“You must have the greatest job in the world”. That comment, or something like it is what I hear so often. In many ways I do. I get paid to ride motorcycles. That is the dream for many of us; figure out how to make a living on a motorcycle.
But there is far more to being a professional tour guide than meets the eye. The amount of work, learning, investment, time, risk and… Well I could go on and on about it. So let me share with you the view of the world from my seat.
First off, it is really hard work. As both the owner and guide/rider, I put a tremendous amount of time into preparing for a ride and then actually guiding. There is the whole business side of marketing, finding clients, arranging dates and collecting money. I have to discreetly screen every rider to determine their ability and interests so I can pair them with similar riders.
Once that is all done, I prep bikes and vehicles for the ride. My bike has to be perfect. I can’t have mechanical issues of my own during a ride. Well, perhaps I should say I “shouldn’t” have any mechanical problems. But I test things on my bike and sometimes they don’t work as they should. For example, the new 350xcf decided to be neurotic on the last ride. It had to go back and have a counseling session with the KTM computer system before it decided it was really ready to go to Baja.
I have a fleet of rental bikes, they have to be prepped too. Then there is the van (due to be replaced), trailer and entire laundry list of things we take on each trip. There is literally a list that I print out for each trip so I can keep everything in order. All has to be ready to go. I probably have enough bikes, parts and equipment to run a motorcycle shop.
My backpack alone is worth thousands of dollars. Does that sound crazy? It contains my sat phone, Spot Tracker, delicate parts like spare injectors and tools. On top of that I keep a big wad of cash stashed in it at all times.
I have a significant investment in what I do. Some of it is tangible, but much of it is what resides inside my noggin. It took me over a decade to learn the routes and figure out how to arrange all the little details of organization. Places like riding in the “Pine Forest” are really tricky to learn. I also build trails, so I am always on the lookout for new and interesting places we might be able to put a trail. But these are the areas I excel in too. I have a very good memory for places, sense of direction.
It is a lot of physical work. The average 4 day tour is a 7 day week for me. Two days prepping, maybe more depending on the number of rental bikes. Then 4 days of riding and one day to unload, clean and put everything away. The first and last days of riding are 12 hour days once the drive time is considered.
It is a business and I have competition, sort of. I joke that every third rider in Baja calls himself a tour guide. It is an easy thing to start a tour business. It is much harder to really make a go at it. In reality there are about 3 other companies that are legitimate players who I look at as competition. Each takes a slightly different approach, for better or worse. I’m conceited enough to figure I am the best at what I do. And in a sense I don’t have much for competition because most of my clients specifically wish to ride with me.
The truth of it is, I am uniquely suited to what I do. Not to say others are not also. Let’s just say they are unique in their own way too. As for me, I speak fluent Spanish. I have a large and varied motorcycle background. I love to travel and learn cultures. I appreciate good food. While the riding is the first priority, there are so many other wonderful things about traveling in Mexico that I love to share with clients. I try to show them a bigger picture of the culture and scenic beauty of the country.
I am very selective about what I share with others. Everyone is your friend when they need information about where to ride in Baja. For the most part I am happy to talk Baja travel with people I encounter. Many of them are looking for basic information about routes, fuel, food and lodging. If it is common knowledge, the kind of routes found on the map, then I am happy to share my experience. If you ask me about riding in a sensitive area, I will steer you away from it.
If you ask for a GPS track, I won’t even reply. I have had to make it a rule, no GPS tracks for anyone. Back country travel in Baja is a serious undertaking. I learned most of it by trial and error and it taught me how to be prepared. Nothing like an unplanned night of sleeping in the desert to make you contemplate the things you should have done different or brought along with you.
I field emails from random motorcyclists every week with these kinds of questions. These emails are second in volume to “what bike should I buy” questions. I try to answer most of them the best I can. I have to balance running a business against being a good resource for others. For the most part I figure good will comes back around in the long run.
I have to find a balance between work and pleasure riding. I get invited everywhere. Everyone one wants me to come on their group ride. They even offer to pay my expenses. But showing people where to go is my business and I get paid for it. So I turn down most offers to ride with others.
On the trail I am the boss, plain and simple, I have put years into figuring out the best way to keep riders safe and having fun. When it comes time for someone to make a decision about the ride, I just do it. I have the most experience and I usually know the best plan. During a tour, I spend much of my ride day thinking about all the variables; how everyone is doing, should we go left or right, who is struggling, do we need to make the route shorter, how much daylight is left and so on.
I have to gauge the group by inferring everyone’s status. No one ever wants to admit they are struggling. Often when it comes to having to make a choice to go an easier way, I make the decision without telling anyone. That way no one feels singled out because they may be struggling. But my inclination is always to ride more, so at times I do misjudge it and end up riding more than we should.
I have to be everyone’s mechanic. I am the flat tire specialist. Chances are you have never met anyone who has changed more flats on the trail than yours truly. I have to carry enough tools to handle any trailside repair. I carry extra of everything; spares, fuel, food, water, first aid supplies, clothes etc. My Giant Loop bag weighs 16lbs, my backpack 15lbs and add another 3lbs for my fanny pack. I carry a lot of stuff!
As for running a business, this is about as challenging as it gets. First, the only way to make any money is to do it as your own business. Why is this so? There are plenty of enthusiasts out there who are willing to work for almost nothing just for the opportunity to get to go to Baja and ride a motorcycle. The average tour company employee barely makes minimum wage.
So now I have all this experience and investment in my own business and I make some money. Oh, but wait, this is only a seasonal business. The Baja season is about 8 months total, yet the heart of it is really about 5 months. It is hardly something to rely on as a sole income.
It begs the question, why do it at all? Well there is the part about going to Baja and riding a motorcycle. It is pretty cool and can be lots of fun. I consider Baja as the last frontier of dirt biking. Much of what we do would land you in jail stateside. I was contemplating some of this while riding a while back; I have lots of time to think out on the trail. I love being outdoors and this is one of the very best ways to do it anywhere. The Baja backcountry is beautiful and I really enjoy it.
I am fortunate that I can blend different types of work together. I have a great proving ground for testing bikes and products. I log the kind of miles most magazine editors can only dream of. I end up with all kinds of interesting experiences to write about and share with other enthusiasts.
I also get to meet all kinds of interesting people. In regards to the kinds of people who choose to ride with me, I am very fortunate. Nearly all share the same kind of outlook and approach to Baja that I do. Most follow me on social media or Enduro360, so they know a little about me to begin with.
Lastly, well I am just really good at being a tour guide. It takes a very special kind of temperament to do this. It is kind of hard to explain. Besides being a good rider and organizer, it takes a tremendous amount of patience and mental agility to juggle all the elements that come into play.
I work hard to give clients a great ride experience and keep them safe. In life there is something to be said for being good at something. I have had many jobs that I was good at but disliked. Nothing ever quite suited me like this. It comes very naturally.
So if you catch me out on the trail, know that I am working hard to not look like I am working at all.