“Wait here and I’m going to run over to James,” Katie said, pointing to a small pine tree. Suddenly my heart was beating fast.
I slid behind the tree as requested and turned my back toward it, gazing at the mountains that were showing off a majestic alpenglow. With my hand on my chest and a slight breeze on my face, I took a deep breath in.
Was this really happening?
Was I really witnessing an epic sunrise in the mountains and moments from marrying the love of my life?
Yep. It was all true.
Before I continue, let me take you a few steps back, as this sliver of time came to be because of various conversations, daydreams, and big decisions. Now is also a good time to tell you that, if you’re looking for a quick read… this is not the article for you! It’s been quite a bit since I’ve written a solo blog here and I’m ready to spill!
So, as you’ll remember, James and I got engaged in June 2019 while hiking Mt. Rigi in Switzerland. James and I had been on the road for 2 months and I had no idea that the ring was in tow the whole time, burning a hole in his Osprey backpack. Funny story — the night before he proposed, I nearly sliced off my ring finger while cutting bread.
When we returned home to the U.S. in the late summer of 2019, we started hunting for a wedding venue. We settled on Waterville Valley in New Hampshire because it offered ample adventures for guests and felt quite “us.”
This part of the story you might already know. The next part will likely be new. In the beginning of January 2020 I started having strange feelings about the whole traditional wedding route. It felt like so much planning and such little freedom to do things in a way that felt different and authentic. I was also feeling pangs of grief for not having a mother to plan with. This was something I had recognized might happen, as I had flash-forwarded to all the milestones that would be missed.
My heart was feeling heavy, yet there was a palpable excitement in the air because we were moving to Denver, I was about to start training to be a coach, and overall the future was looking bright (pre-COVID taking over the world, of course!).
Around this time I went to see a good friend’s mom for a reiki session. During the session, things felt so clear. I knew exactly what I needed to do, what would make me happy, and I was positive that my mother approved.
Then I forgot about all that and fell back into life, coach training, moving across the country, and eventually dealing with a global pandemic.
Pandemic creating an expansion of “what’s normal” for weddings
Like most, we were hopeful that things would be “back to normal” by Fall of 2020 and that there was no chance our 2021 wedding would be impacted. As more and more events got cancelled, changed and rescheduled, we started considering what our plan B, C, D would look like.
By the winter, I was starting to feel a lot of resistance when it came to wedding planning. Friends that were getting married in 2022 already had a lot more envisioned than I did, and I had no interest in thinking about all the small details. We also had quite a few people invited to our wedding from Europe and, even though things with the vaccine looked hopeful at the time, it still seemed too soon to ask people from out of the country to make travel and accommodation arrangements.
During my time sitting at home during the pandemic I had started reading about elopements and I was drawn to the idea of simplicity, intimacy, and being outside in nature. The pandemic altered much of what was once considered “normal” and the wedding industry is no exception. I started to see more couples eloping, hosting backyard weddings, and getting married in the courthouse.
I took a few days to sit with my feelings and then, one evening, I announced to James I wanted to elope and have a wedding celebration in 2022. He was instantly on board and I felt one million times lighter.
Change of plans!
Next, it was time to chat with loved ones. I was nervous! Even though I felt confident about this decision and we had a whole host of reasons that eloping was a good option, I didn’t want to hurt feelings. I’ve been working hard over the past years to be less of a people-pleaser and do what’s right for me. Still, it felt selfish at first to admit that what felt right for us was getting married — just the two of us.
We are fortune to have families that understood and celebrated our decision and various people went out of their way to tell me that this was a great idea.
We only had two things booked, our venue and photographer, and both were flexible. We had gotten the chance to meet our photographer, Nicole, when we met up with her in Acadia national park and she took these photos of us and Buckwheat.
Okay, so we had rescheduled things, chatted with our families. Now it was time to decide what we wanted our Colorado elopement to be like!
Here’s where things got serendipitous… Our two friends Katie and Evan were supposed to elope in Switzerland in 2020 and (of course!) COVID interrupted their plans. They decided to reschedule their shoot to be in Colorado, where their elopement photographer lives. Katie happens to be a wildly amazing photographer (she’d already shot James’s little sister’s wedding!) so… suddenly we had the opportunity to have our two friends witness and capture our special day.
A Colorado Elopement
With our new plan to elope in Colorado, we had a new world of possibilities. Would we get married in the dessert sands of Great Sand Dunes National Park? What about by the lakes of Crested Butte? Maybe in our yard under the nice string lights the last owners of our home left behind? In the end, Airbnb guided our decision. Many of the areas we considered didn’t have great accommodation options nearby and we also needed a place that would host Buckwheat! We found the Breckinridge area to be our best bet - with hiking galore plus many options for places to stay. We found a home in Silverthorne, Colorado (just north of Breck) that was a quick walk to a National Forest! Just like that, our decision was made.
