I’m making a big change for 2016: I will not be offering any guided trips. Not since 2010 has my guiding schedule been clear, and of course in that year I circumnavigated Alaska and the Yukon. I have no plans for a major expedition next year, nor any that involve the other obvious explanation — child rearing — but I’d like to share the less newsworthy factors behind my decision anyway.
First, though, I need to qualify my plans. It’s my current intention to not offer trips in 2016, but I’m keeping open the option as a hedge against unrealistic household budget projections. I would schedule a few 3- and/or 5-day trips in late-summer in Colorado; registration would open in or by May. I’d put the odds of these trips at 1:3 or 1:4, so don’t count on them.
A reluctant decision
While I believe this decision is in my long-term best interests, it was not made spontaneously or without hesitation. There was good reason to continue the program:
Guided trips have been my biggest source of income every year since 2012. They bought and furnished our house, paid for a few modest vacations, maxed out our ROTH IRA contributions, among other things. Offsetting this lost income will be a project.
2. Dream job
If you have to work, guiding is about as good as gets. I had an outdoor office, was paid to backpack (or, really, teach others how to backpack), and worked with people who were genuinely excited to be there.
3. Client relationships
Unlike the income and an exceptional workplace environment, there will be no replacement or substitute for the relationships that I’ve developed with clients. I didn’t hit it off with every one, but I genuinely enjoyed the time spent with most. And, in fact, it was not uncommon to feel uncomfortable with some individuals or entire groups — It felt like I was charging my friends to do fun things with me.
I have remained in contact with many clients via email, Facebook, Twitter, Strava, and holiday cards. And some relationships have grown into more; some recent examples: in August I was on Brent’s Eagle Scout Board of Review; last month I met Jerry’s lovely wife in San Diego, and had a successful elk hunt with Noel; next month I’ll see Brett and Ben while in San Francisco; in January I’m going on another hut trip with Dave; and hopefully this week I will post an interview with Vic about his experience on the Kings Canyon High Basin Route.
Why the change?
If guiding was the proverbial dream job, and a critical piece of my livelihood, why am I giving it up?
1. Business travel
Eleven days after Amanda and I got married in 2013, I left for a 3.5-week stretch of trips. By the time I returned, I’d spent twice as many days with my assistant guide, Flyin’ Brian Robinson, as I had with my new wife.
This was an exceptional instance, but not an exceptional year: since 2011, business travel has kept me away for about three months per year, plus/minus, with many of those days concentrated in the six months between April and September. By cutting out the guided trips, I’m removing not only a challenging condition for our marriage, but also an impediment to doing more personal trips.
2. Flattening learning curve
Being good at something does not equate to being good at teaching that something, or at managing a business that specializes in the something. The learning curves are entirely separate.
In retrospect, I’m thankful that I did not have all the answers at the start: I enjoyed the process of becoming a better guide and a better business owner. Over the last season or two, however, I feel that my personal development has really slowed — I’m not learning as much as I used to. I’ve considered refreshing the model — like by changing locations, starting an ultra running camp, or expanding the business by hiring a manager and more guides — but I’ve opted instead to dedicate that energy to other projects.
3. Other projects
The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide has done phenomenally well, as measured by both sales and reader feedback — 75k copies sold, and a 4.6/5 rating on Amazon. But it was written in 2011, published in 2012, and needs an update.
The second edition will not be out until 2017, but I’ll be releasing much more content before then, including more blog posts, more guidebooks, and a new series of online courses. My intensified focus on content is very intentional: unlike guided trips, content can scale infinitely and requires far less overhead.
There are exciting developments with Sierra Designs, too, notably the upcoming production of a double-wall mid tent and a framed backpack that we’ve been co-developing. And soon I may begin working with another brand in a similar capacity, TBA.
Were you hoping to join me on a trip in 2016, and wondering if you should hold tight until 2017? I wish I knew what to tell you.
If my other projects are successful, I won’t necessarily need to guide trips ever again. But I’m reluctant to give up entirely such a dream job — I enjoy it and I’m good at it, and client feedback is stellar, so it seems like I should continue it in some form or another. For now, though, I’m in wait-and-see mode.
Pursue happiness. That’s all that matters. Life sounds good and fulfilling. Keep up the good work!
Good on you to practice what you preach, http://sectionhiker.com/the-best-year-of-my-life/
Andrew, although there will be some disappointed clients and hikers as this news gets around, I am personally proud of you for making this difficult decision. You are putting your family first, and still have much to offer the hiking world through the many other endeavors outlined in your explanation. Frankly, no explaining needed… you are making the right call.
