The question surprised me. The two of us had been together for 5 weeks and after 17 blisters on my feet and 486 miles of joy, Tam was calling her mother to let her know we had finished the Colorado Trail. Her mother’s first question after “hello” was, “Are you still friends?” It was a fair question.
We decided we needed something big to celebrate turning 30. The Colorado Trail (CT) fit our goals to challenge ourselves, have fun, and prepare for whatever the next decade had for us. While we met in high school, we had really only been friends for a couple of years. So one of the big questions for me - besides logistics and packing – was: Could our relationship handle the stress? We had many discussions to try to figure that out. I asked the question at one point, “What happens if we aren’t able to finish?” I knew she had done some other endurance challenges (races, etc.) and I had my doubts about keeping up with her. She replied, “If we don’t make it, we don’t make it. It will be fine.”
And she was right. We were fine…but only because we were willing to test the relationship, being honest even when it was hard. There were many challenges – relational, physical, and environmental - we faced them all together.
There were moments of conflict. My definition of “fine” was very different from her definition of “fine” For her the only way we wouldn’t make it was if we were both dead!Throughout we learned how important it was to speak our true opinions instead of accommodating just to maintain fake peace. Something she and I both struggle with throughout our lives.
There were many challenges we weren’t expecting – who in the world ever thinks they will get 17 blisters in the first six days? She sacrificed when I couldn’t go on and needed a rest day or two, fully knowing that was precious time that impacted success or failure. I had to reconcile my desired hike with the hike I was experiencing. Some things you can plan for and others you must walk through making decisions as you go with whatever you know in the moment.
Together we met many different people, hiking for all kinds of reasons. Each one gave a new imprint on our journey. Nature etched its mark as well. The bear that followed Tam back into camp after she got our bag full of food, the herd of elk that didn’t seem very happy to be sharing their glade for the night, the storms that battered us as we pressed on over the passes. The wilderness does something miraculous in your soul while you are traversing it. The beauty, challenge, and unknown all play their parts. I think it is one of the best gifts God has given to humankind.
My dad always said to me, “Out there (in the wilderness) you can’t hide from one another. You are who you are. You may try and hide for a few days, but sooner or later it’s going to come out who you are and what you are.” It is true, Tam and I went in as friends who enjoyed each other. Through commitment, time, and challenge in the woods we came out knowing each other deeply, impacted forever by togetherness.