Category Archives: Tales from the Saddle

How a Legend Is Made: Behind the Scenes with Kempton Baker

legend

Ever wondered what a day in the life of a Bicycle Adventures Tour Guide is like? I know I did! In fact, I had the pleasure of talking with Kempton Baker about his life and experiences at Bicycle Adventures, and you’re going to love what he had to say.

Kempton has been touring with Bicycle Adventures for the last six years. In his youth, motocross was the sport of choice, but as it is an expensive sport, 19 year old Kempton decided to turn to another 2-wheeled activity—cycling.

Now, as an avid cyclist, Kempton travels around the world, seeing new places, meeting new people, and cycling as much as he can along the way. I couldn’t wait to catch up with the cycling enthusiast to get a glimpse behind the scenes and hear more about his career, travels, and hobbies.

 

How did you first develop an interest in being a guide for Bicycle Adventures?

“I had been guiding in a limited capacity for another company and received a bulk email saying that Bicycle Adventures was looking for guides.”

So Kempton jumped at the opportunity to pursue his two great passions—cycling and world travel. It’s been six years, thousands of miles, and innumerable moments of sheer cycling delight.

 

Was there a defining moment in your life or an experience that made you really want to be a guide?

How a Legend Is Made: Behind the Scenes with Kempton Baker

“Not one crystallizing moment. More like the realization that if I wanted to continue going on cycling vacations, I should guide before I go broke. I had been introduced to cycling vacations via being a guest on 15 or so tours in various places with other companies.”

Luckily for Kempton, he could make a career out of his passion, something we all hope to achieve! His days as an amateur cyclist are exactly what turned him into a professional.

 

How did you prepare for your job? Education? On-the-job training? Apprenticeship?

“My main prep was being a customer, seeing the daily rhythms of a bike tour and experiencing the daily life on the road.”

Practice makes perfect, as they say, which was true in Kempton’s case. He not only grew as a cyclist, but also in his personal development.

 

Who helped you the most along the way in your career as a guide or who was your role model for the job?

“I don’t really want them to know this fact, but Bicycle Adventures owners Todd Starnes and Brad Barnard have really helped mentor me and added to my continued development as a person.”

While Bicycle Adventures was founded in 1984, Todd Starnes became the owner in 2008. Although he is president, he makes sure to join about 6-10 tours every year to stay on top of quality and scout new adventures. Todd is Vice President Brad Barnard’s former coach.

Working for Bicycle Adventures keeps Kempton busy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

What does a typical day on tour look like for you?

“It’s a frenzy of activity that only ends when my head hits the pillow. You do get into the rhythm that I mentioned, though. You soon realize that all the fires needing water are just a matter of fact during a normal day on tour. I try to be like a duck—calm on the outside, but paddling like hell just under the surface.”

There’s always something going on when you live life on the road, but most of the time it’s incredibly enjoyable! You certainly get to meet and work with all different kinds of people, which is a big positive for Kempton.

 

What’s your favorite part of the job?

“It’s seeing folks have that moment when regular life has melted into the background, and they are just living life as it comes up under their wheels. Also, meeting people who are very different, yet have something in common—cycling. I stay in touch with many of my guests and have formed quite a few lasting friendships. The people part is my favorite part.”

Even though cycling is seen as an individual sport (there’s usually only one rider on a bike), bike tours create an opportunity to meet others that are like-minded in at least one way—the joy that cycling brings. Your tourmates will encourage you, teach you, and maybe even inspire you in ways you never imagined.

Kempton loves his job as a tour guide, but there are always obstacles that need facing. Sometimes they aren’t even on the road.

 

What’s your least favorite part of the job?

“My least favorite part is doing dishes by hand.You don’t know how much you appreciate your dishwasher until it breaks or you don’t have one!”

Technology has certainly advanced us greatly in the last century. Bikes have greatly advanced, too.

 

Tell me about your favorite bike or even your first bike.

“That’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is! I love them all equally… Okay, my Parlee Altum may have a slight edge, but don’t tell the others. My first bike was the quintessential Schwinn Junior Stingray with the Banana Seat. I wish I had it today.”

Kempton personally owns 7 bikes! He’s clearly passionate about cycling and that passion gives him a beautiful outlook on his life.

 

What is your most memorable experience so far as a Bicycle Adventures guide?

“As a guide, every day I get to experience things that, for most people, are a once in a lifetime experience. I remember the moment I came to that realization, and I have the same huge grin now as I did then.”

