Archive for category Adventure Travel

For Outdoor Companies, Social Media is the Campfire

I bet some of your best memories were formed around a campfire. Making s’mores with mom? Check. Uncle Larry’s story about that huge trout? Check. What about the time ol’ Ranger got tangled up with the skunk and your brother-in-law bought every can of tomato juice he could find?

You’ve heard those stories—or some similar—hundreds of times. And they tend to improve with the telling. The s’mores taste better, the trout gets bigger, and your brother-in-law gets more animated every time that story gets passed around the fire. Especially so if there’s a jar of something getting passed around with it.

Social media is the campfire

That’s the beauty of stories and the power of the campfire. As much as we outdoor gearheads love our carbon-fiber-this and our titanium-that, the real reason we spend time in the backcountry is the stories. We like hearing them and we like sharing them. And most of us would like more opportunities to sit around a fire with a few good friends and a few good stories.

That’s true for us. And if we make or sell things for other people who like the outdoors, then it’s true for our customers, too. They buy our stuff because it helps them with their own stories. If it’s great stuff, better than the stuff they were using before, then their stories are bound to include bigger fish, more epic trails, tastier food, and better what-did-you-do? conversations. They share those stories, those adventures, with the people they know. And the things they buy from us get carried along as those stories are shared.

Except now those stories get told and retold at the speed of Twitter, with the power of Facebook, and the infectiousness of YouTube. It’s not just chatter around the water cooler. It’s around the globe.

Awhile back I was chatting with Kath Baird of Bogong Horseback Adventures. Kath, her husband Steve, and their sons Clay and Lin run 45 horses and take folks into the high country of the Great Dividing Range, in Australia. She wondered if all the effort that social media seems to take might be better spent on other things, like running her business, or sitting around the fire with her guests. We talked quite a bit about the topic, flung out several opinions, and even complimented one another on our choice of hats.

And this entire conversation happened via social media. Kath and I have never met face to face. But we did meet in a group called “Adventure Tourism and Travel Professionals,” on LinkedIn. Prior to that I had never heard of her company and had never thought about taking a pack trip into the mountains in Australia.

But I’m thinking about it right now. Maybe you are, too. A few days high up in the Snowy Mountains, riding with Kath and the lads. Besides wrangling horses, Steve Baird is a talented poet and painter, Clay studied film and television and rode his bicycle across Cuba, and Lin grows organic vegetables. Both of Kath’s sons have spent time in the Sierra Nevada, the mountains that are my backyard.

Those are some interesting people and I know they’ve got some great stories to share. I wouldn’t know any of this if not for the social media campfire.

There must be other people running packtrips in Australia. I bet they do a fine job and take great care of their guests. But here’s the thing: When I go to book a horseback adventure in Oz, I’m not going to spend any time looking for other outfitters. I’m going to go out in the bush with Kath and her crew. Because I already know their story and I want to be a part of it. And I think they might be interested in hearing a couple of my stories, too.

It’s going to be awhile before I make it to Australia for a packtrip with the Baird family. Meanwhile, Kath and her business have gained 100 percent of my personal mindshare for this sort of adventure. I’m just a market of one person, but Kath owns that particular market. Because she uses social media and that’s where I found her. Or rather, she found me. If those other outfitters are using social media, I haven’t come across them. I’m sure some of them don’t and maybe never will. But I’ll never know about them, because they didn’t share their story around the fire where I happened to be sitting.

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Around the World by Bicycle: A Few Words with Rick Gunn

“The hardest part of the whole journey was the first 25 yards out of the driveway.”

Rick Gunn spent nearly three years traveling around the world by bicycle. He pedaled 25,000 miles in 33 countries on four continents, wearing out three bikes along the way. Now he shares that experience with others via a multimedia show that he calls “Soulcycler.”

We caught up with the Lake Tahoe resident, adventurer, photographer, and writer for a few moments in between trips.

American Sahara:
So one day you decided to get on your bicycle and ride around the world. After you made the decision, how long before you actually hit the road?

Rick Gunn:
Most people don’t really give much thought to the preparation phase of my journey. Often they think I just randomly jumped on a bicycle and set out to ride 25,811 miles around the planet. It took me two years to prepare for, as I tended to list after list. This included financing, bikes, equipment and supplies, camera gear, medical vaccinations, insurance, house and dog sitters, and on and on and on. The truth was, as I say during my show, the hardest part of the whole journey was the first 25 yards out of the driveway.

