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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

The side-roads leading here

My love for dirt started when I went on a month long backpacking trip with the Pacific Crest school for Outward Bound. While backpacking and carrying everything I needed to live I finally felt at home. I realized that this is where I felt comfortable.

My love for motorized exploring came when I started visiting my Uncle in Las Vegas each summer to work for his landscaping company. We'd work from 5AM until 1PM digging irrigation lines until it was "Too hot" to work. We'd throw on all of our motorcycle gear and go dirt bike riding in the desert. I absolutely loved the power and freedom a dirt bike provides.

After that I got my first "full time" job at a dirt bike/jetski shop. I worked there after school, weekends and during the summers up to College. I'd even pick up shifts when I was home for Christmas vacation. I couldn't get enough of the money and the divergent subject matter from boring school!

Once in College I decided that I couldn't stand another moment of Accounting and Finance so to get my "On the job" hours required to graduate I started doing accounting for a local Tucson, AZ fabrication shop. I spent very little time honing my Accounting skills and a lot of time trying to learn how to weld and work on racecars. In that first summer of work we (Brent the real fabricator and owner of the shop) turned raw tubing on the wall into our first race car, a 2 seat 1600 car. We raced so many series it's hard to remember them all. Whiplash, Pro Desert, SCORE, SNORE, BITD, MDR and others, we got around. Our BIG race was the Baja 500. Expensive and time consuming we always found someone else to race with us to share the costs. Those were some of the most terrifying and exciting times of my life. My buddy Brent still races frequently and the 1 or 2 times a year I get to race are the highlight of my year.

Upon graduating from college I promptly ignored my degree and started interviewing at fabrication and suspension companies back home in California. It was down to Total Chaos Fabrication and Donahoe Racing (Now called Icon Vehicle Dynamics). Donahoe paid 1 more dollar an hour so the decision was made, I was now building and valving shocks for Donahoe. To be honest the money and work was not all I'd hoped for and within months I was bored and yearning for more. I'd also realized that I'd become accustomed to riding a mountain bike from my house or trailoring my dirt bike a couple miles to ride. Orange County had neither of these conveniences and without a boat, it felt stifling to be in such a large concrete jungle with so many rules. (Not to mention how expensive it was).

I moved back to Arizona, but to Phoenix this time. A place I told myself I'd never live. "Phoenix is like LA without the one good thing LA has, an OCEAN!" That's what I used to say. It's funny to still find myself here and for the most part loving it, considering my original opinion of this state and town. Back in Arizona I put my degree to use and got back to camping and exploring the southwest every single weekend I could. I rarely found myself not hitting dirt in my time off. I got to work for and write for Overland Journal and other offroad companies. I started and ran the largest volunteer cleanup in the Southwest. These were good times despite not working "In the industry" full time. Eventually, the financial crisis hit and I was getting laid off annually and sometimes twice in a year! I decided it was time to try to work in the industry I loved. After working for and then seeing even these offroad companies go out of business I soured on the idea. Some still owe me money, others went out of business after I rented my condo and was ready to move to their headquarters, others still went under and opened under a new name the next day to clear their debts. I was admittedly bitter as I worked so many side jobs as my home foreclosed. Both at the banks and the idealistic outdoor companies that seemed to operate in the same fashion.

I was mostly career-less during this period, but not without jobs. Many jobs. One week I'd be cleaning my friends investment properties for pay, the next I'd be doing tile at another friends house. My old desert racing friend would put me to work as a laborer building horse corrals. It's not that I couldn't have used my degree to sit in a cubicle or work at a retail bank most likely, it's that I hated the idea and the industry so much that I'd rather use a post hole digger in the 100F plus heat of Arizona. These were tough and scary times in many ways, but it was the reset I needed.

Also, during this time the Overland Expo events started. My friend Graham asked me to be an instructor at a thing called Overland Training and now that there was a dedicated event he asked me again to come and teach classes. I was always sure he was making a mistake, but he assured me that the hands on experience of so much offroad travel more than made up for not having traveled by vehicle to remote and exotic locales. I value that faith me in more than just about anything else that happened to me during this time. Still to this day, despite being an introvert with very few paid days off to spare, I answer the request to work at Overland Expo East and West to teach people who are excited to get out into the world and explore with a resounding, YES.

At about this same time, thankfully, I landed what many see from the outside as a dream job. Mapping trails. I rolled into an RV park in the nothing town of Kanab, UT. There, a motley band of folks were living out of tents and driving 10+ hours a day offroad, precisely mapping out trails from analog to digital maps. These folks would become my family. With several weeks "on" and then a week "off" I spent more time with them than my own friends and family. This "Rat Patrol" taught me so much and years later one would even become a reverend just for the purpose of marrying Kelsey and I.

These were slim times financially, but great times none the less. We moved all over the Southwest from California, Utah and Arizona. I used my dirt bike, mountain bike and even my own two feet to map, but primarily my trusty old 4runner logged the many thousands of miles. When the stimulus money for such an obscure bureaucratic task dried up, all but a lucky few had to return to the normal world and normal jobs.

I was looking for something new and several great opportunities to work in the "Overland" world presented themselves. With each one there seemed to be just 1 or 2 little issues that kept them from being the "right" thing. I kept passing on opportunity after opportunity. Whatever I did, I wanted this to be the long term solution. Then a friend from the Overland world came calling. "Want to be an insurance underwriter?" "Dear god no" was all I could think. Still, I figured it was worth a shot, anything was at this point. From there began a time of traveling to Chicago, New Mexico and Boston for work. I left my home and rented places here and there to train and follow the necessary steps. I was the thirty something year old, "Old Man", training with a bunch of recent college grads. This career, which is still my current full time gig, may never feel like the "right" thing, but I appreciate it immensely. Always a fish out of water at luncheons and happy hours, it's because of this odd and precipitous career change that we're able to keep exploring and traveling. It's because of this unlikely turn that we're able to save and take, the next great adventure in life.

More on that later. Until then, thanks for reading.




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