Last photo before Carp starts the AT: Photo by author

Dropping my partner off on the Appalachian Trail

Naked and Afraid in Amicalola Falls, Georgia

Annie Windholz
Published in
9 min readApr 26, 2024


This has been one of the hardest blog posts I’ve written. I’ve been dreading writing it, and it one hundred percent made me cry all day as soon as I started it. It’s one thing to occupy yourself with hobbies and new-found time when your partner is gone and you’re starting a new long distance relationship. It’s another thing to sit with it and ask yourself “how do I feel right now?” instead of just distracting yourself and reassuring yourself of how you want to feel.

The anxiety leading up to something is generally always worse than the thing itself for me. But I wasn’t sure if that was going to be the case this time, so the week prior was rough on us both and we were both ready to rip the band aid off and hit the road from Kansas City to Georgia.

Goodbye parties and roadtripping to Georgia: Photos by author

Things that surprised me

If all goes according to plan, my partner’s going to be gone for 1/18 of our entire 9 year relationship thus far (6 months). We’ve never been apart for more than a few weeks at most and we have no idea what long distance relationship looks like, or if we’re capable of it. But we have trust in each others ability to communicate, and also trust each other when we say we want to do something. And he said he wanted to do it! Repeatedly, for the past 9 years. And I’m nothing if not supportive of burn-it-down and build-it-all-up-new energy. So what was the hang up this time? This time I was the one being left, not the one doing the leaving. My emotions were different, but my values were the same. And that’s what I knew I had to hang onto.

I do think for long distance to work, you do need to hold up a value of how you want to feel throughout it. Things are not going to be the same as they were before, so I need to set some kind of bar of how I want to feel during this time. I’m aiming for it by following my values and reminding myself of the reasons why this time apart makes sense. And even if it doesn’t make sense to you that day, reminding yourself that not everything in life will make sense, and our job is to continue to explore the world (and our feelings). We’re not going to wallow in them, but we are going to let them pass through us without being fearful of them. At least that’s my values that I’m aiming for.

AT Trail Registration in Amicalola Falls: Photo by author

Freedom and Communication

Carp and I value freedom and communication higher than anything else in our relationship. Sometimes distraction is necessary, though. The night before I dropped my partner Carp off in the woods to hike for the next six months on the Appalachian trail, we one hundred percent distracted ourselves by watching the reality tv show, Naked and Afraid. It was excellent survivalist trashy television (enough to stanch the crying as soon the commercial break ended and these silly people started running around naked in the Arctic again). That night was really hard, though. I just wanted it to be over, I wanted him to be gone. It was too tough to be right next to him and know I wouldn’t have him around me anymore very soon.

Amicalola Falls (the start of the AT): Photo by author

Hourly Log of Anxiety

That last day together in Dawsonville, Georgia we spent with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. We took a log every hour of moods as they fluctuated. 1–10 with 10 being panic attack, and 0 being unachievable zen.

11 am: We went to buy tennis shoes for me (I had left Kansas City in slippers accidentally) and then headed to Amicalola Falls to register him for the hike a day early. Carp 6, Annie 4.

12 pm: Ben registered himself at the visitor’s center, and we all sat down for a 15 minute orientation for AT hikers (never forget the concept “Charmin Bloom” that I was introduced to). There was a lot of talk about norovirus on the trail, which wasn’t great for me. Carp 0.5, Annie 6.

3 pm: Hungry, carsick, anxious, sad. Carp 2, Annie 8.

5:45 pm I’m over it. Ready to drop him off, be done and start life instead of thinking of it without him and crying. I head to get Chipotle and supplies for my solo road trip tomorrow while Carp makes calls with family. Carp 3, Annie 9.

Me and Denise (a ranger who said she would never hike the AT) and me and Carp: Photo by author

Boot Camp

Through it all, I’m proud of myself for managing all the emotions, OCD and logics. I’m not climbing literal mountains, but I’m proud of what I’m doing even if others are comparing it to Carp’s adventure and thinking I need a similar one.

