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An Epic Smoky Montana Elopement

Nathaniel and Julia met in January of 2020 and knew very quickly that they had found the person they wanted to spend their life with. They met online and like to joke about the fact that Nathaniel reached out to Julia in under 12 hours after joining the app, and she never even replied to anyone else. I guess those apps do work! They clicked immediately and sent each other messages that were so long they "broke iMessage" (as in, they were so long it turned into a separate tab that had to be clicked on to view the whole thing).

They would describe each other as the same kind of weird - they have a lot of interests, they're both very artistic and analytical (Nathaniel being a musical engineer, Julia being an artistic project manager), both had been really intentional about waiting to date to find someone that also wanted to pursue marriage, both were very set in who they were as people. They learned that they are both the people at work who like baking for others, both love traveling and adventure, their faith is a super high priority, they both love learning and trying new things, and have so much fun spending time together.

Nathaniel asked Julia to be his girlfriend on their 5th date after they went swing dancing the date prior, on February 19th. Julia left for a trip to Peru in early March, where they FaceTime'd every night. Nathaniel played the guitar on the phone when they talked. She got back from my trip right as Covid was starting to hit and they closed the borders to Peru two days after she got back. Talk about timing!

Due to Covid, they spent a lot more time together than usual. Julia moved in with her family to quarantine in the suburbs and Nathaniel lived in the guest room for 3-4 week due to being unexpectedly furloughed. Julia got to live with his family in Illinois for a week and a half working remote and got to spend a lot of time with them.

They brainstormed lots of things to do and got pretty creative - the most interesting project they did was painting Nathaniel's banjo with a scene from a trip he went on to Utah. They learned a lot about each other really quickly and became more and more sure about the one another.

In May, Nathaniel took Julia camping for the very first time! He was an outdoor trip leader in college and knew a ton about the outdoors, which has been a fun new adventure for her! Julia's first trip was definitely diving into the deep end; he had her outdoor rock climb for the first time in Winona, Minnesota! Eighty feet into the air on a giant bluff called the Sugar Loaf, where they then "cowboy camped" (without a tent) and it got down to 34 degrees that night.

Nathaniel had promised he would keep her warm in whatever weather (with the right gear) and stayed true to his word with two sleeping bags and a hot water bottle. Reflecting on it later, they realized that this was the day they were both certain that they wanted to marry each other.

For Nathaniel, he loved Julia's willingness to go out of her comfort zone, try new things and her adventurous spirit (added to all the other qualities he already knew and loved about her). For Julia, she loved how patient and encouraging Nathaniel was as she ventured out of her comfort zone - he believed in her, made her believe in herself, and gave her such an incredible memory of a beautiful place. His level of patience and ability to make her believe in herself and dream big has been a theme ever since. They've been going on adventures together ever since the big camping trip! Rock climbing, camping in the North Shore of MN and have lots of dreams and plans for upcoming trips! The big trip to Montana being one they planned months in advance to use up a bunch of their paid time off for the year!

Julia and Nathaniel love cooking/baking together, going on adventures (hiking, backpacking, rock climbing), going on walks, Julia doing art projects while Nathaniel plays music, listening to podcasts, exploring fun areas while Nathaniel takes pictures and Julia sketches in an art journal, spending time with friends. When the airports open again, they are excited to explore other countries together too! Julia may not have camped until she met Nathaniel, but she's been to 21 countries and have the goal of going to 30 before she turns 30!

Nathaniel proposed on July 18th. He had Julia thinking she was doing a photo shoot with her roommates. Instead, he gave her a bouquet of fancy flowers, including sunflowers (his nickname for Julia), sang her the song La Vie en Rose while playing his guitar, and got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. He figured she would be expecting him to propose on their Glacier trip, so he intentionally proposed early to make sure she would be surprised (he succeeded!)

They wanted to have a small ceremony in November in Minnesota, but with the current situation of everything, decided that eloping and doing a larger ceremony/celebration in a year or two would be best. Even though it was quickly after getting engaged, they decided that their trip to Glacier National Park would be a really special place for them to elope before they do the ceremony with friends and family later. So with just over two weeks before the big day, Julia reached out to me to start the planning!

Their wedding day was nothing short of perfect. Even though Montana was pretty smoky that day due to the fires on the West Coast, it was still stunning. The smoke made things moody, yet epic and beautiful. See for yourself in the photos below. My favorite part of the ceremony was when Julia and Nathaniel saw each other for the first time. We had Nathaniel turn around until Julia was closer and then turned him around. I loved their reactions! I had so much fun writing their ceremony. There were so many personal touches I got to incorporate into their ceremony from special readings to a hand-fasting ceremony. Even a few little jokes to make everyone laugh. After the ceremony, I drove around with them and we got some amazing photos. Gavin (the photographer) even made a few GIFs which I've included. It was so much fun!

After the wedding, Julia and Nathaniel honeymoon'd in Whitefish and did a five day backpacking trip in Glacier! Their time in Montana was definitely an epic start to their future together!

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Phano and Julia Smith! I had so much fun working with you and creating the most magical ceremony! Even though it was smoky on the big day, it was still stunning. You two were a blast to hang out with that day and Nathaniel's handstand will go down in history!!

Hair & Makeup // Rare Beauty

Photographer // Gavin with Kelly Kirksey Photography


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