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Re: 96 thruhikers, part 2

>I have read many of you entries since this one (see below) and have many
>questions. I am planning a hike to begin in 6 weeks. My two main questions
>  1) how did you hike change you emotionally/mentally? what have others said?
>     (read in one of your entries that you have spoken w/ MANY thru-hikers)
>  2) did you hike while married and if so, how did it affect your marriage?
>     again - what have other hikers said?
>My wife and I have a strong relationship and she is supportive, but I know
>I will worry about her (back home) a lot. I'm concerned that this will
>affect my hike. Any thoughts?


First a personal comment on part 1.   The lessons I learned on the Trail
were necessary, the changes were good for me - and they were worth
whatever price I paid.  I'd do it all over again.  And I will.   We're at
least 2 years away, but the planning process has started for the CDT.
Over the weekend I also realized that Part 1 wasn't complete - but it'll
have to do for now.

And the beat goes on - it takes time to integrate the Trail changes and
lessons into your life. It's probably different for different people but
personal opinion is that it takes a couple years to become aware of
all the changes in the way you think and feel and react to different
situations in your life.  It's been almost 4 yrs since I started the
Trail - and I'm still learning.

Now let's try Part 2 - with the same caveats as part 1.  And with the
understanding that part 1 was not easy for me.  It required a long look
inside myself.  This will be even more difficult because it can be
only partially based on personal experience.  Some of it has to be based
on observation and on the subjective conclusions derived from those
observations.   Scientific method?  Hardly.  More like personal
opinion, I think.  Just for clarity, I'm gonna repeat those caveats -

1/ I'm one of the "fringe" people whose life changed drastically, and
        what happened to me is not the norm.
2/ This will be my personal opinion, experience and observation.
        There's nothing scientific or even necessarily logical about it.
        And that's more than passing strange for someone who spent most
        of his life making Spock look emotional and illogical.  But then,
        people aren't logical, are they?
3/ Advice is worth what you pay for it - and this is free.
4/ I won't guarantee you'll like everything I have to say.
5/ As a thruhiker I am, by definition, insane and therefore cannot
        be held responsible for anything I say.
6/ I may wander off in strange directions
7/ I'm not going to explain anything in any depth.

You asked about marriage - mine was broken before the AT but I
didn't want to recognize it.  The divorce was painful, but it was also
long overdue. The AT gave me the time and space to see my marriage
for what it was, the desire to heal it, the inner peace to accept the
situation when it didn't work, the mental and emotional toughness to
persevere and endure through the emotional disaster of the divorce,
and the openness to accept new love when it came into my life.  That's
a personal assessment - no blame, no excuses, no apologies  - just a
lot of pain and frustration balanced by a sweet, star-bright lady who
knows who I am and loves me (and likes me) anyway.

Life is good !!

There were couples where the wife stayed home and the husband walked
the Trail (or vice versa).  Most of them survived, a few didn't.  A long
trail (2000+ miles) is a LOT of loneliness for a couple - more than most
couples will experience in a lifetime.  Sometimes it's too much.

Now I'm gonna make a few personal observations.  I'll try to do this
gently, but specifically keep in mind caveats 2 and 4 - and 5.

First - the couples who seem to be the happiest about the Trail experience
are those where the stay-at-home spouse visits as often as possible and
sometimes hikes sections of the Trail.  It gives them some understanding
of what the Trail is and how it affects their thruhiker spouse.  And it
keeps the bond intact.

That's important - If she's at home and you're on the Trail, you'll be
living in different worlds.   It's easy - too easy - to lose each other.
Her world will consist of things that you know about but can't relate
to because your mind and energy and focus have moved away from that
world.  Yours will consist of situations and people that she doesn't know
and sometimes can't even imagine.   It's hard - but certainly not
impossible  - to maintain a solid relationship like that.