It’s good for body and soul to change it up every now and then. I’ve no doubt you will be successful at whatever you pursue, business-wise and other-wise. I feel extra fortunate now to have spent time hiking with you this year. Cheers!
Sounds like you have an exciting year ahead of you. Besides, everyone knows you keep your schedule open until after the Hardrock lottery. And on that note, do you have plans to do more running/racing in 2016? You had a killer race at Run Rabbit Run so I figured more 100s may be in your future.
So true about Hardrock. I think something else will occupy that weekend for me, however — as a first-time applicant, my odds are about 3 percent.
I’m trying to figure out my ultra aspirations. I’m not interested in races that aren’t special (e.g. Hardrock) and/or that don’t have stacked fields (e.g. Western States, TNF 50). Unfortunately, the list of those races is pretty short — and the list of those races where entry is guaranteed is even shorter!
Good on you! As Phil said, pursue what will make you happiest.
Best of luck in the new year! I didn’t get to do one of your trips but your book helped me prepare for quite a few backpacking trips over the last few years. If you ever need an editor, let me know!
It’s come full circle. I remember asking you how you backpacked alone for so long on the GWL and you answered (via podcast) that you enjoyed being alone and joked that maybe this wasn’t setting you up for a great marriage. It’s strange and fascinating how we evolve from one point in our life to the next. How the things we care and matter for change and how we end up becoming completely accepting of it even though at one time we would never have imagined it were a want or a possibility. Anyway, good luck on your next endeavor.
Ten years ago I hiked the Sea-to-Sea Route, at the age of 24. Man, I’ve changed a lot since then. I’ll be disappointed if I haven’t changed a similar amount by 2025.
I don’t think there’s much left for a super long-distance trip in North America even if you wanted to keep doing them. You hiked from coast to coast, covered basically the entire Western US in one giant loop and circled by far the largest state/territory in the entire continent. The only other super long trips I could think of would be the Eastern Continental Trail, which you’ve already basically hiked all of except for the Florida Trail and whatever is north of Quebec anyway, and a continuous thru-hike of both the Continental Divide and Great Divide Trails…and I know you’ve spent plenty of time on the Continental Divide in the US.
Speaking of the Sea-to-Sea Route, do you think it’s more likely that someone else thru-hikes that or the Great Western Loop first?
Of the two, the Sea to Sea Route is probably the more doable of the two. It’s not an easy trip, since you have to spend the winter outside, but that’s a more accessible skill than averaging 30-35 miles per day for nearly 5000 miles as must be done on the GWL.
That’s what I was thinking, even though the distance is longer on the Sea-to-Sea Route. Both of those trips sound awesome, if only I had the time and money. I’m just trying to hike the AT and take some shorter trips around Colorado, Arizona and Utah for the time being. As for the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, I’ve always had a big interest in exploring Alaska but I think I’d have to do it multiple trips because 29 below 0 just sounds insane.
If you’re short on time, you would not miss much by skipping the first 800 miles between Kotz and the Alaska Range. There are other sections worth skipping, too, if you’re not trying to link your footsteps.
Also, where would you rank the PNT in terms of difficulty? That’s another one that both interests me and could probably be done in a somewhat reasonable amount of time.
I think the trail has changed since I did it in 2005, and some of it again in 2007. Back then, it was very primitive, with no consistent trail corridor — it was more of a network of trails, roads, and off-trail bits. I recall it being comparable in difficulty to northern sections of the CDT, which don’t get the traffic that CO does.
I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have slipped into the last of your guided tours; if was one of the highlights of my 60+ years.
Yet I could tell from our conversations that you were ready to make this change. Moving on is essential to life’s big adventure and I am happy for you … and Amanda ;-).
Looking forward to more of the new Andrew!
I got the sense from our pre-trip exchanges that you were going to be something special. The group would not have been the same without you — or your singing!
I was hoping to get to take a trip in 2016 learning from you in person, not just from your blog and talks posted online.
Personal/Family Balance and Happiness is key.
Best of luck on this new endeavor.
Thanks for understanding, JP.
They won’t be as educational as a guided trip, but hopefully you continue to utilize the blog and other content that I start releasing.
So disappointing to hear but also so very happy for you (and Amanda) and the next chapter. Wishing now the star would have aligned and my schedule would have permitted to walk the same trails with you on a guided trip (I did not follow my own motto of carpe diem – lesson learned here) but you never know and I’m one to be pretty persistent. I’m sure our paths will cross again my friend!
I hope you keep your blog/website active and as always, you your wife have a place in Tampa.
