Fueled by endorphins, I managed to reach the cabin in just two and a half hours, and soon after, the prison labor began. I like to think I’m in pretty good shape for a 34-year-old. But prying boards apart with just grit and steel is not the kind of thing yoga and an elliptical machine prepare you for. Neither do they ready you for hours spent face-to-face with bird skeletons, spiders, owl vomit, and spindly stalactites of white mold.

Pull and toss. Pull and toss. It went like this for five hours. We weren’t talking, but we were communicating in a sort of sweaty Morse code rendered through the whack of hammers, grunts, and whispered four-letter words. It wasn’t exactly illuminating—thwap, unggghhhh, damn—but it was better than silence. It was a start.

That night we drank margaritas and gorged on enchiladas and nachos at a local Mexican joint. We had chosen to eat at the bar near the television, where we easily settled into the white noise of the NCAA basketball tournament. But then a strange thing happened: We started talking. We talked about work, about the disappointing Oregon Ducks, about good tequila. And then, finally, he asked about Marli.

“How’d you end up meeting Marli at the Twilight Room, anyway?” he asked. “That place is kind of a dump.”

He was right on that count. But this dump, out on N Lombard Street, was where I’d first laid eyes on the right-beautiful Marli, who, I soon learned, was tending bar there to help fund her nonprofit work.

“At first I went for the free Internet,” I explained, aware that I was coming off as a cheapskate. “But I went back the second time to see Marli. And no matter what she tells you,” I said, poking a chip in his general direction, “she asked me out. Said she needed a karaoke partner that night after work, so I went along with her. She sang ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’; I sang ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.’ That was the point when we both knew this was too ridiculous not to be something serious.”

For the first time all day, Bob let out an approving chuckle. It was as though I’d reached that point on a date when you realize you’re on your game. Things are clicking. You will definitely be going out again. When he insisted on picking up the tab, I was officially smitten.