Since this is the time of year in which we celebrate love, I have to take a moment to celebrate
something near and dear to my own heart: the love that we can sometimes find in the woods.

Think about it…it’s definitely a niche kind of thing. If it is a hobby, you are INTO it…there is no
turning back after you’ve hung out with someone in the woods for a few days without showering.
If a good time to you is crushing miles in waist deep snow up a mountain when it is 10 below
out, or if you save your two weeks vacation and personal days in order to complete a section
hike, there is a very select group that are crazy enough to sign up to do stuff like this.
It’s a community of people without pretense.

While there can be the usual awkwardness amongst folks in an initial meeting anywhere, that is
quick to melt away when describing a sunset you just watched with your shelter mates or
engaging in a discussion about your favorite pieces of gear on trail around the campfire. There
is a love for the outdoors there that is all encompassing; makes it natural to cut through all of the
posturing we do in any typical relationship. The audition process offers no guesswork and there
is no identity to hide behind. It is pure, unadulterated you in the wilderness.

I have met couples from the trail in all sorts; those that find love on their thru hike and make it
successfully together in the ‘real’ world with societal identities in check; those that were already
together and taking their relationship to an even deeper level by really learning on how to
depend on each other in wild situations; and those that found each other after their life changing
hikes. Somehow, after an intense experience like a thru hike, we just want to be with someone
that gets it.

I’ve also seen couples that were together for years not make it through a hike. There is nowhere
to hide, and the ego you identify with can’t save you from a barrage of constant challenges or
the inability to work together to face them. It’s not all peaches and cream out there.
I actually began my AT thru hike with a former boyfriend that I had, where we knew our
relationship was absolutely finished long before we started hiking together. We were just in a
position where we were the only two people that we knew that wanted to do something as crazy
as spend six months in the woods. Not coincidentally, our hiking partnership ended. It became
apparent in the process of hiking a few hundred miles that I could separate my own voice from
the noise that was our fear-based union; and in being honest with myself, I found I loved myself
more than the need to keep the relationship going out of habit.

I also met my husband on my AT thru hike, and after how it began, I had zero intention of
another romantic relationship. Just another skinny bearded dude that blended into the scenery
at that time, and like most of my brothers on the trail, he became just another one to add to the
fold. We were friends for a long while, until I guess we weren’t…we started as pen pals, then it
became long phone conversations, a weekend visit here and there, then it became an invitation
to thru hike with me; we have been together since. Our dating relationship became fighting over
which water purification method would insure we wouldn’t get sick from some sketchy water
source or him having to hear me sing all of the time to deter bear. Terribly unromantic things, yet
we were experiencing something together, adventuring together, which can be more romantic
than candlelit dinners.

We have even been guides together; our working relationship has been just as complementary
as our hiking relationship. I yak to the guests and he has the outdoor knowledge, I pitch the tent
and build the fire, he hangs the bear bag and cooks the food.

While the couple that adventures together stays together, all couples go through adventures of
their own in some form or another. Whether it’s buying a house, having kids, taking care of
relatives or sharing a tent in a ridiculously bad thunderstorm, you are in it together, for better or
for worse, and if you have the bravery to be honest enough with yourself and your partner, then
there is no where else to go but up.

I wish that love for you all, and have a very happy belated Valentine’s.