Wish the schedules had aligned, too. It’s been 3.5 years since I was last in Tampa.
Good for you! I have 3 boys and family trumps everything! I just got into backpacking this year. My friend and I decided on a whim to backpack 60 miles of the AT with less than a month to plan it. We had to get everything from scratch. And we did a lot of things wrong (hiking with a 45 pound pack for only a 6 day trip was one of them) but it was a fun learning experience. Like giving birth, you forget how hard it was and can’t wait to do it again. I have a lot to learn and I have read everything on your website since I got back. I just shared your ingredients page earlier today with a friend. Best of luck to you and Amanda and I look forward to continue to learn from your blogs, writings, updated book.
Always follow the path with Heart…
Are you aware of anyone leading trips into the Escalante area in 2016?
Several groups lead trips in Escalante. You can obtain a list or approved outfitters from the Utah BLM, or do some internet searching.
So glad to hear that you’re updating the book! I have lent out my original copy quite a bit… my favorite bit is about the wet feet effect.
As a fellow entrepreneur when I start wondering if making a change is OK I always tell myself that it’s no fun being the boss lady unless I can make decisions that are best for me. Plus, you can always take it back. Test, and change. I myself am on the hunt for more passive income sources… there are just so many directions to take things when you’re making your own living, both fun and overwhelming.
I have no idea how I missed that you finally got an Elk! I’ve been following your hunting posts as I’m interested in learning myself. Just spent last weekend up in Boulder learning marksmanship and excited to expand upon that. Sounds like you have family or friends that have helped get you up-to-speed, but if you have any other resources for a completely green hunter I would appreciate you passing those along.
Lastly…. can you please ask Amanda the brand and shade of the lipstick she’s wearing in that picture??? We have similar coloring and I’ve been on the hunt for a shade like that for months now.
I believe it was Nars Velvet Matte pencil in “Mysterious Red.” I’m almost certain. If she goes to Sephora, here are the other colors I would have her ask to try on if she doesn’t like the Nars:
Kat Von D Studded Lipstick in “Bachelorette,”;
Urban Decay Matte Revolution Lipstick in “Bad Blood,”
(Not at Sephora, but a tried and true) MAC’s “Ruby Woo.” You kind of can’t go wrong with that one.
Thanks Amanda & Andrew! I do love Ruby Woo although I don’t currently own it. I need to unload some SD gear over at Backpackinglight and then off to Sephora :). Cheers!
I am excited for you Andrew. I have made similar big decisions and have never regretted putting family first. Thanks again for providing an unforgettable experience! I can’t tell you how much that trip meant to me.
While it’s disappointing on a personal level, I’m truly happy that you have found another outlet for your passion. Few people get the opportunity to make a living doing what they love, and fewer still get to do it in a way that touches so many others. I wish you nothing but the best, but will have my gear list ready and route assessment in hand if/when you’re ready to go again.
It sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thoughtful consideration and you’re getting your priorities in order. I’m sorry I never got to go on a trip with you but your book was a terrific help to me in preparing for my AT thru-hike in 2013 and in making the switch from tent to tarp/bivvy this year. All the best!
As someone who would probably never take the opportunity to join one of your guided trips, but has devoured all of your written material for the past 8 years, I’m excited for this change. I hope everything works out the best for you.
I wish you and Amanda well with whatever endeavors you are brave enough to tackle. I know that you will be successful through persistence and determination (~Calvin Coolidge) on top of a genuine interest in your pursuits. I am happy that I took advantage of the opportunity to go on one of your guided trips and treasure the knowledge that I gained and the memories of a great time with like-minded hikers.
The expedition you chose now will not necessarily be an easy one. But I saw you managing difficult and apparent unpredictable terrain like if it was your backyard. One step at a time, i am sure you will get there…
Oh, man, boy was the “terrain” unpredictable on that one…
Hope you’re right!
Sounds like a great road map and business plan. Changing gears and setting a new course can be daunting, but feels less so when your heart is guiding you. Content is king in the age of new media, and you are a wealth of knowledge. Instead of offering your experience to a small group on guided trips, your potential market is now exponentially scalable. I’ve enjoyed your increased post rate and look forward to what you’ll be creating in the future.
Content has always been king. I think the big difference now is that little me can attract a direct audience with it, rather than having to publish through a larger organization like, say, Backpacker.
On a related note, I can’t overstate the value of my guiding experience when developing this content. I have a very strong understanding of my audience, and I’ve had over 55 trips (with 400+ clients) to refine my teaching techniques.