I mean, does it get any better than that?

Kempton takes his job very seriously—so seriously, in fact, that he gave me insight into his daily tour preparation.

 

Do you do anything special to prepare for a bicycle tour?

“I sit and face west for 13 minutes each day at noon. I repeat over and over that I’m okay and that people like me. Okay, not really, but that sounds like something I should be doing! I just make lists, and double check them 14 times.”

He can cycle, and he’s funny! But he also has wise words for what makes a successful tour.

 

How do you define a successful bicycle tour? What’s your main goal?

“The very basic definition of success for a bicycle tour is that everybody leaves with every drop of blood they arrived with—no crashes and no injuries. The more intricate definition has to do with making connections with people and seeing that moment of real relaxation that I mentioned earlier. Also, seeing riders have “wow moments” when they go around a corner and see something amazing. And finally, seeing them achieve things that maybe they weren’t sure they were capable of doing. All those kinds of things go through your head as you decompress from the whirlwind.”

I was really impressed with how thoughtful his answer was. Not only do the tour guides care about your physical well-being on your tour, but also your emotional health. It’s no wonder that Kempton (and all of the other tour guides, for that matter) receives many positive reviews.

 

What was the best compliment you ever received?

How a Legend Is Made: Behind the Scenes with Kempton Baker

“When someone tells me that I helped them do something that they had no idea they were capable of doing, it really resonates. It’s hard not to get jaded to the statements, “This has been the best vacation of my life,” and “This is the most beautiful place I have ever seen,” but I try hard to listen to each one and let the person know that I am in the moment with them.”

All of the tour guides want to help you accomplish your cycling goals as well as see incredible views and have memorable moments on the road. They will make sure you have a lot of fun along the way.

 

What makes you laugh?

“My own stupidity does often!”

Humility and honesty—two great qualities, and ones that Kempton possesses. He also makes sure he never cycles without being prepared.

 

What’s usually in your jersey pockets when you’re on your bike?

“Left Pocket: Wallet with money and I.D. Center Pocket: Hat and pump, vest or jacket (if needed), in which case, the hat moves left. Right Pocket: Phone.”

While on tour, make sure you always have the essentials, including a properly-fitting helmet.

For Kempton, cycling=life.

 

What do you do on your time off, what hobbies/activities do you most enjoy?

“I am an avid cyclist and ride almost every day. I have become fairly narrow these days and don’t do much that isn’t cycling related. I’m happier than ever.”

How cool is that? He loves what he does so much it’s both a career and a hobby. #lifegoals

And how could you not love what you do when your job is as fun as Kempton’s?

 

What’s your favorite funny story about yourself or your work as a guide?

How a Legend Is Made: Behind the Scenes with Kempton Baker

“When on a tour in Colorado following the USA PRO, we were staying at the Sky Hotel in Aspen. They supply robes to all of the guests, which are tiger striped or leopard print. I had all of the guests come to breakfast in the robes, and we took a group photo in them that got a bit of a raised eyebrow from the office. At the end of the tour, the other guide and I put on dresses loaned to us by a guest and did podium presentations for the trip awards. We posed for the traditional kiss on the cheeks pics with each guest as they received their awards. That’s one trip that pops into my head, but many are similar.”

Not only do the guests have a fun time on tour, the guides do too. And the fun doesn’t only happen while on the road—it can sometimes be found in the simplest things like hotel robes.

Kempton’s attitude towards his tours promotes a great balance of hard work, but lots of “play” at the same time.

 

What’s unique or special about the way you approach your work at Bicycle Adventures?

“I try to wake up each day with zero expectations—be a blank slate and just take things as they come. I feel like high expectations are a big pitfall. It’s like if somebody tells you, ‘You have to see this movie, it’s the funniest movie ever!’ Then you go and say, ‘It’s funny, but not the funniest ever…’ That’s how expectations let you down.”

The exciting part about traveling is that you never know what to expect. Even if you’ve been to the same place many times, you’re bound to have a new experience each time you go.

Cycling is always a new adventure when enjoyed with friends. Kempton has many fellow tour guides that make his job that much better.

 

Where is your favorite place you’ve ridden so far?

“The Camino de Santiago! It has become part of my soul. I am forever attached to it. There is no other bike tour in the world like it. It has the potential to change the way you see yourself and the world around you like no other. It’s all the other people who are doing it for every reason you can imagine. Hearing their stories and seeing their triumphs and defeats is very eye opening. It’s my happy place, I wish I was there right now.”

