On the morning of River and Shandra Augenstein’s 18th wedding anniversary, they sat at a table in the Doe Bay Cafe, talking about their relationship.
The couple met at a mall in Santa Maria, California 20 years ago. He worked at a bookstore and she worked for the movie theater.
“He stood out,” said Shandra. “I could tell he was different.”
Shandra was right. River had just moved in with his sister about two months prior to the pair meeting. Born and raised in Indiana, he was 24 when he moved out west.
“I immediately could sense a lifetime recognition,” said River.
That night, they spoke on the phone for hours. The first night they talked in person, they recalled there was an intense thunderstorm. They took that storm as a sign that they were meant to be something special together.
“We took it very slow, got to know each other well,” said River. “We didn’t really follow the usual American dream – white picket fence and kids.”
The pair had been dating for six months when River proposed. They were driving to see Pearl Jam in the Bay Area and stopped in the small town of Harmony, California, where her mother and stepfather lived.
Shandra was fast asleep when she was told to meet River in the garden. It was night and he was waiting for her. When she arrived, he proposed.
“She flung herself into my arms,” River recalled.
They married in the California town of Halcyon in winter. The ceremony was conducted by a priest and a priestess.
“It was a beautiful ceremony, not very traditional,” said Shandra.
The couple set off on a three-month tour of the western United States, visiting National Parks along the way to New Orleans. Over the years, the Augensteins have traveled around the world. They’ve visited Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, where they lived for three months.
“I think that travel has been something that has brought us together,” said River.
For six summers the couple managed a retreat in Kings Canyon National Park called Far Horizons. After being approached by the owners of Indralaya on Orcas, they spent four years working there until they decided they wanted to start a family.
The Augensteins then moved to Doe Bay Resort, where River is general manager and Shandra is the wedding and event coordinator. They have a five-year-old daughter named Julia.
“Our life was on a completely different trajectory,” said River about the couple’s move to Orcas Island. “It was really a dream to us.”
So what is their secret to a long and happy marriage?
“Travel is a great crucible for strengthening a relationship,” said River. “If you love someone, you need to support them in everything they want for themselves and work together to build something stronger.”
Shandra agreed, saying that she and River have different personalities, but balance each other out well. Added River: “We play off both our similarities and differences. It’s a good trade.”
As for life on Orcas Island? “It’s a place of creativity,” said Shandra. “We found our home.”