FARMINGTON — Bicycles do not cause compatibility. Mountains cannot make people fall in love. But sharing a love for the outdoors can play a huge role in a relationship.
Meet at the state line
Even though Jay and Annie Willmon lived in different states, their paths crossed frequently before they started dating. They attended the same church and often ran into each other at trail heads, where she hiked and he mountain biked.
"I asked her out long before we ever started hiking together, and she completely ignored me," said Jay Willmon, who owns Just Click Printing in Farmington, where the now-married couple lives with their two children, Brooks, 2, and Chamonix, 8 months. "I did something wrong: she didn't know I was asking her out."
Annie Willmon didn't use the phone number Jay Willmon gave her until her parents were visiting, and the raft he owned came in handy to take them on a tour of the Animas River.
His generosity paid off. Soon after, Annie Willmon accepted his invitation to climb Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks, two fourteeners — mountains that exceed 14,000 feet — in southwest Colorado that are about seven miles southwest of Lake City and that are often hiked as a pair.
At the time, Annie Willmon worked at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and Jay Willmon lived in Aztec. But the distance did not stop them from seeing each other even during the week.
"We would both ride our bikes and meet at the state line," Annie Willmon said. "On a random Tuesday, after work, he would leave Aztec at 5, and I would leave Durango at 5, and we would meet at the state line, and he would turn around, and I would ride with him back to Aztec."
The trip gave the two a romantic way to meet up and also train for the Iron Horse road bike race, where riders trek over Coal Bank and Molas Passes to try to beat the train to Silverton each spring. The Willmons have competed in the race twice together.
Having two young children has affected Jay and Annie Willmon's outdoor lifestyle — they were not able to participate in the Iron Horse last year because their daughter, Chamonix, was born the day before — but by no means does it keep them inside.
"There are many local and nearby outdoor hot spots that we have easily escaped to, even with two kids: La Plata Canyon, hiking Ice Lake and Highland Mary Lakes in Silverton, snowshoeing in Ouray, Telluride, the Bisti, Pecos Wilderness, Taos, Arches and Canyonlands, Natural Bridges in Utah, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park," Annie Willmon said.
But just because the couples enjoys hiking does not mean they stay together every step of the way.
"She is very fast. ... Any time we climb a mountain, I can beat her to the top, and then she always beats me down," Jay Willmon said. "She takes off running and runs all the way down to the car."
Climbing for love
At first glance, the Willmons seem like they have nothing in common with two 20-year-old sophomores at West Texas A&M University.
However, Karli Malcom, of Bloomfield, and Mark Ritter, of Aztec, share at least one thing in common with them: a love of being outside together, namely in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.
"When we want to go on a date, we just go outside," Ritter said.
The young couple met as high school seniors competing in the track and field state championships in Albuquerque in 2012. The fact that they represented rival schools — she was at Bloomfield High and he was at Aztec High — did not get in their way.
Through coaxing from family friends, Malcom watched Ritter's events. He noticed her, too, and got her phone number.
They immediately found they shared a love of the outdoors and started hiking together.
"We went to Angel Peak, Simon Canyon, a lot of area hikes and trails," Malcom said.
Mount Sneffels, outside of Ouray, Colo., is the second-highest peak in the San Juan Mountains, and thought to be one of Colorado's most picturesque mountains. On June 23, Ritter took Malcom on a hike up Sneffels, her first fourteener.
When they reached the top, Ritter proposed. Malcom accepted.
Now, both are studying at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas.
While both miss the San Juan Mountains, they said one outdoor retreat for them in Canyon is Powder Canyon, which is about 15 minutes outside of town. The two bought mountain bikes to enjoy one of the main past times there.
But for now, Malcom cannot mountain bike. Last November, she was diagnosed with a heart condition called neurocardiogenic syncope, which affects communication between the heart and the brain. She takes medication but avoids activities that would overly excite her heart rate.
Still, the couple has found ways to stay outside, despite Malcom's condition. Longboarding — like skateboarding but on a larger board that is designed more for coasting — creates less stress on her heart, as does golf, two activities they enjoy together.
The couple's plans to marry on Dante's Peak at Durango Mountain Resort on July 12 still hold fast.
And they have made many other adventure plans for their future as well.
"We plan to go to Machu Picchu and Africa," Malcom said.
When asked what makes Malcom a compatible hiking and traveling partner, Ritter answered with his feelings about her in general.
"She is willing to do it," he said. "She trusts the heck out of me, and she's right by my side."