Massimo Alpian and Brett Kennedy on the summit of Imja Tse in Nepal’s Himalayas during a four-week climbing expedition trip at 20,210 feet above sea level
Massimo Alpian and Brett Kennedy on the summit of Imja Tse in Nepal’s Himalayas during a four-week climbing expedition trip at 20,210 feet above sea level (Photo: Courtesy Massimo Alpian)
Adventures in Audio

How We Find Love in Wild Places

Massimo Alpian and Brett Kennedy on the summit of Imja Tse in Nepal’s Himalayas during a four-week climbing expedition trip at 20,210 feet above sea level

Is there something about adventure and risk that opens our hearts? Absolutely. In this episode, created in concert with an Outside article about love in the wild, we bring you tales of romances that bloomed outdoors. You’ll hear about two ultrarunners who fell for each other during a 60-mile dash through the Alps, a high-altitude climber who led her wary date down iced-over ski runs (it all worked out eventually), a pair of whitewater kayakers whose attraction for one other caused them to ignore an approaching forest fire, and a cyclist who suffered a brutal accident that led him back to his soulmate.


This episode is brought to you by Aruba, an island in the Caribbean that offers so much more than a vacation. Learn more about what awaits you at this very special destination at aruba.com.

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.

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Michael Roberts: From Outside magazine. This is the Outside podcast.

Okay, Paddy, um, I have an idea. I know how we should start this one off.

Paddy: Okay. You're the boss. What are we doing?

Michael: I think you should tell me that first date story that you're saying is so good. I'm guessing it's funny. And, I also think it will set you up nicely to be the guide for the rest of these stories. We're gonna tell today about love and you know, it's going to make listeners trust you. So, um, can we do it that way?

Paddy: Yeah, cool. I'm totally happy to do that. But like Mike buddy, this is like a rom-com-y, like, adorable love-y story. Can you, like, ask me a little better?

Michael: Hey, Paddy, you, would you tell us that adorable story about how you met your soon-to-be wife?

Paddy: Oh, my gosh, Mike, you softie. I'm so glad you asked. Okay. Sorry. Had to. It's two years ago. It's the height of the COVID panic days. Right. And even though Carly and I live in this extra small mountain town and have 95 bajillion friends in common, we connect over Hinge.

Michael: OhGod.

Paddy: Yes, I get, yeah. Hey, I'm a millennial. What do you want me to do? Okay. So we decided that our first date should be a socially distanced dog walk. Right. It's kind of awkward at first because we're trying to stay like six feet apart. And, we're kind of nervous, but then we'd just like to drift in and kind of melt into this like, amazing conversation about our mountain experiences about like how we want to have a family and want to set up roots and like marriage and all of this great stuff.

And all of a sudden, like, this short little walk turns into like miles and miles and hours and hours. So it's getting dark. I walk Carly home after this wonderful first date. And what do I do after an epic first date? Mike, I wave goodbye from six feet away.

Michael: It's brutal.

Paddy: Yes. It was very brutal. I thought I totally blew it, but I did it again at the end of our second date as well.

Michael: Okay.

Paddy: Yeah. I mean, what do you want me to do? This is my first pandemic. I'm sorry. 

Michael: Yeah, me too.

Paddy: I was very scared. So I get a third date and it's a picnic down by the river. Right. And we kind of throw our COVID caution to the wind and we're enjoying each other's company and the center setting and smooches at–we totally have a makeout for like hours and hours.

And you know, like so long that I actually have to use the light on my cell phone to like illuminate our path back to the trailhead and we're holding hands and we're walking. And this is where I turn into a nervous horse's ass, even though we've just been like, you know, tongue punching each other's molars for the last night, two and a half hours or something, I can't stop thinking about our hands touching and my need to like douse myself in hand sanitizer.

Michael: Oh my. That that is, that is terrible. Cause it just makes no sense.

Paddy: I'm an idiot. I don't know what to say, but I'm an idiot. But epic save, like, a year after that, I actually propose to Carly at the same spot on the river, she says, ‘yes.’ And now we're getting married. Ta-da. See?

