Our 7 Favorite Outdoor Love Stories Recounted by Outside Readers
From paddling a river during a forest fire to improvising a 62-mile trail run after a race cancellation, here are the most hilarious, heartwarming, and jaw-dropping outdoor meet-cutes gone right
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I met the love of my life on September 2, 2020, at a trailhead on Isle Royale, a remote national park in the middle of Lake Superior, only accessible by seaplane during the pandemic.
A pilot flew me from Grand Marais, Minnesota, to Rock Harbor, the park’s entry port on the northeast tip of the island, in his Cessna 206. My plan? To pull off a seven-day, point-to-point, 75-mile solo backpacking and fly-fishing trip. I added fuel canisters to my pack, grabbed my permit from the ranger, and was just about to shove off when a tall, lanky blond guy stopped nearby, on his way off the island.
He was dirty, sunburned, alone, and seemed to be chock-full of trekking beta. I couldn’t help myself. “Hey!” I called. “How was it?” Little did I know, those four words forever altered my life.
“It was awesome,” he said, grinning. Taking the opening, I grilled this guy, Ryan, about his five-night trip, during which he ran ultra-length distances on the island’s overgrown singletrack. Did you see any moose? How ’bout wolves? Did your tent survive the gale-force storms?
We chatted for 20 more minutes about our mutual love of seeking out solitude in the woods, then we parted ways—he was eager to catch the seaplane out, I was keen to bag 14 miles before dusk. I thought we’d never see each other again.
Call it fate or coincidence, but two weeks later he found me on LinkedIn. A few months after that, we met up for a hike in Sedona, Arizona, which turned into a six-month, coast-to-coast, trail-running road trip together. Since then our adventures have only grown richer. We’re planning to return to Isle Royale after our wedding this summer.
Ryan and I aren’t unique in the way we met. This spring we put a call out to readers for their meet-cutes and got an an overwhelming response from couples who have been together for decades, those freshly in love, and every kind of relationship in between. The one thing we all share is that adventure brought us together. Here are the most jaw-dropping, hilarious, and heartwarming outdoor love stories from our Outside audience.
Intersecting Paths on the Camino de Santiago
Ginny and Benny Truscott met at Bar Restaurante Cubasol in 2011 in Astorga, Spain. Benny was cycling the Camino de Santiago in reverse, toward his home in Belgium, finishing a charity ride in honor of his late wife. Ginny, from University Place, Washington, had lost her husband several months before. She heard about the Camino from a friend and set off to hike the final 62-mile section from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela to heal and rejuvenate. Before Ginny began trekking, she toured northern Spain’s biggest cities, including Astorga.
The night they met, Ginny entered the bar ravenous, with a language-translation book tucked under her arm—an aid to help her order food. Benny tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she spoke English. Relieved, Ginny said yes. The two shared dinner, chatted about the heartaches of losing partners prematurely, then parted ways in opposite directions: Ginny to hike west, and Benny to cycle east.
But they couldn’t stop thinking about each other. A few days later, Ginny contacted Benny on his blog. They emailed back and forth and decided to meet for Ginny’s final miles leading into Santiago, the trail’s official end point. Benny whipped his bike around, hammered hard to get to her in time, and walked with her into town. After a couple days in Santiago, they parted ways again: Ginny to Rome, which she had plans to explore after the Camino, and Benny back to Belgium.
A week later, as Benny cycled by the Toulouse, France, airport, he gave Ginny a call, and she agreed to an impromptu visit. He bought an $800 day-of plane ticket leaving from Toulouse, stashed his bike at a train station, and met her in the Italian capital.
Their friendship grew and developed into a long-distance relationship. They talked daily. Time passed, visits ensued, and in 2014, Benny emigrated to the U.S. on a fiancé visa. They married fewer than three months later and introduced their grown children to each other on a trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Now retired, they adventure and thru-hike all over the world and haven’t looked back.
Advice from the Field
Ginny: “Neither of us were looking for love. It comes in the most unexpected places.”
Benny: “The long-distance relationship isn’t bad. We talked every day for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Normally, people don’t sit and talk to each other, but we did, and it made a good base for us.”
