Sunday, September 27, 2020

Love on a mountain

Photo by Betsy Williford

On the 19th day of September 2020, Beat and I "did join in matrimony in accordance with the laws of the state of Colorado at _______." (What follows "at?" We had to look it up on Google. Oh, the place where we did the whole ceremony thing?) "at Bear Peak, Boulder County." With the marriage license and what turned out to be a nearly dry ballpoint pen, we scrambled to gather the signatures of our officiant and four witnesses while I dug through my pack for five working headlamps out of a dozen or so that were of questionable usage ... the whole thing went later than expected. But it was a beautiful moment — as beautiful as I could have imagined, way back when I was a teenager, and promised my mother that *if* I ever got married, as unlikely as it seemed at the time, it would definitely happen on a mountaintop. 

 
Yes, Beat and I got married. Our ceremony happened more than a week ago. I started uploading these photos last Tuesday, but I haven't been able to write about it since. Beat and I were enjoying our first week of "being legal," and I was planning an Idaho Hot Springs bikepacking trip (camping and distanced) with friends that I was intensely excited about — leaving the state feels like such an exotic novelty right now. I was packed and ready to head out the next morning when I received a call from the salon I visited right before the ceremony on Saturday — also a first for me during the pandemic — that my hairstylist tested positive for COVID-19. So instead of riding bikes or even spending my first week of wedded bliss with Beat, I scheduled a COVID test, isolated in a different part of the house, and only went out one hour per day to run along empty rural roads near my house. 

I've been wracked with guilt and shame, on top of the sudden loneliness. Although my potential exposure to COVID was mere hours before the ceremony, a timeline in which there is almost zero chance for enough virus to replicate and spread, the notion that my selfish actions could have potentially exposed friends and family has haunted me. I already knew we were taking a risk, that I was one of "those people" who held a wedding during a pandemic. Suddenly the one good thing to come out of 2020 did not seem good. 
 
This morning, I received the results of my test. Negative. It's what I was expecting since I've had no symptoms, and since the salon had a strict mask and sanitization policy. I was greatly relieved, but it doesn't change the shadow that falls over even the good things about 2020. It doesn't change the anger I feel about the outbreak currently burning through my community, ignited by the return of students to CU Boulder. It doesn't change the despair I feel about my country and our apparent zeal to achieve "herd immunity," which not only isn't going to happen, it's likely to take all of us down with it — either by way of economic disaster, mental and physical health declines, or actual death. The heat returned this week and Colorado wildfires flared up dramatically, bringing back to the Front Range some of the worst air quality in the world. I chose to use my isolated, cloistered time to read and ruminate on climate change, which led to nihilistic thoughts such as "maybe the universe will take mercy on me, and I'll kick it from COVID before November 3." Of course, I don't really believe this. Even if things become as bad as I fear, I still want to be around, to witness the great story that is Life on Earth. Love and beauty still surmount despair but a large margin. Still, my head hasn't been in a great place since Wednesday, and it was just too difficult to write about the wedding. 

Photo by Betsy Williford

Now I'm re-emerging into the realm of the living, and I remember that just over a week ago, there was this beautiful evening when all I felt was joy. Beat and I have been together for a decade now — in fact, the ten-year anniversary of our first "date" at the Bear 100 was September 24. For more than nine years we've enjoyed the spoils of a domestic partnership, which afforded us many of the benefits of marriage along with a streak of independence that I think both of us appreciated. But amid the health uncertainties of the pandemic and increasingly political uncertainties in the U.S., we decided a legal union would be preferable. We became officially engaged in July, and my excitement about this was both surprising and genuine. As it turned out, the official commitment did matter to me. Beat seemed excited as well. He joked with friends that "we need to get Jill started on her Swiss citizenship as soon as possible" — which isn't wholly a joke, but it is a nice excuse to solidify our bond. 

Photo by Lisa Cannon

We were going to wrap it up neat, tidy, and socially distanced at a courthouse, but then my parents expressed a desire to attend as witnesses. My sisters wanted to join us as well. Then I caught a whiff of romance and wanted to put together something a little more interesting. Maybe, as I had always threatened to do when I was a defiant Mormon teenager, I could get married on top of a mountain. Here in Colorado, Bear Peak is "our" mountain. It was the first peak Beat and I visited in Boulder, during our relocation investigation in 2015. As we stood on its summit for the first time, we looked west toward the Continental Divide and down to a ribbon of dirt roads dotting the hills and said, "we want to live there." Now we can see this pyramid summit from our bedroom window. Bear Peak is likely the mountain I've visited most of any mountain in the world. I thought I was getting close to 100 summits, so I checked my Strava stats — the tally is 104. Black Mountain outside Los Altos, California, might still hold more summits for me — I don't have all the data I need to figure this out — but certainly Bear will surpass this soon enough if it hasn't already.