Michael: Yeah. All right. A nice story now you get to introduce us other people with, uh, wilder, tales of falling in love outdoors. And why they think there might be something about being out there that made it happen.

Paddy: I'm psyched about this one. I'm going to start with Katy.

Katy: He's a great cook. He is from South Africa. So I'm not sure if you're familiar with South African cuisine, but they really love a good braai, which is a, like, a barbecue. So oftentimes, especially in summer, his beard has this great braai smell to it. And I really, really appreciate that.

Paddy: So his beard smells like barbecue?

Katy Baker: Yeah.

Paddy: That's the best. It's like, what is that Mike? Oh, that's bacon.

Katy: That’s a cut of meat. I've been slow cooking it for 12 hours.

Paddy: That is Katy Baker talking about her shiny beaux hunk, Mike. In addition to maintaining his glorious beard, Mike runs ultra marathons. And so does Katy. And their shared love of running unreasonable distances is how they met.

In 2019, Katy was in the midst of a personal renaissance: she quit her job in New Zealand, sold her home, and used her savings to travel open endedly. That September, she was in Gressoney-Saint-Jean, a very small town in Northern Italy, for the Ultra Tour de Monte Rosa 100k race. But on the morning of the run, snow was stacking up on the course, threatening to cancel it. Katy, along with all the other runners who were staying in the same hotel, waited together for word on the race.

Katy: I got talking with a bunch of people. There were some ladies from America. There was a guy called Charlie who lived in Chamonix, France, and there was Mike.

Mike probably stood out to me because he was kind of quietly spoken, but when he did have something to say, he was kind of a person that you'd listened to because what he had to say was interesting and valuable and, you know, thoughtful.

And basically all of us had traveled to Italy specifically for this race. And, you know, it's a 100K. So a lot of training had gone into it. We're all really keen to be out there running. We got the email confirming that the race was not happening. So that was  when plan B was created.

Paddy: Charlie suggested that Katy, Mike, and Dana, one of the gals from the States, all head to his home in Chamonix. They'd spend the night there, wake early the next morning, drive 30 minutes to Courmayeur, Italy, and run the roughly 60 miles back to Chamonix. Everyone was game.

Katy: It was dark when we started. We all had our headlamps on and I remember as we did the big climb out of it like the sun came up and it was just so beautiful. And I think we all shared this sense of like, ‘oh man, like what a cool opportunity to have to be with other people, other kind of similar adventurous mindset and to be in this incredibly beautiful place. And this is going to be a good day.’

Paddy: The run took about 21 hours in total.

Katy: Which was– it's a lot of hours, but it was a pretty leisurely day as well, if I can put it that way,

Paddy: That is a hilarious statement to say, by the way.

Katy: Yeah, yeah. I covered a hundred hundred kilometers on my feet, but it was, you know, we're just taking it easy.

Michael: Their route, which included some 18,000 vertical feet of climbing, was in fact quite brutal. Sure, the mountaintop restaurants serving delicious sammiches and cappuccinos helped. But, Katy says it was Mike that made the day enjoyable.

Katy: There are a few things that I noticed about Mike during the day that I was like, ‘huh, this guy's pretty special.’ I got my poles and I'm puffing away. And, I'd be kind of generally around the back of the pack. And Mike would spend some time back there chatting with me, checking in with me, seeing how I'm doing. And I was so impressed that he could have the mental resources to give them to other people. And I thought this guy is really generous. When we’d done, I guess around maybe 90 kilometers, and we weren't exactly sure where we went at this point. So I've like, I've got my phone out and I'm looking at my old trails app.

I've found my blue dot, like I'm pretty confident, about where we should go. So I'm kind of like, ‘all right guys, you know, it's up this way up the hill.’ A little while later, Mike was, he was very diplomatic and he said to me, ‘you know, I'm not sure if we should be going like up the hill at this point. Would it be okay if I had another look at your map and just, just double check on that.’ And no, I had that wrong. Like I was taking us in the wrong direction at 11 o'clock at night or midnight. We've been out all day and I'm leading everyone up a hill and the wrong direction. And like, I think that 90 kilometers in like, people would definitely have been justified in being like a little bit stroppy with me at that point.