A Canceled 100-Mile Trail Run Goes Right
In 2019, Katy Barker, from New Zealand, met Mike Nash, from South Africa, at a hotel breakfast table in Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Italy, as they fueled up for the Ultra Tour de Monte Rosa—a grueling 100-mile trail race through the Alps on the Swiss-Italian border set to start that morning.
However, an intense snowfall blew in, and race officials canceled the event for safety reasons.
Bummed but not deterred, Katy, Mike, and two other athletes crafted a plan B: they found an alternate, less snowy route from Chamonix, France, to Courmayeur, Italy. The group relocated to Chamonix and hit the trail at 3 A.M., trekking poles in hand, sporting headlamps and carrying food and water. For 62 miles, they ran, scrambled, and power-hiked nearly 17,500 vertical feet through steep, technical high-Alpine terrain. Occasionally, they stopped at rifugios for a cappuccino, piece of cake, soda, or ham-and-cheese roll. During their journey, Katy and Mike spent several hours talking, running together, and hitting it off.
Once they finished, nearly 22 hours later, Mike invited Katy to Slovenia to run some more, where they fell in love quickly. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, trekking up mountains, until Mike got a job in Canada. They didn’t have a joint bank account or share property, but Katy was able to follow him on a work permit when they justified their domestic partnership to the Canadian government with Airbnb receipts and Strava screenshots.
Advice from the Field
Katy: “Trust your instincts and your heart. Take a chance on a person if you think they might be the one. It might not work out, but it’s better than forever wondering about what might have been. And if it does work out, wow.”
Mike: “Don’t let logistics get in the way—if someone is worth it, you’ll find a way to make it work. Even a pandemic couldn’t keep us apart.”
A Marriage Revived While Glamping
Necota and Sonya Staples met in 1998 at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and fell into a whirlwind romance. They married five years later but eventually started drifting apart.
In 2016, after years of intensive marriage counseling and on the verge of divorce, Necota’s therapist suggested they say yes to each other for 90 days—a last-ditch effort to save their union.
During this period, Sonya wanted to go camping. Necota, averse to the idea but determined to play by the rules, agreed. They packed up the car and headed to Wadmalaw, South Carolina, for a glamping weekend with family and friends. It was rainy and muddy, and Necota hated every minute of that first night. However, Sonya challenged him the next day to “choose a happier emotional experience,” and it was then that everything clicked for him: he realized he had been saying no to his wife for far too long. The two built a fire, prepared and cooked food together, laughed, and had such a blast on the rest of the trip that they decided to do it again.
They’ve camped regularly ever since, rarely returning to the same spot twice. During their first several trips, the two fostered teamwork and reestablished their communication skills by setting up camp and exploring nature together.
Along the way, they started a YouTube channel to inspire others to feel more comfortable, confident, and curious outdoors. This grew this into a business, called Staples InTents, that leads community-building events and teaches others outdoors skills.
Sonya and Necota have also gotten into off-roading and overlanding and started @blackpeopleoffroad—an Instagram community for those underrepresented in the outdoors who like to drive around in the backcountry. “We felt it was important that people see themselves and feel seen in where and how they recreate,” says Necota.
Advice from the Field
Sonya: “Always look outside yourself and try to understand another perspective. Often we get caught up in how we see things, how we feel, and how we were hurt, and can choose to ignore how someone else feels or sees a situation. Remember, there’s your way, my way, and the truth.”
Necota: “Understand communication in its fullness. There’s verbal and nonverbal communication, and knowing how your partner communicates in both areas is key. Working diligently on communication is very much related to the success of your relationship.”
An Epic Paddle Where Sparks Literally Flew
Corey and Leah Belt met in 2008, in Asheville, North Carolina, through a trusted mutual boating friend at a concert. Corey had just scored a new kayak. Leah had plans to paddle section nine of the French Broad River, fives miles of flat and Class III whitewater ending at a hot springs—her favorite post-work spot. They traded phone numbers on their flip phones, and she invited him along.
