Thru-Hiking Ruined My Love Life. Twice

Relationships tend to be difficult when you’re planning on leaving your significant other for five or more months.  Not too many people talk about just how hard it is either. At least I didn’t find too many posts about it before I left for my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, and trust me I looked.

This post is going to dig deep into the ugly side of what a thru-hike can do to relationships. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer for all of you in relationships planning on thru-hiking, but I’m going to tell my story like it is and give some insight on what I think went wrong. This is a deeply personal post for me, but I think it’s worth being shared. I’m also going to keep as much detail out of it as possible as to not frame anyone I talk about or myself in a bad light. With that said, let’s start from the beginning.

First Thru-Hike

When I left for the Appalachian Trail in 2017, I was in a relationship that had been going on for over three years. When I was deciding if I was going to thru-hike, he was supportive and left the decision up to me. We knew it would be tough, and had discussed it before I left. The goodbye was tougher than I expected. I didn’t expect to cry, but I did and continued to for at least the first mile I hiked on the Approach Trail. Fast forward 2,200 miles. I finish, travel home, and we’re reunited!

Wait a second, that’s not the way you thought this story was going. You probably thought we were going to break up while I was gone. It didn’t quite work out that way, but the problems did start while I was hiking. Communication was definitely lacking and when we did communicate, there were sometimes arguments too. Readjusting back into a relationship was difficult when I got home. He was used to living alone again, and I wasn’t used to being in regular society. The first couple of months were rough.

Wait, There’s Another Trail?

However, the main problem boiled down to the fact that I wanted to do it again. I was already planning my thru-hike of the PCT for 2019, less than two years away. For him, hiking the PCT was a deal breaker. For me, not being able to at least do a significant section hike was a deal breaker. We continued to debate this for the next year, neither party budging. The last year was really dragged out and neither of us wanted to pull the trigger and breakup already. This past October we finally broke up after almost five years together.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t blame the trail for breaking us up (despite my dramatic post title). It definitely exasperated our troubles and maybe brought them to light sooner. If I hadn’t wanted to thru-hike again, I don’t think we would have ended up together anyway. If I hadn’t left for my first thru-hike in the first place? Maybe we would have made it, but I still doubt it. There were struggles deeper than just my desire to hike, and there was enough blame to put on each of us.

Now I Can Hike the PCT

Fortunately, the breakup occurred about a month before it was time to reserve my permit for the PCT for this spring. (Although let’s be real, I was going to get one anyway just in case). I recover from my breakup and am doing just fine. At this point, I’m not looking for anything new with someone else. That wouldn’t make any sense. In less than six months I’ll be thru-hiking again, and after that I’ll be looking for a full-time engineering position and could move who knows where. Life never tends to make that much sense though, does it?

This February, I found myself in a new relationship somewhat unexpectedly. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a relationship yet, and wanted to make it very clear that I would be leaving to thru-hike in a few short months and may never return to Florida permanently. After making this clear, I decided why not try it out and see where it goes. Regrets more often come from missed opportunities than mistakes in my mind.

Dealing with Me Leaving

I learned a lot and grew a lot from being in a new relationship. I was happy, mostly. The main hindrance on my happiness was that I was leaving so soon. Initially, I was adamant that did not want to be in a relationship while I was on the trail. I didn’t want to go through that hardship again. As my feelings in the relationship grew, I had flickers of hope that maybe it could work out or it would be worth it to try when I left. At the same time, the impending doom of me leaving started to sink into his mind and his hope for us while I was gone started to fade.

Have you ever been in a relationship with an expiration date? It’s a pretty bizarre concept. It definitely brought some difficulty, but we tried out best to enjoy the time we did have together. Eventually we decided that it would be in our best interest to break up when I left for the trail. Neither of us can commit to this relationship five months down the road. A lot can change in that amount of time, and who knows what we will both want then.

I like to have a small amount of hope that maybe I’ll get a job nearby and we’ll both still be interested. Who knows. It helps me to think this way, to know that it may not be goodbye forever.

Off to the Trail

I’m writing this post as I am on my flight to San Diego to start the trail tomorrow. I spent my last few days with my friends and my boyfriend. I really enjoyed the time I had with them this past weekend. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, but I couldn’t imagine a better send off.

Monday night I left my boyfriend’s place knowing that we were no longer together the moment I walked out the door. It’s been sad, but it also doesn’t feel like much is different yet.  We’re still communicating as much as normal, and plan to continue to stay in touch as much as possible on my hike. It doesn’t really feel like I’m leaving yet either. Maybe it will all hit me when I get there.

What I Learned

The biggest take away I got from all of this is that your significant other has to be supportive of your passions. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t hike again. Your partner should be understanding of your dreams and at least be willing to compromise so that you can fulfill them.

Ultimately, you have to make sure you’re happy. It’s important to make decisions for yourself sometimes. I experienced the other side of this in my new relationship and learned how to support someone else’s decisions too.

Another lesson was how important communication is in relationships. This is something I lacked on during my first thru hike for sure. It’s just as important during normal life as well. Being in a relationship with such open lines of communication and understanding has been great.

For all of those leaving their significant others behind for a thru-hike, don’t be afraid. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end, and no matter what you’ll come out of it stronger.

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Comments 9

  • Steff : May 11th

    I’ve been wondering about this, thanks for the informative post!

    Reply
    • Kate Richard : May 11th

      Glad you found it informative!

      Reply
  • Dan : May 11th

    Why not be in a relationship with someone who shares your passion for the trail(s)?

    Reply
  • Dustin : May 11th

    Truly appreciate this! I’m planning an AT thru hike for next spring and have had trouble finding people talking about how they dealt with non supportive SO’s. It’s been rocky for a while now, but the idea of me chasing this dream I’ve had for 10+ years threw it into absolute shambles. Best of luck to you in your endeavors! Here’s hoping that hope and determination carries us all where we’re heading.

    Reply
    • Kate Richard : May 11th

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it useful! Chasing your dream is so worth it. I hope everything works out well for you too!

      Reply
  • Cody m : May 12th

    Thanks so much for the good information. I embark on my crazy bike ride from the mid west. “East of St. Louis mo about 100 miles” to south west Oregon on the coast. So 3000 miles on a bike ride with no experience then having to ride 30 miles to work and 30 home 8 hrs later. You keep me going and excited to do the PCT when I get out there ! And if I’m crazy enough I’ll do the CDT on my way back! Best of luck and 73’s C moss kc9pzt

    Reply
  • Mark Croley : May 12th

    I married (again) just five years ago & I’ve always shared my dream to thru-hike the AT. She supports me ! Says she’ll enjoy shopping up the coast as I sleep on the ground. Understand, she’s following me – and I turned 60 yrs young this year! I fell in love with the AT during my scouting days in the 60’s. It’s definitely within my sights & look forward to getting started ! We aren’t in our 20’s and are secure in who we are.

    Reply
  • Scott A Brotherton : May 12th

    Well stated – anyones SO should help them achieve their dreams, not hinder them from them….GL w/your hike !

    Reply
  • Terra : Nov 27th

    The AT is calling me. I’ve been talking it through with my spouse. At first, he claimed he wouldn’t even talk to me while I was on the trail, but with follow up conversations and me starting to train, he is coming to realize why this means so much to me. He has even agreed to a two week section hike! That is a compromise I can live with. I am okay with putting off a thru hike for a year to make it work for him as long as I can sleep a few nights on the trail before then. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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