Second - if the stay-at-home spouse dumps all their problems when the
thruhiker calls home or when they see each other, it just might have
a negative effect on the hike.   What a thruhiker does or doesn't need
to be told is a matter of judgment.   If it's minor, or it's already been
resolved or thay can't do anything about it - do they need to know
all the gory details?   I don't know.  That's not my decision to make.
Thank God!   I lost a partner to this one.

Third - You're on vacation and she's not.  She's home coping with
the kids, house, bills, etc.  That's not true, but some spouses - and
others (especially family) take that attitude.   Does she understand
why you have to do this?  Does she understand about dream
fulfillment?  Do you?  I'm not sure I could explain it either.
But it might be a real good idea to at least try.

At one point in my life I learned that real love is wanting your
loved one to be the best that they can be.  If  you need to hike the
AT in order to be the best you can be, and your lady accepts that
and has the patience to deal with it, then you've been blessed as
few of us are in this life.  Go for it.

Fourth - If the thruhiker constantly worries about what's going on
at home, about whether their spouse can handle life - it just might
have a negative effect on their hike.   For me the questions here
are - Do you trust your spouse?   Do you believe they could
survive if you weren't there?  If so, then why are you worried?
Doesn't mean you shouldn't worry - but personal opinion is that
you should know why you're worrying.   And then - does it have
to be a constant thing?

A bit of personal philosophy - I don't know how long I'll live.
I've lived through enough situations that should have killed me
that I'm on a first name basis with Mr Death.   I understand  that
every time I walk out the door may be my last.   That makes
life very sweet, very precious.  And it colors everything in
my life - especially my relationship with my lady.  It means I
have to trust her to be able to handle life if I'm not there.  And
it means NEVER leaving her without doing my best to be sure
she knows how much I love her.   I think I've brought the good
parts of my Trail experience to our relationship and one of those
is that right NOW is the only time we have.   If I wait till later to
tell her - it might not happen.   Tell her - often.

Fifth - after finishing, a thruhiker needs time and understanding.
Thruhikers live in a different world, and it takes time to re-integrate
into the "real" (???) world, to adjust to a different life, a different
pace, a different 'noise' level.   Anyone who expects their thruhiker
spouse to jump back into the life they left 6 months before as
if nothing had changed is making a BIG mistake.  And sometimes putting
more strain on the relationship than some relationships can stand.

Many, possibly most, thruhikers don't start back to work for 3-6 months
after the Trail.  When they start work (usually out of financial necessity)
they don't fit in the way they used to.   A  few of us never really adjust.
Whatever changes you've gone through will add to the complexity of the
integration.  And remember, your spouse changed while you were gone, too.

Wayne,  I have no idea what your relationship is, how you'd change on
the Trail, how your wife would change while you're gone, or how those
changes would affect your relationship.    I do know you can't judge how
your life would change by what happened to me.  Personal opinion is
that with a loving, supportive wife,  my life wouldn't have changed
so drastically.   A lot of the changes in my life were due to synergy
between the Trail and my personal situation.  You don't have that
problem.  I hope you never do.

Does that mean you won't have some adjustment problems when you
get back?   Absolutely not.   In fact, personal opinion is that if you
have no problems at all, then you've wasted your time.  I've also
learned that growth - both personally and in relationships, comes
from the process of understanding and working through problems
and differences together.   Preferrably without anger.

I'm not sure I've answered your questions.   If not, try again - and
I'll try again.   The worst that can happen is that I won't have the
answers you need.  It may be that my answers don't match your
questions.  It may be that they're answers you can only find for
yourself.   There are times when I wish I had all the answers, but
then I remember Richard Bach's book, "Illusions" and I'm reminded
that God really does know what he's doing.

One more thing - I want to thank you for asking those questions.
It gave me a chance to verbalize ( and thus clarify) a lot of the
feelings, lessons and changes that I've had to deal with for the
last 4 years.  And that's good for me.  I hope there's something
here that you can use, too.   Again - thanks.

Walk softly,
Jim Owen
Bald Eagle, AT-92