Hello Andrew, I did thoroughly my trip in Utah 2015 with you. As a backpacker I have to say there will be a number of hikers that won’t know what they are missing. As a business owner it seems to me that you are most likely making the correct decision. Your projects will benefit far more people than guiding and will simplify your life. Of course the option of guiding will always be there and what a pent up demand there will be. All the best.
Happy Wife, Happy Life. Keep soaring and good luck!
Your new projects sound exciting .Nancy and I learned a lot from you on the Mt Pisgah trip.The gear list and the planning before the trip was invaluable. Finding your purpose begins with believing there is a place where you can bring value to your life and to the others whose life you will touch. You are doing that.
Andy and Nancy Zirkle
Your name was dropped at my local REI store by one of the associates a few years back. I heard him say that you were his hero and what drove him to embrace the ultralight mindset. As soon as I got home I looked you up and was glad I did. You helped me realize that 45+ lbs on my back is not the way to go. Your insight and knowledge pushed me to go as light as possible without going stupid light. I now have a base weight of 13 lbs and have gone back to my cat stove. Thank you for being true to yourself and the backpacking community.
I am also glad to hear that you are updating your book. I passed mine on to some friends, and look forward to a revised version. I recently worked in a retail ‘adventure gear’ shop in Carrboro NC, http://tbandc.com/, Townesend & Bertram & Co, and they had never heard of you. They do now. And I just returned from a 5 month hiking & camping tour of Europe, attempting to get there and back without flying. Didn’t quite make that goal. I took public trans from NC to Halifax, NS; then a 50ft sailboat to Greenland, (bagheera-sailing on facebook); then 3 weeks camping in Iceland; ferry to Denmark and I was there. I was supposed to take a tanker ship home but ended up flying, alas. Your book and my trip to Pisgah with you a few years ago was so helpful on my expedition to Europe, Andrew. I managed to keep my pack weight below 15#s most of the time.
Thanks for the grassroots publicity.
Sounds like an awesome trip. Way to get after it.
Being able to adapt is the best plan to have. I’m impressed to see your past work open doors to your current opportunities. I’m also impressed that you have the ability to look inwards on stagnant growth in some areas, and the need to hone those skills, and the possible ‘disservice’ it may be to your clients without the personal growth.
I love hearing what you’re up to, and take some nuggets and pearls back into my life as well. Keep up the good work.
bought your book in the pursuit of going lighter you have been inspirational in you information and experiences.
Good luck for the future.
Learned so much and had such a great time on my trip with you a couple of years back. I laugh at my hiking buddies and what they pack now.
Good luck with the new projects and I hope you come back sometime soon, even in a more limited capacity. My guess is she’ll get tired of having you around too much and kick you out for more hikes.
Hi Andrew! All the best for Your new challenges ahead! Was a pleasure to meet You in Steamboat-hope we´ll see us again nxt year at RRR! As much as i stepped back from road running as more i got/get into trail running, which means not just “moving fast” on the trails, but enjoy the outdoor life at all. I just bought Your book/the ebook-version of it, to assist me/my preperations for my upcoming camping/outdoor adventures:-), like staying several weeks at Barr camp which i did this summer. By the way, as i already own a Sierra tent, which i bought last year in Colorado Springs, i ve got at least already one good camping tool yet;-)). Let´s enjoy the natural enviroment, which is real wealth, not the car, house or whatever:-)! So have fun&stay healthy&injury free!
Greetings from bavaria
We’re super stoked for a revised TUHGG Andrew! Huge props to you and thanks for all the inspiration as a fellow guide. Good luck with your new projects!
Good for you! Family is most important.
We’ll be watching your blog closely to keep abreast of your new projects. And we’ll be looking forward to the 2nd edition of your book.
Hmmm…it seems there is simply not enough of you to go around. Have you contemplated human cloning? OK maybe not…too creepy. Hope you enjoy your time out of the field.
I’m saddened to see you go.Young trek leaders never die they just fade away. I first met you last year on the High Sierra group A. I was the 73 year old doing my first cross country hike. On the first day in the parking lot when food was distributed and I saw my fellow hikers I began to get cold feet. On that first day climbing out of Lodgepole camp ground you came over to me a few times and gave me encouraging words to go forward. This gave me encouragement to continue on no matter what obstacle got in the way. I learned several survival skills and they will be with me forever. As the Terminator said, I ‘ll BE BACK, maybe not in2016 but in the future.
Happy wife happy life hahaha. Although i was never going to be able to afford a guided trip i must still say thank you so very much for updating your site with such a vast amount of knowledge free to us ‘Skurkaholics’? (albeit the product placement here and there).
