October 17, 2015 was a special day for Ashley and me. A day I will remember for the rest of time. I asked one of the most important, if not the most important, question of my life on that Saturday morning. I asked Ashley to be my wife. Below are each of our accounts of the special day and days leading up. Photos from the special day and weekend are at the bottom.

Mark's side of the story:

Where do I begin? Six and a half years of history is enough to fill a textbook! We met in Statistics class at TCU the spring semester of 2009. The first day of class, I typically like to sit in the front row, or near it, to set a good precedent. This particular day I was a touch late and the front row was already full. I spent a few seconds seeing what the next best option would be. I had two choices, there was a seat on the left side of the room in the second row behind a cute girl (Ashley) or a seat on the right side of the room behind another pretty girl (it's TCU after all... It is hard not to sit next to a pretty girl!). For whatever reason, I picked the left seat. Looking back, this is one of those times it seems like something bigger was at work. I am not sure what, I will let each reader decide for themselves, but I truly believe something bigger steered me left that day. As it were, it set up a friendship that would eventually turn into a relationship, which will now turn into marriage and a happy "forever" together. I, honestly, do not remember much more about that first day of class. The one thing I do remember is, when the professor walked by to hand out the syllabus, I stopped him and spoke to him about missing a few days due to some ski trips. We went on to chat for a minute about my pre-college skiing career. We then moved on and class concluded. The second day of class, a Thursday at 11, I made sure to get there in plenty of time. This time, I made sure to sit in the front row, in the seat just to the right of this pretty girl. We introduced ourselves and a friendship was born.

Cut to; 2015.