And that still remains the truth. Imagine working at the same job for 10 years, then suddenly deciding you’re going to venture out on a brand new life–one in which you will see a different horizon night after night for three years straight. There is no real planning for a trip of this magnitude. There were only the things I tended to before I left, and the things I failed to tend to after I’d launched. The true decision to go was really 90 percent of the planning.

American Sahara:
Would you do it again?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Be Your Own Test Pilot

Do you know where the phrase “pushing the envelope” came from? It’s what a test pilot does. An aircraft is designed to operate within a set of boundaries called the performance envelope. How fast can it fly? How high? How quickly can it take off, turn, and land? How much weight can it carry? These are the limits of what it can do.

But when a new airplane is built no one really knows exactly where those limits are. So test pilots fly the thing to find out. They take the aircraft to the edge of the performance envelope and see what happens. If all goes well, they push beyond the existing boundaries. They explore unknown territory to see what they can find.

If they have a good day, and land in one piece, they have successfully pushed the envelope to establish a new boundary. Now the plane can be flown faster or higher. So the next day they’ll attempt to push the envelope out another little bit. If they have another good day, they’ve made more progress and helped create a better product.

Eventually, bad things will begin to happen. Components or systems or people will begin to reach the limits of their own performance. Sometimes, things will break and the pilot will have a not so good day. With skill and maybe some luck, the plane will land safely. The team will study what they’ve learned. They’ll dial things back a bit and establish the edges of the performance envelope. The limits of where the thing can be operated safely and reliably.

But no one knows where those limits are until they begin to go beyond them. They don’t know how fast or high or far they can go until they try.

You can do this in your own life. In your business. You can be your own test pilot. How do you know where your limits are? Have you pushed your own envelope lately?

I used to be afraid of heights. Then one beautiful San Francisco day, I took a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Traffic hurtled by a few feet away. The bridge moved under my feet. The wind felt like it would sweep me over the rail. But nothing bad happened. I had a really good day. And now, I’m a lot less nervous about being in high places.

A few months ago Arlene Battishill, the president of GoGo Gear, rode her motorcycle the entire length of the Baja peninsula. She met up with some scruffy-looking guys in Southern California, crossed the border into Mexico, and rode all the way to Cabo San Lucas. Eleven hundred miles in five days. With some traveling companions she really didn’t know.

I’m pretty sure Arlene told us in the first days or maybe hours of that trip that this was by far the biggest ride she had ever attempted. She said she would be doing something she had never done before. She planned to push her own envelope.

We had a great trip. Arlene proved to be one of the best riders in the group. She was definitely the most fun and now she and I are good friends. Recently I read about how she jumped on her bike and rode north, to San Francisco; 575 miles in a long weekend. She shared a picture of herself and her motorcycle at the Golden Gate Bridge. I could feel the wind and smell the ocean. I wanted to tell her about the time I went there and came back different.

Arlene Battishill at the Golden Gate Bridge

Arlene celebrates another day of pushing the envelope.

I originally wrote this as a guest post on the GoGo Gear blog. When Arlene published it she also said some very nice things about me. Here’s her version.

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How to Keep Your Trip on Track: Communication is Key

When you travel in the back country, do you eat breakfast? If you do, is it instant oatmeal or eggs benedict? What time do you hit the trail? Right after sunrise? Or after a leisurely morning stroll and a second cup of coffee?

Simple questions. And the answers aren’t really important. Except to your traveling companions. Those could be the people glaring at you while you drive away just as their breakfast burrito comes off the griddle. Or shaking you awake at dawn, while they are ready to roll.

My traveling companions lead the way out of a remote camp in Baja

Misunderstandings like these can ruin a trip. But they are avoidable with good communication. It can be very easy to assume that everyone else operates with the same sense of time, the same scheduling style, that you do. Especially if you are used to traveling alone. But bring in a new companion, or another couple, or create a small group, and differences in styles and perceptions of urgency or leisure will quickly surface. Mix in a little bad luck and things can deteriorate rapidly.

