Chasing Their Fears and Finding Each Other

For their first date five years ago, Ben Lee took Kerrie Knox for a ride in his 1947 Beechcraft B35 Bonanza, flying in and out of a tiny airstrip near where she was living in Cleveland, Tenn. “One of the first things I noticed about Kerrie was just the excitement.” he said. “There was no fear.”

Ms. Knox, 29, described the date as “pretty surreal.”

She added, “This handsome guy picks me up in an airplane and I had to climb up on the wing to get inside, and the next thing you know, you’re just in the air flying,”

For their third date, Ms. Knox, 29, took him rafting down Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge, known for its dangerous rapids with names like Tom’s Brain Buster and Twisted Sister.

“We launched directly into a rapid,” Mr. Lee, 31, said. “I was like, ‘Am I going to die?’”

He would ask himself that question many more times during their relationship. Before meeting Ms. Knox, who loves to go camping and rock climbing, Mr. Lee had never slept in a tent and despite being a pilot, he has a fear of heights.

Ms. Knox’s brother, Tyler Knox, said nothing has unnerved his sister for as long as he can remember. He recalled that she preferred his Creepy Crawlers bug maker to her toy oven when they were children growing up in Brentwood, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.

“She got an Easy-Bake Oven, but she got rid of it because she would rather make bugs and snakes,” Mr. Knox said.

Ms. Knox, who works as an emergency room nurse at Tennova Healthcare, a hospital in Cleveland, Tenn., first connected with Mr. Lee on Tinder in October 2016. She was living in Cleveland and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“He was the first person I ever spoke to on Tinder,” she said.

Sometimes, Ms. Knox accepts travel nursing assignments, filling in at short-staffed hospitals around the country. She prefers to sleep in a tent or her truck near the hospital when on a temporary gig. During a recent 3-month long stint at a hospital in Phoenix, she worked 12-hour shifts and camped in the desert. “I would get dressed in the dark every morning outside,” said Ms. Knox. “I’d get to work sometimes with my scrubs inside out.”

Her work at the frontline of health care is another thing that Mr. Lee admired about Ms. Knox. “She doesn’t like a boring job,” he said. “She’d rather it be a wild night in the E.R. where she’s helping people. I’m drawn to that. I find that very attractive.”

Mr. Lee grew up on a farm in Madisonville, Tenn., raising and showing cows as a member of the local 4-H Club. Later, he began riding dirt bikes around the farm at increasingly high speeds over jumps he built himself.

“We’re just happy he’s alive,” said his father, James Lee.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Mr. Lee now competes in motocross races. He is also a real estate agent at Norman Lee Real Estate, a company in Madisonville founded by his grandfather, Norman Lee.

After meeting on Tinder, Ms. Knox began accompanying Mr. Lee to dirt bike races and soon started competing herself, which can mean riding for hours through woods, creeks, rain and darkness. She also helped vaccinate and castrate calves on his family’s farm without any squeamishness.

“She brings good energy to everything we do,” Mr. Lee said. “She’s never negative.”

Eventually, he introduced Ms. Knox to Patsy Carson, who lives on a neighboring farm in Madisonville. Known as “Miss Patsy” and in her 80s, she is a grandmother figure to Mr. Lee.

“I said, ‘Ben, I’m going to tell you something: Keep this one ’cause you’ll never find another one who will castrate a calf and ride a motorcycle,’” Ms. Carson recalled.

In May 2018, the couple took a road trip around Colorado in Mr. Lee’s old van with a hole in the floor and other deformities. They didn’t talk about marriage, but Ms. Knox said she knew they were headed that way. “We like the same kind of food; we’re both easygoing; we like similar music and listen to similar podcasts,” she said. “He cracks me up to the point where I’m crying. He’s also very capable. If the car breaks down, he knows how to fix it. If we get stranded somewhere, there’s no one I’d rather be with than him.”

[Sign up for Love Letter and always get the latest in Modern Love, weddings, and relationships in the news by email.]

