The Mountain Between Us
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Finding Common Ground in an Odd-Couple Marriage
My husband is fancy.
Frilly, frivolous, a modern-day dandy, Tom enjoys the finer things in life—pristine clothes, expensive meals, and luxury hotels. His bathroom routine takes over an hour each morning, with about twenty minutes devoted solely to hair. Like clockwork, as each new season rolls around, his wardrobe expands by a few trendy items.
Born and raised in blue collar New England, naturally, I find this all terribly showy and unbecoming. New England frugality and simplicity are core tennets, and they're the reason I bike commute, wear clothes until they’re threadbare, and enjoy free activities like hiking and cycling. The idea of actually paying money to parade around like a peacock in a fancy car or brand name clothes is laughable.
Our odd-couple pairing often leaves friends and family scratching their heads and asking how we manage to make it work. Until recently, the answer was mostly just to live our separate lives, keeping our interests firmly away from the other to avoid rolling eyes and heavy sighs. We’ve been making it work for fifteen years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right? Well…
Last summer, I had the brilliant idea to spend some quality time together. (Groundbreaking stuff, I know.) If I could combine my love of adventure with his love of the good life, maybe we could share an adventure trip that would interest us both. In my quest to climb the Seven Summits, one peak stands out as particularly unintimidating: Mt. Kosciuszko. Its peak at seven-thousand feet may sound formidable, until you realize that the trailhead begins more than halfway up the slope, and the gentle, rolling hills are barely steep enough to work up a sweat. If there was any mountain Tom could tackle, this was it.
The mountain’s location, squarely between Sydney and Melbourne, was an ideal selling point. Melbourne is young, hip, and diverse, a place to see and be seen. Sydney, with its high-end shops and swanky foodie scene, couldn’t have been any closer to Tom’s ideal lifestyle. With the promise that we’d explore the cities, and make time for the neighboring wine regions, he relented. We were headed to Australia.
Naturally, when climbing with a fashionista, the first step is making sure you’re appropriately dressed for the occasion. Kosciuszko requires no specialized gear, and can be climbed in everyday sneakers if someone so chooses. But Tom is most definitely not an everyday sneakers kind of guy. We set out for the local gear shop, where he purchased his very first pair of hiking boots. I then settled into the waiting area with the cluster of bored husbands, flipping through our phones while our spouses pored over the racks of wicking t-shirts and high-performance cargo shorts.
Hours later, Tom returned, arms full of color-coordinated separates. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that none of this gear was particularly necessary. If he was even moderately excited to climb a mountain, there was no way I was going to ruin the moment, New England thrift be damned.
Fashion requirements complete, we boarded our flight to Australia, landing in Melbourne and driving north to the Snowy Mountains. They say compromise is the backbone of a marriage, so I let our lack of backcountry tent accommodations slide. Instead, we settled in a cozy AirBnB, complete with full kitchen, rainfall shower, and electric fireplace. Even I had to admit, it was a smidge nicer than a tent.
Tom set to work organizing his outfits, readying his backpack with supplies, and doing a few last-minute stretches in preparations for the climb the following day. As a treat, I omitted the usual gag-inducing Clif Bars. They’re functional sure, but even hardened backpackers can only handle so much. Instead, I purchased a few luxury snacks and slipped them into his pack; smoked salami, artisan cheeses, and full bars of dark chocolate. Preparations complete, we sank into our feather soft mattress, and slept.
The morning dawned early, and I immediately dropped into the traditional summit-day routine; quick breakfast, no shower, get dressed and get up the mountain. Tom’s approach was more relaxed.
“Why aren’t you dressed?” I yelled, hauling his backpack to the car.
Tom dropped into downward dog. “Gotta do my stretches. Can’t pull a muscle,” he answered. “I still have to shower. Relax, it’ll be a while.”
I sank into a plush armchair, biting back a retort. Every muscle in my body wanted to spring into action. The thought of wasting a moment of daylight went against all my climbing instincts. Finally, freshly showered and coiffed, Tom emerged from the bathroom, ready for adventure.
We drove to Charlotte pass, the start of our twelve-mile journey. I grabbed my pack and made for the trailhead, eager to cover some ground. I’d gone about a hundred feet when I realized Tom was no longer by my side. I ran back to the trailhead, wondering if he’d somehow managed to wander in the wrong direction. Instead, he was once again contorted into a yoga pose.
“Again?” I asked, my patience at its limit. “You just did this an hour ago!”
He shrugged. “Can’t be too careful.”
I stared at him, seething, while he counted out the proper thirty seconds for each stretch. After ten minutes of pacing the parking lot, I noticed him heading for the trailhead.
“About time,” I grumbled as I caught up to him.
“Hold up,” he said. “One last thing.” He fiddled with the shiny new Apple Watch on his wrist, tapping buttons to start a workout. “There! Good to go.” He smiled at me, oblivious to how close I was to screaming in frustration, then started down the trail.
Muttering under my breath, I followed, thrilled to at least finally be moving. The trail was packed gravel, and at such a low grade, made for an easy walk. We covered the first stretch without incident, our footfalls echoing around the cold, desolate landscape. At the sound of Tom groaning, I turned to find him bent over, fiddling with his boots.
“They’re pinching,” he muttered. “Not sure how much longer I can go.”
I checked the map. We’d been walking for less than two miles.
“It’s raining too,” he said, glancing up at the sky. A light mist hung in the air. Luckily, Tom was in possession of a brand new, top-of-the-line, ultralight rain slicker. Color coordinated, perfectly fitted, and very fetching. I pulled it from his pack and tried not to throw it at him in frustration.
“You really think this is fun, huh?” he asked.
We continued along the trail, crossing a cold, icy river that snaked its way under the path, the first notable landmark of the journey. A passing hiker mentioned that three boys had died nearby, seeking shelter in a snowcave that had collapsed on top of them. The news added a touch of gravity to the climb, as though rebuking me for getting caught up in such minor annoyances. Tom was trying his damndest, participating in a sport that he cared nothing about, just to spend time with me. It was a sobering moment.
We took refuge in a small hut before the final summit climb, feasting on the treats I’d thrown in Tom’s pack. I had to admit, gourmet food in a warm, cozy hut was infinitely better than a granola bar out in the soggy woods, my typical routine. Even Tom seemed to be enjoying himself, munching on salami while warming up by the wood stove. The final push to the summit was through a few miles of snow, and he seemed pleasantly resigned to his fate, perhaps even a touch excited.
We left the comfort of the hut, turning our collars against the stinging wind and rain. Our feet slipped in the slick snow, and we grabbed onto one another for support. The rain had begun falling in earnest, streaking our faces with droplets, but Tom forged ahead, all complaints and dithering behind him now. Whether it was his sense of adventure finally catching up to him, or just a grim determination to end this nightmare, I’ll never know, but he charged toward the summit with a gusto previously unseen. At the sight of the stone summit marker, he ran ahead, slapping the stones with one had victoriously. A grin split his wet, dripping face. “We made it.”
In the days that followed, we slipped back into our normal routine. Tom signed us up for the luxurious high tea in the Sydney Harbor. I begged him to kayak Australia’s raging waters. But for that one beautiful moment, high up on Mt. Kosciuszko, we stood united. He'd challenged my belief that climbing should be an exercise in masochism, and hopefully, I gave him a taste of how rewarding life can be when you forgo unnecessary luxuries. Marriage is a long, sometimes arduous road. In the years ahead, all I can hope is that we continue to learn from one another, and grow as a couple.
Because nothing beats an adventure with your best friend.