Brilliant yellow golds and vibrant reds greet me on my wedding day; the sun makes the babbling brook beside us sparkle and sets the trees aflame. Family members and friends stand staggered on both sides of the makeshift aisle, a rarely utilized park road naturally carpeted with fallen leaves. My face smiling, but trembling with emotion, I hold onto my father’s arm as he guides me to each person present so that they may bestow a wish for Kyle and I’s future marriage and blow out the small white votive candle each has gripped in their hands. “Harmony” says my dear and devoted friend Krystina with a smile, her face all aglow. For a brief second she hold out the candle to me, but I shake my head slightly, indicating that it is her wish and she should blow it out. Already I am choked up with the magic of the moment, having not anticipated the power of emotion that having my future with Kyle blessed by those that love us the most would invoke. Shakily, I turn towards Kyle’s Uncle Keith so that he can wish us “patience.” Again, light chuckles ensue as we experience a momentary uncertainty of who is the person most qualified to blow out the candle. “Adventure,” wishes Kyle’s good friend Tyler, his other adventure cycling counterpart. “Bliss” utters Nathaniel, another good friend, having known Kyle since Kindergarten. Now we reach the parents, with Kyle’s father Bud blessing us with “devotion” and his mother Dee Dee wishing for our future together to be “magical.” Next, my wonderfully caring and loving stepmother Kate takes the opportunity to wish us “joy.” My mother Diane, bursting with love and happiness, wishes us “spontaneity,” her eyes sparkling with excitement. Kyle’s Aunt Tricia and our officiant for the ceremony, warmly interjects with her wish for “laughter” in our future and then my Dad, my anchor, ends this part of the affair by wishing for us to “imagine.” With a puff, his candle goes out, too, and I turn towards Kyle, who is as handsome as I’ve ever seen him, maybe more so. The love that surrounds us in this moment is incredible; it is pulsating through the air and binding us all together.
“Kyle and Robyn, we all know what an amazing journey you shared this summer. And now in this glorious setting with the love and support of your family and friends you are beginning a new journey.” Tricia begins the ceremony with this simple, yet perfect introduction, then hands it back to us.
Kyle looks deeply into my eyes, making my heart flutter, as he begins a speech about how he felt when we first met and how that feeling grew over time, bringing us to this moment. He laughingly states that he could have written a book, but then we’d be here too long. He then solemnly speaks the vows we had written together in our hotel room a few nights before.
I promise to encourage you to be the person you are,
Because that is what makes you unique and wonderful.
I promise to support and nurture your dreams,
Because through them your spirit shines.
I promise to help shoulder our challenges,
For there is nothing we cannot face if we stand or bike together.
I promise to be your partner in all things,
Not possessing you, but working with you as part of the whole.
Lastly, I promise that while the road may sometimes be full of potholes,
Bumps and bruises will not affect my love for you,
A love that will be unconditional, accepting and true for the rest of our days.
These are my sacred vows to you, my lover, my friend, my partner, and now my wife.
He then takes out the delicate white gold wedding band we had picked out together, takes my hand gently, and slides it onto my finger as he looks into my eyes, love radiating.
Now it is my turn and I start by joking, “Well, I did write a book!” taking out my several sheets of notepaper. I then start into my speech, my voice shaky and charged with emotion. I start off by listing all of the things Kyle and I had in common when we first met, making it easy for us to become fast friends. Then, I dive into our differences, explaining how they made us incredible partners. I speak of some of the hard challenges we have already overcome – graduate school, a five year age difference, a life altering health condition, long-distance, and recently four and a half months cycling through foreign countries, noting my confidence in our future given these successes. Lastly, in a voice raw with emotion, I tell Kyle that “I have never been so sure” and that I love him with all my heart. I say the same vows, ending with “These are my sacred vows to you, my lover, my friend, my partner and now my husband.” Together we slide on Kyle’s ring, a whole size on the small side, and turn towards Tricia as she continues the ceremony.
“Kyle and Robyn, Do you commit yourselves to each other in the sacred covenant of marriage? Do you promise to love each other, to be sensitive to each other’s needs, to comfort each other in difficulty and to put your full and complete trust in each other as long as you both shall live?”
“We do,” we say in unison, gripping each other’s hands.
“By the power vested in me by the State of Vermont, I pronounce you husband and wife. Kyle – you may now kiss your bride.”
Cheers ensue as Kyle leans in and I lean up for one of the most meaningful kisses of our relationship. Afterwards, everyone comes forward and there are hugs all around followed by pictures and a short hike to a gorgeous viewpoint where leaves have exploded in color overnight. As Nathaniel’s car pulls forward down the narrow park road back to Burlington, VT, Kyle’s father throws leaves at us through an open window and the women take pictures of the “Just Married” signs that show through the back window. Kyle and I lean into another kiss, ring hands overlapping, our hearts soaring. We make it back to our house on Lake Champlain – just in time for yet another sunset.
