Becca and Tim Stanley, who started dating after hiking together in Acadia National Park, got married and now live near the park. Photo courtesy of Becca Stanley

Maine is full of couples who camp, hike, fish, hunt and ski together. But how many met while enjoying their favorite outdoor activity? Or how many couples spent their first date in the wild natural area that is a favorite for both?

This Sunday we bring you the love stories of three such couples, and not just because it’s Valentine’s Day. But because now, more than ever, we all need stories of how love prevails.

These couples credit their shared love of Maine’s wild areas with the deep connection they found with the hiking or paddle partner who eventually became their life partner. They said finding the calming, centering, hopeful spirit in the Maine outdoors made plotting a future with this person a no-brainer.

Perhaps Rob Levin of Portland said it best: “I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t paddle (the Maine coast) together. Maybe we would have gotten together. But the tide and the rhythm of the Maine coast was a big part of it.”

Sarah Cushman, left, and Rob Levin, right, got to know each other better while paddling a portion of the Maine Island Trail together. Soon after, they started dating, and eventually married. They live in Portland with their teenage daughter – and still paddle the island trail. Photo courtesy of Sarah Cushman

SARAH AND ROB

Sarah Cushman and Rob Levin were only acquaintances when they met in college in Philadelphia in the mid-1990s. But two years after college, Rob was on his way to Washington, D.C., and stopped on a whim to visit Sarah in Maryland, where she lived at the time.

She suggested they go kayaking on a nearby river. And on that paddle in 1998, Sarah shared her dream of paddling the Maine Island Trail, a network of 200 wild islands where kayakers can camp. She once led trips to the islands as a camp counselor near her home in Woolwich, and longed to return. Rob offered to paddle the island trail with her that summer, and they planned a two-week adventure.

That wilderness trip didn’t lead immediately to courtship, but they both said it made it inevitable. They left from Castine and headed Down East, with porpoises following them at the start. 

When they paddled the Maine coast together in 1998, Cushman and Levin fell for its wild beauty – and each other. Sarah Cushman photo

“We talked about giving each other space with independent walks, and separate journaling time. Instead, it was two weeks of this soul-mate conversation,” Sarah said. “I never had anything like that. We had the most powerful experience.”

The charmed adventure was not without mishap. Near the end of the trip, the high Down East tides pulled their kayaks off an island and set them afloat at sea, leaving the two stranded. They flagged down a lobsterman and his sternman, who rescued them and brought them to Milbridge.

Turns out, the abrupt end to their trip was serendipitous. Rob later retrieved Sarah’s kayak from another helpful lobsterman – providing him the perfect excuse to see her again.

They started dating soon after, and three years later they married and moved to Maine.

“Some sparks had flown, but it wasn’t like we planned to spend the rest of our lives together,” Rob said. “It took another year. But I’m fully convinced, I owe my life to the Maine coast.”

Becca and Tim Stanley, who started dating after hiking together in Acadia National Park, got married in 2018 and live near Mount Desert Island. Rogier van Bakel photo/Courtesy of Becca Stanley

BECCA AND TIM

The odds were stacked against Becca and Tim Stanley.

The 20-somethings met briefly in 2016 through mutual friends, but first spent real time together on a hike in Acadia National Park in the spring of 2017, on what was intended as a group hike. They were the only two who showed up. Yet, the hike up the Bubbles was so nice, they decided to hike together again. And soon they were dating.

“It allowed us to have more vulnerable conversation. The woods make people vulnerable,” said Becca, 26. “We made a lot of big decisions while hiking.”

However, in the summer of 2017 Becca and Tim both needed to find full-time jobs in a part of Maine not ripe with employment opportunity. Becca’s position as a seasonal worker at the Friends of Acadia was due to end. Tim was trying to find a job as an attorney near Southwest Harbor, where he grew up. He worked a seasonal job at a hotel there.

And yet, in January 2018, they got engaged anyway and married the next fall.

“Finding Becca was such a joy for me and – almost inspirational. When we got married I thought, together we can do anything,” said Tim, now 32.

As they shared their life goals while climbing mountains along the coast and star gazing beside the ocean, they gained faith things would work out. And they did.

Tim was hired as an associate attorney at an Ellsworth law firm soon after they married. Becca’s seasonal job with the Friends group tracking recreational patterns in the national park continued, and eventually became full-time in 2020.

“We are kindred spirits for sure,” Becca said. “I always knew the good in this relationship would persist beyond the hike. We were able to find common ground in an outdoor place that is unmatched.”

Sandie Sabaka, left, and Brendan Curran, right, were both working in Baxter State Park when they met in 2007. They went on their first date on a hike that fall in the park – and were married there in 2012. Here they are shown during a hike of the Tour du Mont Blanc in Italy. Photo courtesy of Sandie Sabaka

SANDIE AND BRENDAN

Brendan Curran was nearing the end of a 30-year career as a ranger in Baxter State Park, and his work in the park’s most remote backcountry campground was a labor of love. But Curran wasn’t looking for love in the wilderness park. And neither was Sandie Sabaka when she came to work as a ridge runner there along the Appalachian Trail in 2007.

But at the end of the camping season, they met at the staff banquet in October. And for an evening, they shared similar tales of wilderness adventures, like how they each had hiked the Appalachian Trail, Brendan completing the New England section of the trail in 1976 and Sandie thru-hiking the entire trail in 2002.

Then, with Brendan’s seasonal ranger job done for the year, they exchanged emails, and he went home to the Midcoast, while Sandie stayed on to finish educating AT thru-hikers finishing the trail that year. But a week later, Brendan drove six hours round trip to hike with Sandie on her day off. He showed up at that first date with homemade wild blueberry muffins, and a rose.

Brendan worked 24 of his 30 years in Baxter State Park in the backcountry, because the wilderness is sacred to him. In Sandie he had met his match.

“Anything that has ever meant anything to me has been outdoors,” Brendan said. “It’s where I feel most comfortable, where I feel most alive, when I’m in the backcountry. It’s just an honest place. There is nothing fake about it.

A year later, Sandie joined him in his home in Hope. And four years later, they married – in Baxter State Park. 

“We were married in the shadow of Katahdin. Because it’s our cathedral,” Sandie said. 


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