Leaving Your Spouse Behind During a Thru-Hike

In early 2014 I decided that I was ready to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. It was something that had long been on my bucket list, but I had never seen an opportunity to actually do it. I was ready to quit my job and already had most of the gear that I would need. My husband, Andrew, is also an outdoor enthusiast and loves to hike. The only problem was that Andrew was not in a position to leave his job. He enjoyed his work, and although he loves to hike, a thru-hike of the AT wasn’t as appealing to him as it was to me.

The idea of completing such a life-altering endeavor without my husband and best friend was a scary one. We had been together for seven years and had gone on so many adventures together. After a lot of discussion, however, we came to the conclusion that I should go. Here are a few of the reasons that we ultimately thought this was the right decision.

Personal Growth

Andrew and I met while I was a freshman in college and have been together ever since. We were starting to become very dependent on one another and six months apart would be challenging. We knew that this much time apart would change who we were as individuals. Some people fear that this eventual difference in personalities could be damaging to a relationship, but to us it seemed that this time to reflect and grow on our own would be beneficial. If we each became stronger and better people, then our relationship could become stronger and better as well.

Time constraints

A large part of me wanted to wait for a time when Andrew could come with me, but with the idea of kids looming in our near future, I felt like it was now or never. A time may never come when we are both free to hike the trail. My husband knew this was a dream of mine and didn’t want to stop me from going because he had to work. I didn’t want to force him to quit a job that he loved in order to hike. There were only a handful of years left before we may be officially tied down with little bundles of responsibility.

We trust each other

If peoples’ relationships can handle thru hiking the trail together, then surely ours can handle hiking it apart. Andrew is an athletic guy and he would be able to meet up and hike with me a few times. A lot of things can happen in six months, but we trusted each other to make good decisions while I was away.

Andrew visiting for the weekend

How other people reacted

There are a myriad of strange reactions that I’m sure most thru-hikers experienced when announcing their intentions. From “oh that’s nice dear,” to “are you insane,” sometimes it can be difficult to tell who will say what. As a woman leaving her husband for six months, there were a few additional reactions that I should have expected.

When we made the announcement that I was going to hike the trail and Andrew was going to stay home, many people reacted with disbelief. I was surprised to hear how many people asked my husband how he could LET me do something like this. My parents believed that it would end our relationship. Other people, of course, were incredibly supportive, and completely understood our perspective.

Whenever we met someone who balked at our plans, we explained that we were very confident in our relationship and each other. If that didn’t work, well, we kindly told them to mind their own beeswax.

Well at least he's enjoying himself

Well at least he’s enjoying himself

 How it worked out

Andrew was undeniably supportive and won the award for “husband of the year” multiple times during the course of my hike. He was able to visit me at trail days, near Pearisburg Virginia, Shenandoah, and three more times between West Virginia and New Jersey. Each time we saw each other, however, it got harder and harder to separate.

Riding the emotional roller coaster each time we met up was becoming too difficult for both of us.

After parting ways in New Jersey, we decided that it would be best if the next time we saw each other was when I reached Katahdin, where Andrew would summit with me.

One of the toughest days in this stretch was on September 7th, our wedding anniversary. I was in White Mountain NP and called him on a payphone at the Crawford Notch General Store. As I tearfully said goodbye that day, I felt more motivation than ever to get my butt to Baxter State Park.

Andrew beasted his way up the mountain

Andrew beasted his way up the mountain

 Three months after the trail

Readjusting to the real world comes with obstacles for every hiker. We expected that we would have a tough time readjusting to living with one another after being apart for six months.

I have seen positive changes in both of us, and since the beginning we were committed to using this personal growth to strengthen our relationship instead of break it apart. Three months after finishing the trail, things are going great. We are excitedly planning future trips that we can experience together, and choosing adventure in lieu of kids for just a little while longer…

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Comments 6

  • Nikki : Feb 13th

    Thank you so, so very much for this post.I really needed to hear this and share it with my husband. We have been together ten years and just got married three months ago. He is going to be leaving in 18 days to hike the AT and I have felt such a roller coaster of emotions regarding him going. I think it is hard for thru hikers to remember that although you are excited about your adventure, you are leaving loved ones at home that will truly miss you, but love and support you none-the-less. I really needed this to validate my own feelings and to know that others have gone through this same experience also! I see so many blogs regarding helping hikers, and very few blogs regarding family members at home. This was more appreciated than you know!

    Thanks again!

    • Wendy : Feb 5th

      I am also looking to read about the marriages where one of the partners does the hike and the other is not able to go. My husband, age 69 will begin the hike on March 3rd. I am not able to join him in this adventure. The hardest part of him leaving is us not being together. We work together at our own pottery business and have never been apart for 30 years. The idea of the hike is very exciting and then becomes very emotional and anxious. I would love to hear how and where people meet up. How, women, in my case, can be the best support for their husband, or spouse.

      • Ashli : Feb 6th

        Care packages are a great way to show your support. They’re easy because all you need to include is the person’s favorite junk food and a little note!

        If you can’t hike, you can pick a place where you’re husband will take a few days off to hang out with you. Hikers love days off! Maybe a touristy spot like Harpers Ferry, or a place where you can go dayhiking, like Greyson Highlands.

  • George Turner : Feb 18th

    My wife of almost 35 years gave her blessing for me to do my thru hike this year. I’ve wanted to hike the AT since I was 17. I will have my 65th birthday 8 days into my hike. In a perfect world, I would have taken a year off of college and did it then, but I would have been drafted. Real life kept getting in the way. Now the kids are grown up and happy in their careers. I’m retired. I’ve regularly taken long backpacking trips. Physically I’m confident. Being away from my wife for 6 months is going to be the hardest part of the trip. She’s meeting me for my birthday and I’m taking a zero that day. She’s going to join me for a few days in July. I bought two copies of the trail guide I’m using so that at the very least I can message her the mile marker where I’m camping when there’s service. She knows how long I’ve wanted to do this. I’m glad I have her blessing.

    • Wendy : Feb 5th

      Great! Maybe I can meet my husband for his birthday in July and our anniversary in August. Good idea.


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