How to Tell Your Husband You’re Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Ever wonder how to you tell your husband that you’re dreaming about taking off life for five months to solo hike the East Coast of the United States?

The answer is you don’t.

You certainly don’t respond to his nonchalant answer of “maybe” by starting research and creating a timeline. You definitely should NOT buy the trail maps three days later. And under no circumstances should you beg your grandmother for hiking socks and Bill Bryson’s book for Chanuka or suggest that you might also borrow your husband’s two favorite dogs for company on this adventure.

To summarize briefly; I have absolutely no tact, and a very very patient husband.

Have you ever read that poem about “dreams deferred” by Langston Hughes? I read it in high school and those short 11 lines stuck. In fact, they resonated with me so much that that year for my creative writing class I wrote a spinoff of Hughes’ poem and performed it in sign language in front of the class (yes, I’m a nerd). Clearly those words continued to reverberate a decade later, because eventually my dream deferred exploded.

The past three years have been a little weird. I finished school, married, and then uprooted my life and flew halfway around the world. I found myself friendless in a place I had never lived and for the first time outside of a structured system.

You see, throughout my life there had always been these large goals that had been predetermined for me as benchmarks of success. Graduate from high school with good grades? Check. Graduate from college? Check. Interview and secure a rewarding post-college job? Check and check. And yes, of course I had been part of shaping my own destiny. I had traveled the world, moved countries, enlisted in the Army. I had made brave decisions and stupid ones. But nonetheless there was always a larger picture.

For two years, my job is what sustained me. I love what I do, and found my work engaging and fulfilling. I worked long hours and nights, and I was satisfied… enough. But I lacked a sense of direction or permanency. I wanted, no needed, to have a bigger goal. To feel like I was working toward something larger.When you hike you always have a direction. There is a clear start and end point, a place you came from and a place you are heading toward. There is little room in this contained world for confusion or doubt, because the answer when hiking always lies directly in front of you.

This year I started thinking about what following my passions would look like and what it would mean to chase those answers. For a while I toyed with ideas. I thought about going back to school part time, I considered recommitting to photography. I even briefly thought about writing a book. And in the meanwhile I hiked, knowing and taking comfort in the idea that at least one answer would lie there on the path ahead.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail had always been an idea, but now as I hiked and searched, it came bubbling to the surface. I kept forcing it down, because it was impossible. Because it was inconvenient. Because Jeremy wasn’t a hiker and it would strain our relationship. And then, you guessed it, this idea, this dream that I had always assumed unattainable, exploded.

The first time I convinced Jeremy to backpack with me, within the first few hours he had hurled his backpack down a hill. And granted, it was over 90 degrees, and he has a bad back injury and there was no shade, but I was so disappointed that he didn’t find the same things in hiking that I did.

That was over five years ago and over the years we have covered many trails together. We have hitchhiked across countries and camped out underneath desert stars. And yes, we have even backpacked a few more times together (and launched a few more backpacks).

But relationships take compromise and somewhere I had convinced myself that dreams had to compromise too. I don’t want to be the kind of person who sacrifices goals and aspirations for the sake of my relationship. And I know Jeremy doesn’t either.

Have you done a solo trip while in a committed relationship? Did it make your relationship stronger? Weaken it? How did you keep the spark alive, and make your significant other feel valued, even when you weren’t there? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Comments 12

  • Matthew S Rowe : Jun 26th

    This article does not sit right with me at all. The author’s use of a poem by Langston Hughes, a queer African American writer, to illustrate her desire to hike the AT is at best confused and at worst a gross act of cultural appropriation. The poem, entitled “Harlem,” references racial injustice in the context of a rapidly changing city. I’m no poetry expert; that’s what a quick Google search tells me. It has nothing to do with a privileged white person’s quest to hike her own hike. Please remove this offensive reference and put more effort into being responsible allies to people of color in our hiking community.

    • Risa Fruchter : Jun 26th

      Matthew, I understand your point of view but I disagree. Langston Hugh’s poetry, and all poetry is meant to be read. I am not erasing the context of the poem. It is a poem that does and has for many years strongly resonated with me, and a voice of an artist that I wanted to share.

    • amian kelemer : Jun 26th

      Poetry is a way of speaking truth. While a particular poem may have an important and specific context, it should live powerfully beyond the context in which it was intended. Langston Hughes clearly believed in the power of a poem to transform and be a tool for meaningful dialogue. An example, is Hughe’s poem I,too – clearly written in response to Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing. Langston Hughes had a relationship in words with whitman – and this dialogue served to extend the understanding, clarity, appreciation and knowledge of all people.

