So Your Loved One Wants to Take a Hike
About a week into my thru-hike, we were sharing stories around a fire when I brought up one that involved my boyfriend. The guy next to me seemed shocked; I figured that my unshaved legs and matted hair led him to the disbelief that I actually had a man interested in me, but no, he was surprised for another reason.
“He let you come out here? If I was dating a girl, I would never let her come out and do this.”
At the time, I was totally put off. First of all, nobody let me do anything (nods head emphatically). Second of all, when you care about someone, you support them in their endeavors, even if you’re not necessarily crazy about it yourselves.
I thought about that conversation again and again, because I would see that similar thought processes affect other hikers. It wasn’t just young relationships, either. I met a man whose long-term girlfriend left him before his hike because she “didn’t trust him around all the desperate women” out there. I’m in a women’s Facebook group where I read a post almost every week about how it’s somebody’s dream to hike just a section of the trail, but her partner won’t support her (one husband wouldn’t even watch the kids for a weekend while she went off backpacking).
And, of course, it’s not just in dating and marriage relationships either. I would see or hear time and time again of parents, children, bosses, coworkers, or so-called close friends being completely unsupportive, saying things like “you have your head in the clouds” and “you’ll never be able to make it.” If you’re reading this, please don’t be that person. Here’s a list of things you can do instead when you have someone important in your life declare they want to take a thru-hike.
Understand this is five to seven months; you get a lifetime.
In the grand scheme of things, even a full thru-hike doesn’t take that much time. If you’re in a relationship with somebody who you plan to spend the rest of your life with, don’t you think you could spare six months if it meant them pursuing a dream of theirs? It may sound harsh, but in many cases, they may have had the dream of doing this hike even before they met you.
Do your research.
Like all good parents, my mom and dad were worried sick when I informed them of my hike. Truth be told, they didn’t know much about the AT at all, and just envisioned this vast wilderness with no cell phone service and roaming packs of hungry wolves. Once they watched documentaries and YouTube videos, and read a little more, they realized it wasn’t as isolated as they may have thought, ultimately making them feel a lot better. You may be surprised to discover how safe the trail is, and what the backpacking community is actually like.
Follow along on a map.
My parents also did this, but I saw a friend’s boss and coworkers track his journey as well. They bought a huge Appalachian Trail map, cut out a picture of him, and moved his image along the trail when they would get updates. This is an amazing way to show your support in a fun way.
Don’t add to the stress.
Although we tend to only think about the physical aspects of the trail, your hiker will be undergoing major mental and emotional strain as well. Pressuring them that they aren’t calling enough will definitely not help. Be aware that some places don’t have cell service, and other times that person may simply want to be in the moment. Agree on respectable check-ins, which may be once a day for some, or once a week for others. I promise, they’ll be thinking of you, too. There will be times that they’re edgy, irritated, frustrated, and feel like giving up. Do your best to support them unconditionally.
There are many ways to do this. It is so easy to send care packages and letters, which means the world to hikers when they get into town. Once your hiker gets going, they’ll have a better idea which towns they’ll be in and when. You can send packages to hostels, hotels, post offices, etc.
Another way to stay involved is to visit. If the trail comes anywhere near your home, or even if you want to do a fun road trip, it’s not difficult to coordinate a meetup. Many of the people I hiked with had family members and spouses visit them multiple times. Some hiked a little bit, others got hotels for the weekend, and many even provided trail magic to hikers, such as setting up a cooler with cold drinks by a road crossing, or having a mini cookout.
Think before you join.
This is the last pointer I’ll say, and it’s one I almost left out because I’ve been worried about stepping on some toes. Please really think about it before you let me offend you. If you have a loved one whose ultimate dream is the thru-hike, they most likely have their whole heart invested in this endeavor. A successful thru-hike is by no means an easy, “Oh, I guess I’ll do it” goal. If you truly want to join them in this journey because you also wholeheartedly desire to thru-hike, then by all means do it. But if you’re joining them because you want to tag along, don’t trust them, or don’t want them to do something life-changing without you, I’m afraid to say that it won’t be enough. You most likely will not be happy in the process of the journey, and worse, you may negatively affect their hike. I briefly hiked with a couple off and on in the beginning of my hike, and I saw this firsthand. He was truly excited and eager to be out there, whereas she was so obviously miserable. After a while, you could see it wearing on his enthusiasm as well as their relationship. So take some time to really decide if it’s something you want to do before you say, “Wait, I’m coming too.”
Now, if you want to join them for a short amount of time, rather than a full thru-hike, right on. I saw plenty of parents, siblings, spouses, and friends join for a couple of days on the trail. The only thing I’ll say about that is be aware that your loved one that’s hiking most likely has a routine and their trail legs developed. Although some people don’t mind slowing down to accommodate a visitor, other hikers really resent it (which may come as a surprise to both of you, actually). Just make sure to have open communication with your hiker so there’s no tension.