Congratulations on a new phase of life! I also am sorry you are not leading trips . I still have Alaska on my bucket list ! I have so much respect for you , Andrew . You gave me a refund for that 2013 Alaska trip after I was scheduled for a very scary surgery at Stanford (that turned out well) and sent me such kind words . I have not forgotten that . You are mature beyond your years .
I was so excited this summer to follow part of the KCHBR and sign the peak register a few entries after yours on Coppermine Peak ! My 30 year old son was with me and declared I also must be a “Skurkaholic” !!! We had to abort the rest of our trip due to the fire and smoke but I plan to get out there in 2016 and finish it ! Good luck in all of your endeavors and enjoy your lovely and probably very patient wife ! ?
I’m now at age 43, been working since age 13. Worked two to three concurrent jobs while in college. Never took a vacation day, always cashed in my accrued vacation hours.
The upside: No loans, mortgage or debt. I own a beach house, many testosterone toys. I have enough cash savings to stop working. I took a three-months break in 2013, did a lot of gardening, salad healthy eating, some backpacking, many house repairs. My stress level was gone, my health was great, my bad cholesterol level was improving.
Problem: My support system was not supportive.
My silblings who are workaholics treated me like I was a bum, even though I was financially self-sufficient, I didn’t ask or need money from any one, and gave their kids generous Christmas gifts. They were somehow offended that they HAD to work, while I was sleeping in till 8:00AM everyday. My wife -who chose to work- for the reasons to have something to do, and see her friends at work, she treated me with disdain, her respect for me dropped. My parents said that A MAN must go to work, and I should be ashamed to chose to stop working.
The only people that were somewhat positive, were my dude friends, they couldn’t understand really, they thought I was broke, so they kept buying me hamburgers.
Any way, I went back to work in a free-range prison office cubicle, I am unhappy every day, but my (misery loves company) support system is OK now…. now that I’m one of them.
My health got bad, gained 20 lbs sitting at the stress desk. Now I plan to take short outdoors trips every 6 weeks, may be 10 per year.
When you have the support of your support system – follow your dreams.
Do you feel since the publication of your hiker’s guide any of your philosophies have changed? Would you have hiked your adventures differently if you could do them over?
My personal style remains unchanged. Look at the trips I did this summer, like the Kings Canyon High Basin Route and Wind River High Route: bold, committing routes with a super aggressive itinerary.
What has changed is my perspective of backpacking. By spending as much time as I have with “average” backpackers, I have a much, much better understanding of skill levels and gear preferences. As an example, I’m much more forgiving of “tents” than I used to be. For some people, they are perfect, and worth the extra weight; for someone like me, tarp systems and double-wall tents still rule.
Andrew, I am blessed to have had the experience of backpacking in Escalante with you. It was a dream that became a reality thanks to you. The lessons, the new friends, the confidence, and the charm of the beautiful Boulder Mail Trail live in my heart forever. You are a modern pioneer, and like all great explorers, you should always follow your heart (and your compass). All of life is an adventure, and yours will get better and better. All my best to you and Amanda.
I like to think we all evolve every five years or so. You look back and wonder how you ever thought/wore/did specific things, yet some things never change. I recently left the corporate world to spend more time with my wife and kids. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I feel empowered, creative, and ready to tackle new pursuits. I wish you all the best!
If you ever go back to guiding, or decide to do another Alaska trip it would be amazing to join you!
Do you have other folks you can recommend who do similar work for folks like myself who are new to backpacking? I can do a web search (which is how I found you) but it’s tough to know who to trust and sifting through the results is tedious. Thought I would ask.
Also, sounds like you’ve made the right decision. And your openness to make more decisions and revisions as they are called for is admirable. Much respect!
There are no organizations or individuals who offer what I do/did that I know of. “Mike the Guide” from the Sierra Mountain Center and Wildland Trekking get good reviews from two of my former clients, but they don’t seem focused on intro-level instruction. Warren Doyle has an “Appalachian Trail Institute” but it may be overly focused on the AT and thru-hiking, if neither of those are among your objectives. Sorry I don’t have a longer list.
I’m glad I got to meet you at Campmor in NJ a couple years ago. Your book has been extremely valuable to my early backpacking experiences (100 miles of the AT so far). I wish I could have gone on a guided trip with you, but do you recommend anyone or any other company that offers guided backpacking trips? Good Luck with all your future endeavors. Sincerely, Darryl
No organization offers courses quite like mine. You get what you pay for, but you might be able to collect some of the basic skills with courses from REI, ATC, or AMC.