It's true!! Grace proposed on Thursday, September 14, at sunrise. If you are on either of our social media, you probably saw that we shared the news the next day. Today I want to share the WHOLE story, in addition to a recap of our time in Alaska. We really fell for the state (the little bit we saw of it), and we are already talking about returning for anniversaries in the future.
Alaska was a dream come true. It is so wild. We thought the people were really friendly too. I wish there were a smarter-sounding way to say this (haha), but I have never been somewhere so HUGE in my life. The landscape was dramatic and serene at the same time. If you haven't been and ever get a chance to, I really recommend seeing it for yourself. All of that said, there's a ton of the state we didn't even see! With our timeline of taking about a month off of work (or in my case, in between jobs), it wasn't possible to explore the whole state, but we dipped our toes in. We can't wait to see more of it in the future.
We got engaged toward the end of our time in Alaska, so first I'm going to share about our first few days and then tell the story of Grace's surprise proposal.
The last time I updated the blog we were in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The next day we crossed the border into the US/Alaska and drove to a little town (really just a highway junction) called Tok, Alaska, to spend the night. Crossing the border into to the US was super easy, just like it was into Canada. So far we haven't gotten any questions about Willie or his dog food and have never had to wait at a border. Fingers crossed that continues!
In Tok, we had a reservation at Sourdough Campground. We had booked it because of the stellar reviews we found online, and because there isn't a lot else in Tok. It was a decent campground but overall we were a little underwhelmed, especially because it was totally empty. As much as we like serenity in nature, it was a little eerie to not have other people around. Also, we didn't realize that they didn't have fire rings available, which led to this for dinner:
We set up camp and really bundled up, because it was supposed to be COLD that night! And it was. The name of the campground ended up being very fitting, because in Alaska a "sourdough" is a person who has weathered Alaskan winters. While I am sure if any true Alaskans read this they would be hysterically laughing at the thought of us being sourdoughs after weathering one night of above-freezing temperatures . . . for us it was pretty nuts!
We were totally okay though and still got some sleep. It really helped having a natural hot water bottle (Willie) in the sleeping bag with us.
The next morning we pretty much hit the road right away, because we were so excited to get to the destination of the whole trip: Anchorage!
The drive was so beautiful--one of my favorites of the whole trip so far (I was going to say favorite, but I don't think I can pick just ONE favorite!).
We were googly-eyed for Alaska at this point. I've probably said this on every blog post about this trip, but the pics DO NOT do it justice! Alaska is unreal.
Once we got into Anchorage, we pulled up to our adorable Airbnb cottage!
We've stayed at a lot of Airbnbs, and this was one of my favorites ever! It was set in a fairy-garden like setting in a cute neighborhood of Anchorage, just a 10 minute drive anywhere in the city (it's not a big city). And about a 25 minute drive down to the coast or to Kincaid Park (which is where Grace ended up proposing!). Our Anchorage house was absolutely perfect for relaxing, cooking at home, and just as a home base for exploring the area. I wish we could have stayed for a couple of weeks.
When we got to Anchorage, we were both very tired from the drive and really just chilled out for the rest of our first day. We went to a nearby local market called New Sagaya City Market, which was so cute and Alaskan, and got some ingredients to make a simple dinner at home.
The next day we were determined to drive down the coast to Beluga Point, which is a little park-like area on the coast that Beluga whales are supposed to be common. Baby Beluga was my favorite song as a little kid, so I wanted to see if we could spot a white whale. No such luck, but it was incredibly gorgeous and so worth the drive nonetheless.
After poking around Anchorage a little more, we decided to go home and make hot chocolate because it was getting rainy outside. We also played a round of Monopoly: Alaska Edition, which our Airbnb host had. It was actually so fun; I hadn't played Monopoly since I was a kid.
That night, we decided to go out. Little did I know, but we were about 12 hours from getting engaged. It's funny looking back because I feel like we had a major engagement celebration BEFORE we actually got engaged! We went out to a bar called the Bubbly Mermaid which was one of our favorite places we have been on the whole trip. All they serve is champagne and oysters (literally . . . they have no beer or liquor and no food besides for oysters. I love it). We really treated ourselves and got tons of oysters and a few glasses of delicious bubbly. It would have been the perfect way to celebrate getting engaged, but I actually kind of love that we went the night before. Grace obviously knew what was about to happen, so it was just special to go all out and later realize we were already celebrating.
Just such a cool place that I would recommend to any champagne and/or oyster lover (I am most definitely both).