In the summer of 2020, Ms. Knox strung together about a month of vacation days and set out to hike the 567-mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. About 100 miles in, she started feeling sick so she left the trail and walked to Breckenridge, the nearest town. “I thought. ‘Just to be safe and do the right thing, I’ll get tested,’” she said.

It turned out she had the coronavirus, which frightened her more than camping alone in the middle of the wilderness.

“It was really scary,” Ms. Knox said. “I’m so far away from home, I can’t get on an airplane, there were no rental cars available in Breckenridge.”

She ended up quarantining in a hotel room in Breckenridge, then returned to the trail. About 300 miles and two weeks later, Mr. Lee met up with her in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colo. and they hiked together for the rest of the trip.

Mr. Lee had been thinking about proposing to Ms. Knox for a while, so he bought a diamond engagement ring on his drive out to Colorado.

“On our second to last night, we were on top of one of the beautiful passes,” said Ms. Knox. “I turn around and he’s down on one knee. He asked if I would go on adventures with him forever.”

The couple returned to Colorado for their wedding on Aug. 19. They were married at Thoreau’s Cabin, an Airbnb deep in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, about 16 miles up a rugged dirt road from Lake City. Dr. Lon Shoopman, a longtime friend of the Lee family and the interim pastor of Glenlock Baptist Church in Sweetwater, Tenn., officiated. Their 17 guests — including Miss Patsy, who will turn 85 in November — drove up in a procession of all-terrain vehicles (or, as Ms. Knox calls them, “golf carts on steroids.”)

It was raining and 44 degrees by the time everyone arrived, so the group retreated inside the cabin and huddled around its potbelly stove. When there was a break in the rain, someone yelled, “Patsy, wrangle ‘em up!” and guests were gently herded outside for the ceremony, which took place in a flower patch surrounded by the massive San Juan Mountains, a few with waterfalls running top to bottom. As the bride arrived with her father, John Knox, “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles played on speakers. She wore a wreath made mostly of yellow daisies and a sleeveless gown with a tulle skirt and hiking boots.

Dr. Shoopman began the ceremony by pointing out that mountains are mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times. When it was time for the couple to say their vows, which they wrote themselves, Dr. Shoopman said, “Ladies first.”

“Ben Lee, I love absolutely everything about you,” the bride began. “I love your mullets and mustaches, your perfectly imperfect smile, your cute little butt and even your talon toenails.”

In his vows, Mr. Lee reflected on the many challenging experiences Ms. Knox brought into his life: the careening down rapids, the rappelling down mountainsides, the nights sleeping in a tent on hikes. “Growth comes from being uncomfortable,” he said. “Kerrie, you have made me more uncomfortable than anyone in this world.”

After the ceremony, box lunches were passed around, then everyone headed out for another A.T.V. ride. It was raining again, but Ms. Knox was gung-ho. “That was her dream, to ride the A.T.V. in her wedding dress,” said her mother, Leslie Ann Knox.

Days later, the bride posted a few wedding photos on Facebook, one with this caption: “By the end of the day, my dress was ripped, my face was dirty, my flowers were askew. But I’ve never felt more beautiful or happy as my husband wrapped me in his arms.”

When Aug. 19, 2021

Where The off-the-grid Thoreau’s Cabin, which is made of logs, outside Lake City, Colo.

Before and After Parties Wedding guests stayed in hotels and rented houses in Lake City (population around 436). They had trouble finding places to eat after many restaurants had run out of food because of supply-chain issues. It wasn’t the first food shortage in Lake City: In 1874, a local gold prospector named Alferd Packer was accused of cannibalizing five fellow prospectors when winter weather trapped them in the mountains. A few guests stayed in a hotel called “Cannibal Cabins.”

The Honeymoon A road trip back to Madisonville, where the couple currently reside. “We just bought a Ford Transit van with a bed so we’re livin’ large now,” Ms. Knox said.

The Bride’s Advice on Love: “Find someone who is home and an adventure all at once.”