Forming a Marriage Along Two Long Trails: The Journey Begins
By: Carolyn Blessing and Jeff Podmayer
Rewind to May 2020
We wake up in the cold. Our shelter is beading with condensation from the previous night of snow showers. The day before, we spent hours bracing ourselves (in full layers and rain gear) against gusting snow that seemed to come from all directions. Snowshoes tracking across what felt like an endless expanse, we had finally made it to Cathedral Lakes Basin just after sundown.
Now, as we drink coffee and study the clearing sky above Cathedral Peak, it feels safe to at least go check it out.
The climb was steady—much shorter than it looked from below. Feeling energized by the crisp air and glittering snow, we worked our way up the slope to the base of the summit ridge. After scouting around to avoid icy sections, we made it to the notorious single “move,” 30 feet from the summit. Standing at the “airy step” (which now looked more like a chasm of doom), we conferred.
Was it dangerous? Yes, probably.
Did we want to try? Yes, maybe.
Should we? No, definitely not.
We needed friction on our side to make the jump, and, on that icy day, friction was in low supply. Before turning around we agreed to one day come back and finish the climb—in more favorable conditions.
Fast Forward to July
We were almost finished hiking the Cougar Traverse, and excited to go back and attempt Cathedral Peak, this time under different circumstances. The night before, camped in a bug-infested and beautiful meadow at Upper Cathedral Lakes, Jeff went to see if he could get a good view of the peak. Or, that’s what Carolyn thought.
What Carolyn didn’t know was that for the last 150 miles, Jeff had been carrying her engagement ring. He was planning to propose at some point along the trip—waiting for the right opportunity. After arriving at camp, Jeff thought this may be the moment. A beautiful meadow, a mountain called Cathedral Peak, and endless mosquitoes buzzing—what could be better?
As Jeff went to “get a good view,” he nervously tried to choose the spot. Feeling excited, he took the ring out of his pocket and did his best to conceal it. Taking a deep breath, he asked Carolyn to come over and “check out the peak” with him. Carolyn—fully enclosed in rain gear and bug net, with peanut butter still in hand from the spoonfuls she had just been devouring—walked over. She arrived at the spot where Jeff was, totally oblivious.
At that moment, Jeff kneeled down and asked Carolyn to marry him. She said yes.
The following day, as we climbed up the slopes, they were void of snow. When we got to the “airy step,” it was bluebird and dry. After a hop across the former “chasm of doom,” we made it to the top. We sat on the summit, looking out in silence, struck by how special it felt to share this particular moment. Filled with gratitude, we stayed for a long time before finally climbing down.
Discussion began about what we did (and didn’t) want to do to celebrate this moment in our lives. Many folks will ask: What kind of venue? Where? Catering? A band? In the midst of the pandemic, planning an in-person wedding felt (at least presently) off the table. Instead, we started exploring another dream that brought us together in the first place.
We have always talked about doing the longer U.S. trails together at some point. Slowly, these conversations began making our far away ideas seem more possible. It started to feel like the right time to make this collective dream come to life.
We decided to walk the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in 2021 to further our journey towards a future together.
Transformation, Not Fairy Tales
Our relationship has changed us, and in a different way, long trails transform us, too. Routes and expeditions, for us, are a story in chapters. With a beginning, middle, and end. With endless afterwords to write (and rewrite) as life unfolds. They provide us with lessons and parallels to many of the internal struggles we face while not hiking, too.
Of course, it’s not all amazing and beautiful out there. Backpacking is a lot of work, and it’s hard work to be in a healthy relationship. We get on each other's nerves when we’re scraping the bottom of our peanut butter jars and are hungry. Hugs can be in short supply while walking 20 miles in a storm and our rain jackets start soaking through. One of us is irritated because the other one’s stuff is all over their side of the shelter—you get the picture, we’re human.
We make mistakes—sometimes blaming each other rather than our situation. There will be many opportunities to practice communication, staying calm under stress, and being on the same team on our journey in 2021.
Stepping Into Our Future
In a way, hiking together has become an invitation for us to strengthen our relationship. As a shared undertaking, it demands we take the time to ask:
How can we allow this experience to change us?
How can we stay open to our lives together?
How can we apply what we learn to the much bigger commitment of marriage?
. . . And all the questions we haven’t thought of yet.
Long expeditions give us a chance to stretch further into the stuff that makes us come alive, and equally into the parts of ourselves that are most difficult to grapple with.
We will write a few more posts for the Light Feet blog at different milestones throughout this 2021 long trail journey if you’d like to continue reading about our trip. You can also follow along virtually through Jeff’s Instagram: @jeffpod.
Carolyn Blessing (she/her) and Jeff Podmayer (he/him) met working in outdoor education six years ago. In this work they lead one to four week backpacking and rock climbing expeditions in California (often in the Sierra on Miwok, Paiute, and Mono land). When they aren’t working or hiking, they love connecting with friends and family, making pizza, and learning about the world around them.