Romance Gap was broadcast on the stations of Vermont Public Radio on September 10, 2007, after Tim and I weathered a section hike of the Long Trail.
Like Alighieri Dante, whose Divine Comedy begins with the narrator midway through his life journey in a dark wood. When my husband and I were both in our early fifties, we found ourselves at the mid-way point of the Long Trail, the footpath that runs the length of Vermont.
Trained as a literary critic, I see metaphor everywhere, and on this five-day hike, the place names implied doom. On our third day out, we climbed the Great Cliff of Mount Horrid. The day before, we’d walked from eight in the morning until seven at night, covering fourteen miles. My husband, over six feet tall and raised in the White Mountains, is a born goat. I’m a Pisces, just under five-four, a fish out of water on a mountain path. Even weighting Tim’s backpack with thirty-five pounds to my twenty hardly slowed him.
Every hour or so, Tim waited for me. When I caught up with him on the east summit of Romance Mountain, he was reading poetry from a tattered paperback he carries. I love his love of poetry. But later, when we crossed Romance Gap, he wanted to read me a gem he’d just discovered. All I wanted was water and rest. I’d like a chance to sit and read poetry, too, but we’d only just reached mile four of our thirteen-mile day. A mile later, I crossed Sucker Brook, and realized what a sucker I’d been, leaving the planning of this trip to him. His idea of a vacation hike was beginning to feel like a forced march.
We stopped for a late afternoon swim in Lake Pleiad, just before entering the Breadloaf Wilderness. It’s the closest thing to a bath we’ve had in three days, and a welcome chance to rinse some of the sweat from our clothes. But we still had four and a half more miles to make the night’s shelter, including almost nine hundred feet of elevation up from Middlebury Gap over the crest of Burnt Hill.
I was burnt, all right, so Tim went into hyper-drive, doubling back to carry my pack. He loves playing the knight in shining armor; I hate being a damsel in distress.
When we did at last make camp, I finally spoke up, “I like hiking—in moderation,” I said.
He replied, “You mean you’d like to have fun that’s enjoyable?” This is an old joke between us.
“Yeah, a vacation that’s not just work.”
Together, we revised our plans so we’d cover shorter distances in the remaining two days, stopping shy of our goal for this trip. More profoundly, we changed our goal. Hiking the Long Trail together, we realized, is not about walking to Canada. It’s about how we can each walk at our own pace and still stay together. It’s about knowing when to speak up and how to listen. It’s about agreeing on goals. It’s about staying married.
Fifty miles from where we started, we emerged from the woods, smiling, not just because we were anticipating a good meal and a hot shower, but also because we’d crossed Romance Gap, and we were still holding hands.
Click here to listen to the original VPR broadcast.
Even though I’m attempting a through-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox – just subscribe. It’s easy: enter your email in the subscription box and then confirm your subscription. It’s entertaining, educational, and it’s free.