Interviews with Partner Hikers: Significant Other Edition
“Don’t hike with your partner,” said They.
“It will be bad,” They said.
I replied with a smirk and said, “It will be fine.”
It Would Not be Fine
Want to know what’s hard? Thru-hiking.
Want to know what’s really hard? Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I bet you can guess what’s really, really hard. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail with your significant other.
This was always MY dream. Somehow in the excitement of it all I decided that I would make the offer to do it together. I can’t say I necessarily WANTED to plan it this way, but life happens, and circumstances occur, and stars align. So, here we are. As the overly obsessed planner, I started the research and double purchasing of gear for the hike. I focused on gear. A lot. My internet search history and focus was with gear, as well as nutrition on the trail, saving money, and reading all the books.
Within this planning and prepping, I never considered the groundwork that needed to be done to include another person on a thru-hike. Yes, I planned for the physical presence: two-person tent, splitting gear, sharing chores, food, and laughs. This would be great! I imagined lots of smiling and selfies. However, there’s a larger psychological and emotional whirlwind that I wish I had known a bit more about.
My circumstances were drastic in the pre-trail to trail timeline. I went from working the night shift, to traveling for work and rarely seeing Sonic, to now spending ALL the time in a day together. That is a tough transition for anyone to endure, and then adding the stresses of the trail only heightened the tension and frustration.
You’re Not Alone
There were a fair amount of issues. A learning curve of sorts. Now, while I could sit here and list all of our shortcomings, that’s not what this is about. The basics included difference in pace, expectations and goals, breaks, physical ability, and so forth. We had different ideas of what the trail was supposed to be. It was beyond frustrating. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t handle our differences. As a couple, we were failing.
I spoke up. Not only did we talk to each other about our issues, but I did something out of character. We spoke to some of the other couples we were hiking around. And guess what? They were having very similar issues. Like, eerily similar. Thru-hiking is a very personal journey, and turning it into a couples sport has different rules and regulations. So I started talking to more couples. Misery loves company? No, more like, “Oh thank goodness we aren’t the only ones struggling here!”
I quickly decided to collect information and advice from couples thru-hiking the trail in order to help those interested in hiking with their significant other, or to comfort those who are currently going through the same issues. Hey, we are out here, and we are struggling too. I couldn’t have said the following better myself, so I didn’t. Allow me to introduce you to some of my friends. I asked them to share their pros, cons, and advice of hiking together. Going through everyone’s responses made me feel connected and also more understanding of our own experience.
Turnup and Red Rudder (and Sidewinder): Married
Turnup: The biggest benefit of hiking with Jim is that we are hiking together—it is wonderfully satisfying to share a spectacular view, magical wildlife sighting, or just a thought that pops into your head with the person you care for most in the world. However, the biggest drawback to hiking with Jim is also that we are hiking together. Jim is a much stronger and faster hiker than I am, so neither of us really gets to “hike our own hike.” When I lead it is often excruciatingly slow for him while I’m pushing hard (knowing it is slow for him) to go a bit faster, which tires me out quicker. And when he hikes ahead at his pace and waits for me, he has rested and is waiting to get going once I catch up, giving me no chance to rest. Patience is the key when hiking together, but when fatigued, patience is sometimes in short supply.
Another benefit to hiking with my husband is that we are able to take care of each other. It’s amazing how much you worry about injury, pushing too hard, or not eating enough when you are not hiking together. It’s amazing how well you know each other and can tell, for instance, when it’s time to take a rest even before you realize it yourself. Also, when you are injured or hurting it is always a comfort to have your spouse there with you even when there is nothing to be done about it. Alternatively, when you are hurting it is often too easy to be grumpy with your spouse or take out your pain on him/her.
Red Rudder: So the reason that you don’t see more couples on the trail is because it is really hard both individually and even more so as a couple. It really helps if you have done physically/emotionally difficult things together prior to taking on the trail.
I think the main thing that you have to get straight in your head, even before you step onto the trail (especially if you are not hiking equals and you are the stronger hiker), is that you are not going to be hiking your own hike as an individual. You have to hike your own hike as a couple. You can’t compare yourself to other hikers individually or as a couple. We all hike this trail for a variety of reasons but you have to know why you want to be doing this as a couple and focus on those things, and enjoy them.