Kempton has ridden this pilgrimage route around 50 times and led 20+ tours along it. With this kind of expertise and knowledge, he has a way of making an already incredible journey into something truly life-changing.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

“There is no better way to really experience a place than the bike. A car is too isolating and on foot you don’t cover enough ground to see much. On the bike you see, smell, taste and hear the environment around you. You can also easily pause to engage a local or see an attraction and learn even more. I’ve been on almost one hundred trips and I feel like I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the possibilities. Get out there and get out of your comfort zone, it will be the best thing you have ever done!”

 

Ready to join Kempton (or any of our amazing guides) on a bicycle tour?

Get in touch today to see how easy it is to plan the bicycle tour you’ve been dreaming of—and if you’d like more information about how bicycle tours work, sign up for our free email course today!

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The Truth about Electric Bikes: Why Everyone Should Love an E-bike

bicycle-adventures-e-bikes

We recently published an article about e-bikes vs road and mountain bikes, and it caused quite a stir amongst some of you. So, as owner and president of Bicycle Adventures, I thought I’d throw my 2 cents into the debate…

First of all, an e-bike is not a motorcycle disguised as a bike. It does not have an engine to start – or a throttle – and you do still have to actually pedal it. Or at least you do if it’s a good one.

 

Here is why an e-bike is so great…

I have been around bikes most of my life – for recreation, fitness, travel, commuting, athletics and as a profession – first as a bike racing coach, then owning a bicycle touring company. And in many ways I would consider myself a purist when it comes to bicycling.

To me, ‘purist’ means someone who loves to ride their bike for the sake of riding a bike. You won’t find me worrying about the latest technology or debating the merits of road biking vs. mountain biking. Just give me a bike to ride. That is the bottom line: be it fast or slow, short or long, riding a bike is just…fun.

But why is it fun?

Most people would say, “Because I know HOW to ride a bike.” Just about everyone knows how to ride a bike.

So let’s think about that a bit. When I was coaching bike racing back in the 80s and 90s, people would say, “You coach bicycling? What does that even mean? Doesn’t everyone know how to ride a bike?”

 

So what does it mean to know how to ride a bike?

love-e-bikes

The truth is, there’s a lot to know in order to really enjoy riding a bike – and to me, enjoying riding a bike is to not have to think about it.

I have mastered the skill. I have gone through the 4 stages of mastery.

I often use the analogy of a hockey player: hockey players are not thinking about skating; they are thinking about the game. They just happen to be skating.

  • Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence. You do not know what you do not know.
    Developing skill starts with not knowing what to do, or what’s to come. We’re unconsciously incompetent, ignorant of what lies ahead. Moving from stage one into stage two only requires that we read a book on the subject or talk to someone with experience. In the case of learning to ride a bike it’s incredibly simple: moving into stage two usually involves someone showing and telling us what we need to do.
  • I probably don’t need to say that riding a bike is all about balance. To ride a bike you need to be going fast enough, keep the wheel straight and distribute weight evenly.

    But most of you are beyond this stage.

  • Stage Two: Conscious Incompetence. You actually know what you do not know.
    By gathering information and watching others ride a bike you now know what you don’t know – you have been enlightened by the opportunity to ride a bike. This might not seem like much but it is progress.

    Getting to stage three is where the real work begins. This is the one thing that is required to be successful in any endeavor, whether it is riding a bike or managing your career. You must take action and you must practice. A lot. I’ve tried to get better at cycling by just watching the Tour de France but it doesn’t work.

  • Stage Three: Conscious competence. You can do it, but you need to think about it.
    Being consciously competent at something means you’re able to perform the act, but you still need to think about what you’re doing. This is where things become more interesting. You’re now able to ride a bike.
  • This can be incredibly satisfying, and this is where many – if not most – people stop.

    When I was learning, I remember when I was finally able to ride a bike for a few minutes without stopping. I had to concentrate extremely hard. I would think about keeping the wheel straight, not leaning too much to one side and making sure that I didn’t go too slowly – all at the same time. I could ride the bike, but I was far from an expert.