You can easily avert a lot of unpleasantness just by talking about timing before the trip starts. You might start the conversation by mentioning that you like to grab a quick cup of instant coffee and a granola bar and be rolling 30 minutes after sunrise. Or, that you really enjoy cooking up a big breakfast for the entire group, taking your time to pack up, and rarely leave camp before ten o’clock. Again the answers themselves are not so important. But the resulting conversation can be.

You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that everyone else on the trip shares your sense of timing. So it will be easy to manage expectations and keep the group smiling. If that’s the case, you can all just agree to be ready to roll at 6:30. Or at 10 AM. Or whatever time the group decides on.

And don’t panic should you find that your camp mates have a very different sense of timing from you. No need to cancel your trip. Just compromise. You might plan a combination of long days with early starts as well as shorter days with more leisure time. As long as you all talk about it before you leave, it will most likely work out.

And if you only have time for a quick weekend getaway, consider making it a general rendezvous rather than a trek. Just pick a scenic spot a couple of hours from home and have everyone meet there. Some will arrive right after work on Friday night, some Saturday morning in time for breakfast, and others later in the day. If you aren’t planning to actually travel together, it won’t matter when people arrive. You can have breakfast whenever you like and still enjoy a pleasant evening around the fire with nice people and good conversation. And that might include talk about when to have dessert.

This article originally appeared in the newsletter for AT Overland Equipment. A great company that builds fantastic products. That’s one of their “Built for Off-Road” trailers in the photo above.

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Success in a Tough Economy: Launch a Luxury Product in a Niche Market

Ready for some good news? How about a startup launched in 2009 selling something that no one can honestly say they need, manufactured in Southern California, based on a design from more than 50 years ago? Suggested retail on the product starts at about $5,000. Most buyers spend more than that by adding a lot of custom bling. And the company sells them as fast as they can make them, is looking to expand the model line, and is pursuing export opportunities.

Meet the California Scooter Company. They build a little motorcycle that is big fun, very cool, not cheap, and is extremely popular. The California Scooter is powered by a Honda-designed 150cc four-stroke, single-cylinder engine that can deliver 98 miles to a gallon of gas. It sports a lot of machined aluminum, stainless steel, and chrome. The brakes and electrical system are modern and efficient. It’s got an electric starter for reliability and a kick starter for some extra fun and panache.

Think of it as a sort of retro 1950s-style chopper that anyone can ride, is easy to maintain, and doesn’t cost as much as a decent car. The bikes are inspired by the Mustang, a small motorcycle built in Glendale, California from 1947 until 1963. That bike had the classic long and low chopper look and was so fast on the race track that it was banned from competition.

The founder of the California Scooter Company, Steve Seidner, bought an old Mustang intending to restore it and give it to his father as a gift. Instead he ended up creating a new American motorcycle company. The bikes and the company have been well received, are getting great media coverage, and are enjoying tremendous success.

Joe Berk rides his California Scooter

Joe Berk rides his California Scooter in the hills above Los Angeles

Some of that success is due to engaging their prospective customers with a robust social media marketing campaign. The company is very active and accessible in a lot of online motorcycle enthusiast communities. If you’ve spent any time in the forums, you know they can be brutal. Opinionated and uninformed haters can quickly bring the signal-to-noise ratio to near zero. You can get assaulted with charges that your product is overpriced offshore junk from people who have never seen it. And it can be tough to jump in and contribute without sounding like you are just trying to sell your stuff.

The California Scooter Company has managed to avoid all of that danger, rise above the chaos, and actually tell their story well. They make good use of Facebook and Twitter and the company blog has new, engaging content several times a week. The guy behind all of this social media success is Joe Berk, a business management consultant, author, and motorcycle enthusiast. Joe is a good friend of mine and that’s how I became such a big fan of the California Scooter Company.

So the bikes are cool, Steve’s got an awesome business, and Joe is fun to hang out with. He also likes adventure travel, especially in Baja, Mexico. In about a week, we plan to throw all of that together into a big mashup involving fish tacos, cactus, and cold beer. Joe has put together a little group ride to the tip of Baja and back, on 150cc California Scooters. And I’ve managed to get myself invited along. I’ll be driving a big, comfortable pickup truck with a really good air conditioner. And a fridge in the back seat for cold drinks.

We figure we’ll get some good pictures and have a lot of fun. We’ve got some interesting characters along on the ride and I think we’ll come home with a few good stories. I hope to share them with you when I get back.

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