One Year. 366 Days.
One year ago from Sunday, Evan and I set out on a great adventure—marriage. But we decided to make the actual day an adventure, as well, so we set out on bikes from Jackson, Wyoming to String Lake in Grand Teton National Park [28 miles], waited out the rain, vowed to love each other forever [do note: “every second of every day” is different than “forever”], and then danced into the night with so many loved ones at a ranch in Wilson.
It’s been a year. A big year. So we wanted to celebrate in a big way. With a big day. We decided we wanted to climb the Grand Teton on our one year anniversary—August 14th. I’ve never summited the Grand. Evan has many times. I was hungry for a summit and excited for a day in the mountains with my love.
The first night in Wyoming, we arrived later in the night to our camp spot. We drove the van around, listening to an anniversary mix I made for Ev and talked about our favorite moments of the last year. I couldn’t have been happier. I told Evan…
– I love this. I love you. I could drive around forever.
I’m glad we didn’t, because as soon as we stopped and got camp ready, Evan surprised me with the. best. anniversary present. A year ago, we had a “cheese cake” for our wedding.
Mary at the Jackson Whole Grocer helped us put together a dream of a wedding cake for me.
Evan contacted Mary again and had her make us a mini wedding cake! Just like you’re supposed to do for your first anniversary! I died. So exciting. The best. He even brought our cake topper, made by the ah-mazing Lindsey Yankey. It might be my favorite thing from wedding times… besides, you know… my trophy husband.
We drank wine and ate cheese and talked into the night. A perfect beginning of anniversary weekend.
Saturday, we couldn’t get a high-country permit for camping near the climb, so we spent the day getting ready, running around String Lake, swimming, cooking, and getting to bed very early, in preparation for our big day.
We woke up at midnight. After coffee and oatmeal and drawing a Tarot card each [he drew the King of Swords! I drew the Queen of Swords! a couple! on our anniversary!], we set off on the trail in the dark, alive with excitement and love. We had 7,000 feet of vertical gain in front of us and we were ready.
Here’s a hot tip that you probably don’t need: Don’t try to climb a 13,700 foot mountain off the couch.
The first seven miles were great—for me. I was kicking ass and taking names, but Evan wasn’t feeling so hot. He started slowing down, because his stomach was hurting so bad. We got above the upper saddle [farther than I had ever gotten!] and Evan had to emergency veer off the trail to tend to his belly.
Even when he went off the trail and stayed there for a while, I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes for a bit. I wouldn’t admit to myself just how tired I was, just how un-ready my body was, because I wanted to summit so bad. I wanted us to be on top of the Grand together on our first wedding anniversary. I brought my wedding dress in my pack, to maybe even put it on on top of the Grand.
Evan came back from his trip off trail and told me he wasn’t feeling well. He then dry-heaved for a bit while I looked away and started to tear up. He said he didn’t think he could do it. I told him we could just go home and go back to Bozeman; I was so upset.
We should’ve turned around. But we didn’t. Evan gave me some indication that he might might be able to do it and I told him…
– Make a decision. You either need to buck up so we can do this or you can call it and we’ll bail.
I think I even said something like, “All this for nothing!” I was upset. I was tired. We had been hiking for almost seven hours and I thought that not summiting at that point would be the worst. I am not proud of this moment of our anniversary. I am not proud of this moment at all.
Evan entertained the thought of us getting to Wall Street—the first pitch of the technical climb—and seeing how he felt. I was so excited. We started that way, but were going at a snail’s pace at this point—stopping a lot.
We should’ve bailed. You know this. We knew this—deep, deep down. But we didn’t. Getting on rope in the Tetons with his favorite person made Evan whole again—for moments at a time. He was so happy. We started each pitch by saying…
– Happy Anniversary. I love you. You’re on belay.
– Happy Anniversary. I love you, too. Climbing.
– Climb on.
It was the best. Until it wasn’t. Until we started moving even slower. Until we had a route-finding problem a handful of times. Until after five pitches, I couldn’t imagine climbing again. Until the wind crushed my soul and then the sun burned my face. Until I started really bonking. Until we realized, “Okay, we’re really not going to make anniversary dinner reservations.” Until we realized, “Shit. We are not in a good place.” Until we saw the sun getting to a place it wasn’t supposed to.
We had two pitches left. We got to the top of the second to last, the sun was setting, we were hardly speaking to each other. I asked Evan, where do we go now?
– I went the wrong way up there. The way we were supposed to go for the summit. We’re going to bail. I’m so sorry.
