This is the story of how a wild, small-town Arizona boy and a southern girl with deep Georgia roots somehow managed to end up together, thanks to a tiny Christian university on the pacific ocean...
How We Met
Mike and I met February 19th, 2011, at an Outdoor Leadership retreat in McCain Valley, California. We learned each other’s names while standing around a campfire, with snow under our feet and mountains looming behind. One of our first moments together was sitting in a tree, as shown below.
The Next 10 Months
Before we actually started dating, Mike and I spent time together climbing, canoeing, eating burritos, hiking mountains, and talking about our mutual interests in biology, photography, the outdoors, food...the list goes on. Highlights from these months include:
The book 1984, which Mike gave me in April of 2011. This was the first of many gestures of interest that proceeded our dating relationship....
In September of 2011, Mike and I both participated in a trip to the Colorado River, where we canoed for 2 days, cliff jumped, and swam in the cool water. It was here that Mike won a bet that I would hurt myself at some point on the trip. Sure enough, a flying football resulting in a bloody nose meant burritos was on me. The resulting burrito run was our first time intentionally hanging out alone.
I think Mike and I had to do something really crazy together before we actually started dating, maybe to solidify that we were both as badass as the other:) The result was a 22 mile day hike of Mt Whitney (on a school night) with three of our close friends. Other similar events during this time included climbing in Joshua Tree and Alabama Hills.
Our First Date
In early November, 2011, Mike and I were hanging out in the biology labs at Point Loma, and he showed me some of his favorite music, The Alchemy Index by Thrice. The conversation that followed led to a google search of the band’s concert schedule, which showed that Thrice was to play their last concert ever, that weekend, in San Diego. So on 11/11/11, Mike and I went to dinner, the concert, and a movie at a friends apartment. Best night ever.
On December 5th 2011, Mike asked if he could kiss me already. Finally we admitted to our mutual feelings, and made our relationship “official”.
Another 10 Months
Again, Mike and I had a 10 month growing period, this one spanning 1 1/2 semesters of school, lots of big life decisions, and a nasty summer apart. From January to April 2012, Mike and I got to enjoy just being together as we led our different everyday lives, with myself being in school and Mike working for Biologos. A Grand Canyon Backpacking trip broke up the routine that Easter break.
May was probably the most defining month of our relationship before our engagement. When I had to end our 20 day through-hike of the John Muir Trail after only a week because of swelling Achilles tendons and extreme homesickness, Mike made the decision to leave the hike with me. The extra time we got from this however meant that Mike and I could fly back to Ga and he could finally meet my parents and brother.
The rest of the summer was spent apart, as I had an internship with an outdoor ministry in Wyoming. That summer is documents in dozens of love letters we wrote back in forth as I spent 40 days backpacking and mountaineering through the backcountry of the Wind River Range. It was during this summer that Mike and I realized we could never be apart for so long again, and he withdrew his medical school applications to everywhere except the University of California: San Diego, ensuring we could be together for my senior year of college.
(Please excuse the break in continuity: Mike is your new narrator!)
In the days and weeks leading up to that Saturday, October the 13th, Emily and I had reopened the discussion of when we might get married. With a new certainty that we were both to spend the next year in San Diego, our previous reasons to postpone marriage began to evaporate. The idea of a 2013 wedding began to sink in, and I purchased the ring I had found during the summer while Emily was away; I called Emily’s father and asked to marry his daughter.
Our conversations soon discussed the wedding as given, and I found it my task to surprise a very much suspecting Emily with a proposal. No longer did I need a mere perfect proposal; I needed one that felt uncontrived, that might go unnoticed before springing up with memorable punctuation. I told Emily that it would happen when she least expected it, and I was right.
After a wonderful day of climbing with Dr. Mike Dorrell and his son, Mike and his wife offered to let us use their vacation spot in the nearby mountain town of Julian – known for its charm and apple pie. Outside Julian, there are several hikes to mountain tops where, on very clear days, it’s possible to see the 70 or so miles to the city of San Diego, the coast, and beyond. I sensed my opportunity. With heavy rains predicted for Thursday the 11th and a cloudless weekend, the air was primed for fun hikes and sweeping vistas.
Emily and I drove up to Julian on Friday night, and slept cosily in the Dorrells’ place. In the morning, we went out to breakfast and I texted Tim my plan. We took our time getting ready, and I did my best to appear nonchalant – when the winding roads started making her carsick, I even offered to skip our hike (hoping she would decline, as she did). Adding to the unplanned appearance, we made several wrong turns (admittedly unintended) trying to find the lesser-known hike I had very intentionally selected for its low traffic and straight look west.
At the trailhead, I slipped the ring box into a hidden pouch of my Camelbak, and we began our hike. Along the trail, everything was green and beautiful. As we climbed, we took turns telling stories, sprinting ahead, and pausing to stare at the growing views. Nobody else was around.
As we reached the summit, we were greeted with a crystal panorama of mountain tops framing the distant shimmering city and ocean. We pointed west, naming Coronado, Point Loma, Balboa Park, and several more of our favorite landmarks. And I did not propose.
We sat down just in front of the summit rocks to escape the wind, and we began eating beef jerky and Clif Bars, staring at the view and talking some more. And we sat for more than half an hour, and I did not propose.
As we finished our food, I began to steer the conversation toward our love for each other, and to our desire to get married. With a look of confident matter-of-factness that I will never forget, Emily cocked her head and casually mentioned, “You know, I’m going to start a list of times you could have proposed and didn’t. And this it going to be the first.”
I smiled and suggested, “What if I am going to propose right now?”
“I know you aren’t...” she smiled back, still with confidence.
With great theatrics I reached into my Camelback, pulling the ring box toward the opening. I pulled out my closed fist and asked again, “Are you sure you I’m not going to?”
“Yes, I’m sure!” She smiled, but didn’t seem so sure as she made me open my empty hand. “See! There’s nothing in it.”
I slowly moved my hand back toward the pack, where a ring box was sitting. She saw it. “No, I am going to...” I slid myself a little lower so I could face her. I slowly took the box and opened it. “Emily Shafer, will you marry me?”
A quick “yes” then tears, and hugs, followed by her making sure: “I said yes, right?!” We heald each other and looked at the ring, and talked even longer, letting the moment sink in.
We climbed down and ate dinner at Julian’s nicest restaurant in celebration. Afterword, without making a single phone call or sending any text messages, we returned to the Dorrell place and slept. It wasn’t until the next morning, as we drove back, that we began making the first calls.
We could not be more excited to spend the rest of our lives together :)