      While Risa is not writing poetry or writing about race, she is writing her truth and I would want to believe that someone as articulate and thoughtful as Langston Hughes would have wanted his poetry to speak beyond its particular context to lift up and inspire people. It is not inconsequential that in this challenging time we live in, we get to reread Langston Hughes as a result of this blog. I am happy to have reread the poem again (and I,too- another incredible and timely piece). It is a reminder to me that none of us can or should live in a vacuum or echo chamber and we should celebrate finding meaning in each other’s words.

      The AT is a powerful and American experience that is a different sort of poetry. I imagine the blog author hiking through America’s South and up through the Northeast as a poetic and unifying message. No one gets to own America’s poetry or America’s parks – they are gifts to our world and should be there for everyone in dialogue and respect.

    • gg : Sep 17th

      I think it is wonderful that Langston Hughes influenced you.

      Black and whites have always borrowed from each other. The great jazz musicians Charlie Parker and John Coltrane both went up to the Catskills to study Klezmer music of European Jews. They were very influenced by this Jewish music. No one complained that Jewish Klezmer music was appropriated by black jazz artist. In fact, these artist were welcome and applauded for their interest in that music. Black and whites have always borrowed from each other. Cultural appropriation is another lie. Everyone borrows form everyone else and artists and writers expand on it. We don’t live in a black or white world. We live in a beautiful world where we cultural influences are incorporated into all aspects of life for everyone. Is jazz cultural appropriation. Give me a break. We should be open to being influenced by all cultures around the world.

      Langston Hughes did not want his works to be read or interpreted by just one group. He wrote for everyone about his experience and about life. He was a great novelist and a dedicated artist.

  • Susan Frost : Jun 26th

    I think a poem is like a balloon filled with helium that sails independently when the poet releases it into the world . That means that its kernel of truth and its power is different for each reader. To limit a poet’s audience only to those who look like him or dream his dreams is to diminish his message and his greatness.

    When Risa set up a Go Fund Me program to raise money to encourage young women to try out hiking, she didn’t limit her goals – she expanded them to share the pleasure of the natural world with others.
    Take a deep breath, Matthew, and climb to the top of the ridge. You can see further.

  • Rachel : Jun 28th

    I want to know more! Are you doing the thru hike without your husband? Any tips? This article resonates with me because the biggest thing holding me back from a thru hike is leaving my husband behind. He’s supportive and we are both very independent but it’s just hard to imagine 6 months of not living together.

    • Katie : Jun 28th

      Yes, what Rachel said. My husband doesn’t enjoy backpacking nearly as much as I do. And it’s always been a dream of mine since I was 12 to hike the AT. That didn’t change or go away when I got married..I still really want to hike it. But I either hike with my husband(which I would feel bad about knowing he was only doing it for me and didn’t enjoy it as much as me) or without him which would also be hard on both of us. Advice appreciated!

      • Risa Fruchter : Jun 29th

        Hi Katie! We also briefly discussed Jeremy joining me on the thru hike and decided that him hiking my dream would strain our relationship more than it would strengthen it. Ive met many amazing couples who hike together, but it is usually a passion they both share.
        If you do end up planning a thru hike the only thing I would do different is give my self more time! Because of corona I had to get on the trail really late, which means I don’t have as much time to get on and off the trail to spend weekends with jeremy, or to hike slower when friends/family or hubby join.

    • Risa Fruchter : Jun 29th

      Hi Rachel, yes I am thru hiking solo. It took about six months of conversations to figure out how we could make it work. My husband is using this time to achieve some of his personal goals (starting up his own woodshop) which is great because it helps both of us not feel like we are the one waiting behind.
      I also saved for an inreach mini so we would be able to be in touch even when I didn’t have cell phone service.
      This impacts of corona on thru hiking was also a little bit of a blessing in disguise on the sense that it’s makinge relate to this hike with auch more ‘sectional’ mind set. Because it’s difficult this year to get resupplies and access towns safley, we are traveling roeet each other/ he will come hike with me approx once a month!

  • Peggy : Jun 29th

    While I think it will just be weekend backpacking for me, I do find myself a bit in awe of those who are courageous enough to solo hike the AT. It was a pleasure to meet you Risa this past weekend on the trail. You built a great campfire! We enjoyed the company and conversation. I have read your other posts too and will have to put the Laurel Highlands on our list of places to hike. Best of luck to you as you continue your journey! I hope to read more about it.

    • Risa Fruchter : Jun 29th

      It was so awesome meeting you Peggy! Thank you for the goodies and company. Wishing you many many happy trails!

  • Carlos H : Jul 3rd

    Aww.. I really appreciated this read. Very nice. My goal has been to hike the PCT, but at the moment, I am also having that issue. Will my other half be able to do it and or handle it? We talked about it, and we slightly, more like I, came up with the idea of I can start it, and she would jump in here and there to join me for a week or a month depending on how she feels. That way we dont go 6 months without seeing each other. I don’t think that’s too much of a bad idea.


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