Jenna Barnes is no ordinary Camp Chef at Backroads, but then again, she’s no ordinary individual. She stands apart as someone who believes strongly in the power of food as a means to fuel and heal your body. She inspires people to eat well and inspires people like me to experiment with new dishes when working as a Camp Chef. To Jenna, food is life and she has an incredible gift showcasing absolutely all of its wondrous potential.
I’ve been lucky in my time as a Backroads leader to have some amazing guests, like Andy Russell. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Andy was an NFL star in the 1960s and ’70s. It was day three of our trip and Andy and I were riding along a gorgeous stretch of road. Something shiny coming from Andy’s handlebars caught my eye, so I took a look: a ring. It looked like a Super Bowl ring. I had to ask…. Andy, who hadn’t mentioned anything up to this point, grinned a little grin and told me his story, and what a story it was!
It was pure serendipity that allowed Collier Lumpkin and me to be here together, enjoying an enormous fish stew at Ristorante Belforte overlooking the tiny harbor of Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Our lives had been running parallel paths for some time, but it wasn’t until a year before that our worlds finally collided on a Backroads trip in Puglia.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” For me, this is travel. As a soon-to-be junior at Wake Forest University, constantly bogged down by the pressures that come with college, the opportunity to travel is something that I could never turn down. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a family that makes travel a high priority (active travel in particular), but it wasn’t until recently that I began to fully understand why I appreciate travel so much.
It was springtime in northern New Mexico. The snow was melting off the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the wildflowers were blooming and the bold colors of chiles rojos y verdes adorned my plate night after night. Our first Backroads Santa Fe & Taos walking tour of the season was infused with that ethereal ebullient light that has attracted many to reflect and interpret its artistic form.
“Tourism: Your everyday life is somebody else’s adventure.” Staša Kraljiĉ uses this quote from international free speech organization Loesje to rationalize her love for working in tourism, which she has done–to some extent–since she was in college. You could easily replace ‘tourism’ with ‘Staša’ in this quote, as this Backroads Leader is a fun-loving, globe-trotting polyglot who tirelessly lives life to the fullest.
We at Backroads know bikes. Those of you who travel with us know bikes. We are bike people. We love our world on two wheels. They give us great joy and take us behind the scenes. We speed through the countryside along quiet trails. We feel empowered with the wind in our hair and the strength of our pedals.
During my time in Tuscany, I led the Backroads biking trip several times but I have never had the feeling I was repeating something. I just love being with people and getting to know their stories: that’s the main reason why I applied for this job in the first place and that’s also why every trip is so unique.
One of the best parts of a Backroads trip is the connection with a place and its locals, and one of the best parts of being a Backroads leader is creating our own connections and facilitating them for our guests. At the beginning of my first season leading trips in Italy, I was unsure about my ability to provide this connection.
Why is it that when some people are brought together, they end up falling in love? Is it similar personalities or shared interests that connect them? Perhaps it’s purely chemical. Or maybe it’s something more dramatic, like conquering a feat together…
Awaken to the smell of mountains–a mix of cold morning air, dew-laden grass and the faint, earthy smell of livestock. Tuck into your slippers and shuffle across the chilled tile floor, opening the shutters to look out onto a valley still encased in early-morning fog.
My Facebook newsfeed of late is chock-full of photos and status updates from my Backroads colleagues residing in far-flung locations. I see gorgeous sunsets in Costa Rica. The hustle and bustle of city life in India. Tumbling Hawaiian waterfalls and spectacular New Zealand landscapes. Me? I spend my winters living in a boys’ dorm in snow-covered Wisconsin. I find this rather humorous. In place of gregarious co-leaders, my building-mates are 120 teenage boys.
At Backroads, we make a great big deal about hiring Trip Leaders. And today marks the start of our hiring “season.” At 8:30 this morning, 43 hopeful candidates arrived at our Berkeley headquarters for what has got to be one of the world’s most involved first interviews. Candidates are in our courtyard now–donning nametags, changing flat tires, showing off their public speaking skills and getting to know our staff. They’ve come from such far flung locations as China and Hawaii to interview with us. They’ve got degrees as diverse as MSc in Physiotherapy and BA in Elementary Education.
I could see the distant glimmer of the hot coals pulsing red under the Dutch oven, stained black from ash. Apple cobbler was bubbling through the seams of the cast iron pot and its sweet smell lingered in the air, taunting hungry bystanders. I admired the flavor of the familiar atmosphere…