     

    From competency to mastering the skill.

    every-loves-e-bike

    So how do we get from consciously competent cyclist to the next stage? That’s easy. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

    Not everyone wants to be an expert, and that is OK. Most of us have ridden bikes enough that we have reached that magical point where keeping the bike upright, balanced and moving does not require a lot of concentration as long as we are on a safe flat bike path. However, as our environment changes (steep hills, other riders, traffic, stop signs, shifting) we no longer feel quite so competent.

    This is the point where an e-bike comes in.

    An e-bike levels the playing field and allows you to leap ahead in your competence because it takes away the need to worry about several things -like your pedal cadence, which gear you’re in, and how to pedal up or down that hill.

    Let’s face it. Maybe you’re a runner or tennis player who is coming to cycling later in life. You may not have the time or desire to become an expert, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the joy of riding a bike that you loved when you first learned how. Or that you should have to forego a cycling vacation with the wind in your hair, the fresh air, exercise and the perspective you gain from the seat of a bike – the perspective that you can’t ever get from sitting in a car or bus.

  • Stage Four: Unconscious Competence. Complete mastery. You can do it without thinking about it.
    In cycling, reaching this stage means you can ride a bike without having to think about stopping, starting, shifting, standing, sitting, signaling in traffic, looking over your shoulder, listening for cars, riding next to another rider, or questions like, ‘Am I pacing myself? Do I have the fitness to get up this hill?’
  • Mastery on a bike is not just the skill of riding a bike but knowing how to ride in traffic, how to ride with other riders, how to ride up a hill, down a hill, descend, ride in various sorts of terrain, how to ride at various speeds, how to pace yourself, when to shift and when not to (without thinking, “Should I shift now?”). Shifting has become as automatic as it is in your automatic car.

    An e-bike will make up for a lot of things when it comes to mastering riding a bike, but more importantly it will help you master a bike tour – because you’re doing those things on multiple days.

     

    Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

    I had someone show up to a scheduled bike ride the other day who was a very fit individual. He was excited about the tour; he wanted to get some exercise, and he was too proud of his fitness to need an e-bike. I know this gentleman fairly well. I said, “Don, you are very fit and strong, especially for your age, but you don’t know how to ride a bike.”

    He said, “What do you mean I don’t know how to ride a bike?”

    “Well, you don’t understand how to pace yourself on a hill, or pedal in the right gear, or how to start and stop safely. Or how to anticipate unconsciously what to do next. You are having to think about all these things instead of simply enjoying the ride. So I recommend using an e-bike. Although it doesn’t get you past all the skill training, it gets you past most of the things that prevent people from enjoying a bike ride the way I do. Just give it a try.”

    He agreed to give it a shot, just for the day. I spent a few moments showing him how to use the e-bike. Then off we went with about a dozen other riders.

    Being as fit as he is, Don wasn’t about to give up on a workout. So he spent the first couple of miles experimenting with the amount of electric-assist. None. A little. A lot. Full power. Back to none. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “You can actually get a great workout on this!”

    He spent the second third of the ride sneaking up behind his cycling buddies in the group, then upping the e-assist to full power and blasting past them, gleefully announcing, “On your left!”

    By the last third of the ride, he was cruising joyfully ahead of everyone as he led the charge to the finish line. And by the time we caught up with him in the parking lot, he was already working on where to purchase a couple.

    everyone-love-e-bike

    Don with his e-bike!

    And that’s what I mean by being a purist, by the hockey player not thinking about skating. Don had gotten back to the fun. The point where riding a bike had nothing to do with traffic, or hills, or shifting. It was just plain…fun.

    What’s not to love?

     

    Still on the fence?

    Here are the four things an e-bike will do for you to speed up or eliminate the learning curve – which, coincidentally, are the four “fears” we hear the most about riding a bike.

    • Hills. Do I stand up? Can I stand up? What gear should I be in? Can I pedal slowly without tipping over? The biggest challenge with hills is not having the technique – it’s not always comfortable standing up, or maybe you haven’t quite got the fitness. An e-bike picks up where you left off.
    • Shifting. Unlike your car, bikes aren’t automatic. They don’t know when to go to a harder gear with fewer RPMs, or an easier gear with more RPMs. Those are challenging decisions for someone who may not be comfortable spinning with a high cadence or powering through with a low cadence. An e-bike makes those decisions for you – the motor kicks in when you get into a situation where you need a bit of an assist.
    • Keeping up. A lot of people’s biggest fear about going on a bike tour is of not being able to keep up, of holding others back, of getting stuck riding alone and being the last person to arrive. An e-bike fixes all of those fears. It gives you the flexibility to decide how hard you’d like to work without missing out on the fun.
    • Safety. With an e-bike, a longer ride will be more stable because your legs won’t get to the point of fatigue. You can self-regulate, manage your fitness so you’re not in over your head. This allows you to continue on and ride more miles – farther than you might usually – without the worry of over-exerting.
    e-bike-love-everyone