Paddy: That’s a good way to describe it.

Katy: I was just kind of like water off a Duck's back, like, ‘oh yep. All good. You know, we're going the right direction now. So that's all that matters.’ I was pretty impressed that he was clearly a pretty patient person.

Paddy: Patient and supportive. Katy had been tracking their distance during the run and when they arrived at Charlie's apartment in Chamonix her watch read 98.5 kilometers. So, absurd as it was, Katy started running up and down the road until she passed the 100k mark. Rather than go inside, gorge on food, and pass out, Mike stayed with Katy and cheered her on. So, of course, Katy asked him out on the ultimate ultra-runner first date ever.

Katy: I said to Mike, like, did he want to come out to Slovenia with me and do some trail running there? Because I was just trav–I was just traveling at the time. I didn't really have any plans. And, you know, I thought this had been so much fun.

Paddy: So what was his response to that? Like, as you're running up and down the road, like, ‘hey, I was just wondering, maybe you'd like to go to Slovenia with me?’

Katy: So Mike, um, he had a job. It's like so inconvenient, but, um, he was working remotely while he was there in Europe. So he, he said, no, he couldn't do that because he had to work. And I was like, ‘oh yeah. all good. It's a shame, but you know, all good.’ But the next day we all stuck around Chamonix. You know, we're all tired, but super stoked with what we'd achieve the day before.

So, we all went out for breakfast together and lunch and dinner and things. And, because Mike and I are introverted people, sometimes a little bit of social lubrication and the way of alcohol can, can kind of, you know, help to, um, to push a relationship along if I can put it that way.

Paddy: Let me translate this for the listeners at home. You guys had some wine, and then all of a sudden you guys started making out hard. Correct? Am I correct?

Katy: That is correct, prosecutor. We were making out hard. And in the middle of a bar in Chamonix, it was, it was great. I felt 18 again. It was, it was, it was so fun.

Paddy: Mike couldn't make it to Slovenia, but he joined Katy in the Dolomites a few days later. And even though Katy did not think any kind of long-term relationship would materialize with Mike, since he lived in South Africa and she lived out of suitcase at that point, well, things happened.

Katy: That first night in the Dolomites, Mike said to me, ‘you know, you don't have a plan. So make a plan with me and, um, ask me if I'd come out to South Africa.’ And I was like, hmm. You know, seems a bit–that seems like a bit of a jump, I guess.’ Um, I wasn't sure if that made sense, because we had known each other such a short time, but, I think I spent another day or two in Mike's company and I was like, ‘yes, this makes total sense. I'm going to go, I'm going to move in with Mike and I'm going to live in South Africa for a while.’

Paddy: That is wild. I mean, it must've been a really great stay at the Dolomites.

Katy: It's a beautiful part of the country.

Paddy: Five weeks after meeting, Katy and Mike were living together in South Africa. And then Mike went with Katy back home to New Zealand for Christmas, where he met her family and paced her for her first 100 mile ultra marathon. Then the pandemic hit and they figured out extending work visas and remote work and how many laps around the backyard would make up a sufficient run.

Today, Mike and Katy's nomadic love affair has them in Canada, where Mike got a job and Katy was granted a visa after proving the validity of their relationship to the Canadian government through shared AirBnB receipts and--get this--screenshots of their Strava accounts showing their joint runs.

While all this might seem both insanely romantic and completely bonkers, Katy says that that first group run they did together in Chamonix opened up possibilities that don't exist when you meet someone in a club.

Katy: Running a 100K kind of breaks you down, or it does for me anyway. You can't fake your personality when you're 95 Ks into a run. Like if you're, you know, you are who you are and when you see someone, when they're at their most tired and hungry and they're in pain, I think there is an element of seeing kind of their core self.

And. You know, I wasn't dressed up in my nice clothes and I didn't have makeup on and my hair or pretty like I'm bright red in the face and I'm sweaty and my hair's a mess and that's what I'm like most of the time. So it's, no point in like getting some kind of fake view of, you know, oh, she cleans up real nice. Well I might do, but I don't do that most of the time.

