As he saw her for the first time taking the stage at the battle of the bands event, Mason Voehl had the strangest thought about the woman who would become his wife.
“She walks on stage like I imagine Stevie Nicks walks on stage,” Mason said.
He remembers the woman before him was even dressed in a “Nicks-esque” way, with an ivory cotton shirt and a green vest, not to mention the rock-star nose piercing framed by her copper-penny eyes. Her stage presence was much bigger than her petite frame.
“She had this vitality, and she still does,” Mason said. “When she looks at you or gives you her full attention, you wake up a little bit.”
He didn’t fully catch her attention until a few months later, but Mason remembers that 2014 night at Augustana College as the genesis of his connection to Sarah Larimer.
Sarah had her own celebrity crush moment with Mason the night the two first officially met. It was a few months after the battle of the bands, and they were both out for “penny beer night” at Bucks, a hotspot for college students.
After being introduced formally by a mutual friend, Sarah and Mason started dancing. The song was slow to start. But then the DJ switched to “Footloose,” and it was Mason’s time to shine, breaking out choreography from his high school musical portrayal of Kevin Bacon’s character.
“Mason knew every word, and he did the dance. Like, the whole thing.” Sarah said. “I feel like most girls would be like, this guy is such a dork, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s so awesome. He knows how to dance to Footloose!’”
The two had a great time, but they were separated before having a chance to exchange numbers or plan a date. Not to be deterred, Mason sent Sarah a late-night Facebook message saying he hoped she’d gotten home OK and inviting her to coffee.
Sarah was so excited by the message, she even remembers telling her parents the next day about the guy who was taking her on a coffee date.
But her excitement was well-founded. She and Mason began building a strong, deep connection to each other right away.
“We never had a superficial, how-is-the-weather kind of relationship,” Sarah said. “From our first coffee date, it was right into the core of our beings.”
They talked about their families, their lives, their hopes, their dreams, and date after date, their bond strengthened.
It only took five weeks for Mason to know he’d found his future in Sarah.
The tipping point was a trip to Rapid City, Sarah’s hometown, in the summer. After briefly meeting her parents, Sarah “whisked” him away to a nearby hike in the Black Hills called Buzzard’s Roost.
“In meeting Sarah,” Mason said, “I had the good fortune of falling in love twice. I fell in love not only with her, but also with her home.”
That connection with the Black Hills would propel Mason in January 2015 to get down on one knee at the peak of the Buzzard’s Roost trail and propose to Sarah at sunset.
That connection would also create a yearning for the hills in Mason’s heart as the couple moved from state to state to state in their first few years of marriage, but the yearning was lessened when he realized something.
“As long as we’re in these places together, they do feel like home.”
Sarah and Mason were married on a sunny summer day on Aug. 29, 2015 in a corner of the Black Hills near Lead, South Dakota.
In the years since, they’ve discovered what makes their relationship work is their shared love of nature, their support of each other’s work, and their ability to find joy and laughter together, even from a distance.
“I just never feel alone, ever,” Sarah said. “Even if he’s backpacking in the Big Horns, and he doesn’t have cell reception. I don’t feel alone. He’s always in the back of my mind, and I’m always in the back of his.”