Guest post written by: Brooke Jackson
Photos by: Mitch Pittman
The great thing about encountering your future adventure partner in the backcountry on a whiteout tale of misery is they sure get to meet the real you.
Finding love isn’t easy, especially in the modern dating world. Although a plethora of apps exists to help pave the road for romantic encounters, technology comes as a double-edged sword. According to statistics found on eHarmony’s website, 40% of adult Americans use online dating, and 53% lie on their public profile.
Not a great first impression, huh?
So you make the decision to ditch the screen and head out into the real world to find love. Heck yeah! But where do you start looking? And what the hell do you say when you meet someone you might like?
Well, another interesting fact eHarmony discloses about modern dating is that 64% of individuals say one of the most important things they are looking for in a partner is a common interest. So for all you wandering spirits searching for your adventure buddy for life, here is a guide for finding love on your next backcountry endeavor based upon the very true tale of how my fiancé and I met in the mountains of Washington:
1. Dress for Function Over Fashion
When you’re heading into the backcountry, preparation is key. Personally, I never wear make-up when embarking on an adventure, and my outfits tend to consist of whatever least offensively stinky clothes are in the back of my Jeep.
I focus on what is important—being practical, functional and comfortable.
Despite what the fashion industry may say, being a badass in the backcountry adorned in tech pants, a tech top and trucker hat is attractive as hell. At least, that’s apparently what Jason thought when he saw me slogging up the 2,000 feet of elevation gain on Aasgard Pass in Washington.
He was descending down the Pass from the Core Enchantments while I was attempting to climb up in a whiteout storm. Despite heavy rain causing slick scree, and granite rockfall thundering in the background, Jason couldn’t help but notice me struggling up the rugged terrain in my tour guiding signature hiking sandals—Chacos.
Maybe practical isn’t the word he thought of for my outfit of choice on this day… But hey, it still got his attention.
2. Be Yourself
The great thing about encountering your future adventure partner in the backcountry on a whiteout tale of misery is they sure get to meet the real you. And that’s great! You get to cut the bulls*** small talk and go straight to the part of making sure your humor isn’t too offensive or personality too, uh, bold?
Because who is putting on a facade when it’s pouring rain on a mountainside and you’re trying not to die? Not me.
So Jason, being the smooth-talker he is, thought of quite the opening line as I struggled to crawl up the trail towards him. In a slight chuckle, he smiled and asked: “Chacos? Really?”
I quickly responded to his condescending line with a curt “F*** you,” and continued to walk by.
Sure, not the most romantic first conversation, but this encounter quintessentially captures our communication style in the backcountry, and in life. While he is sarcastic and sometimes a butthead, I am possibly offensive and much more curt when I’m struggling.
I’m not saying these are our best qualities, but we learned them about each other from the start.
3. Dine Like You Mean It
After I had passed Jason, a massive rockfall occurred too close for comfort, and I decided to bail on my objective of climbing Aasgard Pass that day. I was solo-hiking and the conditions no longer seemed safe. After turning around, I happened to pass by Jason and his partner once again. We exchanged a few more lines (much more civilly) and decided to all hike out together.
Once in town, the group decided to grab the necessary post-backcountry meal: burritos and beer! Knowing each other for less than 24 hours, we got to see each other stuff our faces with steamy hot Mexican food and chug beautiful golden suds until foam dripped down our chins.
Forget white table cloth dinners and fancy wine—this is the best first meal I can recommend.
4. Test the Adventurous Waters
After meeting your partner in the backcountry, the next step is planning your own adventure together!
This is a great chance to find each other’s strengths and act as true partners on the same mission. How do you divide the tasks? Does each partner carry their own weight (literally and figuratively)? Do you have fun when you’re alone in the backcountry together?
Our first private suffer-fest happened less than a week after meeting. We went on a 32-mile backpacking trip in Alberta, Canada to photograph fall foliage. Really, the trip was a disaster. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say things did not go as planned. Yet what I remember most is how much Jason made the trip an unforgettable experience. When things took a turn for the worse, he found a way to make it funny. We laughed at our failures and rejoiced in the smallest successes.
And four years later, on or off the trail, we still do the same thing.
5. Go Small Then Go Home
Somehow, at the end of our disastrous Canada endeavor, Jason still wanted to spend time together. With flights already booked to Thailand, he offered to buy me tickets to go with him. I declined, explaining “I don’t follow boys.”
The next month we spent apart. While he climbed in Thailand, I drove around the West Coast while living in my Jeep. Eventually, Jason asked if he could change his flights to come back early to meet me on the road and I said yes.
We met in San Francisco and began a month of living together in my car. Disclaimer: My Jeep was not some fancy built-out car that you see on Instagram. Our sleeping arrangement was my back seats folded down, and my climbing crash pad laid on top as our “mattress.”
By the time our road trip came to an end, moving into an apartment together seemed like a breeze. So much personal space!
Lesson learned: If you can survive living in a tiny space together, whether a tent or a car or whatever, then you can probably survive moving in together.
6. Never Let the Adventures Stop
Over the following years, our calendars have been full with adventures. I guess eHarmony got it right—finding a partner with common interests is awesome. But that doesn’t mean all your interests have to be the same.
While some adventures we plan and go on together, others are personal experiences. When I plan a goal that is for me to accomplish, Jason is there to support me in whatever capacity I need him. And the same goes when roles are switched.
He helps my photojournalism career by being the shoulder I cry on when editors reject my ideas. And he is the voice that tells me to get back up to try again, while I am often the persistent voice reminding Jason to eat and take time for himself while pursuing a demanding career path.
Just because you are partners doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your individual pursuits. You can love suffering and celebrating together, but remember to celebrate each other’s personal victories, too.
I Now Pronounce You, Suffer Buddies for Life
A few months ago, Jason and I planned an adventure that has been on our bucket list for awhile: to camp together in the Core Enchantments.
See, the Core Zone (which is above the mountain pass we met on) has a very competitive lottery system for scoring an overnight permit. And by competitive, I mean it’s something like a 1-in-100 chance.
So when Jason found out he was one of the lucky few to land a spot in the Core, we had no choice but to plan an epic backcountry weekend!
With up to six people allowed per permit, we rallied a troop of our diehard backcountry pals and headed out. Carrying hefty backpacks and a leisurely demeanor, it took our troop two days to reach the top of Aasgard Pass.
After setting up camp and indulging in a quick alpine snooze, we all scurried up a neighboring no-name peak to watch the sunset on our first night in the magical mountain range. As Jason and I watched as the sun dipped low, basking the hike we’d met on with golden light, he got down on one knee and asked if I would be his partner for life. Through tears and weird giggling, I said “yes.”
Because at the end of the day, whether good or bad, Jason is the best adventure buddy I could ask for.
And it all began deep in the backcountry of Washington, on a rainy trail, in my tattered pair of beloved Chacos.