For these couples, time spent in the great outdoors provides an opportunity to grow closer.
By Lucy Morris | Photography by Rich Smith
CITYSCOPE® MAGAZINE SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN® – Couples Grow Closer Through Time Spent In the Great Outdoors
By Lucy Morris | Photography by Rich Smith
While working together at a restaurant after college, Walter Raulston stole the keys to Louellen’s heart – or at least her bike lock. “We both rode our bikes to work, and one day he asked to chain his up with mine,” Louellen explains.
“I needed to lock my bike up, but I was also interested in her,” Walter laughs. The rest, they say, is history.
Married for five years and together for 10 before that, this couple bonded over a shared passion for all things outdoors. Today, they try to go camping as often as they can in order to get away from the hustle and bustle and grow closer as a couple.
“We’re both super busy with work and always have to stay connected and on our phones,” explains Louellen. “So, when we go camping, it’s a way to get out of town and relax. It’s good for our relationship.”
If they’re just looking for a quick getaway, they’ll visit their favorite spots along the Hiwassee and Ocoee rivers or head up to Tellico with their two dogs, Sammy and Penny Lou.
“Typically, we’ll get there in the late afternoon, early evening,” says Walter. “I’ll start setting up camp, and she’ll start the fire. The first night we always grill out and relax. The next day we’ll usually go fishing or mountain biking.”
“Once we were camping with some friends, and I decided to do a little fishing while I waited for them to get things set up at our campsite,” says Louellen. “My first cast, I hooked this huge trout – I mean probably 18 inches. I almost reel it in, when it jumps up and spits the hook out. When everyone finally gets to the river, I’m trying to tell them, and they’re all like, ‘Mhmm … sure.’ It was the biggest fish I ever hooked! I still don’t think they believe me.”
When it comes to a quality trip, the one thing they can’t live without is their camper. “We got it about three years ago, and we love it,” Walter says. “We took some friends with us to Talladega in it once, and they loved it so much they came back and bought their own a week later!”
Photo Courtesy of the Boitnotts
Although Justin and Kelli Boitnott attended the same college in West Tennessee, they didn’t actually meet each other until studying abroad in Italy. “We were based in a cute little town called Citerna,” says Kelli. “We would have classes but also have full weeks dedicated to travel. That’s when Justin really introduced me to hiking, and we’ve been doing it ever since!”
Today, this dynamic duo is passionate about spending as much time outdoors as possible. “We love the quiet and the time spent away from our regular, sometimes mundane schedules,” explains Kelli. “There’s no ceiling overhead, and it just gives you more perspective.”
In addition to spending time outdoors, the Boitnotts hope to see as much of the world as possible. “I think our trip to Iceland was our favorite so far, and we’re planning a trip right now to Spain and Portugal,” says Justin. “My favorite moment in Iceland was when we were driving across a lava field, and we decided to take this dirt road. I was probably driving faster than I should’ve, and it crested at the top, which I wasn’t expecting. I almost drove us into the volcano. But there was a beautiful view at the top!” he laughs.
Closer to home, they’ve still managed to take in some incredible experiences. “In May, we went to Elkmont Campground in the Smoky Mountains on this one weekend that corresponds with the synchronization of the fireflies,” Kelli explains. “Everyone brings their lawn chairs out into the woods to watch as they blink in unison.”
They’ve also had some humorous experiences. “Once we were camping on my family’s farm in Virginia just for the night, and I knew there were bears and coyotes around the property, so I was a little on edge,” says Justin. “It’s getting close to midnight, and the fire is going down, and I start to hear stuff. Kelli is like, ‘It’s not a bear, just go to bed,’ but I can’t, so I keep banging pans and building up the fire. I didn’t sleep all night. Next morning, we head back home, and the neighbors tell my family they saw a black bear right where we’d been camping!”
“I slept through the whole thing,” laughs Kelli.
“When he said he wanted to buy a camper, I said, ‘What?!’” remembers Shelly. “With a 2-year-old and 5-year-old, I was still in survival mode with young ones. I mentioned it to my neighbor, and she said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just a phase.’”
“I said, ‘I’m too old to sleep on the ground. I pay a mortgage. We’re getting a camper,” quips Jason. Turns out, it was a life-changing purchase.
The Lewises started out easy to make sure they enjoyed it. “Our first trip was in August 2017,” says Shelly. “We went very local – to Raccoon Mountain Campground. His dad lives practically through the trees in Black Creek, so he was right there if we needed anything,” she laughs.
