Virginia’s Franklin Cliffs Hike and Camp

It’s April Fool’s Day — a time for jokes and pranks and hoaxes.  A time to instill doubt, second-guesses, concern, dare I say a smidge bit of worry.  A time when trusting individuals are turned to fools, and loyal individuals become tricksters.  April Fool’s Day — a time when . . . let’s be honest . . . a time when Andrew proposed to me.

That’s right.  On this day — exactly one year ago — Andrew knelt down on a windy, freezing rocky cliff in the mountains to ask me to marry him.

You see the videos, hear the stories where the female gasps, “Are you joking?!  Tell me truly if you are serious!” and truth be told I have found them ridiculous.  Of course he is serious — Look at him!  He is on his knee!  He is tearing up!  He gave you a sentimental speech!  He even has a ring!  Yep, I once found those females frustrating, annoying, silly . . . that is until my boyfriend chose April Fool’s Day to pop the question.  Now I understand there are circumstances that can warrant such behavior.

So this post is a look-back at this zany proposal and this equally quirky and untraditional guy I said, “Yes” to because my life hasn’t been the same since meeting him and somehow, he finds a way to keep me on my toes every day, just like April Fool’s Day.

* * * * *

At the time, Andrew’s six-month stint in America was over.  He was living again in his home country of England.  Previously, he had been in the US for work — His English job had given him an opportunity to stay in America to help a company improve their research capabilities.  It was during this blip in time — this itty-bitty moment when monumental meant-to-be events just align — that I met him and him, me.  Magic and, without knowing it, we needed each other.

In England, he had come out of a ten-year relationship that ended with his girlfriend leaving him for someone else.  At the same time, I had locked myself in my apartment following my divorce.  Our lives were parallel — countries away — so that several months had passed for both of us where our lives were stagnant and, around the same time, we chose to begin to branch out.  He came to America, moved into my apartment complex, and was keen to make friends, explore.  I was eager to get away; I yearned to walk — walk as far as I could, walk until I couldn’t walk anymore.  That’s when I determined I would become a hiker.  The only problem was I had no idea what I was doing so I made a post on our apartment website, asking if anyone wanted to hike with me.  Several people answered, including Andrew: “Hi, I did [hike] when I was home.  I’m from the U.K., here for six months.”

I remember telling my family how this was the first time I could recall feeling happy since my life fell downhill and off-course.  I wanted to meet this Brit — I knew conversation would be easy because I could ask him about the UK and about hiking there.

I began planning the hike, inviting those that said they could go the following weekend —
two people from India and one from Spain (my dear Usua), and we all trekked our merry way to the mountains for our hike at Crabtree Falls, which was beautiful by the way.  It was also where — when I was standing at the highest point on that trail — I realized I forgot the Brit.

He likes to joke that he had waited for my message on hiking plans but as the days slid by, he said he had given up: “I thought you’d either changed your mind about wanting to hike or you didn’t want to hike with me.”  A week slid by and, depending on the day you ask him what he did next, his answer changes from either his tale of woe: “I just assumed you wouldn’t get back in touch — and I was too shy to message you — so I went to drown my sorrows in beer” to this top-notch attitude: “I just assumed you wouldn’t get back in touch so I said, ‘Well fuck it.  I’m going for beers.”

That was Friday night.  The next day — the day of my hike — I sent a private message of apology his way: “Hi Andrew! I am the worst — I forgot to post a public follow-up message for the hike.  I remembered today when we were there so I wanted to apologize.  I don’t know how often you hike, but I want to go often. Would you still be interested in one? Let me know!”

He kept me waiting.  Then responded days later.  We messaged back and forth, and those messages ended with him casually inviting me to join him Friday night for his regular burger and beers to “chat about the different hikes and places to go.”  He ended with “When do you fancy?” and I smiled, finding it was amusing that there are people in the world that actually use the word ‘fancy’ in every day speech.  That’s when I heard myself laugh, which was startling; I had forgotten that sound.  I remember feeling scared to embark solo, to socialize — I hadn’t done this in years — but I felt a strange drive that I should go: Something really amazing could happen, a voice kept telling me.  So I figured what the heck.  If he is crazy, I’ll leave — in the middle of eating or drinking.  I have no connection to him, he is not even a friend; he is a stranger that may become a potential hiking partner.  Plus, he has to leave in six months so there is zero chance for strings to be attached, which is absolutely perfect.  And, without fully realizing it, I found my fingers typing a time to meet, typing words that I would go.

