5 Reasons I Hiked the AT to My Wedding
When my fiance, trail name Iceman Dan, and I started talking about hiking to our wedding, of course my first thought was, “that hiker body will look damn good in a wedding dress!” I’d had some experience with a hiker body. In 2011, two weeks after Dan and I hiked our first mountain together and decided to turn a distant friendship into something more, I left Springer Mountain with the idea of hiking as far as I could for the next 40 to 50 days. Forty-five days and 503 miles later, I called a halt to my hike. The trail and I parted on great terms, and I was especially thrilled to fit into a size of jeans I hadn’t contemplated since early high school!
While I was trekking my way north out of Georgia, Dan was finishing up his college career in Brevard, NC. He was able to drive out to almost every town stop and many road crossings (he knew them all, because he has a freaky memory and hiked from Springer to the James River Footbridge back in 2008). He met me at all of these stops with food, beer and a free ride to the nearest shower, and I knew he was the one for me! Days after I left the trail, we were already discussing when and how we could afford to return. It took us four years, but eventually we were engaged and ready to hike to our wedding. What convinced me to forego the extravagant, self-indulging dream wedding I had, like so many before me, spent most of my secret moments contemplating?
1. The Family That Hikes Together, Stays Together
Over four years, Dan and I spent a lot of time adventuring together. We mountain biked, kayaked, backpacked and led overnights for an outdoor adventure camp together. This all meant we spent a lot of time alone, together. Living with another person can be a real struggle sometimes, but living with another person in the woods for days on end is a whole other ballgame.
You’re almost always tired, often soaked, frequently cold, rarely comfortable, usually sore, and so is the person sitting next to you in that lightweight two-man tent that seemed much roomier in the showroom! We also got an Australian Shepherd puppy five months into our relationship, and he struggled with the idea of no dogs in the tent. Our best arguments were had in the woods when we were both feeling vulnerable and honest. Obviously, if we planned on tying that forever knot, we were going to have to test our resilience in the woods. That led to the idea that we’d use the AT as a marriage test. But, why hike to the actual marriage?
2. That Hiker Body Really WILL Look Good in a Wedding Dress!
I wasn’t kidding when I said that was my first thought when Dan brought up the idea of hiking to our wedding. I never had any intention of starving myself into a wedding dress, but I had every intention of looking like I did. What better way than to, well, starve for four months? I didn’t lose as much weight as Dan (the injustice of which is enough for another article entirely!), but it’s hard to hike every day for four months and not lose weight. Not that we didn’t put up a good fight!
We southbounded from Katahdin to Damascus, and around Stratton, Maine, we realized we could easily devour a full Digiorno’s pizza each. And I don’t mean the single serving size. Countless NOBO’s were sick with regret when they saw what we were doing in Maine and realized they had 300 miles or less to eat all the full-sized Digiorno’s pizzas they could! We spared no expense in eating to our stomach’s content, but still I dropped two dress sizes by the time we reached Damascus. The night before my wedding, when I tried on my wedding dress for the first time, I was pleased that it was just a little too big!
3. Plan a Wedding? I Can Barely Plan My Next Shelter!
The summer Dan and I got engaged, a year before we planned our Maine-Marriage (MEMA, rather than MEGA) hike, both my parents, two close friends and my parents’ best friends got married. Five weddings in one summer, and I helped/mostly planned two of them (the parents’). By the time I fell into bed in the wee hours after the fifth wedding, I was more than over them (not that they weren’t a blast and became great memories)!
When we told our parents that we’d decided to get married on the trail, they were aghast. How could we not want to celebrate our special day? More specifically, could I not want to?
It was simple– I’d seen enough special days to last me a lifetime, and I just wanted to be married to Daniel. They all convinced us to have a ceremony (instead of just meeting everyone at a courthouse during some town day), but I remained steadfast in my decision to hike to my wedding.
4. Timing Is Everything
Four years into our relationship, Dan and I had spent two of them living blissfully in the mountains of North Carolina before realizing we had to pay off debts and start saving money somehow. That realization brought us to Raleigh, North Carolina (and a full-time teaching position for me to pay off my college debt) for two years. If you’re unlucky enough to have never visited the great Tarheel State, one- go visit! Two, Raleigh is not in the mountains. It’s a great city, if you like cities. We are town people at best, cabin-in-the-woods-visit-town-twice-a-month people, in reality. Suffice to say, two years in Raleigh was rough on us.
We decided to take our saved cash (did I mention we spent those two years living for free with my dad and future step-mom? It was a great situation, but we were bums, let’s be honest!) and move to Colorado, a lifelong dream for us both. We also decided to get our AT thru-hike out of the way, in case we fell in love with the west and found reasons to put it off indefinitely.
Side note: The thru-hike plan fell apart when we were offered the opportunity to plan and lead a two-week adventure for a camp Dan had been working for. This set us back a month, so we nixed the last 500 miles of trail, which we’d both previously hiked anyway. We plan to go back and do a “real” thru-hike eventually. (“Real” being a personal opinion; finishing the trail and hiking 1700 miles sure seems like a thru-hike to me!)
With plans to move out west after thru-hiking, we were again concerned that we’d never make our way back east (Seriously, the west is huge and endless adventures were gleaming in our future!). I wanted my grandparents to be at my wedding (we were engaged by now, but it was looking to be a long engagement), and I had just lost my grandpa the previous spring. Thus, we decided to hike to our wedding before moving to Colorado.
5. Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH), Wedding Your Own Wedding (WYOW)
Hiking the Appalachian Trail with my best friend was going to be epic. But, I also knew we’d be doing many epic things in our future (currently in the books: the PCT, the Colorado Trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail in NC, and the International AT in Canada). I wanted this first long distance hike to mean even more, to be even more memorable. We considered hiking the AT for our honeymoon, but that idea was nixed quickly. I may not be too uptight about my wedding day, but don’t even think about taking away my vacation time! That is sacred!
Also, I am a huge believer in applying the adage “hike your own hike” to your every day life. I was determined to do my wedding my way, even if that way involved bug spray, tan lines and a little too much body hair. I wanted my wedding to be memorable, and I was worried after so many stories about brides being too busy to remember their own wedding days. I wanted a day that celebrated the very thing that brought us together, the Appalachian Trail. Thus, we got hitched in Hot Springs, NC among a small group of family and friends with our 3 1/2 year old (Jake the Aussie) as the ring bearer. It couldn’t have been better planned!
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