When John popped the question, it wasn’t in the way I expected.
“Sweetie, how would you like to get married at Doe Lake?”
I thought a moment. Practical me jumped in front of romantic me. “And have our mothers have to ride down that bumpy dirt forest road?” I asked.
He got quiet. And then it dawned on me: he popped the question!
We met a little more than three years ago on the Big O Hike, thanks to a mutual friend, Mike “Nomad,” who invited John to come help as Wrangler to his Wagonmaster role. I’d originally planned to go to New Zealand, but instead moved that fall, and decided the Big O Hike would be a working vacation after I picked up an assignment to write about Lake Okeechobee.
Quite literally, we walked into each others lives on the Big O Hike. The first thing I noticed when I drove into camp was his smile; the second, his kindness in letting me use an extra camp chair. A few days later, we walked together for a few hours, talking. He slipped away from the hike before the week was through, but said he’d keep in touch. That winter, he joined me in hikes to finish research on “Five Star Trails Orlando.”
A few months later, we’d put everything we owned in two separate storage units and rented a car one way to get to North Georgia and the Appalachian Trail, knitting our childhood dreams together into one grand adventure on foot. We walked into each others hearts on the hike, sharing the highs and lows, the joy and pain, and the amazing journey that it is to take life at a walking pace for several months. Although we didn’t manage to finish the hike, we knew by the time we were done that “we still liked each other,” and came back to Florida to meld our lives together.
We made it official a month ago, this amazing partnership we’ve created, now as husband and wife. We knew we wanted a casual wedding, and this certainly was. After we got Rachael’s blessing to have it at the New Years Eve Campout that our local FTA chapter hosts every year, we told the parents.
Doe Lake is a group campsite in the Ocala National Forest, its centerpiece a CCC-era dining hall overlooking ancient live oaks and the lake.
The trick was to keep our plans offline, since the campout is open to anyone. Thankfully, our invited guests – and the friends we knew we’d see there anyway for the 31st Annual campout – did a great job of that. Our invite asked friends to bring their own camp chair.
Wedding planning? Not quite. I wasn’t planning to do anything fancy, but at the last minute, I did decide to find a simple dress and wrap. Mary-Linn Slater – a regular at the campout – showed up with a beautiful bouquet for me. And I’m glad she did.
The weather held, so we could have the ceremony outdoors. Friends and family gathered, carrying camp chairs, hiking sticks, and paddles. The folding camp chairs became pews in an outdoor church.
Our dear friend and Reverend “Chuck Norris” (Randy Anderson’s trail name) performed the ceremony. When asked about a reading, I suggested one of Nimblewill Nomad’s poems. After recruiting our actor friend Lynn to do the reading, we were surprised and delighted to have our friend and hiking legend join our ceremony by offering up a prayer.
After Randy pronounced us husband and wife, we walked under a tunnel of raised hiking poles and paddles. And wouldn’t you know, someone paddled John as we passed!
Everyone moved into the restored CCC dining hall to enjoy a barbecue lunch and the cake that my sister Sally skillfully created. And as John promised, we’d honeymoon … in Primrose.