Meet the Thru-Hiking Couple Who Got Engaged on the PCT

Meet Lara and Marta, a European couple taking a year off of work to thru-hike, travel, and adventure. On May 25th, Lara asked Marta to marry her on top of Mt. Whitney and Marta said yes. Well, technically Marta didn’t say anything—she just cried and took the ring. I caught up with the two of them to learn more about their engagement and their adventures on the PCT.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Tom Manning.

Well, first, congratulations! Second, I’d love to hear a little bit more about who you guys are, and what made you want to take a sabbatical and hike the PCT?

Marta: We live and work in Amsterdam. The backstory is that we met in university. I’m from Sweden originally. But I moved to do my studies. And then Lara was there to welcome all the international students. And a few weeks in, we kind of started dating and fell in love. And the rest is history.

Lara: This was five and a half years ago.

Marta: And then, of course, you need to start working. But we’ve always been wanting to take a longer sabbatical for the adventure.

Lara: We both traveled a lot

Marta: But then you get into work, and suddenly, you’re three, four years later, and then you think, “Okay, well, it’s time to go and explore the world again.” We talked a lot about what to do. And meanwhile, Lara was reading a lot of books about the PCT. She was like, “should we not just walk the PCT?” I was like, “okay.” Both of us have seen the movie Wild. What Lara often says and what I also think is, you never actually think it’s for normal people. You think it’s something that these type of people do, but then we could be those type of people. So we basically just went for it.

Had you guys done a lot of traveling and backpacking together before the PCT?

Lara: Yeah. Never this long. This was the first actual thru hike.  We did hike before. I think our first big trip was to Peru. And we knew that we wanted to visit Machu Picchu. But we didn’t have the money to pay for that Inca Trail tour that many people do. And you have to go with a guide. So we’re like, “you know what, we could do this ourselves.” We just took the back roads, which is the Salkantay route, which you can do by yourself. That was our first proper hiking trip overnight. It was five days I think. But it was definitely not ultra light. It was so heavy. We just had like a normal tent and normal sleeping bags and everything.

Marta: I think the tent was like six pounds.

Lara: It was horrible.

Marta: I think the best thing is we brought this one-pound espresso maker, you know, the Italian one. We had a beautiful coffee with the view over Machu Picchu. But it was just…

Lara: Yeah, it was a learning experience. It was awesome. But it was tough. That was our first real adventure and since then we’ve had many unplanned adventures. Just go to the mountains, take a tent, and see what happens. We’ve learned a lot: got stuck in thunderstorms, and had wild boars around our tent, and a coyote. Every time we learn something new and then I guess we were ready so we did the PCT.

Did you guys both know that you would get engaged on trail?

Marta: Oh, she knew.

Lara: I was hoping.

Marta: Lara has always been telling me, “it’s gonna take another 5-10 years when all our friends are married, and we need another party.” So in my mind, it was always gonna be way, way off. And then I used to joke about it a lot, like, “when are you going to propose?” And then she would say, “every time we joke about it, I’m going to add six months.”

Lara: We were at 56 years or something.

Marta: So I didn’t know. Apparently, all our friends knew.

Lara: Everyone asked me, “Are you gonna do it on this trip?” And no one asked her, so it was pretty clear who was gonna ask who, I guess. I got the ring at home with my sisters. I picked it out and everything, and then dragged it all over the country for two months. I hid it somewhere in the bag, and I was terrified that she would find out, or that I would lose the bag because I lose a lot of stuff. It worked out in the end.

When did you guys know that you met someone you wanted to spend your life with?

Lara: I think for me, from very early on, I was like, “wow, she really has it all.” She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s pretty, but she’s also sporty, and she likes to be outdoors. That combination was something that was pretty perfect for me.

Marta: Just a few weeks in, everything went easy. And everything has been easy. Now of course there’s challenge. Also on trail you have to adjust to each other. But it’s just been easy. So I think both of us knew within the first few weeks.

Lara: If you both know, then it makes life so much easier. Because you don’t have to worry about that stuff and about each. Our friends also say- I suppose they’re also jealous- that we’re disgustingly cheesy sometimes because it’s so nice. But we do fight.

