It’s an early autumn morning in the Australian high country. I’m above the treeline, surrounded by clusters of granite boulders dotted around a grassy plain. I can see the skeletal branches of a few fire damaged snow gums on the edge of the valley below. Australia’s highest ground stretches out to the west, peaking at 2228m above sea level on Mt Kosciuszko’s modestly domed summit. My target for today though is Mt Tate, whose colourful east face rises steeply from Guthega Creek to my left.
I’m here in the Snowy Mountains on the Easter long weekend. The weather is perfect, with crystal clear Australian skies affording views for miles over this unique alpine landscape. The air is cool, but I’m warm due to the exertion of the climb. Despite perfect conditions on a holiday weekend I have the place to myself, and in fact I won’t meet another person all day. The solitude is nourishing, and there’s nothing I like more than feasting my eyes upon a new mountain landscape.
I don’t usually walk alone though. My partner in walks, as in life, is my wife Sophia, but she’s back in Korea visiting family and friends. We both hiked with our fathers when we were kids, her in South Korea, me in England and Wales.
We live in Sydney, Australia’s largest city with a population of five million people. Despite its size, Sydney is surrounded by national parks and wilderness, so there are plenty of opportunities for bushwalking (as we call it here). We’ve also hiked further afield in NSW, and in the other south-eastern states of Tasmania and Victoria. We’re proud of Australia’s ancient landscape, and fond of it’s unique flora and fauna. But that hasn’t stopped us having a sordid love affair with a much younger landscape, the mountainous southern island of New Zealand!
My favourite hiking is to climb a steep mountain from the bottom, spurred on by the anticipation of majestic views from the summit. The more I hike the more I feel connected with, and value the natural world. And the physical challenge energises me. By hiking together, Sophia and I strengthen our relationship through shared values and shared experience.
And yet sometimes I enjoy hiking alone. I find walking new routes by myself concentrates the experience of discovery. If it was a good walk I look forward to doing it again with Sophia. Being alone can be relaxing, with nothing to worry about except my own needs. I can walk at my own pace, and really push my limits, which I find exhilarating.
my wife hiking alone
There’s another dimension to hiking alone though, and that’s when Sophia hikes alone. I’m reminded that Sophia is an independent agent, and not only a component of our relationship. I imagine her enjoying a moment of solitude. Sometimes she’ll be with a friend, and as the more experienced hiker will lead the expedition. It’s usually me that leads on our hikes.
One example of this was last winter, when Sophia travelled to New Zealand with her sister. Each day I eagerly anticipated her social media posts on their walks and other adventures. If we walk together she never posts anything, because I always do. This was an opportunity for Sophia to communicate her own thoughts, opinions, and experiences. I found it fascinating. I was not only seeing her adventures, but I was also seeing her.
On one occasion Sophia and her sister climbed a snow covered Ben Lomond, the 1748m high mountain just behind Queenstown. They used crampons on the icy and snowy upper section, something I’ve never done. Sophia’s sister has sore knees, so they made slow progress, and left the summit late in the afternoon. Realising that they would not make it down before dark, they stopped at the saddle to watch a spectacular sunset over the Southern Alps. From there they turned on their head torches, and made their way down the mountain in darkness. I learned about this on social media, and marvelled at Sophia’s adventurous spirit.
seeing our partner in a new light
Seeing my wife in this way is exciting. It’s as though I’m watching her from across the room at a party. This distance affords a new perspective, so that I can see more of her than just ‘my wife’, and I like what I see.
Being in a close relationship can help us feel secure, and sharing experiences is rewarding, strengthening the bond. But we can perhaps forget that our partners are individuals: they are in fact the individual we fell in love with. By viewing them from afar, untethered from us, we can see them as though in those early days, when their individuality was enticing, and the romance strong. Some may fret over this distance, but rather than feel anxious, treat the experience as an adventure of discovery.