When Your Hiking Partner is Your Romantic Partner: 8 Things We’re Learning
Spending time in the backcountry can feel like a crash course in knowing a person. You learn things like their bathroom schedule, caffeine rituals, and food cravings very quickly based on necessity. For us, in the backcountry, a few weeks can feel like months in terms of getting to know someone on a deeper level. If we've learned anything, it's that there is always more to learn about the person or people you are with.
In partnerships of any kind, conflict is inevitable. We are no different. We have disagreements in big or small ways on most adventures we do. We are always working to relate to conflict in a more positive way, and make plans to mitigate it by anticipating areas that cause discord on expeditions. We happen to hike together a lot, but what we've learned also applies to many parts of our relationship, and any other shared endeavor, off the trail.
We met working in outdoor education, so we came together with a good amount of personal backpacking experience. We might teach different tips and tricks to our students, but overall neither of us is "in charge" when we plan an expedition; it's a collaborative process. The list we share here on what we've learned being both hiking and romantic partners might look different for us if that was not the case.
1. Set expectations upfront.
Are we doing big miles? Are we lake bagging and skinny dipping? Or, do we want to sit under a tree reading books and drinking tea all day? This forethought applies to big picture trip planning, as well as day-to-day discussion. Maybe some days or weeks the expectations need to change. For us, that's okay too. Managing individual expectations helps us avoid miscommunication about what we thought the day or trip was going to look like.
Who naturally hikes faster, and do we want to hike together always or not? If the faster person hikes in back, then we can stay together. If that will drive us crazy, then we need to make plans to adjust the pace or timing accordingly. Communicating a break spot or time to meet down the trail gives us a chance to balance walking together with walking our own pace and getting some alone time along the way.
When we hike, we get really hungry. How much and what foods do we want to share? If getting " hangry" is our reality, then planning ahead for shared versus personal food is important. If we know we're just rationing something for ourselves, then we can cherry pick the chocolate out of trail mix all day, but if we're rationing as a unit, then we make more equitable choices that won't cause conflict.
4. Make an effort to keep the romance alive.
Don't get us wrong, sitting in a laundromat and sweating in our rain gear while we watch hiking clothes dry can be super romantic… but, what really keeps the magic alive? Small gestures that we do for each other in a relationship regularly still need to apply to our hiking lives. It helps us a lot if we remember to do these things, even when (and especially when) we're feeling worked. For us, occasionally spending a few extra bucks getting dinner at a nicer restaurant helps us feel like we get time together that isn't always braving the elements and rationing food. This makes us feel a little bit more like a romantic couple–even if it's only for a few hours.
5. Fight assumptions and acknowledge our privilege.
As cisgender, heterosexual people, our relationship at face value challenges little about gender norms. We have tried to fight the assumption we often encounter that Jeff is the holder of information or the one who knows more about what we're doing. There are many ways to interrupt the " mansplaining" that we have encountered in the backcountry, and we're still learning about how to challenge it. This is also by no means the only category of stereotype in the outdoors that desperately needs addressing. Racism and white colonization in many of the places we walk through is what even provides the chance for us to have these interactions; the access we have to outdoor spaces as straight, white people is a privilege we need to recognize. Confronting oppression and discrimination needs to be a part of life wherever we go.
6. Honor our different approaches.
Even though we are doing the same activities all day, we both have our own reasons for walking, and our own personal style of how we want to do it. Honoring these differences and knowing they are important helps us feel like our individuality holds weight. Remembering that we are two individuals instead of only a collective allows us to have more compassion for one another.
7. Talk to other people.
Our friends and family are amazing resources to bounce ideas off of about our relationship and what we're learning. Walking all day with your partner for weeks or months is a lot of time to spend with just one person. This may be obvious, but it's immensely helpful to get more people involved, to gain new insights and learn from the people we love at home, as well as the new people we meet along the way.
8. Be grateful.
In the midst of challenging ourselves, we try to remember to express gratitude often–for the opportunities we've had to walk and celebrate together in these places, and for someone to help pull us through low moments along the way. Frequently, we are also grateful for having a person to commiserate with when things aren't ideal, such as walking through a downpour, running low on food, or waiting for an impossible feeling hitchhike.
Continuing to Add to Our List of Learning
We have learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship through expeditions, both short and long. When we hike together, we have separate but overlapping experiences, both with the world around us and each other. Conversations can flow easily, silence can be long, and heated debates can come and go–all in a handful of miles passing creeks or climbing through canyons. While walking, we've clarified our values, dreamed up ways to live into them together, and decided to move across the country two separate times.
In the words of Mary Oliver: "Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." We hope to continue learning how to do that.