Failed Love on the Pacific Crest Trail
Last year, when my good friend Mike dropped my boyfriend and me off at the Mexican border, just outside of Campo, CA, I was in love. I loved the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and the fact that it would take more or less five months to walk ourselves to Canada. I loved the notion that we would be living out of our backpacks, driving our muscles and bones into the ground, which would, in turn (hopefully) turn us into ultra-fit pack-mules. I daydreamed not only of what this journey would do for me, but also of the story we would tell together, as a couple. I had friends who hiked the trail with their significant others, and heard countless stories of love’s success on the trail, and I wanted that. I kept thinking about the end, how after two-thousand, six-hundred miles, it would finally solidify that I was meant to be with this man. I was definitely dreaming, settling into my mind things that hadn’t even happened yet.
We had spent the last three months living in Nicaragua, mostly to save money, but also to travel a bit. Plus my boyfriend wanted to surf his brains out before committing to the walk we’ve been planning for almost a year. So we trained along the endless stretches of beach, walking from village to village, often barefoot and collecting seashells. We started at 6 miles, hiked every other day, and by the time we flew back to the States, we were comfortable with 14, albeit on flat sand. We had one more month to add incline training and buy all of our food, obtain what seemed like an endless number of boxes from the post office, and plan and pre-write all of our mailing labels. We had over 20 resupply boxes each, which basically covered our estimated five months of hunger.
I took it upon myself to create spreadsheets of all the miles between re-supplies and how many days it would take us if we averaged a certain numbers of miles. I had it all figured out, to the decimal point. And I truly did feel that I had everything hammered and ready, no surprises left, even when it came to my relationship with this man. We had been living together for over a year and a half already, and despite our quarrels and rough beginnings during chaotic college years, I felt that only good things could come from this, from how well we seemed to know each other…
It all sounded so perfect, right?
But 40 days after strapping on our heavy packs at the Southern Terminus, I was throwing mine into Mike’s truck again, sunburned and sobbing by the Kennedy Meadows store, mile mark 700. I hadn’t showered in a week and my food bag was as empty as I felt. I had just finished a parting discussion with my now ex-boyfriend, and all I remember is Mike’s scowl to him as I crawled into the back seat.
Things blew up in ways I didn’t think they ever would. I pulled a muscle in my right shoulder on day two, due to an overweight pack and oversight in my training. It never healed and there were days when it spasmed and felt like knives, and other days it was just a numb mess. I kept my camp towel rolled under my pack strap to help relieve pressure. It became a part of me, this injury, and I let it fester. My pride rolled with every step. I had to finish, or else I would never fulfill this dream.
We were five days out from Kennedy Meadows when we finally fell apart, and in addition to my shoulder and a growing pain in the arch of my right foot, I was now heartbroken. We fought in the middle of the trail and I cried to the Juniper Trees. While I saw us with eyes of romance, as a story of two lovers on the trail of a lifetime, he saw us as two athletes who happened to be doing the trail together. He wanted the trail before he met me, so I understood his position, but it hurt to know that he was willing to give me the boot for the trail’s sake. We hiked on to find camp, and while he set up the tent, I laid out my sleeping pad in the dirt, with intent to brave it in just my GoLite puffy. I lay there as twilight faded and he fell asleep without words. I caved in to the cold and my fear of mountain lions and crawled into the one-person tent we were sharing, beneath the two-person alpine quilt we had sewn ourselves, and out of pure necessity we shared our body warmth. This was how those remaining nights always played out.
It’s a strange thing when two people are forced to occupy the same space even when the relationship is done. The angry flames faded with every mile we hiked in silence, and eventually we were able to speak very analytically with each other. And somehow, it seemed so obvious to me that we weren’t right for one another. There were things that suddenly detracted from his appeal, that I had always justified or ignored before. And I’m sure he was undergoing the exact same train of thought. We were chatty again, not only because we had to be amicable, but truthfully, we were still friends at heart.
The trail burst my dream of love like it did the blisters on my feet. While others had stories of new or trail-tested love, mine is of how love failed. He used to occupy a pedestal I built from all the stereotypes of the Wanderlust Mountain Man. He had the qualities, but not the personality that meshed with mine, and I made exceptions because I was so desperate to have my own catalog-worthy, wild beast of a man. In college he was one of the few rugged climbers and wanderers around me, long hair and all. So I molded him in my mind, denied facets to myself, and I truly fought to keep him. I kept molding him and molding me, and years later there we were – a dissatisfied girl and her melting trophy.
But life has its ways of suddenly throwing you in another direction, and you just have to keep up, hope for the best. I’m living now in a place I had never even heard of before the trail, living a life that is as adventurous as ever. I’ve met so many other climbers and adventurers while traveling, it’s ridiculous. Mountain Men are in no short supply, let alone here in Boulder, CO. This has allowed me to truly focus on someone for who they really are (duh right?), and to not hold them on a pedestal just because they like mountains. So I guess my story doesn’t have to end with me watching the Sierra Nevada disappear into Mike’s rear-view mirror. And maybe my story can still be about love. The trail made me mature in ways I thought I had already figured out, but that is why we pursue adventure, is it not? I wanted to find myself out there in the woods, I wanted to melt together mind and body in a pure and wholesome way. Well I got what I asked for. It was a complete purge to say the least.
It’s a common thing for the adventurous to bring their lovers along, and I think it’s healthy, it’s possible, and definitely a qualifying test. The wilderness will never lie to you, the mountains will never sugar-coat who you are, and the trail will never let you get away with any unsettled business, be it an injury or emotional drama. It can be daunting to have your loved one around when you’re under such constant physical and mental stress in the outdoors, and there’s of course a time and place for everything, but I’d like to think that having your significant other there should only help appease you, not make it worse. The relationship with my ex was definitely making things worse. We’d bicker about the bear canister and other trail nonsense, and it was easy to say that our tired minds were getting the best of us, but we were tired of each other, really.
But love in the mountains is an attainable thing. After the PCT, I wanted to hate, wanted to disbelieve that a relationship could work with an outdoorsman, that these “untamed” men were especially scared of commitment and unable to think selflessly at all. Or that us adventurous women must be too stubborn for our own good. Fortunately, men are not all the same, so us effeminate adventurers can have our cake and eat it too. And I say this because I did end up meeting someone whose personality completely fits with mine, and lo and behold, he’s the very Mountain Man I’ve been looking for. But he’s a Mountain Man from his own humble beginnings, and one of the most selfless. Thus he is a very real person to me. He’s not just an idea or a potential and I don’t have to justify things to satisfy some pedestal – I don’t even need the pedestal anymore.
My dream of the trail is still alive, I just needed to meet the right Mountain Man. And next year I plan to pick up from where I left off, right there in Kennedy Meadows. So, I guess the story still isn’t over yet…
How do you share the outdoors with your loved ones? Tell us with the hashtag #dirtbagdreams!
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Outdoor Prolink Editorial Intern Sara Aranda likes to climb, trail run, travel and adventure. She comes from California but is making Boulder, Colorado her new home. Sara also works at Movement Climbing + Fitness in Boulder. Look for more blog posts and photos from Sara coming soon!