I’ve been doing a lot of old photo scanning and trip planning in the past few months; the kind of activity that gets your mind spinning about what’s important in your life. As I posted my Backpacking in Time album I thought about all those summers away from my future husband and how he would drive 8 hours north to see me for less than 24 hours and then drive another 8 hours home. Even after we got married I would go off backpacking weekends and weeks at a time. He put me on planes to Colorado, Washington, said goodbyes as I went to Minnesota and Maine and so many more places these many years.
His Belaying Background
Born and raised in Baltimore City, his outdoor experience prior to meeting me in college consisted of hotel weeks in Ocean City, MD; summer baseball leagues and one trip to Gettysburg Battlefield. I, of course, tried to ‘rectify’ all that early in our marriage with camping trips which usually coincided with hurricane deluges. Our first big adventure was a three week cross-Canada camping trip in an old canvas tent when he drove out to meet me in Estes Park where I was backpacking. Working from my carefully prepared instructions, he filled the car with camping gear and box after box of canned goods; we could have fed whole campgrounds on the baked beans he packed.
After staying in a big field in Estes Park for his first solo camping night he proudly showed me the 8mm film he had taken of the night skies. I have to say those skies were breathtaking in person, but the film taken pointing up into the night was utterly blank, poor guy! By the second week, I realized he truly disliked camping for more than 1 night at a time. He missed walls, television, and screen doors. He didn’t count the near daily rains as real showers so we stayed in motels every couple days. He endured quite a bit of ribbing over that starry night film but at least got to try rattlesnake meat cooked over a campfire! And in his effort to spend time with me he gave tent camping several more tries but no longer camps to this day although KOA cabins are acceptable! I think the last straw was probably those spiders in the tents in West Virginia that I tried to pass off as Campground Hosts.
But he got used to tramping through any and every camping store with me long before REI even came to the Washington, DC area. And who wouldn’t be impressed with a husband who gives your EMS wish list to your relatives and alerts you to L.L. Bean Outlet stores by circling them on maps? And while he’s given me beautiful, special things over the years it’s the ski mittens he heard me talk about and searched hours for that warmed my heart one Christmas!
He’s always been a good listener and known what to say. He got used to my pouring over every detail about the rapids on a water trip and then would tell me afterwards when I questioned myself, “You weren’t worrying, you were only getting prepared!” And when I called from Upper Michigan to tell him that I had had a drug reaction to an antibiotic and was in Intensive Care he didn’t panic but simply asked “And, ah how was the hiking?” He told me it was okay to give up climbing when I said the thrill of getting to the top didn’t overcome my fears anymore. It got so that when I slipped on ice one camping weekend; knew my ankle was probably broken that I didn’t even call John ahead; just drove home and broke the news over wine that Sunday night. He didn’t even flinch when I came down the trail with bloody scrapes and torn pants from my Mt. Rainier fall in 2009 and the eventual broken ankle diagnosis. But he does think it’s funny now to point out hospital signs when we go on trips and say “Should we introduce ourselves now or later?”
That belay line can run more than a few hundred feet too. A few years ago, the parent who was supposed to bring the treat food (steaks, corn on the cob etc.) down mid-week to summer camp (4 hour drive each way) had a last minute emergency and John agreed to do it even though he had to work the next morning. He saved the surprise for twenty very grateful Scouts and made him my hero again!
Perhaps one of the best examples of going above and beyond though was when I signed up for Outward Bound but was placed on a waiting list. Our townhouse was on the market when interest rates were 18% so we never dreamed it would finally sell or that I would get a slot at OB but it did finally sell and I got a slot. So I packed as much as I could before I flew to NC. Poor guy was left to move our belongings and two cats to our new single family house 10 miles away complete with Power of Attorney in hand. There’s probably a teeny little part of him that still hasn’t forgiven me for that one though!
When our son was old enough to camp with Cub Scouts we did the family camping thing but only a few times on comfy cots. John coached all the sports while I graduated to Boy Scouts, working with Tim’s troop and still do summer camp. John's severe scoliosis has caught up with him but he is working on that so we can enjoy Banff this fall for our 40th anniversary trip – Yeah!
"Driving Miss Daisy"
His hands have never touched a climbing rope, harness, or rock face. In fact he has a terrible fear of heights even those with railings. He doesn’t even like looking at mountains that much or see them as particularly beautiful but he puts up with all the fuss about them for me. If there’s a mountain range near where we’re traveling off we go! He does enjoy traveling though, especially to lakes and the ocean and once there he will fish or read or doze in the sun. Nowadays he drops me off at trailheads with my daypack while he reads his Kindle. He jokingly tells friends he drives “Miss Daisy!”
My Invisible Belayer
So what makes John my belayer? He has been there all these years, as my anchor. He has fed rope out to me, letting me do what I need to feel free at times; never making me feel too confined. He has caught my falls in life, helped with disappointments, and given me support to be myself. And even though I’ve often wished he were my partner on these wonderful adventures, I just have to remind myself that he is, he is always belaying me!
This is a wonderful article. Men like John are extremely rare, and you are so lucky to have him in your life. I have no doubt that there are things about you that make him so dedicated to you. This article is a great tribute to your husband, and I thank you for sharing it with your SP buddies.
All the best to you and John,
Thank you so much Marc for your insightful words! John is truly special and yes, it is in a way a tribute to this great guy who gives so much! We can drive each other crazy as husbands and wives do but it is that invisible rope that he always adjusts that keeps me going!
I know I'm extremely lucky to have my wife (JFKitty) as my hiking/climbing partner...she is probably more hardcore than I am...I can't imagine doing those things without her....it sounds like you have the next best thing...great article!
You are truly blessed to have a wife who enjoys the outdoors like you do! Sometimes I can't believe we have managed to last this long being so different but as you read, he is a big reason it has worked! He says he enjoys watching me do what makes me happy and I'm sure that's what helps unite both of you!
That question is so true, and we did ask it again sometimes. But we grew up (and out) and watched so many friends divorce and a few regret this later. Talking about things including that scary "F" word (feelings) took him years but helped. We still have to hammer out things but we also laugh a lot, lot more at ourselves now.
P.S. If you look closely at the hat he's wearing in the picture, note the dwarf's name! He chose it, not me!
wife on the rocks!
My wife prefers to garden, but has gone with me on many memorable adventures. Most important, she doesn't mind me going off with my friends to hike of climb. She likes to hike (at a more moderate pace), but doesn't go out of her way... when there is gardening to do!
I can't understand the folks who insist that a spouse must have the exact same outdoor interests... there's more to life.
I really like to hear about couples who have worked it out like you and Christine have; she does what she likes and you get out with your buddies. I am convinced that spending time together is even better if you get that time enjoying what you love.
And yeah for Christine hiking those mountains!