A Florida couple looking to get married on an Alaska glacier found themselves smiling through their tears, kissing and clutching each on ice in Juneau on Saturday.
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For Michelle Ewing and her new husband, Tim, the once-in-a-lifetime moment on top the Mendenhall Glacier was the pinnacle of a memorable day brimming with real-life and pseudo cliffhangers.
Not only was the Orlando couple hitched on a big, chilly patch of ice - the likes of which they had never seen - they were part of a Valentine's Day TV special for The Learning Channel on extreme weddings.
The couple said they came to Juneau for crazy adventure and they certainly got it.
"I didn't know whether I should be excited or nervous," Tim said. A few years earlier, he had proposed to Michelle on top of Niagara Falls. A wedding in Alaska seemed like a great follow-up.
"It's the best thing that happened to me in my 32 years of living," Tim said.
But to say the least, their real-life wedding day was hairy.
Watching warm vows on ice
The Ewings' wedding on the Mendenhall Glacier will be one of 3 featured in next year's Learning Channel Valentines Day special on extreme weddings. Producers said they also will film a "Bollywood-style" Indian wedding in New Jersey and a diamond-encrusted wedding extravaganza in Las Vegas.
Due to the taxing nature of the reality television filming process ... well, it wasn't always the icing on their wedding cake.
Before they could utter the words "I do," the couple, which had come to Juneau by cruise ship, had to pull off a day booked solid with Juneau adventure trips - from dog sledding on the Juneau Icefield to a Taku River Lodge salmon bake.
For the purposes of the TV plot, the Ewings also needed to pull off an acting job: They pretended on camera that they were spending a few days in Juneau, at the Pearson's Pond Luxury Inn and Adventure Spa.
In reality, they were breezing in and out of Juneau on the Carnival Spirit cruise ship, in a single day.
A small film crew of six from PB&J Television, in Los Angeles, tagged along for every moment of the Ewings' day in Juneau, from early morning until close to 10 p.m.
If anything, real-life events dwarfed the cliffhangers built into The Learning Channel's reality TV show.
A sampling of the true events:
Would Michelle's hair appointment fall through?
Would they get to the helicopter in time?
Would they miss the cruise ship sailing at 11 p.m.?
For the show, the major cliffhanger was whether the Juneau weather would indeed allow them to get married on the Mendenhall.
It did, and they did, but not without some serious delays.
"We're just ready to get married," said Michelle, standing tall and determined in her frothy wedding dress and veil, in the middle of the NorthStar Trekking gear room.
It was already past 5 p.m.
A series of small delays throughout the day had snowballed into a big schedule hiccup: The couple missed their 4 p.m. helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier.
After 6 p.m., Michelle's helicopter, carrying TV crew, a local photographer, a reporter and the bride in her finery, finally launched for the Mendenhall.
Standing next to a turquoise-blue pond, the couple tearfully recited their vows. Diane Pearson, a court-certified marriage commissioner and owner of the Pearson's Pond inn, presided over the ceremony.
They all hugged, shivered and, like wedding soldiers, the Ewings did bits and pieces of the ceremony again and again for the PB&J crew - in plastic boots, crampons and paper-thin wedding clothes, on top of the Mendenhall Glacier with a chilly wind blowing.
At about 8 p.m., just as menacing rain clouds began creeping in over Mount McGinnis, the Ewings and the crew were whisked off the glacier and back to NorthStar Trekking.
Their day wasn't over yet.
Before going back to the cruise ship, the Ewings also had some hours planned at the idyllic Pearson's Pond inn off Back Loop Road - in order to change clothes, film additional sequences for the documentary and eat dinner.
Always at the back of Ewings' minds was the Carnival cruise ship waiting for them at the Juneau docks.
It was leaving for Ketchikan in mere hours. They had to be there.
Or else, they'd have to shell out more bucks to book a flight to the next Southeastern town on the itinerary. After the wedding and various cruise ship-related expenses, paying for an extra flight to Ketchikan would not be a plus.
Just after 10 p.m., PB&J Television supervising producer Stacey Travis ran out to a car at the Pearson's Pond inn with the Ewings in hot pursuit.
With baggage in one hand, Tim clutched a slice of pizza in his other hand for Michelle, who hadn't had any time between getting married and getting filmed for TV to eat dinner.
They made their sailing.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.