Forget Me Not

When my fiancée, Ashley, and I began dating, it not surprisingly coincided with us doing more outdoor activities together. Despite both of us having worked for Eastern Mountain Sports for many years and sharing an interest in the same activities, we each had vastly different outdoor experiences, leading to very different ways of preparing and experiencing trips.

Until that time, Ashley’s primary adventuring partner had been her father and I can only imagine that, being his only daughter, he treated her as you would expect: like a princess. He looked after her, made sure she was prepared, and worried about her well-being as any responsible father would. In contrast, much of my experience was initially gained through friends, and then from my co-workers at EMS. While those people worried about my well-being, there was also an assumed self-sufficiency, and some suffering as the result of the learn from your mistakes approach my peers applied. That methodology, while leading to some uncomfortable moments days in the mountains, resulted in many I will never do that again, forget that again, or try that again realizations that still resonate today.

Many of Ashley’s and my early adventures found us getting caught in a surprise rain shower (if you can believe that) only to discover that she’d forgotten her raincoat, or standing on a cold summit only to find out that she’d decided against packing a puffy coat. The number of trips Ashley and I took that included a discovery that she’d left behind some critical piece of gear is too great to count. After all, why would she bother to remember? Her formative adventures were with her doting father, and I didn’t have the heart to subject her to the suffering my friends let me endure. Being in an exciting and new relationship, wanting her to like me, and perhaps even a touch of chivalry had me handing over my coat, my food, or whatever else she needed to keep her comfortable.

Of course, subjecting myself to those types of suffering was less satisfying the second time around, and the lessons I learned this time were pretty basic—I don’t like being cold, wet, or hungry, but I do like this girl (although I would like her more if she stopped taking my coat!). I also learned to double-check Ashley’s pack before going anywhere, making sure she had the essentials covered. Slowly, my supervision of her packing receded as she found it less intrusive to remember her hat and gloves on her own, than to have me stand over her and comment while she packed.

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Her head is literally in the clouds

Before long, this approach turned Ashley into a capable partner in the mountains, often—much to my surprise—being better equipped and better thought out than me. Lately, Ashley hasn’t joined me much in the mountains, as she has had a host of other commitments that have kept her from being able to get away on the weekends, so it was exciting when she decided to tag along for a hike in the White Mountains a couple of weekends ago. As she packed, I mentioned to her to grab spikes, noting that I was surprised how icy the trails had been the week before, a fact that caught me off guard and left me wishing I had brought some.

Rolling her eyes, either in disbelief that she would need spikes, or that I have so easily fallen back into double-checking her packing, Ashley reluctantly threw spikes into the bin with the rest of her gear. Choosing on the car ride north to hike Franconia Ridge, we parked, grabbed our bags, and headed up the Falling Waters trail toward the summit of Little Haystack Mountain. We made quick progress until the trail became exceedingly icy a few hundred feet short of the summit. Stopping to put on our crampons, Ashley rustled through her bag, only to come up empty and sadly admit that she had accidentally left her spikes in the car. While not impassable, the use of spikes greatly increased the efficiency and safety of moving up the trail.

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Not a care in the world

It’s hard to say if I didn’t feel like enduring the same fate I’d experienced a week before when I had forgotten my crampons, or if I thought this was an apt time to teach a lesson through suffering, but I did not give up my crampons. Ashley slowly but surely made her way up the final stretch of the trail hopping from rock to rock, using the occasional non-icy spot, and by employing the trees on the side of the trail as a handrail. The rest of the day went smoothly and, when encountering a few other icy spots on the way down, I took the same course of action she did on the ascent rather than go through the trouble that taking on-and-off of crampons can present.

Perhaps it’s time to start checking her pack again, or maybe it’s time to admit defeat and just start packing two of everything.

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