So, you know. You see the real, the real person when You're on those outdoor adventures.

Paddy: You're like, I wear this running vest, like 90% of the time and like these stinky shoes and these stinky socks, like this is my perfume. So I hope that you enjoy it.

Katy: This is what I smell like. So.

Paddy: Not all relationships forged in the outdoors start off like adventurous fairy tales. Consider the case of mountaineer Erin Parisi. Erin has been in the news lately for her attempt to be the first trans woman to climb the highest peak on every continent, the so-called Seven Summits. So far, she's stood atop 5 of them. But while Erin is a wiz at the planning and logistics it takes to execute lofty goals, her romantic talents are, well...

Erin Parisi: That first time we met, you know, where I couldn't even, I couldn't say hi, and I just didn't want to.

And, uh, it's funny cause she, she thought I was like the worst person ever, because you know, That's always a good start to a relationship story. Right?

Paddy: So there we were, she thought I was an asshole. And.

Erin: Right. She thought that I was just being a giant b–.

Paddy: Erin is describing the first of a few pretty brutal early interactions with her wife, Allison.

In the Fall of 2018, Erin was on mandatory vocal rest after throat surgery. Some friends dragged her out to a bar in Denver to curb her post surgery blues and that is when Erin met Allison. Sort of. Since her doctor said no talking, Erin could only give a head nod and a little wave, which came off as a lot rude.

A few weeks later though, they ran into one another at a party with the same group of friends. This time, Erin was armed with a notepad.

Erin: We sat there for the rest of the night and we just kind of like traded notes. And I really didn't think that she was interested in a relationship. I was super committed to climbing and, you know, I was at that place we all talk about where, you know, you don't, you're not in a relationship and you, and you don't even want to be in a relationship.

Paddy: But ultimately Alison, like, made the first move. Right?

Erin: We met a couple of weeks later after that, and then she, um, she she's like, ‘I Googled you.’And I knew that she had my whole backstory, but I was like, ‘oh, well, alright’.

She asked me out and I still don't get it. And she sends me a Facebook message cause she doesn't have my phone number. And I had said no, a couple of days before that I couldn't hang out with the friends and she was going to be there.

So she sent me a message a few days later and said, ‘hey, you weren't able to get out either. And I was wondering if you wanted to go out for dinner.’ And I said, ‘yeah, sure.’ Like I proceeded to invite all my friends. I mean, I just figured that all of the other times we had met, we had met with these big, this big crew of people.

So I was just like, yeah, now I got a voice so we can all talk like this is going to be so rad. And um, yeah. I invited like three people to our first date.

Paddy: When their friends left, Allison very bluntly told Erin that she was interested. They had a good laugh about the entire thing. And a few more dinner dates and a few more weeks later, Erin and Allsion went on a ski date to Arapahoe Basin, a resort about 60 miles west of Denver. The snow was, uuuumm, challenging

Erin: Oh, it was full-on just dirty ice. And, nothing was open. So everybody was on the same, same shit, right? Everyone's on the same dumb slope, but, you know, we wanted to go skiing together we started trying to hunt down the powder and that, you know, I was too stubborn to give up on the quest. And I took her down, like the farthest run over that we could get to. And it ended up just being like a black diamond that was just a sheet of ice, you know, like 20 feet wide between trees and everything else. We just skid down the hall around on our butts, hoping not to tear our pants open on anything, and she was not happy with me. And, I was just apologizing the whole time and she's just like, ‘shut up so I can get down this hill and then we can talk about it we got to the bottom.’ And, we just called it a day at that point. It was, it was just terrible.

Paddy:  But during the car ride home, Erin said something that made everything better. Just joking. That's when shit really hit the fan.

Erin: So we were on our way home and we are going to go to a, uh, a new year's party. She said to me, ‘you know, like we're going to go to our first party, you know, as a couple or now that we're dating.’ And I was like, ‘oh, dating?’ And we hadn't, we just hadn't had the discussion.

So I didn't, I just didn't know what we are calling that. So I said, ‘dating, is that, what is that what we're doing?’

Paddy: Oh, no, Erin, no.