Ashley and I have been "officially" together for the better part of 6 years. At this point, I have known for the majority of those years that this is the girl I am going to spend the rest of my life with. I will not bore the audience with why it "took me so long" but just know that it was not time wasted. Every minute of that time was spent making sure my mind was right. I do not take marriage or its commitment lightly. For me, asking Ashley to be my wife is the same commitment as saying "I do." I knew Ashley was the right woman the moment we began dating, but I needed to make sure I was the man she deserved. I needed to be 100% certain I could fulfill my duties as a loving, caring, committed, and faithful husband. She deserves the best man this world has to offer, and all that time was spent making sure I could fulfill that job. I am not the best I can be, but my commitment to her is to, work each day from now until forever, at becoming the best person possible, the man she deserves. Around June/July of this year, I knew I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I just was not sure how I wanted to ask. I knew Ashley would be happy with anything but I wanted it to be special. It needed to be a gesture of love that was as big as the love she has showed me over the years. I knew before I could worry about asking her, I needed to purchase the, all important, ring. Luckily, this was not as hard as it could have been because over all the years, Ashley and I have talked a lot about what she does and does not like. Most of our friends have already been engaged, which helped, because each time a new engagement would pop up on Facebook, she would be sure to let me know her thoughts on the ring. Needless to say, I had a good idea of what she wanted! Now came the part of actually purchasing the ring... Maybe for some people this is easy, but not for me, at least not at first. My first question was, "what will it cost?" I realized I was extremely ignorant in the gemstone market. I had no idea what the market price/caret rate was. About all I knew was, the price of gold, and the only reason I knew that was from reading the Wall Street Journal every morning! I decided to use my ignorance and spin it in a positive. Since I had no idea how much this ring would cost me, I decided to set a budget. This way, it would be completely unbiased and unemotional. My only budgetary condition was I wanted to pay cash for the ring. I will not bore anyone with a finance lecture, but going into debt at the beginning of a marriage to purchase a ring is not a smart decision. Budget set, now I needed to figure out what that would buy me! As most know, I like to be as knowledgeable about a subject as possible before making large purchases. Call me boring, but that is just how I am. I will spend endless hours researching, becoming an expert (or so I think!) on whatever I am buying. I started with diamonds, and then I moved into ring metallurgy, then into jewelry stores and certified gemologists. After about a month of researching, I stepped back and realized that, the Internet is full of crap information, everyone is supposedly an expert in diamonds, and there are more damn choices in this whole process then a buffet at Golden Corral. Moreover, at the end of the day, I was no closer to actually buying Ashley a ring. I needed a new plan of attack. I asked a close, trustworthy friend, who buys a lot of jewelry, for some advice. He recommended a jewelry store in Spokane and gave me a referral to see the owner of the store. After returning home from a trip to Brazil, I stopped by the store, spoke to the owner, whom I had been told to go see, and within two hours the ring was designed, the stone was picked, we had it appraised by a third party certified gemologist, it was insured, and paid for. Now I had the ring... It was time to figure out how I was going to propose. I have to be honest; this was the hardest part of the entire proposal process. The proposal is all about the woman - so I had to remove myself and my comfort zone from the equation. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. It needed to be a moment she would remember forever, but it also needed to be intimate. It took a month or two to really figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I put a number of lists together with different things that meant something to her, to us, or that played a big part in our relationship. The one constant that kept popping up was the mountains, skiing, and specifically Telluride. Telluride is where we spent some of our first dates together. It is where we have gone for vacations over the years. We have numerous friends in the area. More importantly, it is where I remember falling in love with Ashley for the first time. Telluride is a special place in our hearts. Not to mention, Ashley's favorite thing in the world (besides Diet Coke and French fries) is the bakery, Telluride Truffle. Telluride Truffles makes some of the most decadent chocolates in the world. For Ashley, they are heaven. Therefore, the plan started to come together. I had an idea "how" I was going to do it, but I had no idea "when." Ash and I do not even live in the same state, how were we going to find a time to take a vacation? Moreover, even if we did, it would be so out of the ordinary that it would give it away. I had to figure out a way to include this in a work trip. Then it dawned on me; I was going to be in Scottsdale, AZ for an Airshow over her birthday weekend. And the weekend prior to that, I would be in Palm Springs. Why don't we just take a quick detour to Telluride between the two Airshows? That is exactly how it worked out. Better yet, I was able to use the excuse it was her "birthday getaway." I had convinced her that nothing fishy was going on, we were just going to spend a long weekend in Telluride for her birthday. (I owed her a good birthday this year after what happened on her birthday last year). Oct. 15 - Ashley and I met in Palm Springs. We drove to Arizona that evening (as I had to drop off a few items for next week’s Air Expo). Oct. 16 - We woke up early in Tempe and began our drive to Telluride. The weather could not have been better. Arizona and Southwest Colorado in October is unbelievably beautiful. The entire drive I was nervous and anxious - but I was trying to act as "normal" as possible. We arrived in Telluride that afternoon and Ashley's first surprise happened - typically, we crash with one of our friends in the area. HOWEVER, seeing this was such a special occasion, I went ahead and got us a beautiful condominium up on the hill with great views and an awesome hot tub. Remember, this was for her "birthday" so I used the excuse that it was all for her birthday weekend. I have to admit, the condominium was nicer then I was expecting! Once we arrived, it had been a long day in the car and we were up early, so I suggested Ashley take a little nap before we headed out to dinner. Ashley is never one to turn down a nap! This also gave me an opportunity to finish all the loose ends for the big day tomorrow. Eric, a close friend, had also been helping me out with some planning, so I stopped by his house and he helped me finish the items for our picnic. After finishing with Eric, I took a drive around to scout out some nice hiking/picnic locations for the next evening. I had found a few spots, but as I was scouting locations, some clouds started to roll in. I got out my phone and looked at the weather and lo and behold, it was supposed to rain all weekend! Oh no! "What am I going to do if it rains? The whole idea was to have this outside and enjoy the beauty