Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sealing the Deal (The Proposal)

Buying a ring doesn't sound complicated, but when it actually came to it, I realised that I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

Luckily enough, I found info online detailing the choices of metal for the ring, and explaining how diamond quality and size is measured, so at least I had some questions for the man in the jewellery shop.  After I had made my choice, I even asked to use the man's inspection thingy, although all I did with it was peer through, hoping that I had it round the right way, while waiting for what I considered to be a long enough period of time for me to check something useful, had I have known what I was checking!

At the Westwoods' wedding
So, I had the ring, now I needed to decide where I was going to ask the question.  This was much easier than choosing the ring.  We were going on holiday to Las Vegas, for our friends' wedding, so I planned to hire a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride us from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, then ask Kate on the edge of the ravine.

The next challenge was to get the ring out to America.  I didn't want to put it in my hold luggage, in case that got lost, or someone rifled through it and stole the ring.  I also didn't want to take it in my hand luggage, in case my bag got inspected at airport security and the guard took the ring out.  I had heard stories of people having to propose right there and then, in front of the queues of people getting their luggage scanned, because the ring had been brought out and seen by their fiancĂ©e-to-be!

Mustang Sally (actually, Mustang Kate)
I decided that it would be worse to lose the ring, so chanced taking it with me on board and all went well.

The holiday was a three weeker.  The first week was in Vegas for the wedding, then a two week road trip in an awesome red Mustang convertible.

I arranged the Harley rental for the end of the first week, so as not to steal any of the limelight from the happy couple's big day.  It was so exciting to go and pick the bike up.  We rented with Eagle Rider, who were really lovely.  We had a short wait because there were several people in front of us and by way of apology, the lady gave us until 11:00 the following day to return it, instead 09:00.  We were planning on coming back the same day, so although we appreciated the sentiment, it didn't make any difference to our plans.  Little did we know, this extra time would turn out to be crucial.

Our American Beauty
The Harley was huge.  Back home, I had a GSXR-600, which is a sports bike.  Consequently it is very small and incredibly light.  The Electra Glide, however, was huge and incredibly heavy.  Although it was one of the most exciting things, riding off on a gleaming, thundering, piece of all-American machinery, it was also very scary pulling away from the car park full of men in leather waist coats, who looked closer to bears than men.  Being so big and heavy, with Kate on the back as well, I was worried that I would drop it in front of everyone.  Luckily that didn't happen, but once I was out of that tricky situation, I had to quickly get to grips with a different gear-shifting system, riding position, side of the road and a confusing traffic light system, all while riding amid heavy traffic leaving Vegas.

I was very grateful, however, that I didn't need to worry about navigation.  The lady back at the shop had offered me GPS as an optional extra, but I declined, saying that I already had a great GPS - Girlfriend Positioning System.

Sitting on the Harley was like relaxing in a comfy armchair, especially compared to my usual cramp-inducing GSX-R.  Plus, when I looked in the mirrors, I could actually see what was behind me, rather than getting a good view of my elbows, which is what happens on a sports bike.  There was a radio, which played out loud for all to hear, and cruise control, which was great for the long American freeways.

The heat of the Arizona desert was intense.  Our first stop was at the Hoover Dam, which was very impressive.  We were wearing jeans, though, to offer some protection in the event of an accident on the bike, so we almost melted while walking around in the midday sun.  The cool water below the dam looked so inviting, but the huge drop down to it did not.

Kate looking out the back of the Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam
Me in the Road Kill Cafe
Next up was the historic Route 66.  I really wanted to ride along it after watching the animated film, Cars.  We stopped for lunch in Road Kill Cafe and totally loved it.  I was rushing while leaving the car park, because there was someone waiting for us to turn round.  In my haste, I lost my footing on the slippery gravel and came so close to dropping the bike.

I'm in Nevada, Kate is in Arizona.  I wasn't able to both point properly and take a photo
Unfortunately, we didn't have any radio reception out in the middle of the desert.  I kept flicking through the tuning, in the hopes that we would pick something up at some point.  Just as I was tilting the tuning switch to the side, we hit a little bump and I inadvertently pushed the button in, which I didn't realise you could do.  All of a sudden, Hotel California started blasting out of the stereo.  I had managed to switch over to the CD player, where someone had handily left their CD of American classics.  It was one of the greatest moments of my life: basking in absolutely brilliant sunshine, taking in spectacular views of the desert, a huge American motorcycle underneath me, the girl I love sitting behind me, great music and not a care in the world.  The grin that formed on my face was large enough to put the Cheshire Cat to shame.

Me on the Harley on Route 66
This, however, was soon to change.  Way off in the distance we could see that the sky was black.  As we got closer, we could see that it was a spectacular thunder storm.  Fork lightening was reaching out of the impenetrable clouds to stab the desert.  It was such an imposing sight, and was actually quite scary to ride towards.  When we hit it, we sure knew about it.  The rain lashed down, the wind howled around us, having a large effect on the big bike, and the thunder rolled on endlessly.