It is really important but also very difficult to encourage and push your partner, but to also know when enough is enough. You have to be able to sense when your partner is pushing beyond what they should just so they can make you proud of them (and they probably do this a lot).
The stress of the trail will make you both act out of character sometimes, and you have to be able allow for this. Always remember that this is not your whole relationship nor does it define it. It is just a snippet that you will look back on at some point. And finally, I really recommend that you have a great dog along.
Hardy and Matador: Married
Pros/Benefits: Sharing supplies like a tent, fuel, water purification system, cook system, and even a sleeping pad. This helps with weight distribution. We split chores. While one of us is setting up the tent, the other can be filtering water, or while one of us is blowing up the sleeping pad, the other can be making dinner.
We can both push and support each other. If one of us is having a bad day or struggling, the other can provide either verbal encouragement or take over more of the chores to give the other a break.
You get to know your spouse on a different level than you might normally in regular society. Prior to coming out on trail, we were in very few situations that tested us physically or emotionally as much as out here. We learned a lot about each other by seeing each other in some really low, trying situations. It was a challenge to work through, but ultimately it was a positive experience and has made our relationship stronger.
You can massage each other. Safety in numbers. Body heat on cold nights. It’s awesome to always have someone to talk to, laugh with, and share the experience. There can be a cost savings on trail: laundry in town, hotel room, splitting food from the grocery store that might be too much for one person (like a rotisserie chicken). Someone to keep a lookout while you pee. Check each other for ticks. Finding misplaced items. We have more eyes on things. One of us might remember meeting a person the other doesn’t or recalling a tip about a place the other didn’t catch. This also applies to spotting wildlife, interesting plants, or a cool view.
Cons/difficulties: At times there can be disagreements about speed, stopping points, total distance for the day, and what items might be “necessary.” If you are the weaker partner, you can feel horrible for “dragging the team down”—especially in terms of being less physically/mentally capable of tackling long distances consistently or tolerating challenging conditions such as multiple days of rain and wet feet.
Advice: This applies to life off trail, too. Communication and compromise are key. Any problems should be addressed as soon as possible; that way they don’t become a bigger issue when one or both of you is cranky from being tired, stressed, or hungry.
Gypsy Wanderer and Mountain Man: Married
Pros: Someone to console you on the bad days. Sharing the load—food, one tent, one cook system, chores, backup when you run out of something like toilet paper or toothpaste. Someone to share a conversation with, or to not. There are no judgments. It’s nice to process all of the amazing adventures together in real life. You have a built-in tramily!
Cons: Increased feeling of obligation to finish for your partner. It’s easy to take your partner for granted when you are in a bad mood. Syncing hiking speed is tough if you want to hike together. It’s very hard to match pace between two people sometimes, especially based on different fitness levels. Hitchhiking for two is more difficult than one. It’s easy to bring relationship baggage with you on trail, but the pro is that you get to work through so much of it!
Advice from Gypsy: Create a clear set of tasks you’ll share, and be sure to vocally show appreciation for your partner daily. Focus on your similarities versus your differences in times of strife. Don’t be afraid to communicate your emotional reactions to the various obstacles you’ll encounter on the trail. Working through individual weaknesses together makes the relationship stronger when both partners remain positive in feedback. Make sure you get some alone time nearly daily. It could mean you walk far enough away from each other that you don’t talk, or one takes a nap while the other chats at the shelter with other hikers.
Advice from Mountain Man: Get through the highs and the lows and enjoy the time together, because having a partner in this thing is great!
Cardianna and Mr. Green: Married
1. Being able to hike with your loved one—we feel incredibly lucky to be on this journey together! We have noticed that it’s helpful to have someone with you who sometimes knows you better than you know yourself.
2. Having someone to exchange dirty, smelly foot rubs with. Because let’s be honest, it feels so much better when someone else does it!
3. Having emotional support on tough days. It’s rare we both have a bad day together, and there’s something to be said about having your partner being able to recognize those bad days in you and help support you in reaching a more positive place.
4. Sharing trail duties and chores—it’s nice to know that when you’re simply too tired to get water after a long day of hiking, your partner is willing to take one for the team and get water for you both.
