In 2015, my girlfriend Ashley and I quit our 9-to-5 jobs and bought one-way tickets from our home in Denver to New York, and from New York to Paris. We spent the next 114 days trekking across 15 countries and 38 cities, alone but together. Before we left, we’d been dating — in love — for about three years and we’d fallen into routines. We didn’t see each other in the mornings because Ash had a long commute. We ate our meals on the couch and watched Netflix, dreading the next workday. So we decided to risk our future for a happier now. It was the best thing I ever did.
When we got back, I wrote my first book about our experience, and when I got the very first advance readers copy of my book in the mail, I put it in my backpack and took Ash hiking. We hiked through the Appalachian Mountains to the exact spot of our first kiss, where I pulled out the book and asked her to read the dedication. This is (a slightly longer version of) what she read:
My sweet Ash,
Without your push, we never would have fallen.
You always dreamed of traveling the world. When we began dating, it was all you talked about. You told me how you couldn’t wait to get out of this small college town, how you couldn’t wait to experience life through a different lens.
When we graduated from college, you wanted to celebrate 16 years of schooling by traveling together. I told you we had new careers to start and that these were our prime years. I told you that we didn’t have the time or money to travel the world just yet and asked that we wait a while. You listened to me.
We settled on moving to Denver to start our careers. You filled young minds with love and letters as a kindergarten teacher, and I raised money to teach kids financial literacy for a large nonprofit.
Each year at midnight, as we toasted our cheap Champagne and kissed softly to the background noise of cheering New Year’s Eve patrons, you asked me to travel the world with you. You asked me to take you to romantic corners of Prague and intimate islands in Thailand. You asked me to spend miserable sunburned nights with you in Italy and long days under beach cabanas in the Greek Isles. Each year you asked me and each year I gave you a reason why we should wait. I told you we needed more work experience. You listened to me.
One year later, I was offered a new job, my dream job. When I came home with the news, you looked like you had the air knocked out of you. I could see that you were devastated. Your eyes began to glisten as you smiled and congratulated me on accepting what I had worked so hard for. “Now we can take epic vacations!” I assured you. But we both knew that what we had talked about for years and what you had been dreaming about your whole life had just slipped away from us.
A few weeks into the new job and I hated it. It was not what the job I thought it was and I came home feeling lost. I had worked so hard for years to get to this point and it turned out it was not what I wanted to do with my life. You sat me down on the couch, looked me in the eye, and told me you had a great idea.
I was afraid to leave the comfort of our lives in Denver but waking up to your smiling face every morning, eager to explore, assured me that everything was going to be OK. It was hard for me to embrace our journey during the many sleepless nights in the sweltering Tuscan heat and exhausting back-to-back travel days in the jungles of Thailand, but by conquering these trials and tribulations together, we fell deeper in love because all we had was each other. When we got home, I was afraid of not finishing my book about our travels, or not being able to find a publisher, but you urged me to keep writing.
Ash, you are the wind to my sails and the ink to my pen. No matter where I go or what I do, the only thing I am sure of is that I want you by my side. Every cliff I jump off, every moped I crash, every morning after a night of food poisoning, every Mediterranean sunset, I want you by my side. I never want to stop exploring with you, Ash.
Will you marry me?
Kyle James lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina, with his fiancé, Ashley. They are getting married in July 2018 on one of the Croatian islands they traveled to together. Not Afraid of the Fall is James’s debut book.