During a short break in their six-month, 2,155-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail, Tamara and Darin Bennett found themselves in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., yesterday, sorting out their socks--and their lives.
"Things come up in regular life and you can sit it out on the couch," said Darin Bennett, 30, a computer consultant currently between jobs. "Here, you have to talk about it. You go at it. There's not a lot else to do."
The Catonsville, Md., couple, who sold all their possessions three months ago in preparation for this hiking hiatus, have never before been together so much in their nearly four years of marriage.
"They say if you can make it on the trail and . . . you don't wind up getting divorced, you're really going to make it," said Tamara Bennett, 33, who quit her job as a hairstylist at Columbia's mall to become one of 300 or so "thru-hikers" who annually slog the length of the trail between Springer Mountain, Ga., and Mount Katahdin, Maine.
The hike was a marital quid pro quo: He wanted to move back near his family in Georgia, and she agreed to leave hers behind in Maryland--provided he'd give up clean underwear and home cooking for six months and hike the trail with her.
"Extortion," he said, laughing, as he counted their remaining Little Debbie Fudge Rounds yesterday.
Tamara was quick with a reply, her trail credo being "Hold nothing back."
"My deal only lasts six months," she said, stuffing a few PowerBars in her pack.
"Yes, but you can get showers in Atlanta," said her husband.
He adjusted his sweat-stained bandanna, his only pair of shorts, his 30-pound load. His wife's long blond hair flowed over her tie-dyed tank top. He helped her on with her backpack.
Elsewhere on the trail, the lovelorn are afoot.
At 6 a.m. yesterday, Paul Faistl, 21, broke camp--a bivouac on the lawn of the Bear's Den Hostel in Loudoun County--and spread his gear around for a look-see. Four pairs of socks. Spare shirt and shorts. Telescoping walking poles.
Faistl, a third-year student at Clemson University, has been walking 12 hours a day since May 8. His goal: Connecticut, 1,400 miles from Springer Mountain, where he started.
The only thing he's been doing more of than walking lately is thinking. Thoughts of food, showers and his longtime girlfriend fill his days.
They were high school sweethearts and have dated for three years. She's 19 and "the sweetest girl in the world," he gushes. All the same, he caught wanderlust and suggested they take a break.
Now when he calls her from the road, he senses some distance in her voice. "I think about her all the time," he said. But is she still thinking about him?
He chews on it over a breakfast of four strawberry Pop-Tarts.
"I thought it was just a break. Now I think it was a breakup."
You might remember Jessica Silberhorn's dilemma last week finding a summer bathing suit. Her mother, Diane, reports she quickly found it at the next store--a Speedo with a subtle dolphin print.
CAPTION: At the Bear's Den Hostel, Paul Faistl, left, shares dinner with fellow Appalachian Trail traveler George Riedesel. About 300 people hike the trail from Georgia to Maine each year.
CAPTION: After eight weeks on the Appalachian Trail, Paul Faistl, 21, of Columbia, S.C., says his days are filled with thoughts of food, showers and his girlfriend.
CAPTION: George Riedesel, of Wearville, N.C., takes a break at the Bear's Den Hostel in Loudoun County before setting out on the Appalachian Trail.