Ahren and Courtney met while both working at REI in Washington State. Having an adventure elopement in nature seemed like the perfect way to tie the knot in celebration of the outdoors and how it has brought them closer together. Not to mention give them the opportunity to have a day focused around what matters to them with an intimate group of people. When they first reached out to me they had quite the list of amazing elopement locations already in mind from Mount Rainier to the North Cascades and beyond. The list quickly got narrowed down once they started refurbishing/rebuilding a small sailboat. The decided on Sucia Island out in the San Juan Islands off the Washington coast. This place already had a spot in their hearts from exploring there in the past, camping and being on the water. They worked diligently leading up to their elopement after work and on the weekends to perfect the boat and get her in tip top shape to row the two miles form Orcas island to Sucia on the big day.
Bill and I had the privilege to meet Ahern and Courtney a week or so before the elopement at a local bar in Seattle. Immediately you could tell the stoke was high to get the boat into the water for a test run after some final varnish touches and for the big day on the island. Their love for each other, travel and the outdoors was also immediately visible. We chatted about hiking the enchantments, big hikes in Wyoming and more. Before long the day had arrived and it was time to board the ferry from Anacortes to Orcas. I met up with their make-up artist, Joey, at the ferry dock to ride over to the beautiful cabin they had rented on Orcas as a stay for before and after the camping elopement. We were welcomed with the smell of coffee and breakfast that was just starting in the kitchen, Courtney and Ahern had started their wedding day doing yoga on the balcony with their small group of friends who had gathered for this special day. After breakfast everyone went their own separate ways to get ready before heading out. Courtney got into hair and makeup as friends took turns sitting with her and chatting, Ahern went to the dock slips to prepare the boat for the launch while their friends finished the olive oil cake. Their friends also finished packing and loading up the cars, squeezing limes for the margaritas, rehearsing the ceremony and practicing a song on the ukulele.
Once everyone was ready and the tides were just right, the friends loaded the ferry over to the island and Courtney, Ahren and I set sail into the big blue in their boat, Madrona Moon. You see, there was a lot of purpose and meaning behind every element of their elopement day. It was truly one of the most special things I had witness. All the thought that went into everything, tying together something so real and raw. Madrona is the name of their favorite tree, which happens to be native to Sucia Island. Their elopement date was centered around the Strawberry Moon. So Madrona Moon was the perfect name for their boat. They had labored so much love into. Courtney started off the rowing across the ocean as we admired the mountains surrounding the waters and chatting about all the different islands they had already explored and plan to explore in the future that we could see. Once Ahern started his turn at rowing we were visited by several seals in the water. Before you knew it we were at the docks for Sucia where their friends stood waving and greeting us. We all undocked and carried our things to camp. Courtney and Ahern had booked a group camp site so we all got to stay together, some of us in tents and some of us in the open bunk house. The group changed into their wedding clothes as dinner was set up and Courtney and Ahern started to prepare the oysters and dinner. The table was a beautiful set up, complete with one of their favorite wines they had found in Port Townsend, the area they worked on the boat for most of the time. Dinner started with a toast to the evening, their love and the start of their marriage.
After dinner Courtney and Ahern got dressed at different areas of camp with the help of friends. Courtney had gotten a beautiful gown that would show off her warrior woman tattoo, but she made it her own by adding a cape, the gold tassels and even doing some of the beading herself. They shared a private first look by the water as friends started to head out for the hike where the ceremony would take place. We hiked to the West side of the island for a sunset ceremony. Along the hike we passed several of the Madrona trees, sailboats in the water and we shared laughter with friends. We arrived to the spot overlooking the water and mountains where the ceremony was to be held. Courtney and Ahern walked into their ceremony hand in hand with big smiles as their friend played a song on the Ukulele. They joined both hands as one of their other friends officiated the ceremony. Each friend in attendance shared beautiful words throughout, some of the readings came from a book, Braiding Sweet Grass, which means so much to each of them and their relationship. Each friend also blessed their rings before Courtney and Ahern exchanged them. Ahern ring was hand made in Colorado with rock form Michigan, where Courtney is from, but also with left over wood from their boat. Courtney’s ring was also stunning and unique. She designed it with the ability to add stones/stars for when they have children. The vows were the most truly open words I think I have heard. I am not sure there was one dry eye in the group, I know I teared up behind the camera as Courtney read her vows. Before the ceremony ended they shared a unity cocktail with strawberry purree (to keep with the strawberry moon theme) Mescal and several other ingredients. As the ceremony ended everyone shared hugs and we made it official signing the marriage license. As we took their couples portraits along the water I looked back and saw all of their friends smiling looking on sitting on the hill overlooking the sunset and their two newly wed friends!
We all hiked back together and as we turned the last corner back to camp we saw the huge stunning strawberry moon coming up over horizon line, giving light to the boats in the water. It was quite the sight. Back at camp they enjoyed a spontaneous first dance to a classic love song and shared a first bite of the olive oil cake before everyone else dived in. The night was spent under the beautiful moon by a campfire sharing memories, telling stories and bonding in friendship.
The next morning as we all slowly awoke from the night before, friends starting cleaning up the dinner area and others started working on whipping up some coffee and breakfast. Courtney and Ahern and I took the boat out for a little row for some bridal portraits. We were greeted with many other older couples who boat-life and they were all awe struck by it all! I think the entire island knew Courtney and Ahern got married on Sucia by the following day. The entire morning folks would walk by camp and congratulate them! We hung out at camp reminiscing on the evening, wedding planning and boat building. We had time before we had to leave the island so we all packed up our camp and set out to go explore! We hiked to an area where you could see Mt Baker. We watched eagles hunting for fish, searched for star fish and fossils. Since the tides were a bit rough and the water was white capped we decided we would all ride the ferry back to Orcas. As we waited on the ferry, some snacked, some took naps in hammocks and several folks hopped into the ocean for a quick dip! It was a perfect day with friends, exploring and hanging out. Upon arrival back to the main island I had to part ways with the group, but they were all set to enjoy a nice dinner on Orcas in celebration of the elopement and had planned to end the night with an epic dance party!
This entire two day experience was one of the most special experiences I have been apart of. It is almost hard to put into words, it was beautiful, authentic, raw and meaningful. It was so special getting to know their group of friends and see how much love each of them had for this couple. Courtney and Ahern’s bond is so beautiful and true and their love for the water and exploring the great outdoors was so present and celebrated. Each bit of the day was designed to bring them to life in wedding day form. I personally can not wait to read Braiding Sweet Grass now and look forward to seeing these two out on the trails later this summer.
If you have ever heard the false claim that elopements are not special my friends, just look at Courtney + Ahern’s elopement day.
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