How We Met
Mark and I met in college and were very good friends during my senior year and his junior year. We were both dating other people, but he would drop by and hang out with my roommates and I in our ground floor apartment. When I say “drop by,” I mean that he would burst through our door on a razor scooter.
We lost touch for a year after I graduated and started grad school, but reconnected after he graduated and we realized we were both living in the same town. We started hanging out again and dating, and the rest is history! We’ve been together for nearly four years, both graduated with our master’s degrees and spend our free time gardening, hiking, kayaking, foraging, and cooking together.
How They Asked
Mark had just graduated with his master’s degree, so I had a feeling that he would be proposing soon since that was what we have been waiting for. I didn’t realize it would happen exactly a week after his graduation, and I didn’t realize it would be such a dramatic story.
Mark had been talking about doing a long bike ride along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland, which passes through Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We have biked along the canal and hiked around Harpers Ferry several times before, and it is one of our favorite nearby places. We usually park about 6.5 miles from Harpers Ferry and bike to a spot by the bank of the Potomac River underneath the footbridge which crosses the river and leads to the town of Harpers Ferry.
We biked there and took a break at that spot on the bank, and then decided to keep biking. We ended up biking all the way to Shepardstown, West Virginia, taking some breaks along the way to explore offshoots of the river and so Mark could do some fishing.
I checked the tracker I had set for our bike ride when we got to Shepardstown, and we realized we had accidentally biked over 20 miles and would have to bike over 20 miles to get back to our car. We enjoy biking, but this was a far longer trip than any we had done recently. It was a hot day and we were getting tired, so we decided to bike to the main street in town to see if we could find any water or food since we had basically run out and were getting hungry. We discovered that Shepherdstown is actually an adorable town with shops and restaurants, and there were plenty of people out and about despite COVID-19. We put on our masks and found a restaurant that offered take-out burrito bowls and ate them in the shade.
We felt much better after our lunch, but the bike ride back felt a bit daunting, since it was getting to be late afternoon. We hopped on our bikes to start the return trip and Mark’s back tire went flat shortly afterward. Luckily, he was able to pump it up and it seemed to work fine. We were on a mission to get back to the car before dark, but the ride back seemed neverending. We took a few breaks for water and to pump up Mark’s tire.
We finally got to our spot on the riverbank in Harpers Ferry and decided to take a break. We got off our bikes, took off our helmets, and climbed down to the bank to stand by the river. Mark turned to me and said I was the love of his life and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He got down on one knee and proposed.
I didn’t even look at the ring and started crying and laughing at the same time. I really couldn’t believe it and was so surprised and excited. We felt like we were half dead on the return bike ride, so I had put a proposal out of my mind for the day.
We both cried and hugged and he put the ring on my finger, though it was a little big. We decided to sit down on a rock on the bank to enjoy the moment.
About two minutes later, as we were talking about the ring and how excited we were, we heard someone yelling “HELP” from the river. We looked out to see someone floating with just their head above water in the center of the very wide, very fast Potomac River. At first, it was unclear if they had just fallen out of a raft with their rafting party or let go of their inner tube, but as the seconds went by, we realized he was just out there in the middle of the river, alone. He saw us from where he was, the only people on the bank on that side of the river, and he called to us.
“Come get me! Call 911!”
We knew that he would be heading toward rough rapids, so we burst into action. I found my phone in my backpack and promptly called 911 while Mark ran back up to the trail where our bikes were. He happened to have a rope in his backpack, which shouldn’t surprise me. While I explained the situation to the emergency operator, Mark started to tie our helmets and empty Nalgene water bottles together to form something that could float. He hopped on his bike to try to meet the guy in the water downriver, and I stayed on the bank and yelled over to him that we had called 911.
The river moved fast, and as he floated out of my sight, I scrambled up to the trail and ran to meet Mark. My engagement ring was still on my ring finger and it was a little big, so I remember clenching my fist to ensure it wouldn’t fall off and get lost during all this excitement.
Where Mark had proposed happened to be the only spot nearby where there was access to the bank from the trail. The rest of the trail was much higher up from the river, so Mark was calling out to see if any bystander had seen the man floating in the river. The guy had made it to a shallow area next to the base of the trail, and he answered when Mark was calling.
Mark ran from the trail through a bunch of poison ivy, thorns, and tall grass to find the guy down the cliff.
Luckily, Mark still had that rope. He took off the helmets and water bottles and threw the rope down to the guy and pulled him up the cliff to the trail. As he was pulling him up, he explained how crazy it was that he had just proposed. He lifted the guy up and he asked, “So where’s the bride?!”
I called 911 back to let them know that the person I had called about was alright and on dry land. He introduced himself as Chris and told us he needed a photo with us.
We didn’t get a chance to get any photos at the spot where Mark proposed, so our first photo as an engaged couple is the two of us, sweaty and tired, with soaking wet Chris in between us.
So how did he get in the middle of the river? He explained that he was on the other side of the river with his family, and his soccer ball fell in the water. He went after it but got swept away by the current. He held onto the ball as a flotation device and used his hat as a paddle to swim toward the shallow part of the river where we could reach him. Mark and I were the only people on that side of the river as he passed, and we happened to be in the right spot to see him as he floated by. The rest of the trail does not have a direct view of the river, so it feels like we were meant to be there.
We exchanged phone numbers with Chris and followed each other on Instagram before parting ways.
Chris is most definitely invited to the wedding, btw.
Mark and I took a moment to collect ourselves after the impromptu rescue mission and decided to go back to the spot where he proposed to take at least one nice photo together.
We still had to bike about 6.5 miles back to the car. We were so excited and happy, but the extra adrenaline rush of getting engaged and also saving someone’s life within the same 10 minutes got to us, and we were really struggling to finish our ride.
We were so grateful to get to the car and waited to get home to chug some more water before calling our families to let them know the good news. We surprised them by just saying we had a “crazy story” to tell them about our 40+ mile bike ride and then showed them the ring over FaceTime.
It’s comforting to know that the person you love wouldn’t hesitate for a second to help someone in need. It’s also comforting to know how well we work together in stressful times because I’m sure there will be more of those in our future. I know that I’m signing up for a lifetime of exciting adventures with Mark, and this was just one of them.