Michael wears a bright red Arcteryx jacket when we hike. He’s a lot faster than me, and I’ve lost track of the number of trips where I’ve seen that red dot moving ahead. When I see it stop, I know he has reached the top of the ascent. He has waited for me in cold, in rain, in sun. It makes me happy to see him there—and not just because I know the climb is almost done.
People often ask what it’s like to hike and backpack as a couple. Not only do we organize for DC UL Backpacking—an ultralight group in the Washington, D.C., area, where we live—but we also worked together on AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley (AMC Books, 2015). We’ve spent hundreds of nights together in tents and under tarps, and we’ve logged thousands of miles on trails here in the United States and abroad.
The answer is that it’s good to have a partner on the trail, as in life. But it comes down to more than a great selfie at the top of the mountain. It’s all of the work that goes into getting there— and getting down. I guess you could apply countless metaphors here, but there’s something to be said for dating someone who knows what your bedhead looks like after four days on the trail.
Michael and I met through the backpacking group and became good friends, but we officially started dating while working on the guidebook for AMC. The rhythm of writing the book together was easy, but the schedule was intense. With 50 hikes, we had to divide and conquer: 25 hikes for him and 25 for me. We completed most of the hikes separately to cover as much ground as we could, but we managed to partner up on occasion. Over one weekend in southern Shenandoah, while camping at Loft Mountain with a number of friends, we covered nine hikes between the two of us and shot the book’s cover photo at Blackrock. Throughout the process, we navigated several mini crises together, including when I thought I had deleted all of my GPS data for a hike. (If you’ve ever battled Google Earth, you understand the trauma.)
Tragedy averted, as Michael was able to find the lost data. I made him a steak to celebrate.
Toward the end, we were either hiking or writing nearly every weekend. I headed south to the tip of the Shenandoah Valley with my friend Cynthia for a couple of days so we could polish off my last three hikes: Tinker Cliffs, Dragon’s Tooth, and McAfee Knob. Michael had another group out that weekend, working on his last few hikes in the Massanutten area. As I drove home, I realized my timing might be right to catch him at a restaurant we frequent after hikes.
Sure enough, he was at Jalisco. On the eve of polishing off the book, I was proud of what we had accomplished together. His was the one face I wanted to see over margaritas and salsa.
By the time the book was published, we had moved in together. We consolidated our gear into one closet—no small feat—and got two adventuresome kittens who keep us entertained at home. I set aside a shelf on our bookcase that proudly displays the Shenandoah book, as well as AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic, also by Michael.
Since then, we’ve traveled to Nepal and Italy, section-hiked the Mid-State Trail in Pennsylvania, and are now working on a section hike of the GR10, a route through the Pyrenees along the French–Spanish border. No matter where we hike or where go, it always makes me happy when I see the red jacket come out of the closet. It means we’ll be on the trail together soon.