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.