“What’s the Australian equivalent of Ibuprofin?” I asked my husband, handing him Band-Aids out of a medicine chest in a hut in the middle of the Tasmanian wilderness. “Is it paracetamol?” I said, flipping through various tiny white medicine packets stored in a Dixie cup.
My husband winced and limped back to a bench to tend to his blistered feet. He’d been pretending they weren’t bothering him, but four days and almost 40 miles into our traverse of Tasmania’s Overland Track, his feet weren’t playing along.
“Hey, your legs are still bleeding from the leeches,” he said, pointing to the rivulets that traced their way down my left calf. We’d learned that leeches secrete a chemical to prevent your blood from clotting while they fill up. You can’t feel them latch onto you and it doesn’t hurt to have them there, but once they fill up and drop off it, it takes ages for the bleeding to stop.
“I know,” I said, dapping at the blood with a tissue. “Those little Tasmanian bastards.”
It was the most romantic vacation he and I had been on together in years.
When my husband and I met in our broke-ass grad school days in Arizona, much of our courtship took place while hiking. The price was right, we were in magnificent physical condition (and taking it for granted as only 20-somethings will) and, as New York natives, transfixed by the geology and topography of the Southwestern desert. We spent part of our 1992 honeymoon hiking in the Pacific Northwest, through the Olympic Peninsula rainforest and up a couple mountains. My favorite wedding photo isn’t the one the photographer took of us near the altar flowers. It’s the one I took of our feet at the end of the honeymoon, clad in the hiking boots we’d exchanged as wedding gifts, already worn in and covered with mud one week into married life.
I just assumed we’d always hike a lot, discovering new trails and sights together, falling into the relaxed conversation that comes up on the trail or lapsing into shared appreciative silence at the nature around us. Hiking was our love language.Along with four other hikers and our two guides, we’d climbed Marion’s Overlook, a section so steep that we had to pull ourselves hand over hand along chains attached to the rock while our feet scrabbled for footing.
Then came two daughters, demanding careers, aging parents, a coast-to-coast move, dog ownership, the occasional rodent problem and all the rest of the blah blah blah that is a full life, if you’re lucky. And we are. We are unbelievably lucky to have 25 years of this normal, stressful, hectic marriage.
But it has mostly been a marriage without hiking anything more strenuous than a city park trail. And on the cusp of our 25th anniversary, with one daughter out of the nest and the other testing her wings, I wondered whether we could become fluent in hiking again. Whether in our we could still find the connection on the trail that had cemented us together in the first place .
So I booked us on this Tasmanian adventure halfway around the globe. The Overland Track is an iconic Australia walk through pristine alpine bush and rainforest on the island-state 150 miles off Australia’s southern coast. Hikers can do the walk independently, schlepping tents and food along the 50-mile route and staying each night in rustic huts run by the Tasmanian park service. Or they can book through Tasmanian Walking Company, which operates its own parallel set of eco-huts, well provisioned with food, Tasmanian wine and hot (albeit limited-to-5-minute) showers. Hikers only carry their own clothes because there are beds with mattresses in each hut and knowledgeable guides to do all the cooking.
Did I mention we’re in our 50s? We went with Option B.
Even so, by day four and with our medical examination pas de deux, we were feeling plenty accomplished. Along with four other hikers and our two guides, we’d climbed Marion’s Overlook, a section so steep that we had to pull ourselves hand over hand along chains attached to the rock while our feet scrabbled for footing. We’d marveled at expansive views of a glacial plain that our guide, Tom, described like this: “By day four, you’ll have walked beyond the horizon.” And we’d surprised a couple of wallabies up on the “Japanese teagarden” section of the Mount Doris climb.
All while carrying 30-pound backpacks. Even if you’re only hauling your own clothes, the Overland Track’s theme song could be “Four Seasons In One Day,” and the weight of those rain pants, knit hats and gaiters add up. We may have been limping, bleeding and unable to rise from a seated position without help from at least two other people, but we knew enough to feel gratitude that our bodies could still bring us this far.
More importantly, that little flame of shared discovery while hiking was roaring back aflame. At night, sitting around with the other hikers or lying in our beds in the few moments before blackout sleep overcame us, we talked about where we’d like to hike next. The Three Capes on Tasmania’s southern coast? The Larapinta Trek on the Australian mainland? Patagonia? Anyone who has been partnered for a long time knows just how difficult it is to come by brand new discussion topics; we had nothing but new topics for a week. We compared hiking sock brands, discussed features we’d want in our next pair of boots and debated whether our borrowed walking poles were useful or just more to carry.
So while my kitchen is now decked in new dishtowels featuring bright Tasmanian waratah flowers and I’m stirring Tasmanian Leatherwood honey into my tea and our quickly bonded group of new Australian hiking friends emails regularly, the sweetest souvenir I brought home from our 25th anniversary adventure was reassurance that there is still more adventure to come.