It seems for now, my adventure is boot camp exposure therapy with my dog having unexpected diarrhea inside, the basement below me filling with 6–8 inches of sewer and rainwater, and missing living with my person. But, I tell myself, this is truly my mountain to climb. I am doing this all alone. It might not be sexy or blog worthy like his adventure is, but it’s what my life is right now. I want to build mental toughness, and this past few weeks is giving me the situations to build that.

Long distance

As we left the hotel that last morning in Dawsonville, Georgia we casually went over the expectations for our new long distance relationship as we took the elevator down four floors in the Holiday Inn.

The goodbye was unceremonious, just trying to get it done and start our new lives. The road trip home for me was filled with audiobooks and feeling available to the strangers and life around me again in a way you only are when you are traveling or living solo. I drove 13 hours with our dog Loki, and settled back into the apartment.

The next morning, I woke up and cried when I looked in the mirror in the bathroom. I was the only one who was going to use that mirror for the next six months, I thought. I knew it was going to make me cry more, but I wanted to get it over with so I also read the letter he had left for me that morning.

The day was filled with weird OCD situations verging on panic attacks, which made my insecurities greater when I talked to him in the days following. I’m having my same old fucking panic attacks and he’s at cabin with adventurous new people.

I was learning what it feels like to be left while someone else pursues an adventure. I’ve done my fair share of leaving people for adventures, I’ve just never been on this side of it. It’s time to learn.

The tarot cards we drew that last morning together: Photo by author

Dog Tired

The hardest thing about the first few weeks has been Loki, our dog. He experienced all the things he hates most in rapid succession this month. We moved out of longest home he’s ever known, we took him on a road trip for 14 hours, left his best friend in the woods and then drove another 14 hours back to the new apartment he hasn’t settled into yet. It’s been a lot for little buddy. It’s also been a lot for me, and as an anxious dog he picks up on all of my emotions. Loki stress ate a bag of treats the day we got back and gave himself diarrhea for the next two weeks, then he and our porch got sprayed in pesticides which triggered my OCD. Now that that has settled and a routine was tentatively being set, the basement filled with sewage underneath my apartment and I’m camping out at my parents house for a few days in utter OCD horror.

Apart from these unfortunate events, my OCD has been easier on me since my partner has been gone. All my systems are my own, and there’s way less unexpected things happening living alone (apart from my weird luck lately). I still miss him though, even if he triggers my OCD (as any human does) and that’s some kinda love.

The Trip Back

After dropping Carp off on the Appalachian Trail I drove down a mountain, and saw buzzards feasting on roadkill at bottom of mountain. Buzzards are his favorite animal, and they were literally sucking out the marrow of life. I knew he had to do this trip- for countless reasons for him, and many reasons for me.

Driving home took me along the Trail of Tears Historic Route, viewing a golf course, a confederate flag and a Baptist church along the way. I thought about all the “southern hospitality” I had experienced in the few days in the South. How charming everyone seemed, but with such a nasty history. How would I feel here if I wasn’t white?

Trail of Tears Historic Route: Photo by author

Back at Home

When I got back home I finished unpacking the last remaining boxes in our new apartment, and dove into the books and routines of my new life living alone.

We’re taking it day by day, and we’re both neurodivergent enough that we really can’t conceive of the future. Which was why the anticipation for this was so hard, but the day to day lived reality is totally doable. I’m learning that I love the extra time alone to read lots of books (what I kinda suspected I would, but wasn’t sure til it was actually here). We have good and bad days each, and are usually each on opposite sides of this spectrum day to day (this is standard for us).

But on the whole it’s turned out that anticipation is worse than the thing. Not to say it isn’t still hard some days, but at least it’s action, not anticipation anymore. I feel like this applies to many things in my life, including my OCD fears.

I’m sitting in it, even when it isn’t the most fun, and I’m coming out a different person just like he is.

Writing this was really hard, and I’ve been delaying writing it more than other writings, simply because I knew it would make me cry. Writing this has been a meditation on a reality that I’ve been trying to bury with my hobbies (and have been successfully doing). We’re hoping by the end of the summer I’ve figured out how to deal with emotions and become a good little robot that can’t be hurt. Jkjk, but really…

Enough reflection for a while, this has been hard. Until then, see you in the books and the movement! And check out Ben’s blog as he hikes the trail!