Bright spring sunshine creeps through the lace curtains, throwing a filigree of shadows across the wood floor and spilling over the rose comforter of our canopy bed. I wake to the aroma of fresh coffee wafting beneath the French doors of our suite, and stretch luxuriantly across the deep, soft mattress, anticipating the morning banquet that will soon be delivered to our room.
Victoria, my wife of seven years this very morning, slips out of bed, returning a moment later with a tray laden with sugar, fresh cream, and a tall, steaming carafe of coffee. Life is good.
Vic sets the tray on the small breakfast table and murmurs, "Don't forget to wear your hiking boots."
Ah, yes, today we're going hiking.
Life isn't quite so good as I'd supposed.
Checking the state of the union
Our annual state-of-the-Perkins hike began on our second anniversary as we were strolling along the beach in southern Oregon, holding hands as we remembered aloud the highlights of our first year together. Both of us come from a ministry background and are firm believers that our marriage is a house of ministry. The better we maintain the house, the better it can withstand the occasional storm.
Now it's an entrenched activity of our annual getaway, complete with notepads, pens, and PDAs (that's Personal Digital Assistants, though Public Displays of Affection are often involved, as well). It's our opportunity to sum up the events of the last 12 months and set goals for the coming year.
Vic: "What do you think about focusing on paying off our credit cards and then splitting those finances between our car payment and saving to have a baby?"
Me: Gasp … Wheeze … Gasp.
It's a very productive time.
Did I mention it also tends to include a grueling, sweating march up some nearly non-existent goat-trail to look at a long, gray stretch of ocean, a cascading waterfall or, heaven help us, another lighthouse?
Each year we swear that we've learned our lesson, that next year we'll find a nice spot with an ocean view to sit and compare notes from our marital ledgers, sipping take-out cappuccinos, and enjoying the beauty of God's creation as it was intended, from the padded comfort of bucket seats. Apparently a year is too long to remember such things.
Apparently we're morons.
Within five minutes of dropping our bags at the bed and breakfast, we're looking at maps and grilling our innkeepers on the local hiking scene.
Now to some, this behavior might indicate that we're avid hikers, or at least that our average weekly walk is farther than from our driveway to the living room couch. Given the eagerness with which we research, some would think that hiking was our thing.
Some would be wrong.
I'd categorize our annual death march—I mean, hike—into three distinct parts:
(1) The first mile, or the "This isn't so bad" phase;
(2) Halfway there, or the "I can't feel my legs!" phase;
(3) The halfway back, or "Thank heavens, the end's in sight!" phase.
The agony and the ecstasy
Three hours after our morning coffee and deep into phase 2, we're skirting the muddy edge of a dizzying cliff-side trail that leads to the point of Cape Lookout. Wheezing and scraping pine needles from our dragging tongues, we watch the surf far below us cheerfully pulverize granite into sand.
Viewing the peninsula from Highway 101, it certainly didn't seem that far to the point, and it looked as level as, well, a level. Even the maps at the trailhead showed only a chipper little dotted line leading through the evergreen forest.
What the chipper line on the trailhead map didn't elaborate upon, however, was that the peninsula forms a steep-sloped ridgeline that runs, like a rocky spine, all the way out to the point. The trail crisscrosses this ridge, dropping up and down the slope on either side, a looping zigzag that gains and loses altitude like a seagull on crack. To the hiking layman (such as myself) what this freely translates to is:
Forty-nine percent of the trek is spent hiking straight up, your bulging eyeballs inches from the muddy slope, your calves groaning and popping as you water the poison oak with your sweat.
Forty-nine percent of the trek is spent hiking straight down, clutching desperately at various species of prickly flora and driving your gradually bruising toes into the nose of your boots until they resemble a wad of purple silly-putty.
Two percent of the hike is spent staggering along the crest of the ridge, sucking wind and making feeble attempts to communicate the physical, emotional, and material needs of your blissful wedded union—while trying not to throw up.
By the time we reach the point (which, by the way, is a single, lousy bench overlooking the same stretch of ocean we could see from the highway), I've pretty well run out of steam. Huffing like a heifer with triplets, my shrieking gasps for oxygen strip leaves and needles from the surrounding trees.
Now it's time to sit back, and, as the thundering of our hearts slowly fades, pull out our notepad and talk about our last 12 months—what God has done in us and for us, and our hopes for the future.
We always begin by focusing on the positives. We share our favorite memories from the past year, and what we admire most about each other. Next, we move on to goals: Did we hit last year's targets? Should we modify the unmet goals for the coming year? What new accomplishments should we strive for? Some are financial or physical goals, but we make sure to set spiritual ones as well.
(Note: we also have a monthly follow-up on or around our anniversary date when we grab some sushi and evaluate how we're progressing in each area, celebrating the victories and tweaking trouble areas. These "check-ups" keep us moving toward our goals and reward us for the ones we're meeting.)
Finally, we hold hands and end in prayer. Vic prays for God's wisdom and protection on our marriage, while I offer supplication that a helicopter will land nearby and offer a ride back to the car.
Then we start the long, slow hike back to civilization, discussing just which 4-star restaurant we'll go to next year (because, of course, we're never going to do one of these hikes again), and promptly forget to write that down.
On the way back we pause to soak in the beauty and power of nature and take some photos, while guzzling
the last of our water, flinging rocks at the irritating, noisy, chipper starlings, and seriously considering throwing ourselves into the sea. At last I drag myself up the final switchback and see the parking lot, and our car, wavering before my eyes like a mirage. Like a cheeseburger to a starving teen it calls to me, and I limp gratefully across the blessedly smooth, flat asphalt.
Was the hike worth it? Maybe not.
Was coming together to evaluate and celebrate our relationship? Always.
With a little work, a lot of love, and prayer, this can be the best year of our marriage, and I'll learn to appreciate more than ever the wonderful gift that God has given me in my wife. Next year at this time we'll rejoice in the goals we've met and the memories we've created. Assuming I live to reach the car.
Perry P. Perkins is the author of numerous novels including Shoalwater Voices and Just Past Oysterville p> (both Wingspan Press). He and his wife, Victoria, have been married 10 years and live a quiet life of servitude to their basset hound, Phlash.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.