Also that night we drove by the edge of Anchorage, which is sort of a wilderness area/ecological preserve that is beautiful and pretty wild even though it's right next to the city. It is called Kincaid Park, and it is over 1,500 acres. I had read that it's one of the best places in Anchorage to see moose, so we had been wanting to go before we left town. But it was raining when we drove by that area, so Grace suggested we come back in the morning to go moose spotting. "Sure, sounds great!" was my response--not suspecting anything whatsoever. Little did I know Grace's plan was to find a beautiful and special but also "organic" moment the next day to propose. She didn't want to plan something way in advance, because we'd said from the beginning that we wanted to leave our time in Alaska go-with-the-flow and she figured I would be suspicious if she had something scheduled.
That next day, September 14, also happened to be our four-year "anniversary" of dating. I should probably back up here and give a little CliffsNotes version of "our story" for those who don't know, so that Grace's proposal makes more sense in context. We met in college in 2012 but really got to know each other in spring 2013, which was our senior year. My best friend (who was randomly assigned as college roommates with Grace's best friend) actually set us up. Because we were both planning on moving to California after graduation (we went to college in North Carolina), we ended up talking and then visiting each other in California, even though I lived in Berkeley (for law school) and Grace lived in LA. We went on our first date in July 2013 and decided to be a couple in late summer/early fall of that year.
Then we dated long-distance (Berkeley and LA are a 6 hour drive apart) for 3 years while I got my law degree. It was such a sweet season and we have always said and believed that while we wouldn't have chosen to date long-distance, it really grew us in important ways and made us great communicators with each other. One of those things we communicated and quickly realized we had in common was that family and one day getting married was really important to us, and that we didn't want to live together while we were "just dating." Disclaimer: I always hesitate to share that aspect of our story because it's SUCH a personal decision and so many of my dear friends do live with people they are dating. I shouldn't even need to say this, but that's an equally worthwhile choice :) However, waiting to live together was important to Grace and me for a variety of personal reasons.
All of that said, we had a peace and confidence pretty much the entire four years that we dated that we did want to marry each other. We didn't talk openly about it very often, because I wanted to remain present in the season of dating that we were in, but when it would come up it was clear that's where we were headed. But we had never said words like "I want to marry you" out loud or anything like that. I guess we are a little bit old fashioned in that way, in terms of saving certain conversations for their season. But through some thinly veiled (pun intended) discussions over the years, I basically told Grace that I wanted her to determine the timing and, when the time was right, initiate that season of being engaged and eventually married. Again, for a lot of personal reasons, that was right for our relationship. There were most definitely times when I wanted to take back the reigns, but now looking back I think Grace chose the most perfect time to start this new season.
Now that that's out of the way, back to the proposal story! We woke up early on the morning of the 14th and drove to Kincaid Park before sunrise because we really wanted to maximize our chances of seeing a moose (you're probably reading this thinking . . . why are they so obsessed with seeing moose?! We just love seeing wildlife in general, haha). We parked and started walking. Looking back, I can totally see that Grace was on a mission on this walk, because she was power walking and not complaining at all about doing some uphill hiking, which is not normally her favorite thing. She's more of a leisurely walker. But honestly I didn't think much about it at the time because it was early in the morning and I wasn't that focused. Willie was with us sniffing and exploring along the way. After walking for a few minutes, we came to a beautiful wooden pedestrian bridge going across one of the park roads below.
It was totally deserted and purple-hazy in the early morning light. As we walked up to it, Grace suggested that we take a video here for our trip video, which seemed like a great (and totally normal) idea to me at the time.
This is another place where I need to back up and explain. Throughout the Alaska road trip, Grace has stopped at every new location we get to and taken a short video on my DSLR holding up a sign saying where we are. She has a little dry-erase board and will write on it our locations such as Helena Montana, Banff Canada, Dawson Creek B.C., etc. Then Willie and I stand in the background and wave while she holds up the sign to the camera. At the beginning of our trip she explained she wanted to take a video every day and stitch them together at the end, so we'd have a little capsule of everywhere we went. I thought it was a cute idea and it had become a normal part of our daily routine at this point. But, even though we'd been in Anchorage for a couple of days at this point, we still hadn't taken our video with the Anchorage sign because we figured we'd do it at some point before we left town. So when Grace suggested we take our video here on the bridge, I thought it was perfect. She set up the tripod (she has a little foldable one that she had carried with her from the car for this purpose) on one side of the bridge while I stood with Willie on the other side. Right around that time, we noticed two huge moose with full antlers standing under the bridge! We were super excited. Grace then put the camera on the tripod and wrote on the sign while I was looking at the moose. I assumed she was going to write "Anchorage Alaska" (or maybe "moose spotting in Anchorage" or something like that), and wasn't paying any attention. She got the camera rolling and held up the sign to it. I was standing behind her on the other side of the bridge so I still couldn't see what it said.
Then after a couple seconds, she walked over to where I was holding Willie and showed me the sign. "Did I spell this right?" she asked.
