Sometimes, life is beautiful. Actually - scratch that. Most of the time life is beautiful! But sometimes it's just particularly perfect. For me, and for my better half, that particular kind of perfect is something we most often go to seek (and find) in the Utah desert. But little did I know that the 2018 desert season opener was going to have a special surprise in store.
A short six hour drive across the Rockies is all that separates Paul and me from what sometimes feels like our second home, the vast expanse and beautiful towers and cliffs and mesas of the desert that sprawl for miles - hundreds of miles, depending on which direction you're going - around Moab. We love the desert so much that we made the long drive on eleven different weekends last spring; not great for our carbon footprint (though at least Paul had a hybrid Toyota Prius for most of the season) but splendid for the soul and for adventure climbing, too.
It's no surprise then that, once I returned from my latest multi-month high altitude stint, the desert was #1 on Paul's and my weekend wish list. It took us a few weeks to make schedules work but one early Friday afternoon in March finally had us westbound on I-70, ready to cross over snowy Vail Pass in order to chase sunshine and warm rock in the Utah desert.
It was long dark by the time we reached camp on Friday evening, and we made quick work of setting up the tent and seeking warmth in our sleeping bags. Saturday morning rolled around in exactly the way that we had hoped for: sunny with pleasant temperatures, and not another soul in sight. Paul and I have a tradition for desert camping by now: start with coffee, add bacon and eggs and top it all off with camp mimosas. It's both decadent and dangerous, because by the time we're done feasting it's often a challenge to rally for the transition from comfortable camp chairs to steep trails and sorta-heavy packs.
Well. This time wasn't much different, but the weather was splitter and so were the cracks. Long story short: we did rally and started the thirty minute approach to our familiar crag. A gentle trail gradually steepens into an unpleasant scree scramble which leads straight to a ten-foot vertical cliff band that is surmounted with the help of a fixed rope. Right above the fixed rope, the terrain flattens out onto a beautiful terrace before the final steep ascent up to the base of the crag. I was a minute or two ahead of Paul, who was carrying a quadruple rack (the joys of desert crack climbing), all the way to the top of the fixed rope where I waited briefly so we would finish up the approach together.
It seemed to me that Paul was having to work harder for the approach than he typically does, and I couldn't quite tell if I had simply gotten faster from my high altitude work or if Paul had slowed down from prioritizing bouldering over cardio exercise while I was gone. Once he caught up to me at the top of the fixed rope we started hiking across the flat terrace, me still in front; just a few steps later Paul veered off the trail towards the edge off the terrace and said "Hang on - I want to take a break. I need to take my pack off for a minute." I was confused; the crag was just another five minute climb up the hill. Why wasn't he continuing on? I was starting to worry; maybe Paul's fifty-seven years were finally starting to catch up with him... but could he really have lost all of his endurance over the course of those few short months that I was gone?
I followed Paul off the trail and to the edge of the terrace. The views were beautiful, yet I was preoccupied thinking about my boyfriend's condition as he proceeded to take his pack off to take a rest. What was going on? I too dropped my pack and turned around, looking at Paul quizzically. He was breathing hard. I put my hands on his chest and felt his rapid heartbeat. 'Oh boy' I thought to myself. 'Getting up here really isn't that strenuous. This is not good.' My face was close to Paul's, and he pulled me in for a kiss; a second later, he dropped to the floor. 'Ah crap, is he having a heart attack?!' was the immediate thought that entered my mind as he grabbed my hand. An instant later, I realized that he was kneeling and looking up at me with tears in his eyes. "Suz, you mean so much to me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want you to marry me." A beautiful, one-of-a-kind silver ring in the palm of his hand. "Will you marry me?"
And the rest is history. HELL YES!!