence (i.e. you matter).

If you’re like me and lucky enough to be part of a long, loving, and supportive relationship, that disruption will be felt on a deep and material level by your partner. For one, it’s expensive to be single these days. Figuring out finances was a critical step to making this plan feasible for both of us. Bills at home don’t go away just because I’m on what amounts to a 4-6 month vacation in the woods.

Hiking outside of Moab, UT

For me, success on the trail, on some level, means leaving home at home. It means being present every day on the trail, and not worrying about what kind of poops the dog is having on any given day. On the other hand, to do that responsibly, I need to make sure I’m doing right by the people who will be living life without me for a few months. People who otherwise expect me to be around. Communication about expectations is important because we have an established life together, with a home, pets, friends and family, systems built with two people in mind.

Some Questions We Asked Each Other Again… And Again… And Again.

Then we dove into a list of questions that seems to constantly grow, and which are part of ongoing conversation.

  1. How will bills be split?
  2. How will caring for the cats and dog change? If medical decisions for the pets need to be made, how will we navigate that?
  3. How will I communicate with home and how often?
  4. How will we handle FOMO of being left out of new friends being made on the trail, and friends being made at home?
  5. What does post-trail life look like? Have we budgeted for a potential gap in income?
  6. What are opportunities we each plan on taking advantage of while living separately?

This last one has important for us now, and historically. It helps it feel more like one person is having an adventure if we both have plans for radical growth.

What are ways you’ve been sure to include your loved ones in your trip planning? I’d love to hear about obstacles we haven’t considered.

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Comments 3

  • Adella Powlowski : Jan 22nd

    Your recent writing truly hit the spot. Wanted to drop a quick note of appreciation – thanks for the insightful content!

    • Ben Carpenter : Jan 22nd

      Thanks, Adella!I appreciate you reading.

  • Murray Ziegenfuss : Apr 4th

    Hi Ben! As a widow of a once-upon-a-time thru-hiker, I’ve long been interested in the significant others’ experience of being left on the home front. Would love to read her thoughts as well as yours. All the best to both of you as you each journey into uncharted territory.


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