An elaborate proposal created in December by Brad Erickson for his girlfriend, Palo Altan Sara Ritchey combined creativity and meaning that summed up all they had already shared — and set the tone for their future.
One Saturday in December, on a break from their jobs as counselors at Mount Hermon's Redwood camp, Sara and Brad went for a walk in the foothills near Scott's Valley. What followed was the hike of a lifetime that was three months in the planning, according to Sara.
"I absolutely didn't see it coming — no idea at all. I'm still trying to get my head around how Brad managed to pull it all off without me knowing a thing," Ritchey said.
A short time later, Brad called Sara to ask if the women would meet up with him at the nearby home of Redwood Camp's director, Ron Taylor. Soon the two were on a familiar trail leading through the heart of the camp.
"Having worked at a kid's camp for four summers, I've come to appreciate the art of surprise. All the guys' staff would try to creatively surprise or impress the women's staff from time to time. Being that this was my marriage proposal, I wanted to pull off the best one yet," Brad said.
As Sara and Katie walked, they came upon a note along the trail. The envelope bore the name "Sara," and attached was a single red rose.
"Sara's a common name, so at first I wasn't convinced that the letter was for me. In fact if Katie hadn't pointed it out to me I might have walked right past it," Ritchie said. It was only after some coaxing from her friend that Sara picked up and read the note. Brad described the memory of the first time the couple expressed interest in each other. "It was just a really sweet personal memory," Sara said.
The note also contained instructions for how she should proceed. The resulting hunt led Sara to five more notes — each with a single rose — that had been carefully placed throughout the camp. Each one of the letters from Brad contained a cherished memory from the couple's courtship, along with a description of where to find the next note.
The trail of notes and roses led finally to a railroad bridge overlooking a field of green grass. The bridge overlook was the very spot where Brad and Sara had first admitted to having crushes on one another more than a year before. Below in the field was a 6-foot-high plywood sign bearing the words "Will You Marry Me?" propped against Brad's blue pickup truck. Brad knelt on one knee in front of the sign.
"I just screamed 'YES,' and before I knew it I was running down to him. ... Just the thought that he had gone to such trouble to put the surprise together was amazing," Ritchie said.
Brad works as a contractor's apprentice, building custom furniture and remodeling homes. At Redwood Camp he helps build elaborate sets for the summer program's chosen theme. His construction of a six-foot sign out of plywood and scraps of baseboard was, as Sara put it, "So Brad."
A dozen or so people were waiting to toast the couple, including friend and photographer Danielle Gillett, who took pictures of the elaborate proposal.
Later, Brad suggested they go out for a quiet dinner together. But he had one quick stop at home first, he said.
Thirty of Sara and Brad's closest friends waited to toast the couple and wish them well at an engagement party Brad had planned at the home.
"It was all just so amazing. The surprise just makes it all so much more special and memorable. Neither of us will ever forget that day," Sara said.
The couple will marry July 12 at the Thomas Fogarty Winery in Woodside.
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