that is Telluride!" I had to stop and collect myself. All this planning and preparation, a little rain was not going to stop us. I quickly began brainstorming other plans. I had a plan B, C, and D worked out within minutes. I assured myself, what was meant to be, was meant to be. Rain, snow, clouds, or sunshine, tomorrow was going to be a glorious, unforgettable day with my best friend. It was starting to get close to dinnertime and I knew Ashley would be calling soon. I did not want her to get suspicious, so on the way back to the condo, I picked up Eric, and the three of us went to dinner in Mountain Village. We finished the evening with a fantastic meal and wonderful company. Thankfully, Eric and I were able to finish the evening without giving anything away. Once back at the condominium after dinner, I started to look at the weather. My plan for a sunset hike the following day was not looking good. It was calling for thick clouds and rain. I did not want to chance not having nice, outdoor weather. It was time to implement plan B. My plan B was a sunrise hike. BUT, Ashley is not a morning person. In addition, the sunrise was at 7:34am. Meaning we would need to begin our trek at 6:30, therefore we would need to leave the condominium at 5:45. Yikes! How was I going to convince her to get up that early on vacation? Better yet, we needed to be dressed halfway decent for the photos. (I knew she would want good photos so our attire mattered for this surprise hike). As coincidence would have it, that little nap Ashley took prior to dinner was now very important. Somehow, I put the words together to convince her that a sunrise hike would be a great idea. Maybe she had some inkling at this point… But, I like to think she was still completely in the dark as to what was actually going to happen the following day. As usual, Ashley fell asleep right away and I stayed awake all night long. I could not sleep one bit. I was anxious, nervous, excited, happy, stressed... You name it. All sorts of thoughts and scenarios were running through my head as I lay in bed. "What if the weather was bad?" "What if she doesn't want to wake up?" "What if, what if, what if...” During all of this thinking, Ashley readjusted and made a cute sigh as she relaxed into her new sleeping position. It caught my attention. I looked to my left and she had moved into the amber glow of light reflecting in through a small crevasse in the blinds. The next moment was one I will never forget. All the "what ifs" had stopped. My mind fell silent. It was in this, palpably clear moment, I saw my future wife, laying in complete calm. A wave of complete awe filled my soul. Could this be real life? Here I was laying next to my soul mate, my best friend, the most beautiful lady I have ever known. "I am going to ask this woman to be my wife in a few hours." Those words, which had been filled with so much emotion, became abundantly clear. In that moment, those words turned into pure joy. In those few seconds, a peace came over me, and I knew, with 100% certainty, Ashley Susan Atkinson was the one. The one I would soon be committed to spending the rest of my life with. And with that, I reached over and held Ashley's hand. I closed my eyes and fell fast asleep. Seemingly, minutes later, "beep, beep, beep." It was time to get this day; she had been waiting so patiently for, started. We slowly rolled out of bed. I quickly made last minute preparations for our morning stroll while Ashley got ready. Amazingly, we were out the door on time, and on our way to the trailhead. Upon arriving, I gathered all the "stuff." And we hiked a little ways to a good spot with beautiful views in every direction. We set up our blanket, and Ashley got comfortable while I set up the cameras. The cameras may have been a giveaway for most folks, but in all of our travels, I would always set up the tripod and take photos of the two of us in beautiful places. Therefore, to Ashley, this was just another fun photoshoot in beautiful Telluride. As to make sure I got the shot, I set up one camera on time-lapse mode to take a photo every 3 seconds. I also set up two GoPro's running video; to be sure, I got a good shot from multiple angles. Once the cameras were all set up, I joined Ashley in the picnic blanket and we sat a few minutes and just enjoyed the sun coming up over the mountains of Telluride. The weather was perfect. A few puffer clouds in the sky, giving good texture to the landscape, and a perfectly placed sunrise directly over Ajax peak at the end of town. Each passing minute the sky and clouds filled with brighter hues of soft pink, yellow, orange, and purples. The snow-covered peaks began to glow. The autumn colors turned to fire. Next to me was an angel. She was softly smiling, looking into my eyes, and I knew it was time. The play the entire trip had been this was all for Ashley's birthday. A "birthday getaway." This meant I needed to give her birthday presents. Therefore, to entice her to want to do a sunrise hike, I told her we would have a nice little picnic & I would give her her birthday gifts during our picnic. After enjoying the sunrise, I asked if she was ready for her gifts. "Yes!” she said with excitement. Prior, I had packed all her gifts in a nice leather bag, with the ring on the very bottom. I gave her her first gift, a Penddleton inspired southwest blanket. She loved it. Her second gift was a flannel shirt with corduroy elbow patches from a company she liked. Again, she loved it and was quite surprised. After the second gift, I waited a few minutes and asked her if she liked what she had gotten thus far. She said she loved them. Since it was a brisk morning, the blanket I had just given her, was immediately used. I told her to stand up, and hold up the whole blanket to see its patterns and colors. After she stood up, I wrapped it around her shoulders and we gazed off into the sunrise. A few minutes later I said, “I have one last surprise for you.” Last, and for dessert, I had gotten her a box of Telluride Truffles (this would have made a little more sense if we were doing a sunset picnic - as chocolates isn't everyone's ideal breakfast dessert). However, Ashley's favorite thing in the whole world is Telluride Truffles. And she has told me on multiple occasions there is never a wrong time to eat chocolate, especially Telluride Truffles! Therefore, this "one last surprise" was her favorite chocolates. I took the box out of the bag, and said, "I know how much you love these, so I got you some Telluride Truffles for dessert." Smiling from ear to ear, she slowly opened the box, seemingly excited to try one of these decadent chocolates. As she untied the ribbon and opened the box, she noticed under the truffles was something else. When she looked up to inquire what else was in the truffle box, I was on one knee. Under the truffles, I had hidden the purple ring box. I took the ring box, opened it, and asked her, "Ashley Susan, will you marry me?" Through her steady stream of tears, she said, "YES!" I got up, and hugged her as tight as I ever had, smiling from ear to ear. She placed her head on my shoulder, as she was crying and laughing. Here we were, in our version of Eden, Telluride; holding one another, just as the sun broke the horizon, beams of light coming down from above. Loved filled the valley. This moment was perfect. ------------ The rest of the day was equally as perfect. We spent the rest of the morning up on the hill. Enjoying the scenery, taking photos, and being carefree. Later we enjoyed a great meal in town and began calling friends and family. The day was, truly, perfect. October 17, 2015.