Marta: For me, it was the first time it was this easy.

What’s something you guys love about each other?

Lara: I like that she calls me out on my bullshit and puts me in place. Not many people dare, but she just does it somehow in a way that I cannot get mad. I can get defensive and annoyed and try to start a fight a little bit and if she doesn’t get mad, I cannot get mad at her. So it’s a very good defense mechanism.

Marta: I think, for me, Lara is a pretty tough cookie. And she stands up for herself. Even first time she cried, I was secretly happy because I’m like, “Oh, she can cry.” Because I cry a lot. I’m very emotional. But I think it’s cool to have someone that’s so strong and stands for herself. That also taught me to stand for myself.

Lara, did you also cry when you proposed?

Lara: Yes, I did in the end. In the beginning, she literally just starts crying from like the second I started talking because I normally don’t really talk like that. So she knew that something was up. And then at the end when finally I asked her, she took the ring. She didn’t say anything. She just took the ring. So I asked her, like, “you actually have to answer,” and she said yes. And then I was also crying.

And then did you use that one bar of service on Mount Whitney to call all your friends?

Lara: Well, we tried but it didn’t really work. Everyone knew at home that I was going to ask her so I just said like “she said yes” to a bunch of people that were waiting at home. I wasn’t sure it was gonna happen on Whitney, because of course, we didn’t know if we would make it that far. Or if the weather was good enough. But then they knew it was gonna happen somewhere around there.

At what point did you decide that it would be on Whitney?

Lara: I didn’t want to do it at the end, because it was too cheesy.

You must have been nervous.

Lara: Oh, I was so relieved.  I knew she was gonna say yes. Or at least I was pretty sure. But it was a big relief, just having to prepare for it and keeping that ring safe. I’m glad that she has to carry it now.

Are you guys wedding planning from the trail now?

Lara: We don’t have any money to do anything. That’s gonna take a while. We’re also going to travel after this for a few months. So we’re definitely going to be broke when we come home. So it’s gonna take a few years, I think, but we have been brainstorming. It’s a nice conversation topic now that it’s real.

Do you have any really exciting ideas?

Marta: I’m originally born in Croatia. It has a beautiful coast. And one of the first holidays we went on was on one of the islands. So we’re hoping to do it at the islands. It’s also more sun secure than the Netherlands or Sweden. And my grandma can come, and people that are close to me. And then do it close to the beach and very low scale, maybe even put up a tent or cute little lights.

Lara: We have a pretty queer friend group. So we have some exciting ideas on how we can make this “not your standard wedding” in terms of who would officiate. Like “let’s make it a little bit more tailored to our little bubble.”

I also wanted to ask about some of the joys and challenges of hiking as a couple.

Marta: I think the joys are obvious. I think you share everything with each other and it’s just easier. You enjoy it together and you just lift up each other’s feelings. And it’s safe. Yeah, you feel safe in numbers. I don’t know how I’m getting through the PCT but I don’t go outside of my tent at night because I’m just scared of everything.

Lara: She doesn’t even pee at night. She just waits until it’s light.

Marta: So the joy is that everything is less scary and more fun. A challenge is like where you have different types of hikers. Lara is more the camper type. I think she does it mainly to make a fire and make coffee, take her time. I just want to go go go, we have places to get, and miles to make. It’s not only about miles, but I like the physical challenge. We had a period where we struggled to find the rhythm. I wanted to pack up as fast as possible, Lara wanted to chill and drink her coffee every morning and look at the view. So I think that’s been the biggest challenge, to adjust to her rhythm. But now, again, sounds cheesy, but it’s what I learned is that I need to also appreciate it and we don’t need to rush. We’ll get there eventually. So it’s fine to take it slower, it’s fine to sit for two hours by a lake because it’s so freakin beautiful. And I think for Lara, we actually do want to get to Canada and see most of the PCT and you know, we have a visa of six months, we have to kind of not take too many zeros or not chill too much on trail.

Lara:  I was a bit anti because if someone tries to hurry me I push against. So I’m just gonna go slower, and like chill longer. But one of our funnest days was when we did our 27-mile day. And it was a tough day. But it was one of the funnest days. So I actually learned that it can be fun to really push yourself as well.

