When I was in college, I took my web designer boyfriend away from his city and into the mountains, where we embarked on one of my favorite hikes. He was reluctant, but I promised him it was a very evenly graded hike on a wide trail, like a boulevard through the woods that culminated in a steep and snowy ravine. It would all be worth it.
Halfway up the trail it started pouring rain. It was the kind of pouring that's very loud, magnified by all of the trees and underbrush. I delighted in this, already thinking about how the rain was temporary but the story would be permanent, how the feeling of being caught out in the rain was so movie-like and romantic for our evolving relationship.
He looked at me from across the trail, with the rain pounding down and his hair dripping, and said, loudly over the sound of water rushing everywhere: "Why do you people do this?!"
Several months later he broke up with me. The differences between us, he said, were too great. One night, shortly after the breakup, as I was crying into a cup of late night tea with my (very patient) college roommate and friend, she asked gently, "Alli, don't you think you'd like to be with someone who's more... outdoorsy?"
The idea had never occurred to me before.
Over time, I found that my friend was absolutely right. I needed to be with someone who intrinsically understood "why us people do this." In fact, I wanted to be with someone who would challenge me beyond what I would do on my own -- to show me new places, ask me to go a little farther, to sometimes run instead of walk.
I needed to be with someone who needed to be outside the same way I did.
On our wedding day, my husband and I articulated our need to get outside and be active as part of our vows. He promised to "meet Alli at every finish line, whether I am a participant or a spectator." I promised to "clean my feet when we've been out running in the dirt."
However, even though of course we are perfect for each other in every other way, there is one caveat to our compatibility: No two people are created alike, and no two people engage the outdoors exactly the same way. Sure, needs can be similar -- my husband and I are both junkies when it comes to getting exercise and getting outside, ideally at the same time, but often our paces or preferences differ.
For instance: I want to go at my own (very steady) pace, and he likes to book it.
I want to walk to the mountain peak; he would prefer to run.
While I appreciate these qualities about him in the abstract -- what a dreamboat, I think, just runnin' up Flattop -- I don't want to run up Flattop, or at least not every time. Yet, we both love getting outside, and we want to get out there together.
So what ends up happening is a lot of negotiating. Sometimes I join him for a trail run. We brainstorm places we'd like to try, we look at maps together, we plan our route, we time our eating accordingly, we set an approximate time we'll be out there for, and we make sure Tecates are cold, ready, and waiting for us at the end.
Then, I wave. As in, I wave goodbye to my husband as he takes off on the trail, up, up, up and away. I merrily trot along at my own pace and if I need to stop, I stop. I look at my watch, and at a certain time I turn around, knowing he won't be far behind me and given our respective paces we should arrive back at the trail head at approximately the same time.
Other times, we go for what normal people call a "hike." This is, I explain to my husband, when you put a backpack on, fill it with chocolate and walk on a trail. You pause occasionally to point out cool Alaska things like birds, glaciers and Malamutes. You don't really need to check your watch or pace. Your heart rate should only rise to the point that you think of the word "robust," not "attack."
Then, other times, we just do our own thing. I go for runs with my friends, when talking is the point as much as running. He goes and runs up Bird Ridge and beats his chest, or something. Either way, we're both usually happy with what we do.
He never wheedles me to pay attention to him instead of going on my run. I never ask him to clean the kitchen before climbing (which explains a lot about the state of our kitchen -- clearly both of us have other priorities).
Lucky for me, I found a person who gets "why people do this" (and my college boyfriend married a fellow web designer, who gets why people do that). I don't need to be outside with someone else every step of the way, but it's good knowing we'll start and end up at basically the same place.
Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage.