He is faster, stronger. He picks higher peaks, crazier adventures. On our first weekend getaway, in Glacier National Park, it was only at the parking lot where I learned there was no trail up that jagged, rocky peak, and there was a questionable Class 4 scramble to the final precipice. It was a long day. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t dare.
Struggling on Going-to-the-Sun Mountain in Glacier National Park (Photo: Jennifer Duffield White)
When I met Don, I thought I’d met someone who lived an active outdoor lifestyle just like me. But he took adventure to a whole new level. I constantly found myself out of my comfort zone — learning how to rock climb with a fear of heights, wimpering in the Teton mountains with a borrowed avalanche transceiver strapped to my chest having never skied deep powder in my life.
Having an adventurous significant other can be thrilling — and terrifying. (Photo: Thinkstock)
When your significant other tests your comfort zone on new adventures, here are a few lessons I’ve learned:
Get Beta: “It’s a pretty easy hike” means nothing. Don now feeds me specifics of what to expect: distance, elevation gain, cliffs that will give me vertigo. Uncertainty tends to freak out us humans, and this kind of beta at least allows me to sustainably manage my pace, food, and water.
Jennifer’s all smiles as she approaches the Grand Teton in Wyoming (Photo: Robert Garrity)
Fuel Up: Calories equal sanity. I have deduced that I have approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes of exercise before I have a complete bonk (read: meltdown) without food, often accompanied by swearing, sometimes tears. My grumpiness magically disappears when treated with sugar. We both have a lot more fun if I keep a pack of Sport Beans in my pocket and a stash of food in my pack.
Snacks can mean the difference between a nice day outdoors and an adventure in grumpiness (Photo: Thinkstock)
Accept Your Circumstances: Dangling from a rope 30 feet off the ground, having a minor panic attack (remember that fear of heights?), I muttered, “I don’t (freaking) want to be here.” I felt like the inadequate girlfriend at the crag. The truth is, in the middle of it all, you have to accept the conditions, the rain, the cliff, the four miles to go. Those won’t change. Neither will your physical fitness or skill level on that particular day. Focus on what you can do. Focus on what your partner can do to help you.
Once the stress of the climb is over, Jennifer and Don are free to enjoy postclimbing beverages at Camp Four in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Annie White)
Learn Something: It turns out I’m willing to take rock-climbing advice from Don. But when it comes to skiing, it quickly disintegrates into an exhibition in bad communication skills, and it’s not all his fault (see below). The time Don gave me a six-week Women’s Only Ski Clinic, it pretty much changed our entire winter. I started to love skiing again; he gained a better ski partner. It was worth every penny.
Jennifer’s love of skiing didn’t come easily, but her generous ski partner helped a lot.
Be a Good Student: Sorry to say, but sometimes what you blame on a bad teacher is actually you being a bad student. I’m embarrassed at how many times I whined, “That’s what I’m doing” or “I can’t” or “I’m trying!”
Separate Yourselves: You don’t have to do everything together. We take climbing trips together, but I don’t climb every day — I’ll hang out reading at camp, go on a run, or find a quiet spot to write. I let him have long, brutal adventures of his own, without me. And I love ditching the boys for a ladies’ backcountry ski day.
Sometimes it’s fun to ski with just the girls. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Take Over: It’s easy to let him do all the planning and decision-making. You both need to realize that not every outing should test your limits. Step up and plan an adventure you want. Trail running is the thing I know best — my comfort zone — and when I persuaded Don to sign up for the HURL Elkhorn, his first trail race, I took charge of the summer’s training.
Montana is home to great trail running and destination races. (Photo: Jennifer Duffield White)
Stop Judging Yourself: I’m my harshest critic. I am embarrassed if I finish a mountain bike climb 200 yards behind him. Don reminds me I’m a better hill climber than many guys he rides with, but he doesn’t mind waiting — for me or them. Tuck your ego away, because the truth is that being an adventurer isn’t about who’s best or how high you climbed.
Finishing first isn’t what outdoor adventure’s about. This is. (Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park/Photo by Jennifer Duffield White)
Smile: Being an adventurer is about being out there, not quite knowing how it will turn out, and still enjoying it. Don stops in the trail and waits for me. He sees I’m tired. “Isn’t this awesome?” he asks, a sweeping vista of Yosemite Valley below us. (He says this a lot.) He reminds me we’re not here to prove our proficiency; we’re here for the journey.
Kicking back at Yosemite Falls
Writer and editor Jennifer Duffield White lives in Montana, studies mountain living, and is at work on a novel.