I went on an overnight backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail with a guy I met on the internet that I had known for about 3 weeks. By the end, he was officially my boyfriend.
Crazy? Maybe. But one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.
This is a long and personal post about breaking up with my ex-fiancé, moving on, and starting a new relationship while on the Appalachian Trail. Buckle up, because this post is going to get real! Here’s the story of how all of that happened, and how Cody and I got to where we are today.
First, I need to tell you about my past relationship history. In short, I was in a long-distance relationship with a guy from Slovakia for 4.5 years. We were engaged for about a year before we finally broke up in October of 2019. I blame myself for about 98% of that breakup. I could never fully commit to marriage, prioritized other things above the relationship and was just not a good partner overall. He is a great person, and being with him shaped who I am in so many ways. I tried so hard for so long to make a decision about whether or not to get married, and even after 4.5 years, I ultimately couldn’t do it.
However, when we finally broke up, I was devastated, which shocked me. I was the one who couldn’t commit to marriage, so why was I so upset? The nine or so months after that break up were the hardest, most painful months of my life. I even tried to get back together with him about 3 months after the breakup and went to the Czech Republic to see him in person and convince him. Ultimately, he said no.
I had a really hard time for the next six months. I was angry, hurt, sad, and full of guilt and regret. I was mad at myself, at him, and at God. I wanted nothing more than to get back together with my ex, and truly felt that I knew what I wanted now and could do it right this time. I prayed for us to get back together, and it didn’t happen. I even had some mild anxiety attacks at night.
I started seeing a therapist, which helped immensely. She helped me sort through my feelings, come to terms with why that relationship didn’t work, and helped me figure out what I wanted next in life. I cannot stress how much therapy helped me, and the things we talked about are still relevant and applicable in my life now.
Things I realized/learned from therapy:
Around April of 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to start a profile on Hinge, a dating app. I definitely was not over my ex, but I went into dating with the mindset of experimentation. I hoped that talking to other guys would distract me from dwelling on my ex, but also help me to figure out what I was even looking for in a partner. I hadn’t dated anyone but my ex since high school, so the idea of dating was intimidating.
It worked. I met several really great guys on Hinge, and talked to a few of them over the course of a couple months. Talking to them helped tremendously, but I felt like none of them would make me as happy as my ex and I still wanted to get back together with him.
Until I met Cody.
Fast forward to June. I hadn’t checked my Hinge app in a few days, but decided to open it on a whim one morning before heading to the beach. I don’t remember much, but I immediately saw the profile of a guy named Cody. He had commented on one of my photos from Albuquerque and asked about the trip. On his profile, he had photos of him kayaking and hiking and wrote that he was looking for someone who liked to “spend an exorbitant amount of time outdoors”. I was hooked right there and immediately matched and messaged him. We sent a few messaged back and forth that day, and I liked him immediately. I’m pretty sure that by the end of that first day of messaging, we had decided to meet in person for a first date just 2 days later. It was quick, but I had a good feeling about it.
For the first date, I met him at his apartment where he had pizza and ice cream waiting for dinner. (Y’all, he bought me ice cream before even meeting me in person. WOW). Then we went on a sunset hike at Susquehanna State Park. We talked about all kinds of things-backpacking, past relationships, future plans, career goals, and more. It felt easy and natural to be around him, and he was down to walk through the riverbed, hike in the twilight, and watch the birds along the way.
In my Hinge profile, I put that my ideal first date was hiking, sunset, and ice cream, and that’s literally what we did.
I was leaving to go back to Ohio at the end of the week, so we decided to have a second date 2 days later.
I planned the second date. He met me at my apartment, where we ate takeout BBQ for dinner. Then we went to one of my favorite beaches to look for horseshoe crabs. We saw tons of horseshoe crabs, and lots of dead things-dead horseshoe crabs, dead fish, dead turtles, and even a dead cat. What a second date, huh? Ha! It was clear that he liked nature, animals, and the outdoors as much as I did. I officially really liked him.
I didn’t see Cody again for two weeks after the second date because I went to Ohio to visit my family. We texted throughout, and even video chatted once. During these two weeks, I asked him if he wanted to go on a 3-night camping trip with me to the Adirondacks over 4th of July weekend. He said yes. We were definitely not dating at this point and had known each other for maybe two weeks. Too soon for a weekend-ling camping date? Nahhh.
