On that same trip, we passed someone else sprawled exhausted on a pass. "My hiking buddy (nowhere in sight) wants to do 20 mile days and I just can't," he moaned. "He wants to do this trail in a week." He looked completely defeated.
I've seen more amicable trail divorces, where the partners mutually agreed that this was not working, and went their separate ways. Or where they adapted: hiking separately during the day, but meeting up at night at agreed-on spots. Ultimately, a trail divorce occurs for many of the same reasons as a regular one. We all have our own expectations and dreams when we go outside, and it's rare to find other people who match 100% of the time.
I've never been part of a trail divorce, but I have wanted to a couple of times. Different paces, different camp routines, and hiking with a already bonded pair are all challenges to overcome. You don't know someone well until you've slogged along a difficult trail for three weeks with them. You are both at your best and your worst in those circumstances.
I'm sure my partners have wanted to divorce me at times, too. As a former wilderness ranger, I've gotten used to doing things my own way. I don't go on the trail to chat all day, either. (I spend hours on the phone for work. Silence is good) I have a most likely irritating habit of being cheerfully uncaffeinated and ready to go very early in the morning. I love charging up mountains first thing. I tend to forget to eat enough and can bonk unpleasantly. All of these are things I continually work on.
I'm not going through a trail divorce but it looks like I will be without my trusty hiking buddy for this year. Separations can be good, though. They force you to think about how to be a better partner, and what you really want in another. You can work on skills that they always took over. It lets you meet others that may turn out to be long term buddies.
As someone who has been through a real divorce, I recognize that trail divorces are not that big of a deal in the scheme of things. But they are sad and hurt All the Feelings sometimes. A few ways to avoid these are pretty basic:
- Be upfront. This is especially hard for women to do. I just learned last year that my hiking buddy likes to get stuff done right away at camp, while I like to lie back in the grass and eat crackers and reflect on the day. We learned that sharing a tent isn't a good idea because of our styles. This way she can set up her own tent and get all organized, while I can just laze around for a bit. If one of us had talked about this in the beginning, we could have avoided some (minor) issues.
- Be honest with yourself. If you take pleasure in pushing yourself to the redline, or want to do long, difficult days, that's fine. But make sure your buddy does. And if you find yourself thinking, oh, it's okay, I can do five mile days at a slow pace, make sure that's true! Otherwise you will seethe with resentment.
- PAAR-TAY! Alcohol. Trust me, this can be an issue! I've had hiking partners who won't go without breaking out the flask. I'm not much of a drinker, and it isn't worth the weight. But if drinking bugs you, you'd better know it. (Same for other controlled substances that are now legal in some states-but not on federal land)
- Know your own flaws (and strengths).This means being self aware, and it's uncomfortable for most people. It's essential for a good trail relationship, though. If you always hike alone, it's easy to avoid the truths. When you go with someone, you learn things about yourself maybe you would rather not know. It's good though--it can make you a better person.
- Plan for the worst. What will you do if someone gets sick? Will you both leave the trail? How does your hiking partner react in a desperate situation (I've had partners who froze in place during storms)? How do you react? Could you make it out of the woods by yourself if you had someone depending on you to reach help?
- Are you the type that wants someone with you at all moments (waiting for you if you stop to pee, for example? It happens)? It's good to communicate this. Also, are you a planner or a wing it person? This can cause conflicts.
- Breaks on trail--I've hiked with people who like to take long lunches, and others who like to eat while walking. Still others have planned out breaks in advance, by time or mileage. It's best to have this worked out before starting.
- Talking on trail: I had a boyfriend who claimed our relationship was doomed because we didn't chatter incessantly. (It was doomed, but that wasn't the reason) I've hiked with people who like to stop and talk to every hiker they see; I am less interested in that. Same with music on trail. I've passed a couple groups with external speakers (so everyone can hear). Not for me, but some people love that. On day hikes, I do more talking, longer hikes for me are more meditative.
Trail divorces don't just happen when hiking. They can happen in any sport. Maybe your partner likes to take more risks than you, or less. Maybe they are training for a marathon while you are running 5Ks. The good thing about trail divorces is that usually you can still be friends, and do different things together.
Any trail divorce stories to share? Any tips for avoiding them?