So we met at a small dive-of-a-bar, which I blogged about before in my “I Pushed Him Out of a Plane” post.  We stayed until the bar closed and then we walked around the city until 3:30 a.m. talking and laughing — both of us were laughing.

From that moment on, we were inseparable.

Our first picture together a couple months after we met

Four months into knowing him, we were dating and spent practically every weekend in the mountains, hiking and camping.
20160917_133635We went skydiving.  He took me to England and I met his parents, his friends.
20161123_150817We cherished every day because we knew there was a limit, a deadline, a point where he would have to go.

And that time came . . . one month after we had started dating . . . five months after we first met.  We didn’t have a plan.  We simply took each day at a time.

The good news is he did come back — In March, he was sent by his English company to return to America for work, which meant we had a chance to see one another again.  And it also meant a weekend in the mountains, which felt our home, a place we could escape the world and pretend — even if for an afternoon or a couple days — that we could be together, time could be uninterrupted.

That weekend of April Fool’s Day arrived.  Our packs were ready for our first camp of the year.  We set off to one of our favorite hikes thus far: Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  Here, we aimed to see Franklin Cliffs again.  We fell in love with this trail and this particular spot on the trail for more reasons than I can name but one can be seen in this stunning sunset . . .
20160917_190613This hike though would be the second time we walked the trail, making this still the only place we have re-hiked and re-camped thus far.

In only one picture before we began walking, Andrew’s facial expression gives away that he has something planned, and I remember being amused when I glanced at my camera to find his eyes wide.  Giggling, I questioned why he had done that and he told me it was because he hoped we wouldn’t get into our regular mishaps — you know, bears, getting lost, no water.  At the time, I supposed he was right — This was the place where we saw our first bear after all — so, in an effort to calm his heart, I kissed him: “We’re going to be great this year,” I remember telling him, and he smiled back.  This smile stayed with him the entire time, but then again so did mine.  We were together.  We were home.IMG_0354IMG_0313

The day was beautiful but extremely cold, which summarizes a Virginia April well.
IMG_0324This month is a mixed bag — often it feels more like winter and can bring snow, but there are occasions where April represents spring well.  On this hike, there were glimpses of spring — moss was the most vibrant green, red buds were noticeable on the tips of trees, and little plants were stretching towards the sky.IMG_0339IMG_0321IMG_0350 2.jpgIMG_0330.JPGIMG_0371.JPGHowever, signs of colder temperatures were more visible with heaps of acorns and pine cones and layers of leaves on the ground.IMG_0325.JPGIMG_0345IMG_0338IMG_0323.JPGThere was also a sense of sadness — Fallen trees were everywhere, yard after yard and stacked on top of one another.
IMG_0368IMG_0363.JPGIMG_0336 2IMG_0334.JPGIMG_0358Whenever I see this many fallen trees, I often think of what author Bill Bryson wrote in his memoir A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail:
“The Appalachians are the home of one of the the world’s greatest hardwood forests — the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world — and that forest is in trouble.  If the global temperature rises by 4° C over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna.  Already trees are dying in frightening numbers. The elms and chestnuts are long gone, the stately hemlocks and flowery dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes, and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now.”
This is precisely why we love the mountains — We want to see it, celebrate its beauty, breath in its life so that every time we are out, we silently pray to Mother Nature that she has the strength to endure.  This is also why we crave to hike the Appalachian Trail — This fabled trail is one we found ourselves talking of the first day we met, and the truth is it may not be around always — It has already changed, drastically, from when it was first created and if we miss one more moment to walk it — that is a travesty.

Passing the same white blaze-marked tree where we stopped for a picture only the year before, we stopped again in an effort to re-create that moment, that hike.

