A 'Love' story about two avid hikers
Perhaps having “Love” as your last name leads to no other destiny than to that of finding true love. My interview with Les Love and his wife Catherine shifted from my intention of writing an article about their hiking adventures around the world to also becoming a story of genuine respect, admiration, and love.
Les from Western North Carolina and Catherine from South Carolina were avid hikers who also enjoyed traveling and making new friends. As a newly single man in 1997, Les joined the Carolina Mountain Club to help him adjust to his new lifestyle. Catherine’s love of hiking often brought her to the challenging and beautiful trails found in the mountains of North Carolina.
In 2001, a serendipitous meeting between the two happened on a hike to Roan Mountain. There was an immediate attraction, but when the hike was over they went on with their individual lives in their own hometowns. Although the new friendship was casual, Les remembers thinking, “What a neat lady.”
It was a full year before their paths crossed again. Literally, on another hiking trip. This time the adventure was an overnight backpacking trip in Damascus, Virginia. After a long day of hiking, Les and Catherine enjoyed their dinner together by a campfire. Their conversation continued late into the night where they both realized they had met someone who had the same interests, beliefs, and were even born only two weeks apart. “We just hit it off,” Les says with a twinkle in his eye.
The two new hiking buddies stayed together throughout the remainder of the weekend. “The sparks were flying.” Les says. “I was starstruck.” Catherine adds. After this heaven-sent hiking trip there was no turning back. Les and Catherine began their relationship full of anticipation, excitement and adventure.
It was important to both Les and Catherine to instill a love of traveling in their children. They accomplished this by taking them on exotic family trips to China, Europe, and Australia. As the children grew up and moved on with their lives, Les and Catherine continued taking adventures on their own. They made the decision to go on one international and one domestic hiking trip each year, as well as a cross-country skiing trip each winter.
After three years of living this exciting life full of adventures and new experiences, Les and Catherine decided to make their relationship a permanent one. Since hiking was such an integral aspect of their lives, it only made sense that they tie the knot on a hiking trail. The Pinnacle of Craggy was chosen as the perfect spot for a late August evening wedding ceremony.
The summer day began with typical rain showers, but sunshine replaced raindrops in time for the bride, groom, their children, and preacher to hike to the top of the mountain. This beautiful hiking group climbed over rocks and tree roots, and passed by wildflowers and lush summer foliage to reach the pinnacle.
When Les first saw his bride wearing her long, white dress, his first thought was, "She's gorgeous. I'm a lucky man!” They said their vows as the sun set and the mountain breeze circled them with love.
They chose Switzerland as their honeymoon destination. Being the adventurous couple they are, they had no agenda, no itinerary, no real plan except to hike, see beautiful places, and enjoy the company of each other.
They arrived in Meringue, and from there set off to hike from town to town. They spent most of their two-week honeymoon on the Swiss Alps while also visiting the romantic spots of Zermatt, Matterhorn, and Lucerne. “It was wonderful,” Catherine says. “We love having the flexibility to go where we want. If we wanted to stay a day longer we did and then left when we were ready.”
During the 15 years of their marriage, Les and Catherine have traveled all over the world on hiking expeditions. They have been everywhere from Germany to Australia, Italy to Peru, Iceland to France to Argentina to Costa Rica to Patagonia, and many places in between. Some guided hikes involve staying overnight in huts with other hikers, while some have hostels or B&B type accommodations.
“Our favorite hike was probably the trip to the Dolomites in Northern Italy,” they both agree. “The hiking was extremely challenging and steep so we were exhausted at the end of the day. We expected the over-night accommodations to be simple huts, but they were like beautiful hotels called “Refugios. They served delicious Italian food to us. We ate our meal while gazing at the stunning views and listening to boys playing the accordion. It was magical.”
Their favorite domestic hike was to Wyoming. Here they hiked deep into the wilderness for ten days. “The back country was gorgeous, and the azure water was cold! We stayed in tents overnight and hiked on our own through the rugged trails.”
An especially memorable hike was to New Zealand. “The peaks were amazing, the water was crystal clear, and there was volcanic activity.” On one freezing cold afternoon, Les and Catherine separated from the group for a few minutes of quiet time. They sat on a rock where the visibility was nearly zero. Suddenly, the cloud began to separate and they could see that they were sitting directly in front of a massive craggy mountain. The beauty was astounding. “It was a magical moment we were so blessed to see,” Catherine says. “We were just in awe.”
Another rewarding aspect of these adventures is having the opportunity to meet like-minded men and women from all over the world. On their hike to Iceland, they met people from 16 different countries. “It’s great because you meet people who have the same interests as you do,” Les says. In fact, Les and Catherine made such good friends from Colorado on their Iceland hike, they have made three additional hiking trips together.
When they are not on exotic hiking adventures, Les and Catherine enjoy local hiking excursions. As members of the Carolina Mountain Club, they frequently worked on the trails with a group of dedicated and experienced “trail maintainers.” In 1998, Les realized that while this devoted group went out nearly everyday to work on trails, many people couldn’t participate because of their jobs. With this thought in mind, he came up with the idea of quarterly workdays held on a Saturday. Anyone interested is welcome to join the crew.
“The club maintains over 400 miles of trails in North Carolina by string-trimming, clearing ditches, lopping along the sides, and some rock work,” Les explains. “At the end of a work day, you can look back and see your progress. It’s a great, rewarding feeling.” In addition to this, Les’s dedication to hiking and the mountains has led him to adopt six miles of the Snowball and Mountain to Sea Trails at Craggy Mountain.
The next work day is scheduled for October 13 at Mt. Pisgah. Everyone is invited to participate. There is no experience necessary as an experienced crew will be there to supervise and train those new to this type of work. You are welcome to come work, learn, make new friends, and experience the day whether you are a member of the Carolina Mountain Club or not.
Les and Catherine are also “hike leaders.” They find new trails to explore, map them out, and then lead groups of hikers to new adventures. “One of the great things about being in the Carolina Mountain Club is that you are always learning of new hiking trails to explore,” Les says.
Thanks to hiking, Les and Catherine lead a full, active, happy life. “We’ve seen the tallest mountain in France, glaciers and waterfalls in Iceland, and the Ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. “It’s every man’s dream to find someone like Catherine,” Les says. “I call her my “recreational partner,” he adds with a smile. Their next great hiking adventure will be to Norway. I know they will create beautiful memories and have amazing, love stories to share when they return home.
For more information on the October 13 Mt. Pisgah Trail Rehabilitation Day, contact Les at email@example.com.