The Hardest Part of Going on a Thru-Hike

This isn’t a bashing session, nor is it a plea for validation that what I’m doing is right. I have an amazing family and wonderful, supportive friends. Although none of my immediate family or friends are avid hikers (let’s be honest, none of them feel the way I do, the way we do about hiking), they all do their best to cheer me on when I set out on my solo treks into the woods. I may make decisions that they feel are risky, or downright dangerous, but none of them try to stop me or scold me for making those choices. I am, after all, an adult who is capable of making their own, albeit sometimes stupid, decisions. So when I said, for the third year in a row, that I was going to thru-hike The Long Trail this summer, I know I wasn’t catching any of them off guard. The responses I received weren’t any different than what they’ve been in the past, but that’s part of what has stopped me from going on my thru-hike before.

Looking Back

Hiking solo in -15 degree weather, my family still supports me.

In the past three years I’ve spent a substantial amount of time immersed in the thru-hiking culture. I’ve read hundreds of blog posts and articles written by people as they set out on an adventure I’ve only ever dreamed of doing. The toughest part of reading all of those posts hasn’t been the envy I feel that they get to go and I don’t, it’s that maybe they’re supported in ways I’m not. Or maybe that’s what they want me to believe. Telling your loved ones that you’re planning on spending weeks or even months in the woods isn’t easy, especially if you’re the only one who understands why you’re choosing to do this. Telling your spouse that you are choosing to be away from them for weeks or months is even harder.

So how do you go about having that conversation, heck, how do you even introduce the idea to someone you have committed to spending your life with? As the person doing the leaving it seems like a no-brainer that they’d want you to do whatever makes you happy. But taking a step back and looking at this from their perspective, I can see why they’d hesitate to say a hardy and happy “yes, go”. I’ve spent three years looking at this thru-hike from my own perspective and wondered why my amazing and infinitely supportive husband would hesitate to be happy about me going.

Seeing This Hike Through His Eyes

Hiking Hamlin and Baxter solo with thunderstorms looming, still supported.

But today I look at this thru-hike through his eyes. I’m choosing to spend a pretty decent amount of time away from him. Won’t I miss him? Is he not worth wanting to be around? Maybe he’s not enough to make me happy. I have to be away from him to be happy. I’m sure these are all thoughts that have run through his mind when he does spend a few minutes thinking about me going. Which is probably why when I try to talk about my thru-hike with him he quickly changes the subject.

So how do I go on a thru-hike, how do I “abandon” my husband for three weeks to spend time alone in the woods? More importantly, how do I go about doing this knowing that he is supporting me but through clenched teeth. The hardest part of this thru-hike for me isn’t the gear list or the shakedown hikes, it’s that first step out the door away from him knowing that it’s not what he wants. That I’m turning my back on him and walking away to leave him alone, feeling like he’s not enough to keep me home. Maybe we are different than every other couple out there, because all of the posts I’ve read paint a pretty picture of one person leaving another person, and the one staying home being content with that. I like to believe that we aren’t the only couple who struggles with what a thru-hike really means for people in a committed relationship.

Moving Forward

Single-day Bonds traverse in 90+ degree temperatures when I don’t do well in the heat, still supported.

I’ve spent three years walking around the idea of setting off on a thru-hike, and even now I’m still not putting it in writing that I’m going. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. And even though I know my husband wants me to do what makes me happy, that he will support me in my decision if I go, I don’t know if I can do that to him. I also know that he doesn’t want to hold me back from doing what will make me happy. But rather than pretending that my conversation with my spouse about going on a thru-hike was easy and full of smiles and rainbows I’m being real. I’m being honest with everyone out there that setting out on a thru-hike isn’t an easy decision to make, at least not for me. Not because I’m scared of the woods or getting hurt, but because I’m unwilling to accept that my husband knows that this thru-hike isn’t me leaving him. It’s me finding myself.

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