Then onward we continued towards Franklin Cliffs where we would set up camp again.
IMG_0341The year before, we came in the summer so all around was lush and green.  It was interesting to come back and see how different the trail looked and felt.  For instance, we never saw cliffs behind us — The leaves were too dense; they blocked our view.  Here though, the cliffs stood out and seemed naked without the protection of the trees.
After setting up camp, Andy and I ventured to the overlook.
IMG_0375IMG_0383IMG_0382IMG_0380IMG_0381This was the place we saw our first mountain sunset, the one where we leaned back to rest in a rocky nook, watching with captivation as the sun burst into colors then hid behind those blue mountains we know.  This was the place we waited, patient, as the town’s lights twinkled on like fireflies in the night.  The sky was darkening then so we gazed up at stars which shined in different colors too.  This was where the International Space Station zoomed above in the slick blackness and we felt so tiny yet essential.  It was here that we nestled into one another, tucked under Andy’s sleeping bag, and fell asleep at the cliff’s edge; we woke with aching muscles that felt bruised, and that is how we predicted how long we had slept because in the mountains, there is no way to know how much time has passed — The only measurement is sunrise, sunset, and the space between each.

At the cliffs, the wind picked up — icy strong gusts that made it hard to stand in one spot.  We began to shake.

“Let’s go back — It’s freezing and you’re shaking,” I told Andrew and turned to head towards the tent.

“No, we need to stay out here a bit longer,” he told me shaking so severely it appeared he was convulsing.

“Why?” I asked so he told pointed towards the mountains.

“Look,” he said and I remember thinking, The view is beautiful but it is way too cold to enjoy this right now.  Still, I turned back and breathed in, staring at the Blue Ridge.  Meanwhile, Andrew was behind me and pulling a ring from his pocket . . .

“I was very stealthy and ninja-esque, I would say.”  That’s how he describes his actions now.  “And you thought I was kidding.  I had to say, ‘It is April 1st, but it’s not an April Fool’s joke.”

What he is alluding to is how deeply I thought he was joking.  This is because four months into meeting me, he bought an engagement ring and had been torturing me with the fact that he was thinking about proposing.

“Are you going to marry me?” and “Will you marry me?” he would ask each day.

“Are you asking me now?” I would respond.

“No,” he would say laughing so I would laugh too and tell him that there was no reason for me to answer then.

You can now understand why it was hard to believe he was proposing — He had dangled the words before me often and it was April Fool’s.  Once I realized he was serious though, my answer is as it is now: “Of course.”20170401_193801


The next morning, the sun streamed in just right — the way it does to make you feel light, calm, happy.  We watched as it slowly rose higher in the sky.
When we left, we stopped by the visitor’s center, as we sometimes do to look at the sightings log.  “I want to record your proposal, our engagement,” I told him but he was nervous, saying it should be a record of nature.  However, when we looked at what others wrote — “Love nature” and “We don’t see that every day” —  it seemed more comments.  Plus, what I wanted to write was a sighting after all — me, seeing my boyfriend propose — so I chose to do it.
So that is our story and this is us — We met a little less than a year and a half ago, he purchased an engagement ring four months into knowing me, and he proposed — on April Fool’s Day — five months later.

To look back to the time before we met — him in England and me, here — To say we would have any idea our lives would turn out this way . . . impossible.  There are no words to write how surprising life can be, how magical, how meaningful, how important.

This man — this zany, quirky, untraditional, hilarious, loyal, caring man — This is the man I am engaged to.  “A lad from a small village in England,” as he likes to say.  A man I almost forgot.  A man that challenges me in the best ways possible.  A man that has changed my life for the better, changed it in a way I could only begin to dream of before.

So yeah.  This is is our story.  This is us.20170402_125640

Happy one year engagement, Andrew.  How I so deeply love you . . .

Author: L

Hi there! I am the impulsive do-er, the jumper, the one tugging to move past comfort zones to embrace a life of sheer surprise. I am a writer -- a pursuer of stories -- because I believe in the destination over the journey. I am a chaser of sunrises and sunsets and cherisher of the moments between. I have an overwhelming curiosity, an insatiable desire travel, and an obsessive yearn to turn dreams into realities. For all of these reasons, the word that best summarizes who I am is "seeker" -- I am forever a seeker.

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