/ February 12, 2021
Two Peas, Buncha Pods: Goin' with the Flow as a Couple on the Pacific Crest Trail
Words & Photos by Tina Haver Currin
Hello from mile 150 of the Pacific Crest Trail, where I’m sitting an appropriate social distance away from my husband, Grayson, who is happily tapping out his own thoughts three computers over. We’re both wearing dirt-tinged puffy jackets and flip-flops as we bask in the crisp air of the public library in Idyllwild, California, which is conveniently wedged between a post office, microbrewery, pizza shop, and grocery store. A civil engineer couldn’t have designed a better outpost for my kind. The rest of the trail family—which consists of an English teacher, lineman, rocket scientist, and process engineer--is off completing their requisite town tasks, like washing clothes, charging phones, and drinking copious amounts of beer. But Grayson and I are both here in the public library writing, a profession we share along with our predilection for long-distance hiking.
When you hike with your partner, people ask a lot of questions. Some folks seem genuinely interested in the prospect; others pull away from the idea like vampires in the sunlight.
I’ve probably hiked 4,000 miles with Grayson throughout the years, including an Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2019 and day hikes or backpacking trips in more than 150 National Parks. This year, we’re attempting a 2,650-mile-long PCT thru-hike, which is what brings us to this very cold and quiet library in the trail town of Idyllwild.
Outdoor adventure isn’t limited to romantic partnerships, of course. I’ve rekindled old friendships, strengthened family bonds, and forged completely new ties while backpacking. But it takes a little adjustment to make it work for everyone.
Here are a few hard-won suggestions for embarking on a long journey with a loved one.
1. You Don’t Have to Hike Together to Hike Together
This is one of the most common questions I get when I tell people I’m hiking with my partner, perhaps because the idea of tethering yourself to any one person for twelve hours at a time is more than a bit unnerving. The answer is no, we don’t always (or even often) hike in lockstep.
Usually, I’ll start or end a day with Grayson, and we always make a plan to meet for lunch, which is one of my most cherished stops during a long physical day.
Each morning before we depart, we share the latest news on recurring ailments, our mental and physical health, and trail beta. Then, we just start walking. If the conversation is flowing or someone needs a boost, we stick together. But if the gap between us naturally grows, it’s the simple and inoffensive evolution of two distinct people with two distinct paces tackling the same line of trail. Indeed, you’ll often find that…
2. Hiking Partners Are Really Just Planning Partners Who Sleep Next to Each Other
More than actually walking together, hiking together means planning together. If this is a weak spot in your relationship—if the same person always plans the vacations or stacks the calendar or pays the bills--start bridging that gap now. Find a tedious, complex, or mundane task (a puzzle, a fundraiser, a short backpacking trip) and practice working on it together until the challenge begins to feel fun. Listen. Give a little. Be flexible and patient with one another, but always clearly communicate your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Soon enough, you’ll probably begin to share a creepy form of telepathy, but don’t start with the assumption that your hiking partner knows what you need and vice versa. You’ll both need to show up in order to achieve your personal and shared goals. That can be a hard lesson to learn when you’re 20 miles into a rainy day and somebody’s got a migraine, so practice smartly working your way through difficult situations now.
3. Redefine Equality
Leverage the power of being a duo by dividing camp or carry chores between the two of you--but always make sure it’s equitable. Equality is the baseline on a long trail, but that doesn’t have to mean a strict 50/50 split; instead, embrace whatever feels right and fair for your personal situation.
For example, I carry, pitch, and break down our two-person Ultamid every day, while Grayson, being larger and stronger than I am, carries much of our shared food. He’s less bothered by extra weight, while I’m more patient and proficient with tent logistics.
Could we both participate equally in both activities? Yes, of course. But this way, we maximize our collective efficiency and comfort, which ultimately benefits us both.
4. Duplicate And Consolidate
Lots of people hike with whatever they can rummage up, and that’s totally fine. But if you’re in the position of plotting out your gear, consider the copycat approach.
Having two of the same thing means that your partner knows your gear as well as they know their own, and it also means that the likelihood of spare or duplicate parts is that much greater if (or rather, when) you’re in need of an emergency backcountry fix.
Grayson and I both hike with matching Hyperlite packs, Pods, and Ground Cloths, the same phones and charging bricks, the same cooking and water filtration systems, and we also share a tent. There’s still plenty of room for personalization (Grayson dresses like a rainbow on trail, while I’d wear all black through the desert if they manufactured sun gear that way), but the bulk of the “Oh shit” kit is cut by half.
5. Let Go of The Ego
The quickest way to have a bad time is to feel superior to your partner or trail mates, to your surroundings, to the weather. We all start somewhere, and there’s always going to be someone or something stronger than you. It’s much easier to bounce back from a setback—and there will be setbacks--when you’re working from a place of humility rather than a place of ego.
Do not, however, confuse ego with confidence! The difference? Confidence spreads like butter and builds up your partner and trail mates; ego is self-focused and can often bring others down. Have confidence, not ego!
One of the best things about hiking with your partner is that they will inevitably change a little bit (and you will, too). You get to watch them meet new people and make new friends, which means you get to see them through fresh eyes multiple times over. It’s a rare opportunity to see them in their lightest and most unadorned fashion, unburdened by bills, deadlines, or family obligations. You’re experiencing them—and your relationship—in an almost childlike state, where everyone and everything is new and a little frightening and very, very exciting. Hopefully, you get to fall in love with them all over again.
Tina Haver Currin is writer, activist, and outdoors enthusiast based in North Carolina. From 2016 - 2018, she lived in a Sprinter with her husband, two cats, and a dog, climbing as many mountains, running as many trails, and seeing as many National Parks as humanely possible. Whether climbing in the Rockies, bushwhacking through Arctic backcountry, hiking deep within the Grand Canyon — or, most recently, thru-hiking the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails— she discovered the variety of experiences one can have in our wild spaces and the joy of sharing what she has learned with others. Tina currently spends her time writing, hiking, eating, and working as a ranger in the Blue Ridge Mountains.