    Don’t just take our word for it: This is Jan M., at the top of Logan Pass, also known as Going to the Sun Road, an iconic climb in Glacier National Park. Her husband is a strong cyclist and talked her into doing the Glacier-Banff-Jasper trip for her first bike trip ever(!) The e-bike made all the difference, and they have now taken 3 trips with us as a couple – and are looking at a fourth.

     

    So why not give it a shot…

    So, as you can see e-bikes and purists can get along just fine. The 3 things to remember are that riding a bike is great for the environment, great for your health and overall it’s just a better way to see the world.
    But what it boils down to in the end is that it should be fun.

    We have plenty of tours where an e-bike is an option. So whether you’ve been turning your nose up at e-bikes because you see yourself as an expert, or you aren’t confident in your cycling abilities but were afraid to put your trust in the equipment, get in touch today and hopefully you’ll be e-riding off into the sunset very soon.


    Todd Starnes, Owner & President, Bicycle Adventures

    Here's why Todd Starnes, owner and president of Bicycle Adventures thinks everyone can learn something by getting on an e-bike.

    ‘Resolute’ vs ‘Resolution’; Fun Bike Stuff from CES Las Vegas; Fun in 5 Boros: January Newsletter

    Bicycle Adventures, road cycling, Todd Starnes

    Owner and president of Bicycle Adventures, Todd Starnes can usually be found…on a bike.

    Maybe I am just debating semantics. 


    But at the beginning of the year I rarely – if ever – set a new year’s resolution. That said, I do take the opportunity to become resolute. The dictionary defines ‘resolute’ as “firmness of purpose.” By contrast, ‘resolutions’ tend to be all-or-nothing goals. They are also focused on the end result rather than the overall process. I think being ‘resolute’ focuses an athlete’s attention on the process and the purpose.

     

    I personally love the process of getting fit or training for an event. But I have a life too. As a Sports Scientist, I design training programs with the realization that life does happen. So, rather than creating a program that leads to disappointment when “resolution” is broken, I build in time for life: family, travel, work, an occasional cold  – and most importantly, I design the plan so an athlete gets just as much credit for taking a designated rest day as he/she does for a day out on the bike.

     

    This year my goal is to run 730 miles and ride 3,000 miles. I know that I can’t wait and do all that in the month of December, so I’d better start now and put a few miles in the bank. I also know that putting in a couple of long days gets me well ahead of schedule for those times when life gets in the way. Running 730 miles means running 2 miles per day (14 per week). Putting in 3000 miles of cycling means riding 8 miles per day (56 miles per week). I give myself credit for indoor cycling classes too: 30 minutes of good spinning = 10 of those 56 miles.  

     

    That doesn’t sound so unattainable.  If I just keep it steady and consistent all year I will hit my goal and maintain good fitness. And I’ll have a nice base should I decide to train for my favorite run or ride during the year.


    Come join me for a trip this year. I’ll be doing a couple of South Dakota tours – the family trip and the classic plus – one of the Palm Desert tours, and of course the Taiwan Bike Tour. There will probably be some others as well. If you’re wondering where I’ll be, call the office at 800.443.6060. They can always track me down. 

     

     – Todd

     

    Todd Starnes, Owner & President

    Bicycle Adventures

    To read more about New York’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour, trips that dropped in price for 2015, fun bike-related finds at CES Las Vegas and the remainder of Bicycle Adventures’ January newsletter, click here.

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    Dreaming of Summer

    A guest on our Washington Wine Country trip last summer sent us this link to her blog, featuring some great recipes.  If you’re dreaming of summer and sunshine (and the early strawberries are starting to arrive at your local grocer’s), try out one of these yummy creations.  Not only are they crammed with all sorts of bicycling-healthy benefits, one bite will fill your mouth with sunshine – reminding you that winter, too, must pass!

    When a Friend Gives You Lemons

    San Juan Islands Offer Peaceful Beauty

    A lovely description of these gorgeous isles, this Chicago Tribune article offers a behind-the-scenes peek into the idyllic San Juan Islands.