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[at-l] Thruhiking - Couples again
This is a "specal" for those who are going to thruhike with
their wives, girlfriends, SO's, etc. It wasn't part of the
original series - a friend who lives near Sunnyvale sent it
to me yesterday. And it complements yesterdays installment
so neatly that the series just got expanded.
I didn't write this and I don't know the man who did - but I'd like to.
I don't agree with *everything* he wrote, but there's a whole lot of
good advice here. And the point here has nothing to do with which
trail they were hiking - it's about human relations and some of the
hard realities of hiking with a partner. And it works on ANY trail.
Have fun with it - I did. And I will - it's good enough that I'm even
gonna post it to Wingfoot's list.
Lovers on the Trail Shoulder a Heavy Load
by DAN WHITE
Venture Section, Nov 21, 1996
San Jose Mercury-News
When Rebecca suggested we hike a major trail together, I thought of
great dinners, fresh air and endless lust in the woods. I imagined
Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields, eating guavas and shacking
up with abandon in "The Blue Lagoon".
Well, it didn't happen that way.
All those great dinners turned out to be macaroni and cheese.
I tried to spike them with oysters, but Rebecca thought bivalves
were "gnarly". As for passion, it was there, but it was frequently
tempered by the fact that a huge root or rock was jamming up into
the tent, it was too hot or cold outside, and we both smelled like
Who ever would have thought this could happen? Rebecca used to
exist on some higher plane. I used to stutter in her presence and
break into sweat. Before we dated, I'd jog on the highway leading
to her workplace, hoping she'd drive past and think it was a big
Now she leaned under a Joshua tree and scowled. Sweat made
paisley curliques down the dirt all over her legs. She was still
sexy in a scruffy, Haight-Ashbury sort of way. But we were
grouches now. She was hiking too slowly. I lost her favorite
compass. I wanted to kiss her but she said I smelled like a rhinoceros.
Before we left on the trip, our relationship met all my ideals of
hedonism and abandon, lost weekends spent downing magnums of
volpolicella and snarfing calzones. Now Rebecca and I were on
opposite sides of a trough designed for longhorn, she blackening
the water with her filthy feet, while I filtered the same water
for our drinking supply.
Welcome to love and lust on the Pacific Crest Trail.
If you do it right, hiking a major trail can turn a platonic
relationship into animalistic love, turn a romantic relationship
into something even deeper, and cement bonds that will last
The problem is we did it wrong. We didn't discuss the differences
in our hiking styles and pace before we left. We didn't make sure
we were spiritually and philosophically compatible, that we were
doing the same style of trip. We didn't even take into consideration
the things that might dampen our ardor for each other, such as
dust, no-see-um bugs, sweat, bear attacks and exhaustion.
In other words, we blew it. The following are words of advice,
warnings and cautionary tales.
One side of the story -
This was supposed to be a kind of a his-and-hers column, with
Rebecca giving her side of the story, too. I phoned her two weeks
ago and pitched the idea to her answering machine. I was stunned
when she didn't call back, until the creeping realization came:
By sheer coincidence, I'd called on her 29th birthday, and on the
two-year anniversary of our operatic break-up. Unwittingly,
I'd validated her idea of my trail personna, "insensitive,
forgetful and fascist."
So here's my half of the advice, based on things I did wrong, and
a few I did right:
- All hiking partners must face up to physical differences and pace
variations. Don't do what I did, which was to view the trail as a
test drive for your romantic partner's back, shoulders and legs.
Don't end up with the idea that you'll be hiking 25 miles a day
when your partner only wants to do 10. Negotiate and compromise.
Otherwise, you'll end up like me, calling out cadences and barking
orders to the woman you used to call "sweetheart." She'll start
barking thngs back, such as "contol freak."
- On a related note, don't stick to a sacred schedule. Nature will
screw it up time and time again. Personal responsibilities or injuries
may force you off the trail. Allow yourself to bend with the changes
or you'll end up taking it out on each other.
- And one more word on timetables: Don't start off at a frenzied
"let's conquer the world" pace. Ease into your walk the way you'd
ease into a freezing cold swimming pool - slowly, toe by toe.
- Divide your pack solely on how much you both can carry comfortably.
- Give your partner some slack in the personal hygiene department,
but still make some effort to spruce yourself up after a hiking day.
Michele Morris, in Backpacker magazine, recommends packing baby
wipes and premoistened towelettes because "who wants to snuggle
with someone who's covered with four days sweat, suntan lotion
and bug spray?"
- Don't buy sleeping bags that don't "mate" or zip together. The
straitjacket of love has ruined many budding trail relationships.
- Lighten the mood in any way you can. Rebecca and I did this
with terms of endearment. I called her "Ratface" and she called
me "Fish Body."
To ease the effort and boredom of long uphill hikes, make up stories
that are so funny, scary or gory that you forget the climb. Rebecca
invented this technique and her stories really gave me sustenance,
until she started making unspeakable thing happen to all the male
characters. Take turns being the storyteller and the polite listener.
Reserve questions or comments until after the presentation.
- Surprise each other with little treats. We heard of couples who
brought Knorr Swiss dried chocolate mousse in plastic baggies,
with non-fat dried milk and just a touch of espresso powder --
almost unbearably delicious. For a guaranteed night of sleepless
romance, deliberately overspike one of those bags with dried
coffee and leave it unlabeled, a variation hikers call "chocolate
mousse Russian roulette."
Calling it quits -
- Discuss the extent of your togetherness. Do you intend to hike
every foot of the thing together? If one of you quits, would the
other feel comfortable finishing it alone? Would the off-trail
partner send supplies, and support, if this should happen? It's
a painful subject, but work it out in advance. (We didn't, and
when I ended up hiking the thing alone, I instinctively held
Rebecca's supply packages to my ear to see if they were ticking.)
- Hiking partnerships can dissolve into co-dependency. Rebecca
at one point tired of our bickering and constant togetherness.
She tried to ditch me forever in the desert, only to realize that
I had the water and tent poles. To stop this kind of pressure
from building, work out ways to conserve personal space,
such as hiking separately but always within visual or at least
Just remember that hiking alone, even for a short while, can
be a risk. If one of you wrenches an ankle, or gets mauled by
a black bear, the other should be there to help. If you go your
separate ways even briefly, make sure you both have water,
food and all other essentials.
- To balance out power struggles, alternate hiking leadership
and decision-making responsibilities day by day. Don't do as
I did and attempt a coup d'etat in the middle of your partner's
My spiel is over. If you want to hike with your partner, I'd
be the last person to discourage you. Go out there and enjoy
the scenery. Plan compicated and romantic freeze-dried
dinners. Take it as leisurely, or as hard, as you both would
like. Enjoy the mountains and our dwindling American
And don't say you haven't been warned.
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