Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

Did You Say Something?

August 12, 2000

There are times each day, however, sometimes even all day, when for some reason Duffy and I are in synch—hiking just a pinecone toss apart. We take these opportunities to belt out "The Gambler," play word games, chit chat, and figure out what's for dinner. But, often, we hike for hours in silence—broken only occasionally by exclamations like "Ohhh, see that butterfly?," "Let's take a picture," or "Break?"

Maybe we're turning into an old married couple that sits at the breakfast table reading the paper and munching on Total barely noticing each other. But we're not married, and we're not old, and I prefer to think we are just comfortable enjoying the quiet of the wilderness together. Besides, as I asked my friend Josh (who does happen to be married), "If you went on a 97-day road trip with Jen, do you really think you'd talk all the time?"

"Yes." Okay, so Josh probably would. But he's a talker.

On a practical level, talking while hiking can be tough. Inevitably, with the clanging of trekking poles, the crunching underfoot, necessary walking room, and the fact that he's facing forward and therefore projecting his voice away from me—I can't always hear what Duffy's saying. I'm sure I've missed at least a third of his trail commentary and just have to hope that somewhere a few hundred miles back he didn't say "Sweetie, let's call it quits when we get home." To which I might have easily responded "Uh-huh."

Hiking Honeys

Of course, our trail couplehood isn't necessarily the norm. In fact, every couple we've met on the trail has their own distinct style.

(Trail names have been changed to protect the innocent, and me.)

Peanut and Butter float along effortlessly, always pointing at this or that, taking turns leading, and generally having such a good time I wonder what's wrong with me.

Romeo and Juliet seem to have turned stereotypical gender roles upside-down, with Juliet taking charge and often complaining she has to drag Romeo along. In fact, upon arriving at Kennedy Meadows, Juliet announced she'd grown tired of Romeo's dilly-dallying and left him behind. "I guess he'll show up eventually," she said. Last we heard, Juliet was hiking with Hamlet instead. Which begs the question: Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Lewis and Clarkette, on the other hand, are inseparable, and difficult to tell apart due to their matching shorts, shirts, and hats, as well as stature. They even hike in step, with Lewis barely three feet behind Clarkette, and Josh will be happy to know that they seem to talk incessantly.

Ken and Hiker Barbie have an on-again, off-again style. Barbie is mostly off the trail, meeting up with Ken for a few days here and there in the most scenic locales, allowing Ken to be "Solo Hiker of Steel" when she's hanging out in town.

Tarzan and Jane barely see each other all day—hiking at very different paces and only meeting up in the evening to camp.

Fred and Ginger each carry a complete set of gear so that they can go off on their own at any point. No "umbilical cord" dependency there. Meadow Ed would be so proud.

Poor Kanga, he had to go home because Roo was having so many health problems. From the flu to poison oak, poison ivy, a root canal, blisters, and altitude sickness, this happy couple appeared to be cursed. Eventually, they rented a car and went to Vegas instead.

And La-La, well, she left Dipsy at home from the start. Not every couple is meant to hike together after all.

Romancing the Crest

Still looking for cupid on a National Scenic Trail? I don't mean to burst anyone's bubble, but as you can see it's not all sunsets and starry nights. Sweat, stench, and sour faces can certainly kill the moment. But while the day-to-day trekking may not be bliss, the romance of a thru-hike is more concrete than any Hallmark sentiment. It's in what a couple can accomplish—together. Climbing the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S., helping one another through 30-mile days, holding hands across ice and snow as well as treacherous fords and knowing limb—if not life—depends on your grip, even carrying a little extra weight when you're partner is hurting. These and other memories create a bond and partnership candlelight dinners and strolls on the beach can't match. I'm not against such luxuries of course; in fact, I can't wait to enjoy them again when we get home. But as Ginny Owen (who has hiked the Appalachian and Continental Divide trails with her husband Jim and is now about a week ahead of us on the PCT) said "On the trail you don't have masks and you don't have distractions and you don't have games, you're just being yourself. That leads to a level of intimacy that is way beyond what you might develop during the same time period at home. You spend six months with somebody on the trail and you'll know that person better than you'll know most people in 20 years." And if you still like each other when you hit the border, well, you're in pretty good shape.


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