Marta: She’s still forever gonna have her morning coffee.

Lara: I refuse to give that up. Another advantage of being a couple is if you’re single hiking, you have to do everything. And we have a division. Like, I hate rolling up the mats and sleeping bags. But she hates going out because it’s cold. So I’m the one that gets out first and gets to bear canisters and starts making coffee and stuff. And meanwhile, she’s nice and warm inside rolling up all the stupid little things that have to be rolled.

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What do you guys have planned for the rest of your sabbatical year?

Lara: We have a wedding to attend. Also queer friends. So that’s going to be my first big queer wedding, which is pretty cool. After that, we are going to Cuba, then travel through Central America.

Marta: We’ve been very focused on the PCT.

Lara: We got the gear so we’ll definitely be hiking.

What has your experience been like, as a queer couple on trail?

Lara: We’ve had 0 problems, which I kind of expected because hiking is also a bubble of a certain type of people. But still, you’re literally hiking through the middle of nowhere to little towns, so you never know. But it’s been literally perfect. What is interesting is that we are very much in a queer social bubble in Amsterdam. Amsterdam was basically the queer capital of Europe. So being dumped into a much more straight bubble was an adjustment for us. But everyone has been super chill about it. I’ve never felt a need to hide it.

Marta: And our tramily is amazing.

Lara: In the beginning, we barely saw other queer people. But now we’re starting to. We’ve seen quite a lot of non-binary people, which is really cool, and some trans people.

Marta: We arrived to Mammoth, and we saw a poster that they had Pride the day before. Another girl from the trail was in Bishop and they had pride like just last Sunday. So that’s really cool that even these tiny towns are accepting and welcoming.

Lara: One of the reasons I posted the picture on the Facebook group was because it’s good to open some eyes. Especially if there’s people that are still in the closet, and they see the overwhelmingly positive response and zero negative response. I think it could be a very nice thing for people that still do not feel 100% safe to be themselves.

I’d also love to hear more about the culture shock of being in the US.

Lara: I am 100% surprised. Maybe it’s not very nice to say. But I did have some stereotypical expectations, especially after seeing the country in the news in the past few years. I expected to run into some less pleasant experiences with people, which is totally not what happened. I think everyone regardless of their political background has been super awesome and genuinely interested. Even people in a supermarket ask, “Hey, big backpacks, what are you doing?” And then have like, a 10-minute conversation. Everyone is just so spontaneously nice, which in the Netherlands doesn’t happen. People do not just talk to you on the street like that. It’s more reserved.

Marta: You really, really feel the hospitality of the people and that they’re welcome and open.

Lara: Yeah, it’s been really nice. You feel the political divide, which is tough. You will feel the frustration and fear of people, like “where is this country going?” Which is? You feel that people are a little bit scared or frustrated and annoyed. But then they are very open to talk about it. And also the people that we spoke to were very reasonable towards people from the other side. They were just really sad that there couldn’t be a middle way that helps the country forward. Everyone seems to want it. So I think that’s really nice.

Is there anything else that you guys want to add?

Lara: One cool thing and one less cool thing of diversity on trail: On the one hand, it’s Americans, Germans and Dutch people, some English people and that’s about it. Everyone is white. However, character-wise, in age and people with their backgrounds at home, in terms of what people do for work, it’s so diverse. We meet a lot of people that we would never meet. Just different types of people with different kinds of educations, and different kinds of work that they do, and families they grew up in, which is very, very cool. We all have this one thing in common:  we love being out on the trail.  So I think that’s something one of the coolest things about being here.

Marta: I have two things to add. One is I wanted to do the PCT because I think it’s a very humbling experience. And I thought it would be humbling in the sense of nature, but it’s been even more so in the types of people you meet. Everyone is so nice and helpful. That’s been really cool. My second one is gratitude towards the PCTA. It’s such a beautiful trail. It’s just so well maintained. It’s insane. It’s really, really amazing.

Follow Lara and Marta’s adventures on Instagram! All photographs, unless otherwise noted, are from Marta and used with permission.

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