We cannot tell you how many people looked at us like we were crazy when we told them we were going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail right after we got married. About half the people that voiced their concern thought thru-hiking was insane in and of itself; the other half just thought spending 6 months in the woods with your freshly married partner was a disaster waiting to happen.
Depending on your significant other for literal survival is a humbling, daring, and absolutely disorienting experience, but your thru-hike will be more meaningful because of it and that notion will undoubtedly follow you back into the ‘real world’.
While thru-hiking (in our opinion) is not the key to a perfect marriage, we do find that the life we have created together up to the present is in large part due to our experience on the AT and the lessons that our beloved Trail taught us as newlyweds. Here’s a few of those lessons:
Shoulder Each Other’s Burdens…Literally
Before we embarked on our six-month long honeymoon, we planned a few shake-down trips to determine what was necessary in our packs and get rid of any unnecessary weight. We quickly discovered that you can actually reduce both of your pack weights if you split your gear up creatively between your two packs.
For instance, we noticed that if one of us carried the poles/stakes to the tent while the other carried the tent itself, we essentially split our pack weights in half. Over time, we realized that the more pieces of gear we could split up, the less our packs would weigh. If we could agree to share pieces of gear and split them between our packs, then we both would benefit in the long run. This philosophy ultimately led us to change the gear we ended up with by the end of our thru-hike (i.e., switching from two sleeping bags to a double-sized quilt).
This hiking philosophy isn’t just for saving weight, it also forces a new level of commitment to your hike. If you are sharing gear, you are automatically forced to stick together through every day – no matter what – because it will take both of your packs to set up the tent, cook dinner, hang the bear bag, etc.
This form of commitment can be difficult because it binds you to your partner even in the midst of hard days, but we also believe that this experience is actually really beautiful for your relationship. Learning to depend on one another for food, shelter, and water allows you to recognize the gift you have in each other.
Yell in the Rain Even If Everybody is Watching
Couples fight – it’s inevitable. Even in the woods.
Somewhere in the middle of Virginia, we found ourselves standing in the middle of the Trail, in the pouring-down rain, yelling at one another. We had stumbled into an argument about a large life decision for life after the Trail while we were hiking and decided to throw down our backpacks and just let each other have it.
We figured out after a few weeks of hiking that it was critical for us to be on the same page and 100% present for each other 100% of the time or it would completely throw off our hike. If we were not on the same page, then we would lose focus, we would forget to take in the beauty of the Trail, we would hike too fast or too slow, and we would lose track of the reason we were even thru-hiking in the first place.
All of this meant that if we ever got into a disagreement or needed to have an argument…we would fight it out right then and there, a lot of times in the middle of the Trail, because we knew our hike depended on it.
Intimacy in a Tent
As you can imagine, intimacy on a thru-hike is…different! You both will smell terrible. You both will be covered in dirt. You both will be exhausted. You both will have a new perspective on one another after performing full-body tick checks with a headlamp. But, as you can also imagine, intimacy as newlyweds is strikingly important.
We found that cultivating intimacy throughout the day with simple gestures like holding hands reminded us that intimacy is sexier when you are drawn to each other, even when you’re covered in dirt and smell like a ramen-bomb.
We also learned that intimacy can take on a lot of different meanings. Obviously, being in a small tent with your large dog at your feet after 18 miles of hiking is not exactly ideal for every kind of physical intimacy. But don’t fear the smells and the oddities. Allow yourself to embrace and redefine intimacy every step along your thru-hike – even if that means being turned on by your partner letting you sit down while they walk the extra 0.25 miles to the water source ;-)
In-Sync From Beginning to End
One of the greatest lessons we learned along our thru-hike was the significance of having a well-oiled routine for setting up and taking down our campsite each day. Each morning, one of us would start boiling water for coffee and get breakfast ready while one of us began packing up the quilt and sleeping pads, one of us would feed the dog while the other packed up the tent poles, etc.
By the end of our thru-hike, we had such a synchronized routine at night and in the morning that we could be ready to hike or sleep in less than 10 minutes without even having to speak to one another (which is helpful for those non-morning people, right MoonShine?). Figuring out this routine early in your hike will not only maximize the amount of hours you get to hike in the day, but it will also reduce both of your stress levels significantly.
Knowing that you and your partner are in-sync and sharing in responsibility will boost your energy and help you have great starts and ends to each day on Trail.
All of these lessons have followed us into each day after the Trail and we are incredibly thankful for the foundation the Appalachian Trail helped us create for our marriage. After all, each day is a battle to share each other’s burdens, to be open and honest together, to find intimacy with one another, and to stay in-sync on or off the Trail.
Thru-hiking with your partner or significant other is complex, beautiful, difficult, enlightening, odd, and fulfilling all at the same time. Every relationship is different, so don’t be afraid to craft your thru-hike in such a way that suits who you are together. People will look at you like you are crazy, but a little ‘crazy’ might just be the thing you and your partner are looking for!