Ashley's side of the Story

Our Beginning:

Statically speaking, my one in a million relationship, was a match made in heaven! My “love at first sight” story was more along the lines of “love at first introduction”. This is my story on how I found my forever, best friend. January of 2009, in my first class of the semester, Statistics, I promptly found a seat in the front row. I wanted to start the semester off on the right foot; establishing a routine of arriving early and taking detailed notes every class (at least, I kept up with the detailed notes part J). Before class began, my professor was visiting with his new pupils, attaching new names with new faces. As we all waited for 10:00AM to roll around, I overheard a conversation between my professor and the students directly behind me. Several ladies introduced themselves to the professor. Then, a young man stated his name and recounted details from an email he had sent to the professor addressing future absences throughout the semester. What I gathered was this young guy was a training, ski professional. Now, this was quite puzzling to our professor, who was trying to process why a young collegiate male, a training, winter sport, professional athlete, would be sitting in his classroom, in the middle of Fort Worth, Texas. The response he received may have surprised my professor, but it definitely left a lasting impression on me. When questioned with, “If that’s so, then, what are you doing here?” The young male chuckled and stated that he would not be able to ski professionally forever, and an education was very important to him. An education would not only enable him to support himself, but also to provide for his wife and family, someday. Well, if that doesn’t just knock you over silly, to hear that a 20 year old male has enough fore thought to invest not only in himself, but also in his FUTURE FAMILY! I distinctly remember thinking “WOW, that guy’s future wife will be one lucky lady!” It was the next class that I would officially meet this young guy, when he sat next to me in the front row. He introduced himself as Mark Brown. This was only the beginning of our fruitful story. The start of what would be our six and a half year journey to forever! During this time, we earned our Business Degrees from TCU, we rekindled our passions and aspirations in aviation, we shared adventures, both near and far, but most importantly, we built a lasting friendship.

Our Engagement:

As life has proven over the last year, Mark Brown, MB, and I could be called to “work” anywhere in the world, within a moment’s notice. Thankfully, I’ve had the flexibility to set, or adjust, my schedule allowing me to take time to travel to location, or co-pilot with MB, to share in this “new normal” life apart/together. We often pinch ourselves, asking each other, “How did we get here?!” The start of this “early birthday” trip was no exception to the crazy tale. My overly calm, “everything will work out” MB never got upset with the changing, or lack of, schedule. He just knew things would fall into place and all would be well! I could tell this was a special trip for him and he wasn’t going to let anything get him down! MB had REALLY been prepping for my “early birthday” trip to Colorado. This included sending me a detailed packing list (for the perfect engagement photography session outfit). Once we eventually made it to the same location, we were off to the Rockies! In Telluride, with a beautiful drive through the mountains complete, we settled into our fabulous condo. That night we shared a delicious dinner with Mark’s dear friend Eric, catching up on recent events and enjoying being back in our favorite little ski town. MB wanted to capture the last of the autumn colors in the Aspen trees against the rocky reds of the box canyon with a sunrise photoshoot. I knew we’d end up being a part of these sunrise photos, so I got up at 5:00AM to fix those curls!  By 6:30, we were out the door, all bundled up, with a bag of “goodies”, one nice camera, and two GoPros. MB loves photography. He runs around to capture the perfect angle, the perfect light, the perfect shot. That morning this was on full display! Mark had brought a southwestern blanket with him from Idaho for us to sit on while we enjoyed the sunrise. While I waited, and watched him run around, I just smirked and took countless iPhone photos to document the “behind the scenes” of this sunrise event. Once he got all the cameras set, he finally joined me to watch the sunrise. When he couldn’t wait any more, he started taking my birthday gifts out of my Italian leather weekend bag. First, he gifted me a beautiful white/gray flannel from a great store in Oregon. Next, he gave me the softest Navajo blanket from a company that donations a blanket for every blanket purchased. Finally, MB hands me a white box with a gold bow. Inside the box, I found my FAVORITE chocolates in all the world, Telluride Truffles! By this point, Mark is jumping up and down with excitement and nerves. He just about yelled, “THERE IS MORE IN THE BOX, UNDER THE CHOCOLATES!” Oh yes, there was more under the chocolates! There was a purple ring box under the chocolates. He took, opened the box and dropped to one knee all in one swoop. Not wasting another second, he asked “Will you marry me?”  With a massive grin and misty eyes, I SAID YES! I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mark so happy, or relieved! After months of preparation and planning, Mr. MB had pulled off the perfect surprise on a perfect day in Telluride!

Photos

iPhone Photos

Grand Canyon Photos

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