Erin: I didn't know we were dating. Like, is that where that, that's what we're calling this.

I say all the wrong things, I guess. And that's what you get for dating somebody that is like by themselves out climbing big hills all the time, just oblivious and not knowing what to say when there's an actual physical person in front of their face.

Paddy: That night at the party when Allison recounted their seemingly awful day, everyone had a real big laugh, including Erin. Because that's what happens, right? A painful misadventure usually turns into a funny event with a little space, some perspective, and community.

This is how Erin and Allison went from these brutal first meetings to being happily married. And that perspective shift, Erin says, is something that the outdoors has taught her.

Erin: My goal with my climbs is always to feel closer to people. And that's why I chose like expedition mountaineering, where it's, it's really a goal of being attached to a rope and being, you know, attached to your team and trusting your team. And when you're trans or different, it's hard to trust other people or when you've got something that's in your background that makes you feel unlovable, it's hard to trust other people. And, I think that as I grew and I found my ability to get back on a rope team and take risks and be vulnerable and trust other people, that probably contributed to the point at which Alison and I met.

And I was actually willing to trust somebody and, uh, settle, settle in and feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and find humor and joy and, and kind of these otherwise not very funny situations.

Paddy: Coming up after the break, some more not very funny situations that helped a couple daring people find exactly what they needed

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Leah McDowell: For sure we could tell something was going on when we reached the takeout. So we pull up. We see the river. My friends are there. And we can't see any blue sky. It's covered with smoke and there is, yeah, ash falling from the sky and like landing in the parking lot. So we're pretty certain, this isn't just some type of brush burn.

Paddy: That is Leah McDowell talking about the start of kayak adventure back in April of 2008 on the French Broad River, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. She was with a dude named Corey that she'd just met the night before at a Barrack The Vote concert. They both were avid kayakers so, after chatting for a bit, they made plans to paddle the following day after work.

Unbeknownst to them, a wildfire had broken out in the woods surrounding the French Broad. Even Though both Corey and Leah were outdoor educators at the time, trained in risk management, and --you know--there was smoke in the air, they were undeterred.

Leah: On our way there, the volunteer fire department house was empty, which probably should have been a sign. But, we both were down for it. We felt really comfortable and confident with it. And we were excited to paddle.

Paddy: Okay. There's smoke in the air. There's ash falling from the sky. There's a fire somewhere. But, you're like, ‘you know what? I'm going to shelve all those concerns because this dude who is new to me is like smoking hot. And I just want to kind of like, see where this can go.’ Am I right here? 

Leah: Pretty sure. You're absolutely accurate. We were like, really wanting to get to know each other. Wanting to spend time together.

Paddy: The sparks are flying between us. You sir. You know what I'm saying?

Leah: Yeah, smoke and mirrors. We were blinded by. Blinded by the smoke.

Paddy: The smoke between the two of you. You didn't give a shit about the real smoke that was in the air.

Leah: Well, we couldn't see any flames. So…

Paddy: This is so great.

Paddy: Less than a mile into their smokey river trip, Leah and Corey saw a group of canoers hiking their boats upstream.

Leah: They were like shouting at us. They were like, ‘get off the river, get off the river.’ They were like, ‘you can't breathe. You can't breathe.’

Paddy: Stop looking  doe-eyed into each other's eyes and get the hell out of the river. What are you doing? You're like, ‘what? What? Sorry.’

Leah: We were like, ‘oh, really?’

Paddy: It’s a fire. Oh.

Leah: It was still pretty easy at that point to get back up river.

So we got back and we were like, ‘wow, bummer.’ We're like, ‘okay.’

We figured we needed to like salvage this somehow, or continue the night. Like this can't be it. And it, it wasn't a bad experience. Right. Some people would end up in a situation like this and be like, ‘I never want to see you again. Like this was terrible. Lose my number, bye.’

Paddy: You almost turned me into a s'more. I'm outta here.

Leah: Right. So we're like, ‘okay, well, let's go downtown.’

Paddy: Corey and Leah picked up her car at the take out--it was covered in ash but thankfully not burnt to a crisp-- and they went for a drink. Which turned into dinner and a conversation that lasted until they were the last people in the restaurant.

