The second weekend in October marked our first-ever three-generation backpacking trip. It was a short overnighter in Nova Scotia’s Bluff Wilderness area, a small network of trails just south of Halifax. The trip was a mini-shakedown for testing some new gear for our upcoming Appalachian Trail thru-hike. It also served the purpose of highlighting to Renee’s parents (Renee is my wife and fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador) the importance of lightweight backpacking; which is especially crucial since they are planning to accompany us for a few weeks on the trail next year. Even more importantly though, it continued to build and solidify relationships between us, our children, and their grandparents.
Reflecting back on this, it never ceases to amaze me how much relationship building has occurred, thanks to the outdoors. Some of my most important relationships have developed as a direct result of wilderness travel.
A regular practice of taking one day a week to hike, ski, or run together as a family has paid dividends greater than I ever would have imagined. We talk, we learn, and we sweat together. We experience the highs and the lows, and the amazing views together. The teenager and pre-teens all open up (even the introverts!), and words flow for hours on end. It has also given Renee and I the opportunity to talk, work out issues, dream, and scheme. If ever a week goes by without this time together outdoors, something feels missing or out-of-sync.
It’s not just our family relationships that have blossomed either. We have kindled some amazing relationships with people we have met in the outdoors as well… like that time while out hiking on the Baldface Circle Trail in the White Mountains. We encountered an extremely rare species: another hiking family; a mother, a father, and two young kids. We hit it off pretty quickly with the K family (as I will call them), and a short swim in the frigid Emerald Pool together after a long day of hiking sealed the deal.
As a couple, the K family were pretty cool in our eyes. In the early days of their relationship, they thru-hiked the AT together. We immediately had some common ground since they had already done the AT and we wanted to do it. It made for a lot of good conversation. Our relationship with them has always involved time in the outdoors together. A day hike here, a backpacking trip there, and occasional winter hut ski trips.
After deciding on the launch date for our own AT thru-hike, we learned that the K family will be doing it the same time as well. We aren’t planning to thru-hike with their family. Keeping one family on the trail together will be work enough. But I am looking forward to how the shared experience of backpacking the trail with our individual families, and hopefully meeting up and hiking together at various points, will deepen our relationship with them going forward.
Then there was another time where we decided to do a blog meet-up at a campground in Crawford Notch, NH. We didn’t get much of a turn-out (only one young couple showed-up), and our planned day hike ended up being a short walk in a huge downpour. The shared experience of getting soaked to the bone was enough to solidify a relationship that has continued on for years later.
Why is it that being outside together strengthens relationships? My theory is that it is because a shared experience in a loving, friendly environment builds bridges and common ground. Whether that experience is a breathtaking vista, or suffering through a hardship that only mother nature can dish out, your brain quickly zeros in on the thing that is most important: the people around you. We need them. They need us. It’s simple; even primal. We need each other, and sometimes it takes our natural environment to drive that point home.
How has the outdoors transformed your relationships?
This post was contributed by former Trail Ambassador Damien Tougas.