My wife and I moved out to Oregon about four years ago. Neither of us had ever backpacked, hiked far off the grid, or adventured in a wilderness. Since then, I’ve picked up a lot of skills and knowledge that allow us to adventure in many incredible places. Perhaps some of my mistakes can benefit you when it comes to easing your partner into the “outdoor” lifestyle. After all, I almost blew it multiple times.
The key is to really analyze your purpose when introducing a partner to your outdoor pursuits. The first few times I took my wife on backpacking trips, I thought the purpose was to cover as much ground as possible, to push our physical limits, and to depend solely on our own decisions to stay safe. That sounds like an adventure, oh yeah. The problem was, I never asked my wife what she wanted from the trips. In fact, since she was new at it also, she didn’t really initiate ideas or offer suggestions. After a few misadventures I’ve come to a place where the purpose of our trips has changed.
Here are a few struggles we experienced on our first few outings: late start resulting in night hike to find camp, finding litter at campsites that my wife would not tolerate, climbing too high and fast for her comfort, having allergic reactions to odd bug bites, getting slightly lost, mosquito swarms, travelling way to far for her fitness level, large mammal close encounters, surprise storms, our dog rolling in fecal matter/dead fish/etc., and navigating unexpected sketchy stream crossings. These are just some of the challenges that we’ve faced while out in the backcountry. They are also part of the reason few people enjoy getting deep into the wilderness. In turn, this is also what makes the wilderness wonderful. The petty details of life that we worry about in our daily routines disappear when your basic needs become your primary focus. It is wonderful to simply care for yourself and someone you love on very minimal terms. These challenges also ensure relative solitude and privacy to observe the natural world where humans don’t matter.
The purpose of backcountry travel with my wife has become very different from when I’m by myself or with some of my friends. I began to realize if I didn’t find a better way to “guide” these trips, we would no longer be able to adventure together. Too many negative experiences will terminate your partner’s desire to share the outdoor experiences that you love and want to share. The best way to make sure your partner gets what they want out of the trips is to encourage them to help plan the trips. There are three areas I’ve learned to include my wife when planning a trip. They are duration of trip, route taken on trip, and equipment needed for trip.
Find out how long your partner is interested in being gone from the amenities they are used to. A mistake here is magnified for two reasons. Number one, in the backcountry you must stay together even if you are irritated with each other. Number two, you are sharing time doing something you want to love, but instead spend that time disappointed or upset. This can lead to negative feelings about adventuring which is exactly what you don’t want. Next, include your partner in the route planning, and campsite selection. This will avoid unnecessary surprises like wet area’s with lots of mosquitoes, days with too many miles, steep climbs that become unexpectedly difficult, or campsites that don’t live up to expectations. It will be necessary to teach how to read a topo map. This is best accomplished on trail when good views open up. Finally, work out equipment issues and options together. If you are lending gear, lend your best gear. If you are buying gear, do your research and go light whenever possible. My wife and I have made gear lists and we double check each other’s gear to avoid forgetting crucial items.
The reason the wilderness offers a guaranteed adventure is that things can’t go exactly as planned. A traveler must adapt, react, and conform to real time conditions, some of which are scary, uncomfortable, and unpredictable. This is what makes it an “adventure”. When things create discomfort, and you planned the trip solo, your partner will have only you to blame. But if your partner gets involved, things are less likely to be forgotten, overlooked, or blamed on you when they are screwed up. Share the responsibility of staying safe and comfortable. Trust that your partner’s ideas will enhance the trip. If you do this, your shared wilderness adventure will become an event that is shared not just on the trail, but also at home and in car.
I love experiencing the beauty of the outdoors with my wife. I almost lost that privilege by pushing her too hard, and by not including her in the planning. The wilderness is a serious place where knowledge, fitness, and equipment are required for safety. My growing pains became hers as I learned to navigate these variables in my own ways. However, willingness to fail, and a willingness to learn have allowed us to grow through the mistakes. We still adventure often, but now it is more her style when we do it together. When I need to “go big”, I go alone, or with friends who share the same purpose. If you are planning to include your significant other, practice a few trips on your own so you have the skills, knowledge, and equipment dialed in. Then, get to work educating your partner on those things and let them plan with you from there so the purpose you have is unified..
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