I was intimidated to find a dress. I also was pretty picky, which didn’t help. I didn’t want to buy anything new unless it was ethically and sustainably made, I looked at pre-owned dresses but had trouble finding a “try before you buy” option, and the idea of running around to different local stores didn’t interest me.
For months I kept an eye on a few businesses that make ethical/sustainable wedding dresses and I happened to check one of them when a dress in my size appeared on the “off the rack” section at a third of the price! My mama taught me how to hunt down a good sale, so I felt like this was her gift to me. The company shipped me the dress for try on and it fit like a glove. Buckwheat was the first to see me in it and he approved!
James, on the other hand, stopped at an outlet as we were scouting out elopement sites, about a month before our wedding. He also found a suit on sale and it also fit like a glove. Buckwheat went back and forth on exactly what he wanted but eventually chose a blue floral bow tie.
James had a wooden engagement ring and we decided to get him something a bit hardier for our wedding. We found a locally-owned ring shop just down the street from our house and found him a carbon fiber ring that he is really happy with.
I considered a few different wedding band ideas but my heart kept calling me back to my mother’s wedding band. After all, she had made her and my dad’s bands herself out of palladium. I mean, how cool is that? My dad sent me the ring and I got it resized easily. Words cannot describe how special it feels to look down and see my mother’s ring. Not only a reminder of the commitment that James and I have to one another, but also of my mother’s love and freaking amazing crafts(wo)manship.
James and I were drawn to dried flowers and herbs. At one point he was set on having a basil plant boutonniere or a little cherry tomato stem 🌱😆. We found a place nearby in Denver with a “dried flower bar” and we went together to pick out a slew of flowers together that we’d eventually put together into a bouquet and boutonniere. This is part of the fun of a not-so-traditional wedding - you get to do many things together that you might otherwise outsource!
Things start to get real!
Katie and Evan arrived on Tuesday June 8th and we planned to get married on June 10th in Silverthorne. On Wednesday morning, before heading for the mountains, James and I went to the courthouse for our marriage appointment. They said we could sign the paperwork right there but we decided to take it with us. Did you know that Colorado is one of just a few states where you can “self-solemnize,” or marry yourself – no judge or officiant required! The whole, “wow we’re really doing this thing!” started to sink in as we pulled away from the courthouse, marriage papers in hand. It was even more thrilling because it was a weekday and while most people were working, we were doing something once-in-a-lifetime!
We arrived to the Airbnb and fell in love with the space inside and out. We had enough time and daylight to walk to the spot in the National Forest that we’d elope the next morning. Katie, being the experienced photographer she is, talked us through the motions of wake-up time, where she thought the sun would rise, and when it would provide the best lighting.
We spent the evening playing cards, arranging my bouquet, and eating sourdough pizza. It was so laid back, so happy, so “us.”
Sunrise! Eclipse! Elopement!
Sleeping didn’t really happen. I stayed up wondering how a flower crown was supposed to stay on my head (was I supposed to have brought pins? I definitely should have tried it on!), worrying that our alarm wouldn’t actually go off, and Buckwheat kept barking at the sounds of nature and other dogs’ barks.
Around 4:30 AM we peeled ourselves out of bed and got ready in separate areas. Not seeing each other just before was a tradition I was willing to uphold.
James headed up with Evan around 5:15 AM and I left just a few minutes after. I carried a wool blanket with me but once I stepped outside I felt quite warm. I didn’t check the weather and expected it was about 60° so I carried a blanket (spoiler: it was 45°!).
“Is this what you expected?” Katie asked me as we crossed the street to the trail. “Better!” I replied, eyes on the mountains that were starting to catch first light.
This brings us back to the moment I began with — James out in the open meadow, Sheila behind a small pine with her hand over her heart catching her breath. I’ll also reveal what happened in the reiki session. As my friend’s mom was moving around me, I was acutely aware of my mom’s presence. I felt that she was instructing me to do things “my way” and that she had no expectations. I also experienced a sudden, crystal clear vision of walking through trees, alone, in my wedding dress, toward James. It was not until June 10th 2021 at around 5:40 AM that this vision came flooding back. Perhaps this is the way it was always meant to be.
This next part can best be described in photos
WOW. What a moment! This was also the moment James asked me if I was cold, which I still wasn’t 😄 It hit me a few moments later though and Evan kindly delivered the blanket to me for our vows.
We exchanged vows as the sun rose, our words breaking the silence of the world waking up around us. Katie snapped photos as we did them but I barely knew she was there (part of her photographer superpowers I guess!). Evan became the ring bearer, the flower holder, and later Buckwheat’s handler.
Buckwheat had stayed home for this part and we scooped him up to take more photos by Lake Dillon. As you can see, he was quite excited to show off his bowtie. Also you may enjoy scrolling up to our engagement photos to see how big he’s gotten since being a small floppy pup in Acadia.
So there you have it — a sunrise elopement in Colorado, done the She & Jim way. Thanks for reading along if you got this far. I hope you enjoyed!