Leaving the Ones You Love for a Thru-Hike

So you want to thru-hike a long trail. Great! That’s awesome. It is truly an incredible experience. Now you have to tell your loved ones.

My husband and I are lucky to have a really incredible relationship. We understand the importance of supporting each other’s dreams and goals and strive to do it whenever possible. We also understand that not supporting one another can lead to years of resentment and pent-up frustration. That said, I didn’t do everything right when I told him about this idea of mine.

How to Tell Them

Mike has always known I love hiking and being outside. I love to walk in the woods just for the sake of walking. It’s a passion of mine he understands, but doesn’t necessarily share. He enjoys hiking, but doesn’t love it quite like me. And he’s always known how much I admire thru-hikers.

Supporting each other isn’t always easy, but boy is it worth it.

So in September when I told him I’d been doing a lot of research about the AT and that it was something I was interested in, he was supportive in exploring the idea with me. In my excitement, I took his support of exploring the idea as him basically saying, “Yes, go hike 2,000+ miles without me and leave me for five to six months. I’ll be good.”

In reality, he had not said that at all, and we had some tough moments and discussions early on in our planning because of this. I wouldn’t even call it a “miscommunication”… more like me completely not hearing what he really said.

Telling your spouse you want to leave them for months to go live alone in the woods is hard. In my excitement, I didn’t do it very respectfully/delicately. Don’t be me. Doing a thru-hike solo can lead to a lot of growth for both partners and the relationship as a whole. Every step needs to be treated with respect, good listening, and a whole lotta love. So broach the subject with grace. Put feelers out and see how they respond and react accordingly. And, most of all, actually listen.

Validate What They Feel

This was hard for me at times, but incredibly important for Mike to be able to process things to become fully supportive of my dream. It meant listening to Mike talk about things that made me feel incredibly guilty for leaving. It meant putting myself in his shoes and really understanding what this means for him.

We have a dog, Oliver, that Mike will be fully responsible for for five months while I’m gone. That means all walks, all meals, grooming, any medical issues, and finding people to care for him if Mike is traveling for work. Before I leave I’m making sure there’s enough food/meds for Ollie for the entire time I’m gone, but that’s about all I can do.

Obligatory dog photo. This is Dr. Oliver and I’m going to miss him a whole lot while I’m on the trail.

On top of that, Mike will be responsible for our home both financially and physically. That means paying all the bills and dealing with any unforeseen issues with the house. I’m doing what I can to help by putting most things on auto-pay and contacting people to help take care of certain aspects of the property, but it’s mostly up to Mike.

Oh, and also the love of his life is leaving him for five months. So, except for trail visits and time off the trail, he’s living the bachelor life. No late-night snuggles on the couch watching a movie. No hugs or words of encouragement at the end of a hard day. And, of course, no sex.

That’s a lot.

Validating what he is feeling and realizing what I’m truly asking of him was really important for us. It wasn’t easy and I felt a lot of guilt, but we both agreed it’d be worse for our relationship if I stayed home and never gave this dream a chance.

Remind Them that They Always Come First

Mike had some fears that the trail would come before him. A lot of partners staying behind probably feel this way. My relationship with Mike is the #1 most important thing in my life. Nothing comes before “us.”

If the trail ends up putting too much strain on our relationship, I will hop off and come home without hesitation. If Mike wants to visit me at whatever town I’m near, it may mean staying a few extra days in town and falling behind my trail family. That is OK. Because at the end of this trail, Mike will be who I go home to, not my trail family.

I’m not one to usually apply big, overarching statements to everyone, but I will say this: If you aren’t prepared to leave the trail for your partner, you should think long and hard about your priorities and your relationship with them.

Keep Them Involved in the Journey

Super grateful for this guy!

As I haven’t left yet, I haven’t been able to do this very much, but I intend to keep Mike very involved in my journey. Due to cell service and trail life, we may not be able to be in touch every day. It’ll be weird to transition from talking all day, every day, to having long periods of no contact.

I have some cute plans and ideas to surprise him with while I’m on the trail and to keep him involved. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for a follow-up post to find out what those are. As I haven’t actually started hiking yet, I’d like to keep them a surprise for Mike. Stay tuned.

I’d love to hear how you navigated thru-hiking with a partner at home or if you have any thoughts to share. Let me know in the comments.

If you want to follow along on my journey walking across the eastern United States, feel free to subscribe to my page here on The Trek or follow me on Instagram.

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