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?
“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?
“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.”
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?
“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!”