I hiked faster and faster trying to catch up with my boyfriend, A-O. He didn’t meet me at the water source we had planned. He must have found a closer source. He must have forgot about me. I wore myself out trying to hop quickly through the rocky Pennsylvania terrain to catch him. I was pissed. My frustration caused me to mutter mean words meant for A-O but heard by no one. My head was steaming with anger. I was hungry, behind, and thunder clouds were rolling in.
After about two miles of huffing, puffing, and audible cursing, I grew tired but remained just as irritated. If he hadn’t found water he was surely thirsty, I thought. The trail started to open up and reveal a viewpoint of the nearest town, Duncannon, Pennsylvania.
I spotted my sweaty, bearded hiker perched on a massive boulder. He noticed me approach and quickly ran up and hugged me. A hug was the last gesture I wanted to give him. What I didn’t know is that he ran out of water three miles ago. He had missed the water source. While I was cursing him, he was praying for water.
We were only half way on our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, spanning a total of 2,185.9 miles, a continuous footpath from Georgia to Maine. Having hiked through six states already, we had eight more states and two and a half more months to go. I had assumed A-O was out to get me. I was mad over something I knew nothing about.
Against the odds, we completed our thru-hike, together, on October 15, 2013. Only one in four thru-hikers complete the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. We experienced droughts, hail storms, deadly wind gusts, hunger, and aches. I knew his stinky hiker smell from his head to his toes. We shared numerous nights in our two person tent. We split our meals even when our bellies begged for more. I carried him when he sprained his ankle. He hiked a mile back when I left my socks drying in the sun. We experienced everything together. We were a team.
Travelling with a partner can be enriching but also frustrating. Living every single moment with a significant other is truly a test on a relationship. There is no gaps where we both go to work or hang with our own friends. We met friends along the trail but we were always together, day and night. Many couples allow the trail to demolish and degrade them. I am so proud to say we are now engaged and excited to continue all the miles life has to offer to us. Here are a few things I learned while hiking the Appalachian Trail with my boyfriend for five months and twenty two days.
1. I am not the perfect girlfriend
This is shocking to admit but I’m not perfect. Figuratively speaking, I learned that I could hurt him just as much as he can hurt me. Before the trail, I sought blame. I never wanted to admit I was wrong. I always had an excuse or a reason why I did something. The trail brings out the raw, true self. Wearing the same clothes every day, living with bugs and dirt, rarely seeing your physical appearance, draws a sense of realization out in the mind. I realized I wanted to always play the victim, the blame game. I stopped turning arguments around on him and focused on what was wrong with me. Acceptance of self-imperfection is the first step to understanding a relationship.
2. Choose Your Words Wisely
The first month or two on the trail we were reconnecting again. Before we left for the mountains, we were both working two jobs and rarely saw each other to save for the adventure of a lifetime. When we finally reconnected, we both noticed things about each other’s actions and words that triggered negative reactions within us. I learned what truly mad him made. This is a blessing and a curse. Since I know exactly how to push his buttons, I can choose to either use this to hurt or to help.
3. Don’t Assume
As in the story above, I assumed the worst out of A-O. He passed the water because he knew of a closer water source and didn’t want to tell me. Assuming your partner did something is never good. That means there is a lack of communication and your mind is running wild. This causes unwanted anger and aggression. I learned quickly to never assume the thoughts or actions of A-O. Communicating with him will save me from worried and angry thoughts.
4. We are in this Together
We are a team. We did everything together. When I got sick in the woods in Tennessee, A-O was there to call for rescue. When A-O sprained his ankle for the millionth time in New York, I was willing to admit he needed a week of rest from hiking. When my shoes grew too tight from the constant hiking and flattening of my foot, A-O was there to carry my gear, to lighten my load. The thing about a team is that you are only as strong as your weakest link. If I didn’t hold my weight, there was no way we would have made the trek from Georgia to Maine.
Compromise in a life in the woods might seem easier than real world decisions but I beg to differ. Add two hungry, dirty, and tired hikers and compromise might not be as easy as you think. Should we hike six more miles to make it to a town at 11 p.m. just so we can eat twelve cheeseburgers at the Wendy’s that lies ahead? Should we hike three miles off trail to camp on a secluded peak so we can watch the perfect sunrise at 5 am? These were all proposed by A-O and doubted by me. Sure I went along to do a 26-mile day to make it to that Wendy’s. I learned to bow down to some ideas and was pleased by the result. A-O isn’t the one to always get his way. This was a big step for me.
6. Question the Reason Behind a Fight
A-O and I found a hitch into a town in Maine from a middle-aged couple. They fought the entire way to the town, leaving A-O and I stunned in the back seat. They fought about his driving. He was defensive yet quiet. She was persistent and defiant. I could not understand why they could just fight about the smallest thing. From that eye-opening and awkward experience, I learned to evaluate my arguments and the reasons why I might be totally overreacting.
7. Self-Improvement is Key
The trail taught me everything I know. Forget about my bachelors, those five and a half months on the trail transformed me into the person I am. I learned about life. I met America one step at a time. I take every issue in life slow and steady now. Do you know how long it takes to drive from Georgia to Maine? Not as a long as five months I presume. The trail taught me to take one step in front of the other. Think in the present and you will be rewarded and surprised at how far you can get. With A-O, I learned to value the present moments I have with him. There are times I want to admit my annoyance with him but I need to have patience. Being in a relationship is just as much about self-improvement as it is learning to live with another. When you are happy, healthy, and helpful, your relationships will thrive.
Photo Source (featured photo): https://www.flickr.com/photos/kworth30/2275256845/