I was recently talking with a fellow hiker I met here in the blogosphere, and he commented that I was pretty lucky to have met my wife out on the trail. I couldn’t agree more. As I told him, while many of us who start a hike single probably at least entertain the notion we might meet someone “out there,” it’s rare for it to actually happen; and rarer still for it to last. I was definitely one of the lucky ones, but that hasn’t always been the case. Let’s just say I’ve suffered through many a Valentine’s Day self analyzing and wondering what went wrong. (Normal days as well, but Valentine’s found me just short of the rifle in a bell tower scenario with all this cupid riddled crap…)
Just the same, with the approach of this once dreaded holiday, I’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing on the unusual circumstance under which Cris and I met; how our friendship evolved and our marriage came to be. The following is a quick breakdown of our courtship on the PCT.
Mexican Border- Yosemite National Park 991 miles
Nearly a thousand miles on foot gives a guy plenty of time to think; a good chance to sort things out. Any confidence or self assurance I was lacking coming into the hike had been overcome. I’d accepted the fact that I might be one who never marries, and resigned to a life of adventure had made peace with the notion of being a perpetual wandering soul.
Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park Mile 991
Sitting on the ground leaned up against a wall waiting for the post office to open at Tuolumne Meadows, I caught first sight of Cris. She walked by and flashed her beautiful smile. There was a mixed crowd of hikers and climbers congregated at the small picnic area, and at first I mistook her to be one of the groupies clamoring over the rock jocks. I later learned she was a fellow thru-hiker when she introduced herself as Junkfood and took a seat with me and some hiking friends. She was friendly and seemed like a nice person, but I paid her little mind. I was leaving the group to detour on a solo hike down to Yosemite Valley, and honestly, didn’t know if I’d ever see any of them again.
Unknown Lake Mile 1200
After my side trip to the Valley and resuming my northward journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’d fallen back in the vicinity of the hikers I’d left at Tuolumne. Stopped for lunch near a lake, I was just about to fill my water bottle when a lone female hiker came along. It was Junkfood, though with only our brief interaction that afternoon at Tuolumne, I must admit I struggled to recall her name. We talked for a minute, and she warned me that she had heard from others the water here was full of fish eggs. I shrugged it off and filled my bottle anyway, as she looked on in disgust.
Sierra City, California Mile 1301
Junkfood and I began to match pace, traveling with a group of about five other hikers. We really began to click on a friendship level after the two of us pitched tents on a church lawn in Sierra City only to be awakened by an unexpected midnight dousing from the in-ground sprinkler system. We laughed and shouted jokes at each other for nearly an hour until the torrent subsided.
Castella, California Mile 1593
Junkfood was temporarily forced off the trail when her pack broke leaving Belden. She wished to jump ahead and rejoin our group, and left me with instructions to call her when we reached the Castle Crags area (her grandparents live nearby, and she stayed with them while awaiting a replacement pack.) Dialing the number she had left me on a scrap of paper I recall a tinge of junior high type nervousness, but dismissed it as latent antisocial behavior.
Seiad Valley, California Mile 1760
Traveling within the same group, we continued north through California. It was mid-August and getting antsy to move faster, I debated parting ways with my friends. At one point I decided to make my move, telling Junkfood and others goodbye. However, I immediately missed the company and realized that some of the hike’s best experiences were in the times we had shared. I pulled up to wait in Seiad Valley, and Junkfood arrived the following afternoon. I waited for her to attempt the infamous Pancake Challenge, deciding to abstain myself. (Our friend Cole had tried this- eating five mega sized pancakes at the local diner- the year before, and warned it left you oozing “pancake sweat” for days.) It was my turn to look on in disgust.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Mile 1916
A few days prior at Fish Lake, Junkfood’s pack broke again. She worried that this time it might mean the end of her hike, but a compassionate trail angel sewed the broken strap as a temporary fix, and I carried her tent to lighten the load and ensure she made it to Crater. We were stalled several days at a campground in the park waiting for a new pack to arrive, but I had no thoughts of leaving her behind. She made a great hiking partner and we enjoyed each other’s company. Waiting it out just seemed like the right thing to do.
Bend, Oregon Mile 2090
I had begun to joke that I was no longer able to leave Junkfood because hiking with a girl provided the only sure-fire way for me to get a hitch, a point proven with a crazy impromptu trip into Bend. By now, Junkfood and I had become great friends, and shared a lot of conversation on the trail. I came to realize what an amazing person she was, and how much potential she had in life. My feelings, as I was also now aware, had manifested into a full blown crush; but I tried my best to suppress them, reminding myself that guys like me don’t wind up with girls like her.
Timberline Lodge, Oregon Mile 2191
Junkfood twisted her ankle on the trail shortly after leaving Bend, and again had the fortune of nearby family to call on for help. She needed a few days rest, and we made plans to meet again at Timberline Lodge. However, the next morning I realized we had underestimated the mileage. I hiked 100 miles in approximately sixty hours to make sure I was there to meet her on time.
Mt. Hood, Oregon Mile 2194
Answering the pleas of dayhikers in distress, and with Junkfood nervously watching, I used light weight nylon bear rope to rappel off a cliff and rescue a dog that had fallen and landed on a ledge below. Story for another time, but quite possibly the dumbest thing I have ever done. Did I mention Junkfood was watching?
Bridge of the Gods Mile 2235
Crossing the Columbia River into Washington, I loved her so much I could hardly stand it.
Blue Lake, Washington Mile 2273
After weeks of awkward flirting, we finally confessed our feelings for one another by the shore of Blue Lake on a cold, rainy night. (The fact that it was mutual baffles me still…)
Snoqualmie Pass, Washington Mile 2488
We’d pushed on, now as a couple rather than just hiking partners, and made it just beyond Snoqualmie Pass when winter struck. After a day spent hiking through heavy snow and rapidly deteriorating conditions, Junkfood grew extremely uncomfortable with proceeding, and I walked her thirteen miles back to the safety of a motel room at Snoqualmie. Not wanting to give up my thru-hike dreams without an earnest fight, I told her I was going to try it again the next day on my own. We sorted our gear and rationed the best available for me to carry. Junkfood later cried herself to sleep, torn between worry for my safety and not wanting to stand in my way. Somewhere in the night I made my decision, and in the predawn hours gently shook her shoulder and told her I wouldn’t go on. As hard as it was for me to accept the hike was over, with her is where I needed to be.
So I guess the moral of this Valentine’s story derives from my empathy for those lonely wandering souls. Don’t give up. Even when it hurts so bad and you think it would be easier to deprive yourself of hope in order to avoid disappointment, don’t. In hope there is nothing to lose, but in its absence you’ll only grow bitter. And I know being patient sucks. Trust me, I was there. It’s ridiculous how long some of us must wait before finding that certain “someone.” But it all works out in the end. That someone may be just around the next corner; or more surprising yet, might have been walking beside you all along.
*Mileage listed based on my 2007 hike, which included several side trips…