Daily Habits as a Couple While Thru-Hiking Long Trails
By: Carolyn Blessing and Jeff Podmayer
Editor’s Note: Carolyn and Jeff are currently hiking the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails in 2021 as a way of forming their marriage to one another. You can read about the beginning of the journey here, and stay tuned to the Light Feet blog for more updates from them as the miles pass!
In any relationship where daily tasks are shared, patterns emerge. Whether consciously chosen, socially inherited, or necessitated by family norms, the hours go somewhere each day.As a thru-hiking couple, where almost 100% of our daily life is shared, we’ve noticed several daily routines have developed. Some are tasks we often share or split, and some are things we’ve understood need to happen alone. Habits that frustrate each other have developed as well (like Carolyn perpetually de-layering 10 minutes into hiking, or Jeff rushing too much through the morning coffee vibes). But here we’ll focus on the more positive ones. While every day brings something totally new, below are a few of the daily practices we’ve leaned into as anchors on trail.
1. The morning routine.
Carolyn sets the alarm. When it goes off she ejects one arm from her quilt, eyes still shut, and taps Jeff until he wakes up. This started mostly because Carolyn has a vibrating watch alarm which is more reliable than the muffled beeps of Jeff’s Casio watch. Jeff sits up first... almost always. While Jeff starts boiling water for breakfast, Carolyn tries to hang on to one more moment of sleep before opening the valve on her sleeping pad to officially start the day. We eat oatmeal and drink coffee while still inside our quilts, which makes today day 80-something of breakfast in bed.
2. Carolyn stuffs the shelter.
Jeff hates cold hands. We aren’t sure if anyone reading this has stuffed a slightly damp shelter into their backpack on a chilly morning, but it can make your hands cold almost immediately. Jeff cannot handle this. He would rather wake up early to make hot water and serve breakfast in bed for the entire trail than do this.
3. Trail registers.
If you have ever walked on the Appalachian Trail you will know that each shelter has a log book where people staying or passing through can sign their names and write some thoughts. We consistently get out these books. We trade off signing it and sometimes Carolyn does a small watercolor in one of the pages. We love reading the prior entries and following along with other people on trail in this way. We were given trail names in the Smoky Mountains, and, since then, instead of Jeff and Carolyn, we sign as Link and Smiles, respectively.
4. By the numbers.
Jeff loves to look at our hikes through “the numbers.” He keeps a spreadsheet to track camping location and daily mileage to look back at after the trip. Every night, Jeff logs our mileage and drops a point with our Garmin. We have spent a bunch of time outside without cell service, and we don’t want our families to worry about us. A few years back we started dropping a “waypoint” every night so they know we are safe. It’s also fun to look at these points on a map later on. We like to joke that our parents know where we are more often now than they ever did when we were in our late teens and twenties.
We alternate who cooks dinner. Usually the conversation turns to food at least once a day on trail, whether it’s a town day meal fantasy or musing about whether or not we packed enough oatmeal. This often leads to deciding by about 2pm what we plan to make for dinner. Dinner feels like it marks an important moment in our days on trail—a slowing down and settling in. The feeling that we have arrived somewhere, wherever there is. After eating, the other person cleans the pot... unless it’s macaroni; Jeff usually cleans that one.
6. Daily reflection and gratitude.
Once our beds are set up, we collectively jot down a few sentences about the day. A practice in reflection together. These words go into the spreadsheet mentioned above. Even if we are really tired, we make time for this. It can make us laugh and helps us to appreciate how much happens every single day out here. Two or three sentences is more than enough to jog our memories when we look back at the words.
Although we know these habits will evolve over time, we believe in the value of daily rituals. The “everyday-ness” of certain things can give them meaning. While everything else constantly shifts, dividing or intentionally sharing certain responsibilities on trail helps us feel like we are moving collectively toward our larger goal.
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.