CLEVELAND — As the field of Michelle Young's potential suitors narrows on ABC's The Bachelorette, Ohio's Rick Leach Jr. is still in the running to win her heart.
Rick, a 32-year-old graduate of Walsh University, finally got selected for an individual and very relaxing hiking date with Michelle, where the two shared a joint wish to find love through having hard conversations, after Rick revealed how deeply he was impacted by the loss of his father, and before that, his parents' divorce.
Rick shared that at the age of 17, he was the one who discovered his father was cheating on his mother, by seeing a text message that his father received from another woman two weeks before Christmas.
"You encourage me to be vulnerable," Rick told Michelle. "I just feel so comfortable around you, and the way you make me feel makes it feel easy, and it's never felt easy before."
Michelle responded with the reason she wants to have those hard conversations, telling Rick: "I think that sharing experiences from the past shows kind of the growth of where you were and how you got to who you are, and I like who you are."
At the end of the date, Rick told Michelle that he felt like he was falling in love with her, and Michelle offered Rick a rose, and with it peace of mind that he was safe from elimination for this week.
Three other men, however, did not get the same reassurance from Michelle and were sent home at this week's rose ceremony, leaving Rick with 10 other guys who are all hoping to sweep the 28-year-old Minnesota native off her feet.
Before ending their one-on-one date with a slow dance to a live performance of "Lease On Life" by Andy Grammer, Rick shared big thoughts about his possible future with Michelle.
"I’m actually looking forward to the moment when I can say I’m in love with you," he told Michelle, and later added to producers: "Michelle has changed me in many ways and my feelings have changed dramatically. And it’s only been a few weeks. I think we have a strong bond. And I thought that I could be in love at the end of this, I mean, that’s priceless."
Michelle responded by saying she was caught off guard by Rick's comments, and added: "Today was one of my favorite days. I can be my complete self with you. I feel like you’ve done everything you possibly can to make me feel seen and that’s really important for me."
Before even heading into their hiking date, Rick got a date card that had the cryptic message (as they often are), "Sky's the limit," and Rick was definitely already thinking big.
"I can't wait to see her," Rick said of Michelle, "because today's to going to be an amazing experience, no matter what, but it could be my first date with my future wife. It's exciting."
Rick had previously only been on group dates with Michelle, so he was really craving one-on-one time with the teacher, and it showed as he got out of the car and literally ran up to her, at the start of their date.
Michelle teased that she was ready to "take their relationships to new heights," before the two set off in a gondola lift that took them up 8,500 feet, where they'd go about their hike on an intimate, simple day date.
At the start, Michelle tells producers she's excited for simplicity of the day, and that she was happy to be spending time with Rick, because he's told her repeatedly that he "sees" her. That desire to be "seen" has become a recurring theme for Michelle.
Both of them seemed to really appreciate being out in nature together, holding hands as they walked along and marveled over the smell of trees, and sharing superstitions like making sure they both stayed to the same side of the trees in their path, to avoid "bad luck."
"It's a great setting for Michelle and I to connect further," Rick told producers, while the camera showed the two of them hugging and looking out into the distance.
Michelle clearly agreed, telling producers, "Everything about today has been so peaceful, and I think it's a day that I needed."
On the date, the two stumbled upon a "wish box" where past hikers had left their personal wishes. One hiker had written that he wished his father could see the man he had become, and upon reading that, Rick shared that losing his father three years ago was very hard for him. It was especially challenging, he said, because his father had been depressed for about two years, and it was hard for Rick to accept that he couldn't help him out of that.
During the dinner portion of their, Rick shared the details of his parents' split, and how he blamed himself after having told his mother about the message his father had received from another woman. Rick and his mom moved out of their family home, leaving his father behind, three days after Christmas that year.
Rick shared that he believed his father blamed him, too, but that Rick later realize he can only take responsibility for his own actions, and not for the choices his father made.
"That's why that note today hit hard," Rick told Michelle. "But you definitely made it easier for me today. And I can't thank you enough for that. Because today was a special day."
In response, she said: "When we go through these really difficult things you definitely get these wounds, but I do think that everything that you've been through and those wounds and those scars that you have are also why you are, like, this amazing person that you are."
She told producers: "I'm seeing that there is a lot of depth to him, and there's a lot that I still need to learn about him. I'm ready to be all ears and give him the time to be able to express himself as he needs."