I lost it. I started crying. All this for nothing! ALL THIS for NOTHING. I’m tearing up thinking of it now. Evan apologized over and over as I berated him for everything under the sun. [again, not proud.]
I just kept thinking, “What the hell does this mean about us as a couple?! How did we get here?? Is this day symbolic of our marriage? We’re fucked.”
[do note: there are no photos from our time actually in the mountains… for obvious reasons. I think our lack of selfies is very telling of the fact that we were miserable.]
We headed to the rappel and I could not stop crying. Just your casual silent sobbing. There was another climbing party on the rappel who we shared a rope with. I went first as Evan was still coming along. The woman who shared her rappel with us was there climbing with her brother. She was so friendly and struck up conversation with me, probably because she could tell I was upset.
– I wouldn’t be upset you didn’t summit. Look how beautiful it is!
– [through not-s0-sneaky tears] Yeah, but we just went the wrong way. And it’s been a long day.
Evan came down the rappel and the chatty, nice woman asked him his name.
– Evan, I’m Kim. Where you from?
– I’m from Jackson, but we live in Bozeman now.
Kim took off her sunglasses and lunged towards Evan…
– Hey! Evan! Oh my god!
Of course. Of course they went to college together. Of course they’re friends.
– What’s new?? You live in Bozeman now with your beautiful… girlfriend?
– Wife. Rachel’s my wife. And she’s pretty upset with me, because I’m a dumbass.
– Rachel! Don’t be upset at Evan! He’s the nicest guy in the world!
Here’s a hot tip everyone always forgets: When someone is in the throes of anger, telling them to not be upset is risking murder-suicide.
[Disclaimer: Kim is lovely and I am so psyched I met her, but she caught me at a rough time.]
– I know he’s the nicest guy. I do know that.
We continued the descent down back to the saddle while Evan caught up with his old friend and exchanged news about ever person who went to the University of Oregon from 2002 to 2008, while I trudged along in the back, wondering if you can die from the affects of suppressing anger weeping.
We parted ways with Kim and her brother and had a moment together. It was starting to get really dark. I told Evan…
– We didn’t summit and we don’t get to have fancy anniversary dinner and I’m just so tired and sad!
– I know. I know; I’m so sorry. And I even had a surprise for you—I got us a cabin at Colter Bay.
I collapsed in tears. Sat down, head in hands. I just openly bawled. I’m sure the whole valley heard me yell-crying…
– I COULD BE IN A CABIN RIGHT NOW?!? WHY ARE WE HERE?? WHY DID WE THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?? HOW DID WE GET HERE?? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?? I COULD BE DRINKING WINE IN A CABIN!!
I composed myself and we started down the trail, in the dark.
We had about seven miles to get out. In the dark. We were wordless for a while, before I stopped Evan to apologize. I apologized for being a loose cannon of emotion and way too blamely and for not listening to him when he was trying to tell me we should bail ten hours ago. I told him…
– I’m deciding to change my attitude right now. We’re in this together. I love you. I’m sorry. If we can laugh again at some point on our hike out of here, I’ll call this a win.
He looked at me with eyes that made it clear he was unsure if we’d ever be able to laugh or even smile, ever again. But we headed on.
We had to get to the van. We had to get through the dark and to the van.
So we banded together. We took turns losing it. Completely losing it. We lost ourselves in the boulder field. Then we found the trail again. Then we lost ourselves again, in the second boulder field. We lost ourselves for a while. We walked in circles. We lost it. We cried. One at a time. We took turns seeing things. We took turns freaking out. We took turns, breaking down, telling the other one, in a shaking voice…
– I’m losing it, babe.
Then one of us taking the other by the shoulders, comforting them, and saying…
– It’s okay. You can do this. We got this.
We realized we had been awake for 26 hours. We thought about calling Search and Rescue. We talked about how stupid we were. We talked about how dumb this was. We walked in circles around boulders. We tried new strategies. We finally saw headlamps of new adventurers, heading up the mountain, coming towards us on the trail. Saved! We walked towards them and found the trail again.
Only four more miles to go. Oh my god.
This was the hardest time. These last four miles. Our legs were aching. We were delirious. Evan was feeling so sick. Evan threw up. I thought my knees would be forever damaged. We had to take so many breaks. We thought we saw scary things in the woods. We fell asleep walking. We stumbled. We fell.
But we laughed. We laughed at ourselves. We laughed at memories. We laughed at our situation. We laughed at these parts of each other that we only get to see in the deepest of breakdowns.