5. Bonding/strengthening relationships. We have learned a lot about each other and ourselves out here and it’s nice to share peaceful, intimate moments on a beautiful trail.
6. Regular reminders to listen to your body. We left a lifestyle of “work fast” and “get it done” and that has caused us to ignore aches and pains. Luckily we can help each other see when this happens and remind each other to slow down or get rest.7. Feeling safe. We had different fears when we ventured on the journey but it’s comforting to know we are in this together. We have each other’s backs.
8. Having someone to see and wipe the poop off your leg after you sharted yourself and missed a spot. Well, this one speaks for itself.
9. Sharing gear. We share a tent and we split it up when carrying it in our packs. We share a few other items that allows us to split up the weight between two packs.
1. Being around your loved one 24/7. Don’t get us wrong. We love each other, but space is healthy and it took us some time to figure out how to give each other space when needed on the trail.
2. That hiker funk. We smell and we smell bad! It’s been interesting (and hilarious) to adjust to a life of weekly showers and no deodorant while enjoying newlywed marital bliss.
3. Different hiking styles/paces. Bobby is more of a faster-paced hiker and takes shorter breaks, while I can’t quite catch his pace and enjoy longer breaks. Sometimes it leaves us feeling frustrated about “not being able to keep up” or “slowing down” your partner.
4. Arguments. We have moments of disagreement on the trail, and while it can be hard to get that space we may need to decompress, it does allow us to work through any disagreement more in the moment and come to a resolution quickly.
5. Body types/injuries. We are obviously built differently and we don’t get injuries or always need a break at the same time. Or maybe it’s something as simple as one can’t hike 20 miles that day and the other one could crush 27. It can be challenging to find ways to meet both our needs but the trail is the best place to figure these things out.
6. Finances. We have had to save double the amount for both of us to thru-hike and also own a home. So when something breaks at home, it affects both our budgets. We also have different spending habits.
Advice: It’s easy to romanticize the trail and hiking with your partner, but it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Be prepared mentally for challenges and to cope with a minimalist lifestyle (which is likely a vast change from the real world life of date nights and dressing fancy). Overall, despite the cons, we have thoroughly enjoyed our adventure together. What we find has gotten us through the tougher times is communication, teamwork, and selflessness. We are a team and we wouldn’t expect one to do all the planning, setting up camp, cooking, water filtering alone. We feel that would cause us to burn out so we share and trade off on these responsibilities. Effective communication and a willingness to communicate about each other’s needs is essential in surviving a thru-hike together!
Starcrunch and Moss: Dating Five Years
Pros: There are a ton of pros to hiking with a partner. Moss can hike faster than Starcrunch, so in the Smokies he was able to speed up to secure a spot for the two of them in the shelters. We also share weight: Moss carries the tent and Starcrunch carries the cooking pot. We also split the cost on everything so we’re able to stay in the luxury of a hotel room as opposed to a hostel. We both take a ton of pictures, so combined we feel like we’ve got all the photographed landmarks covered. We listen to audiobooks out loud, so only one of our phones is using battery. When we had our dog with us, one person would stand outside with the dog while the other would go inside to get food. Of course “standing looking” for one another is always a pro.
Cons: We don’t have too many cons to hiking together. If we do have a disagreement, we make up really fast. It’s necessary! It’s also hard to hide anything from one another. Especially birthday surprises.
Advice: Never be unhappy at the same time. We’ve stuck to that advice and it has been very helpful to us. We are one another’s support system and if we both are having a bad day, that is a recipe for disaster. Compromise has always been important. Moss likes to do long miles in order to take zeros, but Starcrunch like to do neros. We just have to discuss the pros and cons to doing a nero vs. a zero and go from there.
What’s it all Mean?
I know I spoke about our personal struggles, but there isn’t anyone else I’d prefer to have with me on trail. We’ve learned to predict and have a plan of attack for future issues. We can take time-outs and call each other out on things we aren’t happy with. Our communication has improved. We can now appreciate our differences and know that we are unique. Being unique brings a different perspective to how we see nature and approach the trail. I know in the long run these experiences will allow us to have a stronger relationship off-trail.
*Be sure to stay tuned for Hiking With a Partner, the Family Edition*
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