Leah: Learning about his family or my family, where we grew up, how we found Asheville, what we loved about Asheville, what we loved spending time doing, what we were doing for work and. We spent half the day together. Corey walked me back to my car and we said goodnight. And then he leaned in for a kiss and we had our first kiss.

Paddy: Was it a magical first kiss?

Leah: It was, it was like in the dark and between our two cars with all of our kayak gear. And, it was really quiet where we were parked at, we were in the middle of downtown, but it just felt like the two of us. 

Paddy: I gotta tell ya. I have done a lot of stupid shit in my life to smooch a human on the mouth, but I have never, almost turned myself into, like, a rotisserie chicken. You guys might take the, the, like, trophy for like, what is the dumbest way you've gotten the greatest smooch ever.

Leah: It was confirming, you know, it was like, Yeah. This is happening. Like I'm not wrong. He didn't just want to go boat.

Leah: What could have easily been a disastrous first date or a summer fling with super hot kayaker guy grew into a deep, meaningful connection. Leah and Corey were inseparable for the next two months. They kayaked, camped, hiked, wore clean clothes instead of soggy river gear, went out on the town, and started to fall in love.

But it wasn't all happy outdoorsy. Leah and Corey both lost people close to them during the first few months of their relationship. And Leah says that supporting one another in grief was a proving ground for their feelings.

Leah: It was more challenging than anything that we had experienced before. But, we were really, really grateful to have each other through those experiences. We knew that we were there for each other. He provided me so much support and comfort, and I know I did the same for him vice versa. I didn't date and I hadn't been in a relationship for two years before meeting Corey. I was totally independent and totally happy with my life. So, I think we both came into each other's lives at really good times when we had a lot of happiness to share with each other. And that definitely carried us through some of those hard just life circumstances that occurred.

My strongest relationships are with people that I spend time outside with. Our outcome for Corey and I only happened with our connection to kayaking and where we spent so much time in the first couple of weeks.

Leah: In 2016, Leah and Corey were married and they had their reception on the banks of the French Broad River.

For Leah, kayaking has served as a connector and confidence builder and given her the courage to paddle toward something scary and move through it, both on the river and in life.

Leah: Opening up your life and opening up your heart to somebody else is not something that I take lightly. There's a lot of vulnerability in opening up just like with kayaking. You've really gotta step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. And, approaching a new rapid, or a new river, you get this feeling inside where you are nervous about it. But then also feel the reward on the other end of it. Like, ‘cool. I survived ‘or like, ‘yeah, I nailed that.’ Those are both rewarding feelings on the other side of that risk taking adventure. Trusting that, you know, even if I come out on the other side of this, upside down or backwards, I'm still going to be okay, I'm going to be able to recover from this. Building that resiliency every time we go down the river helps us realize that we can be resilient in other challenges that we take on with life. 

Paddy: Pushing yourself beyond what you think you're capable of. Finding joy when shit really sucks. Perseverance. These are all characteristics of a great outdoor experience and a great relationship. And they are exactly the traits that Massimo Alpian had to call upon during an especially nerve wracking adventure.

Massimo Alpian: It's about a hundred percent humidity and an average temperature of about 96 to 97 degrees. And I then had to like power walk. And if I keep it at this pace, it's, it's manageable, but I was still like, like sweating profusely. I moved from a, a sweat that was running down my back to clammy cold in a shirt that was completely drenched and now like a mix of heat and wet, and it was just gross.

Paddy: A long trail run? An epic hike? Nope, Massimo was trying to get to a first date on time. It was a notably muggy summer in New York City back in 2006 but the heat wasn't entirely why Massimo was sweatin'. At the time, he was 23 years old, living at home with his folks after graduating from NYU, and striking out with guys who thought his outdoorsiness was quote ‘boring.’

Using, of all things, MySpace, Massimo had connected with Brett, a perfectly coiffed dashing man who loved the outdoors. A couple of glasses of liquid courage later, he settled himself into the date. Brett didn't notice how sweaty he was. The fireworks popped, and dinner turned into a make out session in Washington Park.