Three and a half weeks earlier…
“Let’s just go home and get married!” I exclaim as yet another fly zips past my face, landing on a pile of rusty metal reeking something rotten. Kyle and I are squatting, facing one another, on the side of a road in the back mountains of Croatia where there is a place to pull over. At this point we have nearly two weeks in a country (beautiful might I add) that seems absolutely reluctant to let us go.
Since Italy, our progress towards our goal had slowed for a multitude of reasons. Italy itself was tough to get through, in part due to the size of the country, but also because my endurance for cycling had decreased as my physical condition had weakened from possible gluten contamination and my attitude towards the country had become more negative (see post: Crossing Italy – The Good the Bad and the Ugly). We spent several days on so so beaches, mainly so that I could regroup. It had seemed as if Slovenia would just never come.
Once we did hit Slovenia, the sheer, untouched beauty of the place entranced us to the point where we started treating our trip more like a vacation and less like a journey. Our friend in Switzerland had been right – the west side of Slovenia did indeed have the magic of Switzerland without all the development of the past 70 years. It was something right out of Heidi. The first night we stayed at a campground alongside the turquoise Soca River. We had never seen anything like it before. We agreed that though we had spent more time in Italy than we should have, that to not savor this time in Slovenia would be a mistake. Therefore, the next day we cycled on a smoothly paved road that was more utilized by cyclists than by cars to another campground just eight miles away, this time claiming a spot right next to the water with incredible mountain views all around. Our plan was to make this our base camp and take daytrips – without all of our stuff – to points of interest surrounding.
Nothing in Slovenia disappointed – from a beautiful Austrian-designed memorial church on top of a mountain, built for the soldiers that lost their lives in battle, to crystal clear turquoise waters that seemed to cleanse your spirit upon contact. Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city, was one of our favorite cities on the trip, sporting lively outdoor spaces, its own weather in the main square, smiley vendors passing out roasted corn, and of course a castle at the center of it all. Music was in the air, romance filled the beautifully lit back alleys and nature was in abundance. Everything felt safe – we even saw a pregnant woman with a young toddler hanging out in a city park after dark! Needless to say, it was hard to leave the country. Still, I had had Croatia in my sights for most of Europe so after an exhilarating descent down to sea level, we passed through border security with no trouble and entered the rolling hills and coastal mountains of Croatia.
Beautiful scenery and a whole lot of obstacles had been encountered thus far in Croatia. After an incredible ride along a mountainous coast with views that make even the acclaimed California coast or Big Sur pale in comparison (I have to take Kyle’s word on that), Kyle and I had made it to the rocky, dessert-like island of Pag, where we settle on a gravel beach for several days, first because it is a rather stunning place and then because we figure out Kyle has acquired a shin splint from biking up steep inclines with inappropriate gears (apparently his two lowest ones had stopped working). This was fine because Kyle and I had to research our next move – steep mountains, limited, poorly surfaced and busy roads, possible land mines, political tension, and possible food contamination awaited us in Eastern Europe. We needed to read the blogs of those who came before us, avoid unsafe areas, and choose a route that would get us to Istanbul in time. Our route would change many times before we would find ourselves just outside the Bosnian border surrounded in rubbish. Anyways, Kyle did heal, but I had a resurgence of gastrointestinal issues made worse by food poisoning. In addition, strong headwinds impeded our trip down the coast, slowing us down and making me feel even more miserable. Our bikes were not in great shape; Kyle still had gear troubles and I was still having issues with my chain that I had in fact NOT replaced in Italy. All in all, we were creeping down the coast at a snail’s pace, only to have to put our bikes in the shop once we hit Split. When our bikes were returned to us having more issues than before, I started feeling like the universe was telling us something. I continued to have that feeling as we cycled up a steady incline with my energy waning and my stomach complaining. The truth was that we both had been losing heart for a while. I especially, had this feeling of urgency, like something was telling me that it was time to go home and begin a new journey. I am not one to ignore these types of feelings.
So here we are, flies a buzzing and surrounded by broken glass and used condoms, staring into each other’s eyes and both feeling the same thing. Kyle had been promising the proposal of all proposals for a while, but the truth is that we are past proposals. We have been through so much together – graduate school, new jobs, age differences, health issues, long distance, and the cycling trip of a lifetime. I feel married to him in spirit and now I want to tell the world what is already in our hearts. He, of course, agrees, and before we know it, we are riding back to Split and onto an even greater adventure.