SEDONA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A bride from 2002 was stuck in a bind on her wedding day because of a wildfire in Sedona. A nearby hiker lent her hiking boots and the two parted ways. On her 18th wedding anniversary, that bride used the power of social media to track down that friendly stranger.
"I wanted to get married on a vista because we rock climb and hike a lot so that was sort of our ideal wedding. The night before the wedding, the photographer called us and said there were fires and that they had to close off the access to where we were going to be married," Anne McGowan explained. "I get out of the car, and we realized we were at a bottom of a mountain instead of like, on the top. I had wedding shoes on and a dress because initially, we were going to pull up into a parking lot and jump out and have the ceremony there. So we're just looking up like, how are we going to get up this mountain? In tuxedos and sandals and a wedding dress?"
Lo and behold, a group of hikers was on their way down from Doe Mountain. The wedding photographer asked the woman in the group if the bride could use her hiking boots. The moment was captured in a photograph showing the two women laughing at each other as they traded shoes.
"She starts taking her shoes off, and that's the picture you saw, and we're kind of chuckling because her socks are pretty wet because she'd been hiking," McGowan said.
Thanks to the hiker, McGowan and her husband were able to hike up about 500 feet to their ceremony spot and continue taking memorable photos even further up the mountain. The wedding photographer, Bob Coates, returned the shoes to the hiker later that night.
For 18 years, the photo of the women trading shoes was at the front of McGowan's wedding photo album, something she looked back on every anniversary. This year, though, she got the idea to try to track down that kind hiker.
"I think about her every year, you know. I think as I get older, I look back and go, 'Wow, that was really kind, selfless,'" McGowan said.
So, on May 23, her 18th wedding anniversary, she posted the photo on her Facebook page and it quickly went viral. Within a couple of days, Rhonda Nelson saw the photo on her feed.
"It was bugging me because I was like, 'I think it's me, it really looks like me. I would've been in that area about that time. It could be me!' And then I started going back through old pictures," Nelson said. "I was like, 'Wow, I had those glasses then.' And then I was like, 'Wow I used to hike in that shirt then!' And then I was pretty sure getting to that point it was me. And then I started to remember things."
Strangely enough, Nelson didn't remember giving her shoes to a bride in 2002, but for a good reason.
"I'm a podiatrist! So I literally see thousands of feet," laughed Nelson. "As a podiatrist, you going up that trail barefoot, that's bad! Or you walking in your heels, that's bad!"
Nelson said hikers also like to help other hikers too.
"It's a hiking creed almost; you do good things for other people on the trail. What really moved me was that Anne really wanted to reach out and say thank you and that also, this meant so much to her," Nelson said.
The two saw each other face-to-face over a Zoom conference call for the first time since 2002. Neither live in Arizona anymore; Nelson is in Washington state, McGowan, in Pennsylvania. The two now plan to stay friends.
"You're just a part of our little wedding story," McGowan said.
"If you can think on your feet and go the extra mile for somebody, it makes all the difference in the world," Nelson said.