Massimo:  Funny enough as we were like sitting there smooching and getting all like flirty, there were a whole bunch of rats running around us in the bushes behind us. So it was like very New York in that way.

Paddy: I was going to say, this is the most New York, like first date make-out session of all time.

Massimo: And then, unlike a lot of guys I had met at the time, he sent me a text the next day and said, ‘I had a really great time. I'd love to see you again.’

Paddy: Massimo and Brett's connection deepend quickly during more city dates, but even more so during their city escapes. Just a few weeks after meeting, they traveled 130 miles north of New York to the small town of Phoenicia, in the Catskill Mountains. Brett was excited to take Massimo mountain bike riding. But Massimo, who grew up in New York and is a diehard road cyclist, had never even sat on a mountain bike let alone ridden one. Brett didn't know this.

Massimo: This guy just takes off within 60 seconds and drops me and I don't, can't even see him. And I started riding as fast as I could on this mountain bike that I didn’t know how to ride. I like wiped out and completely ate shit over a rock. I just stood there over that bike and started like panicking and crying a little bit. Like I had like some tears coming.

Paddy: Oh no. Oh no. 

Mass: Like, I called out his name. I didn't hear him. I'm actually legit scared to keep riding this bike cause I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

And then I was also like just sitting there. I'm like, like this guy is such an asshole. Like, who just like takes off and doesn't make sure the person there with, like they just met, or on a date, I guess like a ride date with is with them.

And then all of a sudden he like comes up back to me over the clay. And he's like, ‘where, where are you?’ And I'm like, ‘I was like, I don't know where the fuck were you. I'm like, you just took off.’

So he's like, ‘okay, why don't we go like really slow and just follow my wheel?’ And I was like, ‘okay fine.’ After that, he was really kind and inclusive and I followed his wheel and we went really slow and we made lots of stops. We had like, a lovely weekend after that we went out, you know, we went out to dinner and like the restaurant in town, we went hiking the next day.

So it was, it was really great. We really connected in the mountains and it was fantastic.

Paddy: But Massimo wanted a little bit of payback, so when he and Brett got back to the city he designed a road ride date: start in Manhattan, bike over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey, roll through the suburbs, and then pedal home. This time, Brett got completely crushed.

Massimo says that these long rides led to better communication and quality time, and an understanding and acceptance of the others wants and needs.

This helped immensely when their burgeoning relationship was put to the test just three months in during one of the most difficult times in Massimo's life.

Massimo: I was closeted at the time. Very closeted to my family, but not my friend group. And things got pretty intense in our relationship. And my parents found out I was gay and found out about my relationship with Brett. And I was outed without my control or consent to my entire family. They were extremely homophobic and I was thrown out of my home, my childhood home. They shut me out for six years and we missed out on a lot of each other's lives at that time

I also had to tell Brett, which the conversation never really came up. You know, we had conversations about each other's families. But, I had kind of done this, like ‘don't ask, don't tell’ thing. And I think it was because I was embarrassed that I came from such a conservative family. But, that led Brett to believe that I was out to my family more than he knew and that they were accepting. So I also had to deal with the trauma at the time of telling my boyfriend that I don't have a place to live.

And I called him and I was like in tears, hyperventilating, like, ‘I don't know where to go or what to do. This is what happened. I'm sorry if I led you to believe something different, but this is my reality. And I don't know where to go. And I have a suitcase packed.’ He was like, ‘grab your stuff and come to my apartment and you can stay with me until you figure out what you're doing.’ And a month went by and then two months went by and me moving in with him, turned into this very like intense love affair

Paddy : Massimo says the following six years of his life were complicated and confusing. It was the first time he'd felt deep, real, intimate love from a significant other. And while that was happening, the complete disconnection from his family was heartbreaking.

When Massimo turned 29 years old, he experienced what he describes as a late 20s crisis. He was hurt and angry at his family and he started to wonder if his relationship with Brett had started too young, too quickly. So he moved out, rented an apartment on the other side of New York, and bought a Kawasaki Ninja street motorcycle.

