STUARTS DRAFT — On Sept. 1, Laura Klein and Daniel Gayle reached the top of the world.
After 2,200 miles of hiking, they reached the top of Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine at 5,267 feet.
And, after six years of dating, they also got engaged.
Gayle, a 2004 graduate of Ridgeview Christian School, grew up in Stuarts Draft. Klein is from the Netherlands.
They met on Oct. 19, 2013, while traveling in Nepal.
Gayle said he saw her in the breakfast line at the hostel where they were both staying as they traveled through Nepal.
“I was kind of attracted to her, so I jumped in line right behind her and started to chat with her,” Gayle said.
Klein said the couple has been together since that morning.
For five months they were together traveling and hiking. They explored India and Bangladesh, then went on a five-week road trip in New Zealand.
“You get to know each other very quickly,” Klein said of that first five months.
Klein actually changed her plans soon after she met Gayle because she had plans to travel to New Zealand soon after he came to Nepal.
But, at the end of the five months, they had travel plans that would separate them. Gayle needed to return to work in Virginia. Klein had made other travel plans, and then she wanted to return home to the Netherlands. She had not been home in more than a year.
“You know that that date you’re going to both be going to your own country,” Klein, 29, said.
After three months of traveling, Klein said they began to talk about what would happen when Gayle needed to return to Virginia.
“That’s when you kind of start to talk about it a bit more because there’s sort of a deadline,” Klein said. “And that’s when we were saying: ‘Hey, that’s not going to be the end.’”
At the end of the five months, Gayle asked Klein to return to Virginia with him.
“I knew for sure I wanted to be with him. I knew that,” Klein said.
Gayle said he knew five months into his time with Klein that she was the woman with which he wanted to spend his life.
For Klein, whether she had met “the one” was a decision that took a little longer.
But for two months, Klein worked in New Zealand and then returned home to the Netherlands, where Gayle joined her in summer 2014.
Gayle traveled to the Netherlands before telling Klein, then called her from inside her parents’ home.
“So we have like a five-minute conversation, then I open the door and walk in,” Gayle said.
They lived together in the Netherlands for awhile, which gave Gayle an opportunity to get to know her family and culture.
The couple splits their time between designing, installing and maintaining koi ponds in the spring and fall in the Valley, and spending time in Netherlands. Before meeting Gayle, Klein helped her father in the Netherlands with his landscaping business.
In the summer and winter, they continue their traveling adventures.
The couple share more than a love of travel. They were both born on March 19.
She came to the U.S. in 2015, and in 2016, they went to Route 56, east of Crabtree Falls.
Gayle and Klein walked out on the swinging bridge over the Tye River. That is when Gayle pitched the idea that they hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail together.
“And I was like: ‘no, you’re nuts,’” Klein said. She had traveled a lot and was ready for a break, but a few weeks later she changed her mind.
They planned the adventure for spring 2018, but Klein was awaiting her U.S. residency, which she obtained in May. Gayle had already obtained his permanent residency in the Netherlands.
According to Gayle, May is too late in the season to begin the five- or six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail. The delay was a blessing, because spring and summer 2018 were very wet. Klein said the rain would have made the trip even more challenging.
On April 9, 2019, Gayle and Klein began their journey in Springer Mountain, Georgia. The destination: Mount Katahdin in Maine. According to Gayle, only 25 percent of hikers who start out at Springer Mountain make it to Mount Katahdin.
But Gayle also had another goal in mind. His mother had sewn a silver engagement ring into a corner of his hiking bag to make the 2,200-mile journey.
Hiding the ring was necessary because the couple would handle each other’s bags frequently and clean them out regularly, and the ring could have been easily lost or, more importantly, discovered by Klein before the big surprise in Maine.
At one point of the journey, Klein carried Gayle’s bag for more than 100 miles, without knowing she was carrying her own engagement ring.
Gayle said he knew his plan would be to propose by the sign on top of Mount Katahdin.
“I knew it would be the perfect end to a very memorable experience,” Gayle said.
Gayle said his biggest concern was if the weather would be clear when they reached the top of the mountain. Fog would have dampened the moment. And Gayle also planned to ask someone at the top of the mountain to video his proposal and take a photo.
After the couple took a photo on the Mount Katahdin sign, a traditional pose that all hikers who make it to the top capture with a photo, Gayle’s moment had arrived.
“At that moment, we’ve had our eyes on that mountain for so long,” Klein said of why Gayle’s proposing at the top was a good plan.
After four months and three weeks hiking the Appalachian Trail, according to Klein, Gayle proposed on Sept. 1.
Klein said the couple had hiked from eight to 12 hours each day. The first 700 miles were the most difficult with minor injuries and pain.
But after passing through Waynesboro, Gayle said the adventure got easier.
Hiking is a social activity, Klein said. She said she meets individuals while hiking that she would not normally meet in life.
Every eight to 12 miles are shelters where hikers can gather. Gayle refers to the shelters as “summer camp for adults.”
Klein said she looks forward to what hikers call “trail magic.” Along a hiking trail, hikers sometimes find coolers of cold drinks or a tent with snacks left “magically” on the trail by “trail angels.”
“You feel supported. And you feel like: ‘Yeah, people want you to make it,’” she said.
Gayle said that while hiking “little things mean more to us.”
Gayle said the couple got lucky with the weather after three hours of hiking up Mount Katahdin.
As they climbed up the mountain, in fact “the weather was kind of heavenly.”
“Wow, we have walked 2,200 miles to touch this sign,” Gayle said as they reached the iconic Mount Katahdin sign before he proposed.
The couple has no wedding date or plans yet. However, Klein said she knows she wants a simple ceremony in the United States with Gayle’s family and a simple ceremony in the Netherlands for her family.
“So, I carried that ring 2,200 miles, and now I have to get married twice,” Gayle said.