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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

The Trails Lead to Love

Jan 29, 2020 11:43AM ● By Marilee Burrell

David and Jessica’s wedding ceremony

by Roger Dubin

This is the story of two couples whose love has a special connection to the trails and nature. One couple was married on a mountaintop in Harriman Bear Mountain State Park, the other deep in the Catskills amidst 300-year-old birch trees and 400-year-old spruce. Coincidentally, they both got engaged in canoes.

Love Survives

David and Jessica met in early 2014, when Jessica scored a Groupon for a survival program run by David’s company, Destination Back Country Adventures. David taught the class. 

David immediately felt an attraction to Jessica but quickly suppressed it. Then approaching 40, he had vowed that he would only get serious with someone if the relationship could lead to permanence and marriage. He didn’t think that possible with a 23-year-old. Jessica was attracted to Dave’s outdoorsy nature and adventurous lifestyle, but she also saw the age difference as a problem. 

The survival class was followed by day hikes and backpacking. Jessica fell in love with the woods and eventually became a guide at Destination Back Country. She and David enjoyed each other’s company but avoided getting romantically involved. This went on for two years, as they fell in and out of relationships with others.

They finally changed from co-workers and friends to partners after a particularly intense backpacking trip that they led together. The emotions ran high with this group of 25 New Yorkers over nine nights in Utah, but Jessica persevered and Dave was impressed. Rather than fly home alone, Jessica accepted Dave’s invitation to drive back to New York with him. 

After a particularly rough stretch of driving, they decided to camp in a wooded area in Tennessee. That’s when Jessica really saw David’s passion for nature. It still makes her melt.

“Here’s this rugged guy who turns to mush when he sees a waterfall or hikes through an old-growth forest. And we get into the woods and he starts screaming, ‘Ferns! Ferns! Oh, how I missed you ferns!’”

A year later they married in a private ceremony in an old-growth forest miles from civilization. They held their reception on a mountaintop in the Catskills.

The Long Path

Daniel and Ayla grew up together. His dad was Ed Bieber, founder of the Nature Place Day Camp, now in its 35th year. Her dad was Scott Dunn, the camp’s program director for 30 years. Daniel and Ayla shared the sense of wonder that comes from constant exposure to the outdoors. 

They began dating 10 years ago and married in 2015. Asked about the importance of hiking and nature to their relationship, Daniel says, “Consider where we had our wedding. We were looking for a special place in nature to get married, and Dad suggested the site of the Raymond Torrey memorial on top of Long Mountain, where the Long Path crosses. What a metaphor that is for marriage and life! We started the journey of life together on the Long Path, which was conceived in 1931 and extends over 350 miles, from New York City to Thacher State Park in Albany County.”

The wedding took place on a blustery October day that started off mild and quickly turned cold. The rain blew horizontally at times, and the mile-long trail up the mountain was so slippery that guides were strategically located to keep the 100-plus guests from falling.

“Overcoming the challenges and weather to get to the top made the ceremony that much more meaningful,” Ayla says. “We’ll never forget that day and the start of our lives together as husband and wife on that mountaintop.” 

Some trails lead into the woods. Others, to love.

Happy trails!

Roger Dubin is volunteer trail supervisor for the New York-New Jersey Trail conference (nynjtc.org) and day hike leader and naturist for the Nature Place Day Camp. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram @MrNaturalNYC.