Massimo: Full on crotch rocket, thought I was like this, like bad-ass bro. You know, I was like riding around like New York, like, you know, full face helmet and like a leather jacket. Like I just like was such a dork I know what I was thinking I was doing.

I was on my bike and like, I got hit by a taxi one day. Went flying off my bike. And my bike went down like a half a city block, was demolished. I was conscious, but like totally in shock and not didn't know what was going on. And I couldn't walk.

Paddy: Strangers rushed to help Massimo and get an ambulance. A woman asked him if there was anyone she should call. Massimo said, "Call Brett."

Massimo: Brett met me at the hospital, which shows the kind heart he has after I was a complete asshole to him and broke up with him for no reason. And, you know, they were doing MRIs and x-rays and trying to find out like, if I was okay, if I broke a rib or whatever. And I was just laying in a, in a, in a, in a stretcher and he was just like, ‘you know, I need to call your mom or your dad and let them know what happened.’

And I was like, ‘please don't like, we don't. I was like, we don't talk like, please don't call them. Please just leave it alone.’ He defied me and called her. She picked up and he told her what happened. And she came. 

Yup she came. Yeah, she showed up. I don't know why or what inspired her to show up, but she showed up after years of not talking, not seeing her and also knowing that Brett was there.

Paddy: Massimo's injuries included a torn ACL, a torn MCL, a torn meniscus, and a number of fractures. Brett supported him through his recovery and his physical therapy. They became a couple again.

And starting on that day in the ER, Massimo's family has opened themselves up to him again, and accepted his relationship and Brett. When Massimo and Brett got married in 2014, his family was there. Today, Massimo says he still has challenges with his family but that they've healed old wounds. He describes their relationship as great.

He also told me that what helped him the most as he rebuilt his connections to Brett and his parents were the values he'd cultivated during his outdoor experiences, especially empathy.

Mass: When we think of empathy as a value, it's always in relation to others, which I think is really important. But also, empathy for yourself, right?

There’s been a lot of challenges You know, I came across an outdoor adventure, like whether it was pushing past a along ride where I thought I was going to literally collapse or being dehydrated and pushing past those boundaries psychologically in knowing they're going to be okay and tapping into my strength, into my confidence. And self-talk of it, of being your own hype person aided me in getting through a lot of those moments where I thought I couldn't do it. 

And as I learned more about myself in my relation to nature and the outdoors, that also helps me connect with others in that space. Every time you go out and adventure with someone you love, you learn a lot about them, but also about your relationship. And, that in turn keeps your relationship strong, and brings a lot of lessons that you can apply that lasts a lifetime

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Michael: Hey, Paddy, I need you to do some for me.

Paddy: Okay.what?

Michael: Uh, can you do the credits?

Paddy: Oh, sure. Really?

Michael: Yeah. honestly, I, I have to go. Busy. 

Paddy: Oh, okay.

Michael: All you enjoy? Go for it. You're good at this.

Paddy: Okay. Thanks. Cool. Uh, okay. I'm going to give it a shot here.

Like what you've heard? Want more wonderful Outside Love tales? There are a bunch of great ones at outside online dot com slash love stories. Ok...what's next? Oh...

Paddy: This episode of the outside podcast was produced by me, Patty O'Connell and it was edited by Mike Roberts or Michael Roberts, Michael Roberts music by Robbie Carver. Thanks, Robbie.

This episode was brought to you by Aruba, an island in the Caribbean that offers so much more than a vacation. Learn what the Aruba Effect can do for you and plan your trip now at aruba.com

Gosh, wow, I wanna go to Aruba. Mike, do we get, like discounts?

Oh, anbd the The Outside Podcast is made possible by our Outside+ members. Learn more about all the benefits of membership at outsideonline.com/podplus…. Also, we're offering new members a 25% discount... just enter the code pod25 at checkout.

I think that's it? Yeah, that's it. Nailed it!

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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, which was developed in partnership with PRX, distributors of the idolized This American Life and The Moth Radio Hour, among others. We have since expanded our show and now offer a range of story formats, including interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and politics, as well as reports from our correspondents in the field.