REI members Kathleen Ughetta and Andrew Wood were married December 15, 2018 in Lake Placid, New York. Their love story unfolded in the great outdoors. And it began in elementary school.
Ughetta remembers Wood playing high above her on the monkey bars in fourth grade at Lafayette School in Chatham, New Jersey—and Wood doesn’t. But they do both remember their first kiss a year later; after school on a dare from friends. “It was cool for me,” Wood said, “kissing a girl, getting street cred.”
While they briefly dated the year of their kiss, they truly became a couple in seventh grade. “During those in-between years, we spent most of our time with a tight-knit group of friends exploring the woods around my neighborhood, swimming in the creek and trying to impress each other on my trampoline,” Wood said. Both were drawn to the outdoors in their childhood, and shared this love with each other as they grew up together.
“I’ve been doing hikes in the Adirondacks my whole life,” Ughetta said. “I’ve grown up loving the outdoors. Andrew came along with [my family and I], and always had a taste for the outdoors himself.”
In 2011, they embarked on their first major adventure together: ticking off the 46 high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, inspired by Ughetta’s family members who had done the same in the years before. “I was a natural partner for her,” Wood said. They stuck together and continued to pursue their goal during college. Steadily climbing for five years, they finally summited their final peak, New York’s Whiteface Mountain, in 2016, a group of friends and family waiting to celebrate with them at the top.
After college, their thirst for adventure led them to fill a car with their belongings and drive off in search of wild spaces. They spent two months visiting nearly 20 national parks and forests from the Jersey Shore to California.
A rough patch during their senior year of college had been the impetus for the trip. “We started off that road trip more like friends,” Ughetta remembered. “By the end of it we were definitely back to business. It was nice the way it brought us back together.”
Along the way, Ughetta and Wood traveled 10,000 miles, crisscrossing the country on the hunt for the most perfect hiking and camping spots they could find. “We both love mountains, first and foremost,” Wood said. “We visited the biggest and most beautiful mountain ranges. A few were bucket list items like Half Dome, Yellowstone and the Tetons—the big stuff you hear about a lot, but we hadn’t experienced.”
One of the most magical places they visited were the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. There they hiked their first fourteener, Handies Peak. “That summit was the site of a big turning point for our relationship,” Wood said. “It was a perfect day and the view was incredible, and we were both very happy and in love and I guess we realized it didn’t make sense to be anything but together.”
It was while visiting Crater Lake, Oregon, that the couple met a few Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikers, as the trail passes through the national park. After meeting people making the 2,650-mile trek from Mexico to Canada, Ughetta couldn’t help but start dreaming of hiking it herself.
“We live in Manhattan, as far as you can get from the outdoors,” Ughetta said. “We both are driven people. We can lose sight of things. Then we go out for a 20-mile hike in the Adirondacks. It’s an ‘ah’ moment to think about what’s important.”
Now Ughetta and Wood are preparing for what could be their greatest adventure yet. This June they’ll relinquish their lease on their apartment in New York City, fill their packs and head to the PCT. Their honeymoon will be spent thru-hiking the long trail, southbound.
“[Being outdoors is] a low-stress way to release the restlessness, or, as Kathleen likes to say, ‘getting the willies out,’” Wood said. “I’m not very good at relaxing and sitting on a couch. Climbing a mountain that is challenging and beautiful is the best of both worlds—I get to get the willies out and enjoy how nice it is to be in a forest or on a mountain.”