Backroads Media Center: The Story Behind Backroads

Tom Hale & the Art of Productive Insomnia

BERKELEY, CA (2013)—A native of Moraga, California, Tom Hale possesses a passion for two seemingly divergent interests—business and back roads—which he has powered into the world's most successful active travel company.

It was the back roads that first attracted him, as a competitive runner at Campolindo High School (where he still holds the two-mile record at 8:57.2) and at the University of Oregon, where he was a teammate of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. Armed with a Masters in Environmental Planning from UCLA, Hale was six months into an environmental planning position in Las Vegas when the back roads called again—big time. A middle-of-the-night inspiration to start a bike touring company motivated him to pedal 5,000 miles alone through the West, all the while formulating plans for his new business. Settling in Berkeley, Hale washed fondue pots by night and built his fledgling travel company by day. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he did it all—designed the itineraries, maintained the bikes, led the trips, produced the catalog. His first trip—a bike tour of Death Valley—attracted four guests (one of them his mother.) Fast-forward 35 years of nearly consistent growth to 2014.

Today Backroads annually hosts thousands of guests on biking, walking & hiking and multisport trips worldwide. Their 183 trip itineraries showcase the best lodging, dining, cultural attractions—and of course back roads—in destinations from California's Wine Country to classic settings in France, from the pampas of Patagonia to the hill country of Thailand. Backroads is staffed by some 135 people in its Berkeley headquarters and regional offices in Utah, Canada and France, and also employs approximately 390 Trip Leaders worldwide.

From the beginning, Hale has strived for and succeeded in offering off-the-charts trips, believing that the world is best experienced up close and under one's own power. Backroads' success is largely measured by an exceptionally high rate of repeat guests—on average about 80% become repeat and referral guests. When he's not at the Berkeley office or on the road as Backroads' most eagle-eyed quality controller, Hale can be found at home in Kentfield with his wife Liz, daughters Avery and Georgia, and son William.

For more information contact Liz Einbinder.