On April 5, 2014, I stood on top of Springer Mountain, Ga., ready to begin hiking north on the Appalachian Trail. I knew I would be changed by the hike. What I didn’t know was that the trail would turn my entire world upside down and that by January 2015, I would have fallen in love, completed the 2,185.3-mile trail with a man I met on the trail and moved to his small town in upstate New York.
Jeff Vincent and I met almost right away, but we didn’t think much of each other at first. After all, I didn’t decide to hike up the East Coast to meet boys. But that all changed during my sixth day on the trail when we ended up staying at the same shelter. The next morning we realized we were the last out of camp, so we decided to hike together.
By the end the day I realized that Jeff knew me better than most people in my life whom I had known for years. We talked about everything from our families and friends to our favorite food and movies. We barely noticed the mountains we were climbing.
We continued to hike together every day after that. Though I couldn’t help wanting to spend every day with him, I was secretly panicking. I didn’t want to be “that girl” who allowed a crush to interfere with her hiking plans. But then I realized something: The relationship Jeff and I were forming was quite possibly the healthiest relationship I had ever been in.
Drew and Meredith
And then there are couples, like Meredith Chedsey and Drew Schreiner, who start the trail together—a risky move knowing that means spending about six months by each other’s side. Meredith planned on hiking the trail solo long before Drew came along. Once Drew learned of her plans, he made it clear he was interested in hiking too. So she took him on a few backpacking trips in the Rocky Mountains to make sure he could cut it on the Appalachian Trail.
“Though she never said anything, I saw these trips as a sort of test for me. It was a chance to show that I could handle the not-so-great aspects of backpacking and that I would not annoy the crap out of her,” Drew says. “Evidently I passed, as shortly after these trips she agreed that I could join her on the Appalachian Trail.”
Six months later, Meredith and Drew summited Katahdin together. During that time, they overcame challenges in their relationship that are unique to long-distance hiking, like constantly being around each other, which ended up working in their favor.
“Because there was no running away from each other, our relationship grew much stronger. We learned to read each other’s emotions easily, we learned what weakness we could help with and we basically became each other’s support group,” Meredith says.
Secrets of Success
When hiking solo, you can start and stop when you want, go into the towns you choose and hike whatever mileage you want. By hiking together, couples must compromise on all of these things.
Drew says that he and Meredith also used a “get out of hiking free card,” where either of them could make it a zero day with no argument from the other.
Couples who hike together learn a lot about each other in a short period of time—largely because they deal with incredible amounts of stress together. There’s the typical stress of dealing with hiking 15 or more miles a day, injuries, and bad weather. But then there’s the stress many people don’t talk about. Like when I cried through most of Pennsylvania.
The exhaustion of hiking every day for more than three months had caught up to me, and hiking in Pennsylvania means hiking over very pointy rocks and climbing through boulder fields all day, every day. I lost all coping skills, became very homesick and cried constantly. Jeff was my support system. I can’t count the number of times I came around a turn crying and he was there to make me feel better. Without him, I may not have made it. When it got really bad, the only reason I didn’t get off the trail was so I wouldn’t leave him alone and jeopardize the success of his hike. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about momentarily sacrificing our own happiness to support each other.