How, when times get really tough, I get this weird camp counselor energy that makes me ask get-to-know-you questions to keep spirits up. What did you want to be when you were little? What’s your favorite thing to ski in Jackson? Did you ever think about not following me to Missoula? [okay that last one was a little deeper of a question, but made for great conversation! for a while! spoiler: he definitely did consider not moving to Missoula. dummy.]
How Evan will deliriously recite pop songs and when he gets tired enough, he’ll be quiet for a long time and then excitedly say…
– Wanna hear my new song?
– Of course.
– Ohhhh, child… Three more miles… Oh, hot damn… Gotta make it to the car.
It made as much rhythmic sense Sunday night as it does now… none at all. But we laughed. Hard.
Here’s a hot tip for music enthusiasts: Think hard before you put those ironic pop songs on mixes before big days in the mountains, because those the catchiest songs will be stuck in your head for HOURS.
That song put on there because we got doooooown to it on our wedding night:
That one actually made for some amazing call-and-responses throughout the day…
– Baby, how you feelin’?
– Feelin’ good as hell!
Or more accurately…
– Baby, how you feelin’?
– Like I’m gonna die!
At one point, while walking, Evan said…
– Ray? You okay?
I literally opened my eyes, standing up still…
– Were we just having a conversation? Or was I dreaming we were.
– You were dreaming we were.
Shit. Wow. I was walking and sleeping. We laughed… in a sad way… but still… laughing.
We—finally—made it back to the van. At 5am. 27 hours car to car.
We did it! We comically high-fived. We kissed.
– Happy Anniversary. I love you.
– Happy Anniversary. I love you, too.
Evan passed out immediately, but I was determined to drive 20 miles down the road to our cabin. I drove in delirium. Don’t worry, I was safe. I was determined.
I saw the biggest elk I’ve ever seen, right by the road. [or at least I think I did… delirium.] He had a rack that reached well above the van.
– Oh my god!
I yelled, as Evan snoozed in the back.
I pulled up to the check-in and the man at the counter was semi-impressed with my literal sob story.
– So, you think you’ll make it another year?
– I mean, I’m gonna try. A very late check-out would help.
We got to the cabin. I woke Evan up and he was way too tired to function. I set his flip flops down on the ground in front of him and the van. He looked at them, looked at me—so confused, looked at them again—more confused. I bent down and turned them to face him and moved them closer. It was like he couldn’t figure out what these things were and what he was supposed to do with them. Laughter again.
We got to the bed. We slept for as long as they would let us. It was glorious. We took showers. We felt like brand-new people, who knew a lot more about ourselves and each other and could hardly walk down stairs.
We called Monday “Redemption Day.” I put on a white dress. We went to a fancy-ass lunch and had cocktails. We exchanged gifts. We took our leisurely time driving the van home, stopping at sites we wanted to see, picking up hitchhikers, listening to the anniversary mix over and over, making memories. We walked around Yellowstone and held hands.
We got ice cream cones. We came home and drank fancy bourbon that was gifted to us on our wedding day. We ordered Chinese food and listened to records. Redemption Day. Living up to its name. Its made-up name. A fresh adapter, that Redemption Day is.
This morning, the reality set in like a heavy haze. I drove to work and then the dentist and faced scary deadlines for each. I suddenly missed the mountains—delirium and all. As this rush of missing came over me, Evan texted…
“As ridiculous of an adventure that was… I enjoyed every minute of it because I was with you. I’m exhausted. I can’t believe you’re at work right now.”
I agree. It’s true. I enjoyed every minute. Because we were together.
This life is crazy and stressful and hard and beautiful and hilarious. And it’s all of those things, but brighter when I’m with Evan. It’s an adventure that I know will be hard and I know might not yield all the results I want, but that doesn’t matter as much as it matters that I’m with him through it all. It’s a crazy thing to realize—this power of this love. But I can’t stop smiling about this realization.
And for Year Two celebration, we’ll be ready [training, climbing, trail running, a push-up or two] for the Grand. And—just in case—we’ll have another kickass Redemption Day planned.
Alternative Title Considerations for this Post:
“Five Steps for Your Crying-est Anniversary Yet”
“Blame it on the Tetons… or Your Poor Husband”
“Youths Report: The Up-and-Coming Hip Part of the Grand is Right Below the Summit”
“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Hallucinating”
“My Husband Made Eye-Contact with a Grown Man Whilst Having Explosive Diarrhea on our Anniversary”
“Symbolism – It’s Overrated!”