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[at-l] Thruhiking - Change and Couples

OK - third installment.  Didn't realize I was getting into
a soap opera.  This is (mostly) the answer to the second
of the two questions -

>1) how did your hike change you emotionally/mentally?
>        what have others said?
>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 adversely affect my hike.
>Any thoughts?

Again I edited it somewhat - but not much.

Walk softly,

First a personal comment about change. The lessons I learned on
the Trail were necessary, the changes were good for me - and
worth whatever price I paid. And I'd do it all over again - and I
will. We're 2 years away from it, but the planning process has
started for the CDT. There's no reason for me to believe that
whatever changes come out of that walk will be as pervasive
as the AT, but I think it'll finish my career as an engineer.

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 because it
required a long look inside myself - but part 2 is even more
difficult because it can be only partly based on personal
experience. Most of it has to be based on observation and on
the subjective conclusions derived from those observations.
Scientific method?  Hardly. A lot more like personal opinion.

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 balanced by a sweet,
star-bright lady who knows who I am and loves me
anyway.  Life is good.

So what about other couples?

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.

There were couples where both walked the Trail. Most of
them survived, a few didn't. A long trail (2000+ miles) is
a LOT of togetherness for a couple - more than most couples
will experience in a lifetime. Sometimes it's too much.

With caveat #2 in mind, I'll make a few personal observations.
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.  Your world 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 they can't do anything
about it - do they need to know about it? I don't know. That's
not my decision to make. Thank God!

Third -  She's home coping with the kids, house, bills, etc. -
you're on vacation and she's not.  That's not quite true, but
some spouses - and others (family - especially in-laws) tend
to take that attitude.   What you're doing on the Trail is just
 as hard in its own way as what she's coping with at home.
But it's not nearly as understandable to people who live a
"normal" life.

So --  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. My question
here is - 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 should never worry - but does it have to be
a constant thing?

A bit of personal philosophy here - I don't know how long I'll live.
I've lived through a lot of situations that should have killed me.
I understand very well that every time I walk out the door may
be my last. Knowing that 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 that I NEVER leave
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.

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 do adjust.  Remember, your spouse
changed while you were gone, too.

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
that you can't judge how your life would change by what
happened to me.  A lot of the changes in my life were due to
a 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. But I've also learned that
growth - both personally and in relationships, comes from the
process of understanding and working through problems.
Preferably 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. There are times when I wish I had all the
answers, but then what would I do with the rest of my life?

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

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