Cue my mouth hanging open and apparently (according to Grace, I don't really remember this) a bunch of repeating "are you serious?!" I always thought I would cry when that moment came but I was SO surprised that I didn't at all! My brain just had not caught up to what was happening but before I could gather myself Grace was down on one knee asking if I would marry her and putting a ring on my finger! (Full disclosure, she accidentally tried to put it on my right hand at first). And of course, I said yes. A few times.
It was such a surreal, beautiful moment, and I think we scared away the moose because they were gone when I looked back! Willie was oblivious. My head was still spinning but all I knew was that I was SO happy and sure. I also started asking a ton of questions right away. Does my family know? Did you have help coming up with this plan? Where have you been hiding the ring this whole time? And it was so fun finally getting to hear all of Grace's answers. For those curious, my whole family had known for months, and several of our friends were in on it too. To be honest, I think it was pretty stressful for her keeping this secret while we have been spending 24/7 together on this trip, as well as keeping the ring safe and hidden, so she was VERY relieved that I said yes and that she didn't have to keep a secret anymore. She said she didn't sleep the night before, she was so nervous. It was around this time that we realized the camera was still rolling! So yes, we have a full video of the proposal which is pretty special. Props to Grace for planning that so organically. And she's still going to be making that video with all of our locations, plus the proposal part--stay tuned after we're back!
A little bit about my ring: I LOVE it!! I had always seen myself wearing a simple, classic diamond engagement ring. Grace and I had exchanged zero words about a possible ring (other than me knowing that she wasn't interesting in wearing an engagement ring herself), so it could have gone pretty badly I guess . . . but lucky for me, Grace gave me a gorgeous family ring that has been passed down for (at least) four generations! Hearing about how Grace's mom had traveled to bring Grace the ring, had it specially cleaned, and gotten an insurance policy for it was so sweet. I am beyond thankful and feel so embraced into the Baldridge family. I hope it's not tacky to share a photo, but here you go:
At this point, it was only about 8 in the morning, so we had the rest of the day to relax and celebrate! We called our families first and then went out for a delicious brunch at a place called South, which a friend from law school had recommended to me the day before (thanks, Lydia!). It was SO good, we loved it! Of course it helped that we were in the best mood ever, but objectively the food was really great.
The rest of the afternoon, we pretty much just relaxed and hung out at home while calling more friends and family to share our news! It was a really sweet day. It also made me so grateful that we got engaged while on vacation, because we've had a lot of time to make phone calls and soak it all in! We have felt so very loved and lucky over the past few days.
For that night we already had a reservation at a restaurant called Simon & Seafort's because it was our four-year dating anniversary and we wanted to go somewhere nice. The food was delicious and the restaurant has a to-die-for view of the ocean. We overall really liked it. However, it was kind of an older crowd and I felt like the Bubbly Mermaid from the night before was more our speed, but Simon & Seafort's was definitely an atmosphere befitting just getting engaged.
The next morning, it was (sadly) time to leave Anchorage and start our trip home! But first, there was something really important we had to do. We knew pretty much right after Casper died that we wanted to scatter some of his ashes in Alaska, because we planned the trip for him. We never anticipated that he wouldn't be (physically) joining us. We had talked on the road about exactly where to scatter them, and we mulled over going to a pretty place or near the water. But ultimately, we realized we should scatter them in the garden of the house we rented. Casper was such a homebody, and he would have absolutely loved just hanging out at that house with us while we drank hot chocolate and played board games. We said some words and shed some tears and hugged and scattered some of what we have left of Casper on that cold morning. It was a big range of emotions in 24 hours. But it felt good and right, and with full hearts we hit the road for the "and back" portion of our trip. Before we left town, we made one last stop at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, also a recommendation from a friend. I am SO GLAD we did, because I had the best scone of my entire life there. We also grabbed some sandwiches to eat later on the road, and they were delectable.
And we set off for home as an engaged couple! We were retracing our steps from a few days before, but it seemed even more beautiful going the other direction. We pulled over on the side of the road for some photos and ended up seeing a bald eagle fly overhead.
Our destination for that night, like the night before we reached Anchorage, was Tok. But this time, we decided we did NOT want to camp and brave the freezing temps! So, we stayed at Young's Motel, and it was comfy and totally fine for one night. The Four Seasons it was not, but it was clean and felt very safe, so we were happy! Also, we ordered from the restaurant attached to the motel and had the BEST fish & chips!
The next morning I woke up to it being 28 degrees. We were so very glad that we did not camp. When I stepped outside, it smelled like Christmas trees, and I remember feeling like Alaska was just the most magical place. But it was time to set off for the Yukon on our journey east and then south. I'll post another update once we've traveled a few more days!