We finally arrived. 5.5 hours in a car, months of planning, and secrecy, and now…we are here. No more worrying about spoiling any secrets, no more worries about a misstatement, a blunder, like anyone asking what we were doing this weekend. I can finally relax. Oh yeah, I have one last secret to keep from Amanda. Probably the most important secret I will ever have to keep in my entire life. In my briefcase (I promised I would not work all weekend as we were driving up to this undisclosed location, but still brought my computer…just in case) aside from business papers and a laptop, there is a far much more important item. One that been months in the planning. One that will finally see the light of day, without my hiding it from the world. But all that is tomorrow, already planned out, and I must play innocent for one more day…
So here at last, Smith Fork Ranch, several miles outside of the town of Crawford, CO which in itself is miles away from Paonia, CO. Population: 366 and 1,497, respectively…But don’t let the size of the towns fool you. This area, in the North Fork Valley, is considered the “Bread Basket of Colorado”. Some of the best cherries, peaches, apples, and other fruits come from here. Wine vineyards (a personal favorite of ours) are also very prevalent in the area.
While over the course of the week we will eventually enjoy all of the above, we are here for the nature, serenity, and quiet of the ranch. Smith Fork Ranch is surrounded on three sides by Gunnison National Park, which I believe is the newest National Park in the country. It is absolutely gorgeous, but I digress…
Upon arrival we exit the car, which is now covered top to bottom in a fine layer of orange dust, and not yet two steps from the car we are greeted by a woman who I know very well from our dozens of email communications, but Amanda has never even heard of. I give her a big hug, as she’s helped me plan everything (including the impending engagement) and Amanda looks at me like I’ve totally gone crazy. I introduce the two ladies, and begin to explain how “she’s the one who put all of this together for us”.
After introductions, we are informed that cocktail hour is in 30 minutes, and if we’d like, we can drop the bags off in the cabin, get a tour of the grounds, and still make it on time…sounds like a plan to us! Luckily, a golf cart is waiting to take us and our bags to the room, about a ¼ mile down the dirt road.
As we walk around the cabin for the first time, Amanda says to me, “What’s in that big box in the corner?” I really pretend not to hear, and we move on to unpacking. After the summer/winter and everything in-between attire is unpacked (remember she had NO idea where we were going), I continually hear one thing, “I wished I would have packed a cowgirl hat.” So finally, after I can no longer take it, I lug this enormous box over to her, and say proudly, “One last surprise.” As I begin to open the box, I explain how I went shopping (not my favorite thing to do) for us, in preparation for this trip. So one by one, I start to pull out cowboy boots, hats, and some outerwear for the evenings. She’s looking at me, once again, like I’ve totally lost my mind. I think it was a combination of pride (both that I went shopping and was able to keep this a surprise as well), and confusion. Why all the trouble? Why this weekend?
Off to cocktail hour where the sunset every evening left an alpenglow like I’ve never before seen. A fine dinner from all local foods (there is a garden on premises which supplies about 75% of the fruits and vegetables served at the ranch, and where we watched the chef meet with the gardener every morning to select the fresh food for that day, which I find really impressive), some wine, some hot tubbing, and early to bed to prepare for the day tomorrow.
Up in the morning, and all around us is nature. There’s nothing to me like a cup of black coffee, a hearty breakfast, and staring at the mountains. We tour around the area, go for some hikes, find all the hidden hammocks around the property, check out the archery area, and wander down by the river. The lunches here are a blast as well…a good old fashioned picnic, basket and all. Each evening you choose what you want to eat the next day (sandwich, salad, etc.) and every afternoon you pick it up, and walk until you’ve decided where to eat. Today’s lunch is by the river.
How she didn’t sense that I was acting nervous I will never know, and when reinterpreting the situation, her only clue (besides of course the once-in-a-lifetime surprise no-work weekend away scenario) was that I kept fiddling with my pocket, beginning here at the picnic. Not really sure where to keep the ring, I decided that as I was only a few hours away from my proposal, I’d just put it in my pocket. Aside from obsessively checking my pocket every 2 to 3 seconds to ensure it hadn’t fallen out of a hole in my pocket that didn’t exist (I checked), that idea actually worked out too.
Moment of truth. The horseback ride that would forever change my life. We arrive at the stables right on time, 2pm. As the wrangler comes out to meet us, we are told that after some brief instructions, we’d be off on the trail. She also says that as we’re the ranches’ target demographic, she may shoot some pictures of us along the way, if that was alright…this, of course, I planned too. I ask how many others were joining us today, knowing the answer was 0, and upon her confirmation, I look at Amanda as if we just hit the jackpot, acting as surprised as she was.
Walking up these beautiful mountains on horseback, I have now permanently placed my right hand on top of my jeans pocket, with the reins in my left hand, to ensure that nothing can possibly fall out. As we start to approach a meadow, about 45 minutes into the ride, we are told that we are going to let the horses rest for a few minutes, while we take a look around at the surrounding beauty…a welcome rest for all.
Suddenly the wrangler says, “It looks like someone left a blanket over there.” I looked at Amanda with surprise, and she bought it hook, line, and sinker. We wander over to the blanket, eventually coming to see rose petals surrounding a bucket, which is filled with a bottle of champagne.
Amanda innocently says to me, “Well, should we crack it open?” My reply is something like, “Yes, but not yet.” I remove my sunglasses, ask her to do the same, reach into my pocket, and drop to a knee. Before the first words come out of my mouth, tears are streaming down her face, and as I’m talking, she’s violently shaking her head up and down, signaling yes.
The rest, as they say, is history, or in this case, the future ahead.