How to Survive Your Partner Thru-Hiking While Supporting Them From Home

The following is a guest post by Gillian Kelly

When my husband decided to quit his job and thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I was a jumble of mixed feelings. Fully in denial, I didn’t accept that he was leaving until the week leading up to his departure, even as shopping bag after shopping bag from REI rolled through our door.

After he departed and I eked out the first week on my own, I realized that I couldn’t spend the next five months waiting for him to return. I had to live my life. I made dinner dates with friends, scheduled a beach trip with my mom for Mother’s Day, and picked up gardening as a new hobby—no one was more surprised than I was on that last one!

Here are some things that helped me keep the home fires burning.

1. If you live together, talk through a plan to maintain your housing and pay related expenses

Can you afford the monthly bills on your own? Is your partner able to continue contributing financially while also having enough money to complete the trail? Are there alternative solutions, such as bringing in a temporary roommate during the time they’re away? As a bonus, a new roommate might also help you to navigate feelings of loneliness if you’re someone who isn’t crazy about living alone.

My husband was able to save throughout the year prior to his departure. Although I was able to maintain our monthly expenses on my own, he made a contribution to our joint account before he left to give me a buffer in case something unexpected popped up.

2. Be honest with yourself and your partner

This means being honest right from the planning stages. If you’re nervous about the long-distance relationship aspect, that’s completely normal. The best way to stay close is to remain open and honest about what excites you and what makes you nervous.

One of our cats passed away two weeks before my husband left, so I was extra emotional and cried my fair share of tears before his start date. Although I knew he would miss me (and our sweet kitty, Lucy, who was now an only cat), I knew that the adventure would help to keep him distracted. I worried that I would just struggle through the months and that time would drag for me. Though I was careful to not burden him with all of these feelings every time they crossed my mind, I made sure that he was aware how I was feeling and what I was thinking. His reassurances kept me sane in the days leading up to his departure.

3. The beginning is probably going to be tough

Try to think about the short-term in the early days. Don’t think in terms of your partner being gone for five to six months, as that can be overwhelming. Think about getting through your day and your week. Eventually, you’ll adjust and you’ll be able to think about the big picture. For me, the halfway point was when the countdown became extra exciting. Moving from months to weeks to days felt utterly surreal.

4. Don’t put your life on hold

Spend time with friends and make sure you aren’t isolating yourself. As an introvert, I found that I really enjoyed having my house to myself in the evenings after work, but sometimes on the weekends I found myself wanting to spend time with other people. Learn what works best for you and reach out to your friends and family to make plans. I was surprised at how many people reached out regularly to check in on me, and I was grateful for the reminder that although it sometimes felt like I was alone, I most certainly was not.

5. Set goals for yourself

Is there something you want to achieve while your partner is away? Make it happen. I set the goal to lose weight while my partner was away (I was mildly successful, losing about ten pounds total) and to work toward my overall goal to read 70 books this year (I successfully stayed on track). It can be powerful to see what you can accomplish over a few months, and this is the perfect time to focus on yourself.

6. Schedule something to look forward to

Whether it’s camping with friends or a trip to the beach, having something to look forward to every few weeks helps to ease some of the discomfort of waiting for your partner’s return.

7. Plan a visit, if you can swing it

If you’re able to take a few days off to meet your partner, it will likely help both of you to know that the other is OK and to reconnect. Remember that you’ll likely need to remain flexible, as your partner may not be able to give you a precise date of arrival until closer to the visit or may hit unexpected delays. We planned to meet just before the 500-mile mark, as it was relatively convenient for me and the timing coincided with my birthday and our anniversary. Although we wanted to see each other again later in the trip, it was more difficult to plan at that point and we both prioritized him finishing sooner over a quick (and likely expensive) visit.

8. Find ways to celebrate important milestones

My husband wasn’t home for my birthday or our first wedding anniversary. Though we were able to see each other between those two celebrations, as that’s when we’d planned our visits, he made sure the days were special by hiding cards right under my nose to celebrate those occasions.

In conclusion

In the end, the four to six months an AT thru-hike typically takes are just a drop in the bucket for most serious relationships. Though many remarked to me that they couldn’t imagine getting their partner’s permission for an extended trip like thru-hiking, I can’t imagine not supporting my partner’s dreams. Life is a series of choices, and it’s important to us both to live authentically and without regrets.

Gillian is a desk worker by weekday, fledgling outdoorswoman by weekend. Introvert with a love for reading, writing, calligraphy, and walks in the woods. Wife and frequent hiking companion to Hungry Cat




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Comments 5

  • RON : Aug 14th

    I am very fortunate to have Gillian for my eldest daughter, and Hungry Cat for my son-in-law. So very proud of both of them.

  • Bob : Aug 19th

    I followed Hungry Cats journey on Trail Journal’s website and enjoyed the details of his adventure. I wonder though, is there n after hike adjustment for the both of you now that he is home?

    • Gillian Kelly : Jan 4th

      Great question, Bob! I think we would both agree that there was most certainly a post-hike adjustment following Hungry Cat’s return home. On his part, I think it was mostly about readjusting to living in a society that prioritizes things like showers, clean clothes, and clean shaven necks. (He had a serious neck beard upon his return!) On my part, I had to re-learn how to live with someone again. This wasn’t all negative – things like house maintenance (our shower head broke the week he returned), pet card, and meals no longer fell solely on my shoulders. But having someone around 24/7, even someone that I loved dearly, took a minute to get used to again.

  • Lee : Aug 20th

    Very good article! Thanks for sharing this wisdom with the rest of us. I’m glad that you and Hungry Cat were able to make his AT hike a reality. It will forever enrich your lives!

  • Randolph Gray : Jan 28th

    Your husband’s thru hike on the AT was a grand adventure for both of you. He had the great experience of hiking it solo and pushing himself to overcome obstacles that Mother Nature placed in his path. He certainly wanted to prove to you that he could accomplish it. It’s obvious that you felt that you had to prove to you both that you could suffer through a long period of being apart. Not an easy task. Congratulations to you both.
    Randolph Gray


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