Going Long Distance on a Thru-Hike

Working the Long D

No one likes long-distance relationships. They’re hard, complicated, and pretty much just the worst. But every once in a blue moon, you meet someone who might just be worth it. I sure did.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, (depending on how you look at it) we have yet to have an “easy” phase in our relationship. When we met, I was applying to med school, and he was in his last semester of grad school. What a great time to meet someone wonderful! No stress at all! The cherry on top was realizing we lived two hours apart. But it worked for us because we communicated so transparently with each other. We’re honest. And we both make sacrifices to be with each other.

In a way, we’ve unknowingly been preparing for this all along. We value the time we do spend together because: 1. we don’t see each other nearly as often as we’d like, and 2. we got in this relationship knowing a lot of changes were going to happen come February. The key for me was not to expect anything from him, instead I just feel jubilant when we do get to talk on the phone or climb a mountain together or whatever other crazy fiasco we always seem to find ourselves in. I just enjoy what we have together without demanding anything more and that gives both of us the freedom we need.

Letting Go to Hold On

From Day 1, he knew I was planning to thru hike the AT this February. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Somehow it worked out that he was in a similar situation with a pretty similar timeline, too. I start my thru hike in February, and he takes his own trip in March.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there is a small part of me that wishes he wanted to thru hike the AT with me, or that I wanted to go on his trip with him. Of course, we want to be together, but we care enough about each other to let the other go. In fact, that’d be the beginning of the end of our relationship if I asked him not to go on his adventure or if he asked me not to do the trail. Those are the very things that make us us. And isn’t that what drew us to each other in the first place? The adventurous spirit, the ambition, the wanderlust. Right now, we both have our own dreams to fulfill, and we’re going to do it together, but apart.

The Dark, Looming Unknown

Let’s be honest, this is really the awful part about long-distance relationships. The unknown. Not knowing what’s going on in the other’s life and not being able to connect with them. “Is he happy? I hope he’s safe. What if she’s lost on the trail somewhere, or getting eaten by a bear?” All valid questions that have the potential to drive any sane person mad.

This is particularly difficult for us because we don’t know what happens after the trail. He doesn’t know where he’ll be working, and I don’t know where I’ll go to med school. Scratch that, I don’t even know if I’m going to med school in August.

It’s agonizing to think about a million different things out of our control. And believe me, I’ve had my share of minor meltdowns, but a really wise person recently told me, “When you’re in the dark, don’t forget what you knew in the light.” What we do know is that we want to be together. If nothing else, I trust and believe that we will find a way back to each other. And when we do, I have no doubt we’ll both be better for it.


I’ll do a post about our long-distance relationship after the AT, so feel free to send me whatever questions you have and I’ll add them to the list!

Here’s some questions I’ll be wondering:

  • How has your relationship changed?
  • What was your most preferred way to keep in touch?
  • How did being in a relationship change your experience on the trail?
  • What do you wish you’d done before you parted?
  • Are you glad you did it?
  • What’s next?

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Comments 2

  • Dano : Jan 8th

    Great read! Thanks

  • Bethany Varner : Jan 8th

    I’m also in a long distance but a little longer than two hours, as in he’s stationed in Alaska and I’m currently in Texas! It definitely is not easy, but so worth it when you really want to be with someone. I kinda wish my boyfriend had the time and wanted to hike with me as well, but that just isn’t him either. I’ll be starting my thru-hike just five days after you! Hope to see you out there!


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