I hope these were helpful. A thru-hike is a beautiful journey, and your employee, child, partner, or friend will return a more well-rounded individual after the experience.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
I read your whole article, & other than mentioning your parents being worried, I think you missed a big reason boyfriends or spouses don’t want them to go on a hike by themselves. SAFETY. If my wife was going with a good trustworthy friend, and I knew both of them together could figure out about anything, I’d feel differently. I think doing it alone is stupid. Too many risks involved. That’s for anyone.
Truth be told, most solitary thru-hikers join with others along the way and hike little of the trail alone. Further, solo hikers report how they develop a close knit “trail family ” where they help look after one another. Accidents can happen like anytime in life, but helpful people are plentiful along the AT.
I agree, Ronald! I started with a close friend but she got injured a week in…. however, I met so many amazing friends along the trail and trail angels. I checked in with my family regularly. And actually, I never camped a single night alone on the tRail, I was always with another person! My 6 months on the trail, I never felt unsafe. I do understand that all hikers need to be aware and cautious!
Love your post ,I think you are right on
Hi Casie I agree totally with your post. As a 57 year-old man I really needed time away from it all. Work , the house, kids, people I live with.So when I announced I need a weekend alone . There reply was no ,you might runaway. So I never did get away.
And if anyone thinks a woman can’t or shouldn’t hike alone.Well there liveing in some other time. A woman can do anything
A man can do. Hope you keep injoying your
Freedom of live. Keep on trekking.And may
your Angels keep an eye on you. Uncle Tom.
Hey, Uncle Tom!!! Thanks for your comment… I appreciate that, and people who are on the same page! I hope that one day you get to do that hike and alone time. I think it’s important. And you’re right, people that don’t understand the trail community don’t understand how safe it is and populated, and how many trail family’s trail angels are looking out for you. Cheers and hike on!
Never let others plot your course for you. Solo anywhere requires vigilance, however, if you carry yourself with confidence and choose not be a target or victim, the predators will always look for other prey. Good luck on your journey. Fair winds and following seas.
Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’18
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. The PCT is my GF’s life dream. We have been together for two years so I “get it.” She is serious about joining the class of 2019. And she is going to do it alone, although I am sure she will absorb into a trail family as she is really funny and sweet. While I do have my own insecurities (what if she gets lost, hurt, maybe just changes and doesn’t like me anymore), I keep all of that to myself because the logistics are enough for her to worry about. I don’t need her worrying about me. Plus, her need and willingness to walk from Mexico to Canada is why I love and respect her to begin with. So I wear my game face, encourage her, and assure her that I will take care of everything. Resupply boxes, gear changes, responsibilities at home, her dog, everything and anything she needs so that she can keep her mind focused on the trial. She has done the JMT, Tahoe Rim Trail, High Sierra Trail, all solo, so she is a competent through hiker. But nothing like the PCT. So right now (six months from “go time,” I am just trying to figure out how to be the most supportive person I can be? If there are other books, articles, tips, anything, explaining how best to do my “job” here as well as possible, I would really appreciate being turned on to that information. If anybody reading this, especially a man, has been the support crew, please let me know what I can do to be the best at it. Or any woman who relied on support crew, please let me know what they could have done better to be there for you. Thank you in advance.
Hey, Chip!! First of all… the fact that you read this, had an open mind, and then genuinely want to take steps to support your partner already shows that you are beyond most! You guys are lucky to have each other. I don’t have any more books and articles to refer you to, but I can speak from experience.. the best you can do is ride the wave (there will be a lot of ups and downs, bear with it as best as you can), be encouraging of new friends (even if they are guys!) my best friend I made on the trail was a guy, and we were both in serious long term relationships. It was 100 percent platonic brother/sister, we’ve met each other’s partners and all hangout, and both of our boyfriend and girlfriends were off trail. They trusted us, and I can honestly say, I couldn’t have made it wIthout my fri nd’s companionship, or without the support of my bf off trail. Remember, it’s HER best interest and well being to have in mind. Just showing you’re open to learning more is key. Also, ask HER what will help her best. Everyone’s different. Some people want their partner to end with them (the last big summit), others want a more independent experience.. it’s really so unique in every situation.
I’m not worried about you two 🙂 this happens all the time and people make it WORK and come out better for it.
Last thing… be prepared to take on a trail name! Hell yeah! My friend Torch’s wife was named ‘Money Honey’ because she arranged all the care packages, took care of bills at home, etc… and another girl I met had a boyfriend named ‘Base Camp’ because he always brought the goodies and extra supplies! Another husband was nick named ‘Bat Man’, and he visited his wife in his ‘batmobile’ van when he could on weekends wherever she was! Offering trail magic, rides, etc..
Best of luck to you! You both will be great 🙂 happy Trails my friend!
Thanks so much for the article.
I’ve been looking for articles and/or books on how to support a thru-hiker and this is the first one I’ve seen. I also wonder if there might be a FaceBook, Discord or Slack group dedicated to supporters. Or maybe I’ll have to start one?
I especially loved the paragraph about “joining them just because you want to tag along.” My spouse is planning to thru-hike the AT in 2021 and I sometimes feel left out when he’s busy planning, even now with over a year before he begins! Yet I know that I’d be miserable so I’m just planning to be the best support person I can be.
Thanks again, Leslie