Admittedly, Beat initially wasn't too keen on holding a ceremony on top of Bear Peak. For starters, it's a narrow and rocky summit — difficult to find the space needed to socially distance a dozen or so people. It's popular, so it was unlikely we'd find privacy. It's also hard to access from any aspect. We chose to climb the west ridge from a trailhead close to our house, so it would only be three miles round trip with about 1,200 feet of climbing. But most of that elevation must be gained in the last half mile, which is especially rocky and steep. My youngest sister is five months pregnant, my other sister is a working nurse with four children and little time for cardio, my mother has had knee problems in recent years, and my father had severe limitations on his mobility due to a herniated disc. As it all became clear just how difficult this was going to be for everyone, I tried to backpedal on my plans. But my family insisted that this was a unique opportunity, and they wanted to make it happen. 

My sisters and mother had no issues with the steep terrain. But I didn't even realize how much of a challenge this would be for my dad. I've just gotten used to him being a stronger hiker than me, even well into his sixties. Since he retired he's been more active than ever, and as recently as August was climbing mountains in the Wasatch that I still find too intimidating to attempt. But this back injury took its toll, clamping down on his sciatic nerve until he was hobbled and in constant pain. Again, when I realized how bad it had become, I tried to move the ceremony to a nice meadow near our house, but he begged me not to change anything. I know my dad, and I knew how much this would hurt his sense of pride and duty. In his place, I would probably be just as stubborn. But I sure felt conflicted, anxious, and stressed about juggling all of the logistics and contingency plans. Which I suppose is how most brides feel on their wedding day. Which is why I never really understood the appeal of weddings. Which is why I always vowed to get married on a mountaintop, far away from everything. And so the cycle never ends.

Photo by Betsy Williford

It was wonderful to see everyone in my family again. The weather was surprisingly perfect. We had that week of snow, but then temperatures roared back into the 80s. Thick haze had returned by the time my family arrived in Colorado. The views were muted and air quality was bad enough to leave me with a sore throat after Beat and I did our Bear Peak scouting hike on Thursday. Then on Saturday, the smoke cleared out for one day and temperatures fell to that not-too-hot, not-too-cold range that let everyone hike comfortably and sit comfortably as evening arrived. 

Photo by Betsy Williford
Also joining us were four good friends from the area, one friend's spouse, and a charismatic officiant that my friend Wendy helped me find at the very last minute. To accommodate everyone, I found an open, private spot just below the west side of the summit, where there was enough room for the group to perch on rocks and listen from a reasonable distance. The sunset views were incredible, but it did mean standing right next to a ledge for the ceremony. I admit that I got a little woozy amid all of the social energy and stumbled once, luckily plunging into a bush rather than off the side of the mountain. Of course, I thought, if anyone had to be carted away from my wedding in a search and rescue helicopter, odds are it would be me. 

Photo by Betsy Williford
Beat wanted to wait for Daniel, his defacto best man who had a prior engagement. So he showed up 15 minutes late after literally sprinting up the mountain, soaked in sweat and out of breath. For the hike, Beat wore his race shirt from the Bear 100, a homage to our first date in 2010, and also to draw a parallel between our first adventure (Bear 100) and the starting line for our next adventure (Bear Peak.) He changed into his best wool Iditarod Trail Invitational shirt for the ceremony, drawing the line that connects so many of our adventures in between. 

Photo by Lisa Cannon

I was seriously going to do the race shirt thing as well, but then found this cute hiking dress from prAna. The flowers were my mother's idea. The thought hadn't even occurred to me, but she coaxed me to pick some out on Saturday, so of course I went with the lovely autumn-hued blooms that didn't really match my dress, nor did either match the lucky pink socks that even Beat protested. Then there's the black mask I'm either wearing or holding in all of the photos my sisters and friends captured on their phones. Looking or acting normal has just never been my forte, but Beat (and my mother) seem to love me anyway. 

Photo by Sara Large
The ceremony itself was short and sweet. David, the officiant, gave a humorous speech about some of the lessons he's learned in 42 years of marriage as well as in ultramarathons that he's run. Beat and I read vows that recounted a favorite adventure before making a few promises. I promised love and appreciation, and may or may not have mentioned fixing bikes and taping bruised knees. Beat became emotional, which of course got my waterworks going. 

Photo by Sara Large
It was an incredible moment. The literal and metaphorical mountains we all had to summit to arrive at this place made it all the more meaningful.

I wasn't going to be truly happy until everyone was off the mountain. Beat and Daniel sprinted back down to pick up takeout for an informal outdoor dinner afterward, my friends and sisters made their way down in the waning light, and Mom, Dad and I picked our way down in full darkness. Admittedly, this was quite harrowing. Dad seemed to struggle as he took care not to slip. I gave night-hiking tips to Mom, who never before had to scramble down boulders by headlamp, or understood the way such light flattens the appearance of obstacles on a trail. Phew. After the whole thing was over, I was more exhausted than I've been yet this summer. Even our Mummy Madness traverse was nothing compared to this one ascent of a mountain I've been up a hundred-plus times. But it was beautiful, meaningful, and even amid all of the challenges that 2020 has thrown our way, worth it. 