The day after I got back to Delaware two weeks later, we saw each other again. We went to the beach all day and then Cody helped me photograph a sunset engagement session. While we were walking on the beach, he spontaneously asked me if I wanted to go backpacking with him the following weekend. I had had a wedding cancel for that weekend because of COVID, which meant I was free. I had never been backpacking before, but I said yes.
Later that night, I’m pretty sure the couple at the engagement session thought we were together, even though it wasn’t official! After the session, we were trying to find somewhere to grab a quick dinner, but it was late and most places were closed because of the time or because of COVID. I suggested Taco Bell, he started laughing, and 30 minutes later, we were devouring tacos in the dark at a picnic table outside of Taco Bell. What a glorious night, but we still weren’t officially together.
This section brings us back to the start of this post. I had agreed to go backpacking, overnight, on the Appalachian with a guy I had known for less than a month who I was not dating (yet).
Would you do it? I actually didn’t think twice about it, which was a big deal to me because in therapy, I had been working on having confidence in decisions in my personal life. It was so easy for me to say yes to the trip and I felt really confident about it.
Cody loves backpacking and has done all of the Maryland sections of the Appalachian Trail (AT). I had never been backpacking, so I let him plan the trip. He picked a 10-mile stretch of the AT in Pennsylvania from Pen Mar to Chimney Rock. The plan was to hike 10 miles the first day, camp, then hike the 10 miles back the second day. Cody was such a wonderful trip planner and backpacking consultant. He sent me a packing list and helped me figure out what gear to take. He also carried the tent, stove, water filters, and food bag. I didn’t have an actual backpacking pack, so I did the entire thing with a camera backpack. It worked though!
I found out pretty quickly that I really like backpacking. It’s so great to be immersed in nature fo that long. Plus, if you want to get to know someone, go backpacking with them. Cody and I had miles and miles of quality time together to get to know each other on a deeper level, and I think the trip really fast-tracked our relationship. We had nothing to do but talk to each other all day as we hiked with very little distractions. We talked about everything from food to family relationships and travel, music, friends, dreams, and more.
We reached the 10-mile mark easily and decided to pitch our tent in a backcountry site before going another mile to Chimney Rock for dinner and sunset. At the top of Chimney Rock, we heated up Cody’s camp stove and made dehydrated bags of chicken fried rice for dinner. After a full day of hiking, that may have been the best tasting chicken fried rice I’ve ever had. It was then, while eating chicken fried ride on Chimney Rock that we decided to define the relationship. We both wanted to go all in. Be official. Pursue each other.
As we were hiking back to our campsite in the dark, we heard the call of a whip-poor-will bird cut through the quiet of the forest. It was magical (and significant. I’ll get back to this).
Back in the tent, Cody asked me to get out my phone and we deleted the Hinge app together (which is a big deal with Hinge). That was our way of making the relationship official.
He asked me “Whip-poor-will you be my girlfriend” and I said yes. It was the easiest yes I had said in a long time.
And here is a gallery of photos from some of our adventures over the past month!
As I write this blog, Cody and I have officially been together for about a month. We’re now planning a 4-week road trip from Delaware to Colorado and back again.
Crazy? Maybe. But I’m so excited and I think the trip will bring us closer.
So before we set out, here’s a little letter to you Cody:
You’ve rocked my world in such a short amount of time. It still surprises me how fast and how hard I fell for you. I vividly remember that first day we started messaging on Hinge. I was standing on the beach and we were messaging about how we both wanted to be passionate about our work. I knew that day I wanted to meet you in person. I already liked you.
You were the one who helped to finally close a chapter on some of my darkest days. You were the light at the end of the tunnel that I thought would never end. You are wicked smart, dedicated, passionate, adventurous, easy-going, optimistic, hard-working, goofy, thoughtful and incredibly kind. We think alike in so many ways, but we’re different enough that you challenge me. Remember that list of qualities that my therapist had me write down months ago? Well, I went back and looked at it and you fit every item on the list.
Thank you for going on spontaneous trips with me, for introducing me to backpacking, for pursuing our mutual love of the outdoors, and for always being down for ice cream. Thank you for going out of your way to help me, for anticipating what will make me happy, and for being unbelievably kind and supportive in every way. You bring me so much joy and inspire me to be a better version of myself.
I knew I loved you during that backpacking trip. It’s only been a month, but I already love you so much more now than I did then. I can only imagine what the next few weeks will bring.
I love you.
Let’s do this.
I'm Abby, a traveling photographer and writer, and I'm most passionate about connecting people with the outdoors, and I started this blog because I believe in the power of visual communication to move people from awareness of the outdoors all the way to stewardship of natural resources.