My Family Duties Are Getting in the Way of My Outdoor Aspirations
I want to thru-hike part of the AT or PCT, but I’m the main caregiver in my household
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I’m a woman married to a woman and have a stepson, and I want to backpack the Appalachian or PCT alone, but am not getting any support. Here’s the background. I’m medically retired law enforcement, 47 years old, and not getting any younger. I have had seven major knee surgeries (hence retired), but I have free time and used to be a serious athlete (hockey, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, you name it). However, we know these hikes will take me away for two or three months for as far as I can go in that time, and I’m surprised that my spouse has been resistant. She supports me going, but only if I go for a week or two. Being retired has made me the convenient child minder to my 14-year-old stepson, housewife, and all my dreams and goals have, well, in a nutshell, gone to hell. I’d like some part of my life back and we’ve only been married five years. I don’t want to just go away for a week or two, and I realize we are a team now, but I’m an only child, former world traveler, and this housewife role was thrust upon me when I ended up in a wheelchair for seven years. I’ll never be back to normal, but I also know I can have this goal, if I can get support. I’m sure she would volunteer to go with me, but she has no interest in hiking and I don’t want to do this with someone. I’m not afraid for my safety any more than I would be in my normal life. How do you married folk get away on your own with support? Please help!
This trip is important to you—to who you are—and you know better than anyone that you can’t just put it off and count on being able to do it at some uncertain time in the future. You need to connect with the part of yourself that comes alive when you’re chasing big dreams, especially after what sound like some incredibly difficult years. You’re also part of a household where your presence helps to hold things together—and if your wife is already at her limit, as so many people are right now, it may be a huge ask for her to cover all your typical responsibilities in your absence.
But I’ll be honest: I just really want you to be able to do this. I relate, as someone who’s dealt with illness and come away with an incredible sense of urgency to take (and make) opportunities when I can. And if I had a partner who was in your situation, I would want them to have the adventure they were longing for, and I would want to do what I could to support them.
There are a couple options for what might be going on under the surface of your wife’s hesitation, and you and she are the only ones who can really know what resonates. You want to feel supported, and your wife does too, and the trick will be to balance things so you’re both getting the support you need. I think you should sit down together and explain that the more you think about it, the more you realize this trip—a longer trip—is vital for making you feel like you. But you can’t go without her help, and her blessing, and so you’re asking her for this important gift.
If she’s open to it, try to make a list of her concerns, so that you can go through and address them together. Is she worried about being apart, and missing you? Maybe you can leave her a little note to open each day while you’re gone. Is her concern largely about household tasks and childcare? Maybe your stepson can go to a friend’s house after school, and carpool to soccer practice. If you typically do the cooking, you can make a bunch of dishes ahead of time and freeze them. Or maybe you can tighten your budget so you can pay someone to clean in your absence. Your stepson is old enough that you can have an open conversation with him, too, about what he wants and needs, and how you can help make sure those things happen. (He might even enjoy being involved—if not in the trip itself, then in the planning, and maybe even in practice hikes or overnights.)
You might end up compromising on distance—going for six weeks instead of two to three months, for instance, or breaking a longer trip into a sections, with breaks in between. Or you could start with a ten-day practice trip that also serves as a chance for your family to practice divvying up tasks in your absence (and you could help troubleshoot after you get back). If you have your heart set on the PCT or AT, go for it—they’re spectacular trails with engaged communities—but if you’re still deciding, it might be worth looking into other options as well. I’ve hiked the 400-mile Oregon Coast Trail, which was more of a semi-urban bushwhacking route than a trail per se, but it was a great experience—and I think it would be quite hikeable in winter, which could give you more flexibility for scheduling. We also recently got a letter from someone headed for the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island, which takes about a month. So if there’s a trail that seems fun and would keep you closer to home, offer easier resupply stops, or just generally allow more flexibility, it’s worth considering. Your family might even enjoy meeting you for weekend day hikes (or picnic lunches) along the way.
Ideally, a marriage becomes more than the sum of its parts: you become more of yourself, and your partner becomes more of themselves, and you’re also creating something together, a tiny community and culture that gives you energy and comfort and strength. Your wife fell in love with an adventurer, and I hope you two can find a way for your marriage to nurture that part of you. And as you’re asking for that gift from your wife, remember that it goes the other way too—that your job, as her wife, is to help her become the person she’s trying to be, even at times when it seems difficult. Here’s wishing you both much happiness as you go the distance.