After phone tag (and some butterflies), they met up the next day and set off to shuttle their cars to either end of the float. Unbeknownst to them, in the surrounding Cherokee National Forest, a fire had begun. They arrived at the take-out in a rural area about 30 minutes from Asheville and parked Leah’s car. They noticed that the air was smoky, as fresh ash fell from the sky, but wrote it off as a controlled burn. They proceeded to the put-in and made it a mile downriver when a couple of canoers hauling boats on their shoulders and walking upstream started screaming at them to get off the river. There was a massive fire around the next bend, they yelled.
Leah and Corey turned around, battled the current to the put-in, and rushed back to Leah’s car, which was covered in ash. Deciding not to let the date become a bust, they opted for drinks, which turned into dinner, and a sweet smooch at the end of the night.
Inseparable for the next few months, they hiked, camped, paddled, and formed a deep friendship. In 2016, Leah and Corey got hitched and held their wedding reception on the banks of the French Broad.
Advice from the Field
Leah: “When I met Corey, I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I was focused on spending any free time I had doing what I loved, and that meant kayaking. I think when you can focus on being yourself and doing what makes you happy, that happiness is attractive to everyone around you.”
Corey: “The perfect combination is to do what you love outdoors and meet someone who loves doing the same—and then end up falling in love.”
Missed Signals and Missing Powder
Mountaineer Erin Parisi is attempting to become the first transgender person to tackle all Seven Summits. (She’s already knocked off five.) In the fall of 2017, Erin met the woman who is now her wife, Allison Smookler, when mutual friends dragged her to a bar in Denver after throat surgery. Erin’s doctor had put her on mandatory vocal rest, so although she found Allison attractive and funny, a nod and wave was the best she could muster. Meanwhile, Allison perceived Erin as standoffish.
A few weeks later, they ran into each other at a Halloween party. This time, Erin came equipped with a notepad, and they shared messages and glances all evening. That night, Erin didn’t pick up on Allison’s flirtatious advances. Afterward, Allison googled Erin, read about her endeavors in an Outside story, and sent Erin a Facebook message inviting her to dinner. Erin, not realizing it was a date, towed along a few friends. Erin laughs about it now, reflecting on the fact that she’s a mountaineer who spends most of her time in a tent, so she simply wasn’t connecting the dots.
On their official first date, to Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Erin was determined to chase powder despite the crappy snow conditions. She convinced Allison to posthole to a stash, but it didn’t actually exist. Instead, they slid down an icy luge on their butts, called it a day, and headed to a New Year’s Eve party. In the car, Allison asked Erin how long they should tell their friends they’d been dating. To which Erin replied, “We’ve been dating?”
They married in 2020 in a tiny ceremony, with a city official on Zoom. They still explore the backcountry when Erin isn’t chasing her final two Seven Summits and advocating for trans rights in the outdoors. Cracking up about their flirtatious debacle, Erin says the outdoors teaches you to take seemingly unfunny moments and find the humor to continue onward and have faith that everything will be OK.
Advice from the Field
Erin: “I learned there’s someone for everyone out there. I fretted for most of my life that I wouldn’t be able to find love and partnership if I came out. Being authentically me didn’t have to come at the cost of my life and joy in the world. Manifesting my sense of self made everything better and has opened frontiers in my ability to love and be loved.”
Allison: “We come together and enjoy the outdoors in a way that is supportive for both of us. Find common ground—a difference in ability can be overcome with some planning. We find ski runs that have moguls and jumps for Erin, with an adjoining blue run for me. We can go on an easy or moderate hike, and Erin will carry 50 pounds of water weight in her pack and we both get a good workout in.”
A Mountain-Biking Meetup Turned Meet-Cute
Robin and Vernon Huffman met 20 years ago at the Loma Alta Preserve, north of San Francisco in Marin County, on a winter joyride with their mountain-biking club: the Forest Knolls Freewheelers. Vernon, a pioneer of the group, engineered the 15-to-20-mile, six-hour social event. Robin was new and had agreed to tag along after she was invited by a coworker. She arrived 30 minutes early to the meetup in the parking lot and chatted with Vernon as they waited for the rest of the 25-person crew to show up.