Today, they’ve upgraded the camper and gone on more than 30 trips as a family, and they’ve gotten to experience many firsts along the way. “We’ve had a lot of first experiences at campgrounds that we’ll never forget,” says Shelly. “Caroline’s first time catching a fish, Kyle’s first time riding a bike …”
“There have been so many good memories,” says Jason. “Every time we go camping, we learn new places. We meet amazing people that have those experiences in common with us.”
Though it’s hard to narrow down a favorite trip, each is planned with intention. “We love camping because it brings us together. It’s so quiet, the world just stops,” says Shelly. “We get off our screens, away from the concrete and our daily stresses, and we bond as a family.”
“You could be anywhere – and it doesn’t even have to be far from home, but it feels like it. That change of pace just provides a break from whatever your reality is at that point, and you can focus on being together,” Jason explains.
“Camping is definitely the biggest hobby we all have together,” admits Shelly. “We really do see it as a great opportunity to make memories and experience joy, and that’s what it’s all about.”
This fun-loving couple may not have grown up with the same passion for the outdoors, but as they’ve grown closer, they’ve adopted a mutual affinity for adventure. “I’m pretty outdoorsy and grew up camping and fishing all the time, so when I met Kathryn, I wanted to include her in those activities,” Nathan Robinson explains. “Our first trip was to Tellico, and we went trout fishing.”
“Nathan called me a city slicker,” laughs Kathryn. “But he introduced me to so many different activities that I really enjoy now.”
The Robinsons prefer camping in the winter because they enjoy the cold weather, and to them, each trip is like a mini vacation. “When we go camping, it’s very chill,” Kathryn says. “Nathan is an early riser, so he’ll get up and make coffee. I’ll stay in the tent with our dogs, Opie and Lyla, then we’ll sit by the fire reading and just enjoying the morning before we go hiking.” Nathan adds, “It’s so peaceful and quiet. It’s very relaxing to just get away.”
“He’s my favorite person to spend time with, so it’s nice to have all that time with him with no distractions.”
They say their trips have brought them closer and taught them to appreciate each other. “It’s great quality time,” says Nathan. “You have to rely on that other person and know they can pull their own weight too. It’s a big trust thing. You want to make sure you can take care of each other.”
When it comes to who’s more high maintenance on their trips, that’s still up for debate. “Kathryn’s high maintenance when we fish, because she makes me do everything for her,” laughs Nathan, “but I get whiny if I’m too cold at night.”
The best part about each trip? Disconnecting from the world. Kathryn explains, “He’s my favorite person to spend time with, so it’s nice to have all that time with him with no distractions.”
High school sweethearts Gary and Dean Pickett have filled their lives with adventure. “I camped as a Girl Scout, and Gary camped with his family as a child. Then our first camping trip together was with his family when we were dating. I think we went to Harrison Bay State Park,” Dean reminisces.
The trips have only gotten bigger and bolder since then. “We probably take about five or six camping trips locally each year, but we try to plan a bigger trip every five years or so,” Gary explains. “The best trip we’ve ever taken was when we rafted and camped through the Grand Canyon about three years ago. I never thought I’d get to see every square inch of it from the very beginning to the very end. I always pictured myself looking over the handrail, but we got to live in it,” he adds.
They’ve also enjoyed camping and rafting along the Tatshenshini River in British Columbia and even spent two weeks camping along the rivers of Alaska. “We were helicoptered in and were floating on glacier water. For 14 nights, we had to collect firewood and get water from a waterfall and filter it before we could drink it or cook with it,” Dean explains. “It’s fun knowing that you can survive out in the wild.”
When they stay local, they enjoy camping with extended family. “We’ve visited Mount Le Conte 100 times, and we’ve been going to Cades Cove twice a year for 35 years,” says Dean. “This past fall, we had just gotten there and were setting up the group site when the ranger came and said they’d just darted a bear. So, we took the grandkids down there and watched the rangers weigh, measure, and tag the bear. Since it was asleep, they let the kids pet it. It was neat to see the whole process.”
Coming up next, the Picketts have a trip to Arkansas planned where they’ll pack sleeping bags in canoes and row down the Buffalo River, and they’d love to try to visit Okefenokee Swamp at some point, where you put your tent up on platforms above an alligator swamp.
“Waking up in the wild gives us energy and happiness,” they explain. “We stay close through camping.”