The open road...and the impending storm brewing ahead
We were soon drenched and freezing cold.  It was amazing to think that we could have so recently been too hot for comfort.  To make matters worse, we left Route 66 and joined the freeway, which was full of humongous American trucks, throwing spray in my face.  If it wasn't for the Harley's large windscreen, I wouldn't have been able to continue riding because my helmet didn't have a visor and I only had sunglasses by way of eye protection, which I couldn't wear in the gloom of the storm.

Unlike in the UK, the lorries don't have bars between the sets of wheels of the trailer, which was terrifying as the wind blew us towards the huge sets of rolling rubber, ready to chew us up.

We stopped at a service station to buy extra clothes.  Being America, the smallest size they had was huge.  Mine barely fitted me and Kate's was more like a tent on her.  Even with the extra clothes, we had to ride really slowly to avoid freezing, and to stay safe in the treacherous conditions.

All of this, plus the fact that the service at Road Kill Cafe had been very slow (but very friendly and good), meant that we were severely delayed in getting to the canyon.  Thankfully, we left the storm behind us by the time we got to our destination, but by then, it was completely dark.  Kate had suggested turning back when we were in the midst of the tempest, but, having gone through the ordeal of buying the ring, smuggling it through airport security, flying over 5,000 miles, keeping the ring hidden in our hotel safe, then riding 300 miles to make my perfect proposal plan come together, I wasn't about to turn around when my goal was within reach!

The Grand Canyon.  Great by day, not so good by night
We found our way to the canyon edge by using the light from our mobile phones to read the signposts.  When we got there, we could have literally been in a broom cupboard with the light off and the door closed, for all we could see.  Even a flash photograph couldn't see far into the abyss.  You may think that this would defeat the point of proposing on the edge of the canyon, but in fact, in hindsight, I wouldn't have had it any other way.  We could sense greatness of the place, and the knowledge that we had battled through everything to make our way there, shivering in the darkness, gave us a real sense of achievement.

Importantly, we were the only two people stupid enough to visit one of the wonders of the world in the pitch dark, which meant that we had privacy.  There was actually a couple of people there when we turned up.  They had presumably watched the sunset and didn't stay long.  I kept eyeing them up, though, to check if they had left yet.  Kate later told me that she thought I was worried that they looked like they were up to no good and I was keeping an eye on them in case they were going to cause us trouble!

By this time, we had decided that we would stay the night in a motel, rather than ride back the same day as we had originally planned.  We would have been able to make it if it wasn't for getting wet, but we were so cold that we just couldn't carry on.  The other people had now left, so we were completely alone.  We discussed coming back in the morning, to see the sunrise, so now I wasn't sure whether to wait until then to pose the question, but I was worried that we might not end up returning, and anyway, I wanted to do it then, so I held Kate's hand and dropped down on one knee.  If I wasn't holding her hand, Kate probably wouldn't have realised that I was down there in the dark!

"Kate Shepherd, will you marry me?"  Cor, you should have seen the reaction!  I had kept it a total secret (only my parents and sister knew, and Kate's parents, as I had asked her father's permission before we made our trip out to the States).  She was so shocked that she didn't really believe it was true.  She had to ask for confirmation as to whether I really meant it or not.  Once I had reassured her that I did mean it, she started jumping around all over the place.  She still hadn't given me an answer, though, so I was still down on the ground.  I wasn't really sure how long I was supposed to hang around down there, so I pushed Kate for an answer, to which she said that, of course, she would marry me.  By this time, the jumping had ceased and the crying had started.  Luckily there was a large run-off gully (the canyon), for the tears to drain away in.  Actually, she wasn't that bad, but it was touching how happy she was.

The next problem was that Kate couldn't see the ring in the dark, so we took a photo and she looked on the camera!

We rode a few miles back to the nearest town and found a motel.  We celebrated in the bar with a couple of beers and, for me, fish and chips, and for Kate, a mexican-style wrap thing.  We then collapsed in our bed, ready for an early start.

In the morning, it was a lovely clear day.  The ride to the canyon, and watching the Sun rise over it, was magical.  I was glad that I hadn't waited until the morning, because there were quite a few other tourists there, and I wouldn't have felt very relaxed proposing in front of them all, and I'm sure that Kate's reaction wouldn't have been as open as it was the night before.
Sunrise over the canyon

The Grand Canyon in the morning
As soon as the Sun had risen, and we had taken a few photos, we left the other tourists to it and set off back for Vegas.  We stuck to the freeways, avoiding any scenic detours, as time was against us.  Until the Sun was high enough in the sky to warm us, we had to ride slowly because the wind chill was too great if I did more than about 40 mph.  As the Sun rose, though, so did the speedo needle.  We would have been sunk if we needed to get the bike back for 09:00, so it was really lucky that the lady had given us an extra two hours' rental time.  Had we not have missed our turning off the freeway when we got to the large, confusing junctions back at Vegas, we would have been on time.  As it was, we were a little bit late, but it didn't matter because they were busy checking out a large group when we arrived and we had to wait for them to finish before we could check our bike in.

It was such a perfect 24 hours and I wouldn't change a thing about it if we could go back and do it again.