36 comments:

  1. Congratulations to you and Beat! I love the whole thing- the pink socks, the flowers in the water bottle, the setting. You look beautiful and content in those photos! Hoping for many adventures to
    come for you both.

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  2. So happy for you both! My heartfelt congratulations! Jill, you are just glowing in those photos. Your joy clearly shines through.

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  3. "Looking or acting normal has just never been my forte, but Beat (and my mother) seem to love me anyway." And that's why we love you, too! Great photos. Getting married at sunset on top of a mountain seems like a dream come true for the two of you. Congratulations!

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  4. Congratulations! What a lovely wedding. Just over twenty-five years ago, I married my lover and best friend, and it was the best decision I have made in my life. May you have many happy years and adventures together! (Also, get started on the citizenship thing.)

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  5. I love everything about your wedding. Perfect! Your dress, hiking shoes, pink socks to Beats choice of shirts. The mountain, fiends, family & flowers. I am so happy for you both. May you have many many years of great health & super fun adventures.

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  6. WoW - Congratulations - Colorado Is So Full Of Magic - Well Done

    Cheers

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  7. Congratulations, that really has put a little bit of sparkle in 2020. The photos and all of you are so beautiful. May you have the happiest lives together. x

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  8. Congratulation, what a terrific venue.

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  9. Awesome Jill!!
    Congratulations to you both and thank you for letting us be a part of your perfect day via this blog. You guys look so happy so don't let Covid hang a cloud over your memories of the day.

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  10. Congrats to both of you...a match made in the mountains.
    mark

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  11. Congrats Jill and Beat! I've never even met you, but still got a teensy bit misty-eyed at your pics and story...so glad you made it happen and thanks once more for bringing us all along for the ride! And SO glad you all made it down the mountain without injury (and also, HUGE kudos to your dad for insisting on doing the hike injured...what a Dad! )

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  12. You guys are two of the best not normals that I've ever met! Congrats on the perfect wedding in the perfect pink socks

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  13. I can not believe I have been following your adventures for over a decade. I remember when you first brought Beat to the blog. So excited for you both. May you find many more decades of adventures and love.

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  14. I am so happy for you both. Best wishes for a long and adventurous life together.

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  15. Congrats to both of you. A perfect day, a wonderful wedding and the beginning of many more memories together. Thanks for sharing your day with all of us.

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  16. This is wonderful and made me smile from ear to ear! Thank you for posting this - a little bit of happiness is such a relief, and this is truly lovely.

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  17. Congratulations to both of you for making it "official". You both look very happy. It sounds like it was quite the event! Beautiful despite (or maybe because of) the smoky air. Best wishes as you continue your adventure(s) together!

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  18. congratulations, all the best for the future, from the U.K

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  19. I've been reading your blog since before I moved to my current city, which I think was 12 years ago. Truly, this is wonderful; my utmost congratulations. I hope when you look back, rather than thinking about how the pandemic put a damper on everything, you'll think about how your ceremony made 2020 a better year for yourself and your family. A bright spot in the gloom.

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  20. Congratulations to you both, looks like a beautiful day. My partner and I entered a Civil Partnership (valid here in the UK, gives same legal rights as marriage) after 26 years of dating in March the week before the UK lockdown started. We also did it quietly with just my daughter, husband and their daughter in attendance. Kevin.

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  21. What a magical moment of a setting sun, streaking thru, lighting up your mountain chapel :). Your union was blessed.
    Knowing only what you have said of your father, I'm a father myself, I'm certain the memory of sharp pains are lost and forgotten, pushed out by the fullness of joy of your union! Your mother and father stand close and lean in toward each other....a unconscious tell of connection and trust.
    Godspeed!
    Jeff C

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  22. Jill and Beat, such a thrill to read your news. Congratulations and best wishes for a lifetime filled with the happiness you have shared today. I can't think of a more perfect setting for you to exchange your vows.

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  23. Just a total stranger here crying some happy tears for you. Thanks for sharing. It is stories of love and kindness that mean everything right now. I wish you both happiness and continued adventure together.

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  24. In the words of Shrek, "That'll do, Donkey. That'll do."

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  25. Congratulations! And what a wonderful location for such an event!

    Your grandmother would have been really happy! (Not that I had known her in any way, but I remember some blog entry...)

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  26. So lovely! Congratulations to you both!

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  27. Fun read! So glad you guys finally tied the knot! You wrote a lot about your dad, the trooper, but you didn't explain about his hairdo. Is that his normal hairdo, or is that special for the wedding?

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  28. Congratulations. I enjoy following your adventures and I'm super excited for you both. You're both amazing people.

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  29. What a stunning wedding venue! Beat's cheekbones! Congratulations, Jill.

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  30. Congratulations Jill! Perfect wedding on a mountaintop! Thank you for sharing and I'm glad you are healthy and doing well!

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  31. I am so happy for both of you. Congratulations!!!!! (BTW, looking or acting normal is not a forte of mine either! I loved that part of this post.)

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