I thought my relationship with my otherwise perfect partner ended after hiking in Guatemala, but as it turns out, it was just the beginning of our life outside.
The first time I took Daniel hiking, he made it very clear that it was not his thing. He is a New Yorker born and raised, and coming out to visit me in Montana, a few months into our relationship as I stayed with my family was already a lot. Especially when that visit included a hiking trip in Glacier National Park.
When I asked him if he enjoyed it, he shrugged. “It was okay, I guess,” he said simply. “The nature is nice.”
This was a red flag for me in an otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. After spending a year as friends and then a few months as more, we bonded over our shared love of travel, pop culture, and other similar values. Following a whirlwind romance in Prague and Italy, this was the first sign that maybe our compatibility didn’t extend to something I adored: outdoor adventures.
My mind immediately jumped to any future trips I had been dreaming of—all of which involved some form of outdoor activities, blisters from walking miles a day, and high altitudes. Would I have to attempt Mount Kilimanjaro alone? What about weekend camping expeditions?
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On a later trip to Guatemala, I somehow convinced him that it wouldn’t be a complete experience without an overnight camping and hiking adventure on Acatenango, a stratovolcano. If Daniel could see Mount Fuego erupt in the early morning sun, smell the clean air, and view the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in one place, maybe outdoor travel would become a priority for him too.
I should have known there was a problem once we started dropping behind the rest of our hiking group. Daniel was the only male in a pack of eager, ponytailed, and tanned young women. He looked at us bitterly as we trudged up the side of the volcano, navigating the sharp tuff that managed to get in our shoes.
“Are we almost there?” he asked, breathing thickly in the thin air. “Almost,” I lied, like every hiker who stretches the truth to get their buddy to the top.
We weren’t close, and he found out I was concealing the truth from him pretty quickly as the hours dragged on. Once we finally reached the summit, our campsite was ready for us. We were the last to reach the top, and our group had already had a celebratory drink and were relaxing around a welcome campfire.
Daniel collapsed. “I’m never doing this again.” Before I could reply, it began to rain.
That night as the tent walls shuddered under the weight of rain and wind, I couldn’t sleep. I could feel Daniel seething beside me, his usual deep sleep breaths now shallow. I wondered, was this the event that would break us up? If I had known, I never would have pushed him on such a challenging hike.
It might not have mattered so much to me, but Daniel was my absolute best friend in every way. There was no one I liked spending my time with more, and I spent the night tossing, worried about whether or not I was going to have to choose between the two things that mattered most to me. The outdoors represented freedom, but Daniel was much more to me than that. And if it meant that I would have cut back on my hiking and camping adventures, I was willing to do that.
We didn’t speak much the next day, but over time and laughing about our aching muscles, we managed to avoid the topic of the outdoors altogether. Our next trips were to destinations where we could spend time wandering museum halls and trying new foods, while intense, nature-related activities were avoided.
The more we traveled, I began to slowly introduce him to shorter hikes that involved no camping. We interspersed our cultural activities with those that took us out to rural areas and got us sweaty. After a day of hopping from restaurant to restaurant in Southeast Asia, we’d make an effort to visit nearby national parks. More and more, it occurred to me that maybe it would just take a little time for him to come around to outdoor adventures. Maybe I just needed to be patient, which I was until the trip of a lifetime presented itself.
Scrolling through some travel deals online, I happened upon an irresistible price to hike to the Everest Base Camp, which was an adventure I had been dreaming of for years. I tried to push it from my mind. This was precisely the kind of thing that I had spent years realizing Daniel might never be up for. Did something like this matter that much to me? We were already happy, wasn’t that enough?
When I brought the Everest trip up to him, I was surprised by his reaction. “Let’s do it,” he said. “But under two conditions.” Shocked, I couldn’t disagree.
“I can go at my own pace—no dragging me up the mountain,” he raised an eyebrow at me. “And what if we got engaged there?”
After that, it was like the outdoors held new meaning for both of us. I introduced him to his first s’more while camping in Yellowstone, and his face lit up like a child as he took a bite. We lovingly called our tent home that summer, hopping from national park to state park and beyond. He more than conquered the Everest Base Camp hike, even though it was by far the most physically challenging thing either of us had done.
I remember the two of us, exhausted from hiking ten days straight—from morning to sunset—climbing up to the Everest basecamp sign. When we proposed to one another, I finally let go of those fears of losing the things that mattered to me. Decked out in our winter gear, I shook from excitement, knowing that somehow, I would manage to have both that freedom of the outdoors and the love of my life.
When we chose our wedding venue, we could think of no better place than the Glacier National Park itself, where we had gone on our first outdoor adventure together years before. On the shores of Lake McDonald, as we exchanged our vows, it was hard not to acknowledge the nature around us and how it had the power to both change minds as well as hearts.