Halfway into the ride, Robin’s coworker, who noticed chemistry between the two, asked Robin if Vernon was her boyfriend. Robin replied, “Not yet,” and word got back to Vernon. “It was quite a premonition and apparently carried some weight with Vernon,” she says.
The Forest Knolls Freewheelers reconvened for another ride, on New Year’s Day, up Mount Carmel, south of the Bay Area, planning to meet at the local brewery afterward. Everyone else bailed on drinks, but Robin and Vernon ended up going for post-ride beers anyway. They talked late into the evening. Vernon realized he had so much in common with Robin, and vice versa, that they moved in together three months later, married a year and a half after that, and still regularly mountain-bike.
Advice from the Field
Robin: “Share similar interests and passions—we both love to ride our bikes and travel to meet mutual friends who do, too—which maintains a healthy activity to build a strong relationship and friendship.”
Vernon: “Enjoy your day to the fullest and tackle difficult issues in the morning over coffee.”
A Motorcycle Crash That Changed Everything
Massimo Alpian met Brett Kennedy in Manhattan in 2006. As an active, adventurous guy who preferred to ditch the bustle to bike, hike, camp, and ski on weekends, it was a nightmare to date gym rats, partiers, and restaurant snobs in New York City. Then he met Brett on Myspace. Massimo instantly gravitated toward Brett’s “perfect smile,” self-deprecating humor, and similar lifestyle. The two met for dinner, hit it off, and made plans to bike and hike for a weekend in Phoenicia, New York, a small town in the Catskills.
Brett, an avid mountain biker, convinced Massimo, a passionate road cyclist, to join him for a trail ride. Massimo figured it wouldn’t be that hard to pick up. But Brett took off on the technical singletrack. A minute into the ride, peeved with Brett for speeding away and realizing he was out of his element, Massimo wiped out hard. Brett eventually circled back and taught Massimo how to follow his wheel.
A few days later—partly as payback—Massimo designed a road ride from Manhattan over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey and back. He dusted Brett on pavement. Both men point to these two rides as critical to strengthening their bond, crafting a stable foundation, and dialing back the intensity from the get-go.
Though he had come out to his friend group, Massimo was living closeted with his parents, saving cash, dating in secret, and crafting a life plan after graduating from New York University. His parents, upon discovering that Massimo identified as gay, asked him to leave his childhood home. He didn’t speak to them for six years.
Massimo moved in with Brett temporarily, then permanently. But in 2009, he had what he describes as a “late-twenties crisis.” Fearing he had entered a serious relationship too young, Massimo broke up with Brett, moved across the city, and bought a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle.
One day as he was ripping down First Avenue on the Ninja, a taxi blindsided Massimo. His bike rocketed into the air and landed over half a city block away. He sustained several fractures and blew out his knee; his body was beaten to a pulp. Paramedics rushed him to the emergency room. In the ambulance, when asked for a contact, he told them to call Brett. Brett came to the hospital and called Massimo’s parents to notify them of the accident. Despite having been estranged for the better part of a decade from their son, Massimo’s parents showed up. Then the healing between the four of them began.
Brett invited Massimo to move back in so he could help him with physical therapy, and five weeks after the accident, the two reconciled. They’ve since moved to Colorado, got married in 2014, and now hike fourteeners, cycle near Boulder, and tackle international climbing expeditions. Massimo says he has a wonderful relationship with his parents, too.
Advice from the Field
Massimo: “Through our 15-year relationship, I’ve learned that love languages are different. Remembering that we all are individuals, and showing love and acts of service to your partner in different ways, is important and truly something special.”
Brett: “Adventuring with your partner is an exciting shared experience that pushes you to strive, collaborate, navigate, and reassure one another, which can only build trust and magnify intimacy.”
Do you and your partner have an adventurous backcountry love story? Or perhaps you’ve experienced the worst outdoor date ever? Send your best and worst romance tales to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, tune in to the Outside Podcast for in-depth interviews and hilarious conversations about love in the backcountry.