400 Bikers in a Typhoon

Backroads Leader Tatyana biking in Vietnam400 Bikers + 1 Typhoon = Active Travel at its Best

Thirty-nine years ago, I formulated the original Backroads business plan while on a 5,000-mile solo bike trip through the western United States. Breaking free from my short-lived environmental planning career, I thrived on experiencing the world under my own power and at my own pace, reveled in challenging myself, and deeply appreciated the unique perspective of my surroundings. The fundamental principle of my new business was to enable travel experiences akin to the way I was traveling, albeit with a heck of a lot more support and comfort.

That philosophy became core to the Backroads culture and has never wavered.

So Where Does the Typhoon Come In?

Since very early in the Backroads days, we have run annual staff rides that gather our employees in one place for a multi-day adventure. These trips get everyone in the same space after being spread out across the globe for much of the year to revel in our strong community and just plain have fun together. Last month, it took place in Vietnam--right in the middle of one of the biggest typhoons in decades.


While more rational minds might have considered cancelling the ride, we knew that our leaders and staff relish spontaneous experiences. They know that when you're out experiencing the real world in an authentic way, unexpected things happen.

There's no doubt that the staff ride could have been miserable if not for our company culture of positivity and adventure, of meeting challenges head on, and of embracing what the world throws at us when we're immersed in it.

I should have known that once we started the trip, not one person would ask me "should we be here?" When things don't go right, that's when our leaders shine. They regard challenges as opportunities to elevate their experience into something more memorable, more adventurous, more life changing.

Because of them, the more unique the challenge, the more fun and innovative the outcome.

Backroads Biking in Vietnam

What It Was Like

As we set out on the first morning in the most colossally bad conditions imaginable, I was actually pretty excited. Someone asked me later that day, "did you ever think this wasn't a good idea?" I actually had not thought about it, which was an interesting bit of self-reflection. Instead, I was in the moment, thinking "this is gonna be fun!" It was much more interesting riding my bike though knee-deep, muddy water than down a quintessentially classic cobblestoned lane simply because this was a new experience. Check out the video at the bottom of this page!

Vietnam - Biking in Typhoon Damri

I had certainly never biked in such ridiculous conditions, but it was 78 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the water wasn't cold--there was just so much of it! I recall a rainy, 38-degree ride many years ago that was worse without a doubt. Or that time I pushed my bike downhill in Death Valley because the winds were so strong it was faster to push than ride.

For all the trips I've taken over the years, the unplanned adventures are the authentic experiences I remember most.

The same is true for those unexpected and organic glimpses into locals' lives. Those of us on the staff ride felt more connected to the locals in Vietnam simply because we were contending with similar challenges. It was so inspiring to see them come out of their homes and businesses and, with a friendly smile, scoop away mud and debris--persevering while making the most out of a bad situation. You just can't manufacture that sort of insight into a culture.

Backroads Staff Ride and Typhoon Relief Troops

Translating This to Guest Experiences

We definitely don't expect our guests to have the exact same level of comfort that we do with challenging situations. That's why we're here. We do have that confidence and ability to problem-solve on the fly. We're going to take care of everything and embrace the challenges for you to make sure you have the best trip possible-- so that you get to experience the place on a real level, far from the bubble of regimented tours.

That being said, our guests are typically a self-selecting population who are disproportionally open to stepping out of their comfort zones and embracing the unexpected. On another trip in Vietnam, the rivers were so swollen that even our vans could not cross them. So our leaders flagged down a passing, empty garbage truck and our guests cheerfully hopped into the back to enjoy a safe lift to the hotel, where they got a lot of mileage out of their tale.

That spontaneity and access to real people in real situations is easily one of the top raves we hear from guests.

What a Team

This was an unforgettable staff ride. It exemplified how much we relish forging our own path and building our community. This is a group of incredibly experienced, spirited and talented people who have fun conquering obstacles and place a premium on deeply exploring the world in genuine ways. At the same time, they're just plain good human beings.

Vietnam Staffride

The trip was also incredibly fulfilling for me and validated that the core values we began with are what continue to set us apart today. We work so hard to find and cultivate such amazing leaders and imbue this self-perpetuating culture among them. Their enthusiasm is genuinely contagious. These are the people our guests get to travel with and I honestly believe it's one of the biggest reasons our guests love our trips.

If someone were to ask me who I would want to take with me on a great adventure, the answer would be simple. I'd travel with a Backroads Leader any day.

10 Responses

  1. Jan Edwards

    We took our first trip this summer. As I was reading your story , I was reminded in a small way of my experience with a bad tooth ache. Our final day at the Grand Canyon , I missed our dinner due to a bad pain in a back tooth. Feeling pretty sure it was cracked , I needed to find a dentist pretty soon. Our leader , Ally Kranz took no time in finding me a dentist , coordinating the final drop off of the other people on the trip and getting me to my appointment. ( turns out the dentist went to dental school back home !!) Ally handled the unexpected with ease and confidence. Not quite the same experience as Vietnam but appreciated just the same!! Looking forward to. Our next trip with ya’ll!!

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Jan,
      I’m so glad Ally was able to keep you smiling. All our leaders are amazing, and they really shine when solving for the unexpected. We look forward to seeing you out on the trail in the future.

  2. Janet Cabot

    Great leaders is the reason why we love Backroads – and keep coming back year after year. Headed out on our 17th trip – multi sport on the north island of New Zealand – in just over a month. Can’t wait for another BR adventure!

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      17 trips? That’s fantastic. I expect that New Zealand and our leaders there will awe you.
      Enjoy! Tom

  3. […] many of them. In April, I had a forced three-day layover because of severe rainstorms. In November, I was one of 400 Backroads leaders to fly directly into the heart of Typhoon Damrey in Vietnam, a Category Two hurricane that took 151 lives and caused one billion dollars of damage. I had […]

  4. My husband and I did the Vietnam/Cambodia bike trip in March 2018 – LOVED every minute. And we went even went after seeing this amazing video. It was our 4th Backroads trip and I felt confident that you guys can handle anything that comes along – even 400 people in a typhoon! Also cannot say enough about our rock star leaders Dustin and Caterina and Dragon and Borin, the local guides. Immeasurably better with all of them. Can’t wait for next year and another adventure with Backroads.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Aimee,
      A “little rain” just adds to the fun! So glad to hear you enjoyed your adventure and the “rock star leaders,” and that you’re already dreaming about your next trip. We look forward to seeing you out there.
      – Tom

  5. Great blog article. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it from beginning to end. Very simply a wonderful story. A grand adventure that could not be planned. And no better time for it to happen then when your tour leaders and other employees have gotten together for your yearly staff Keating. Participants from around the world. All with a zeal to go out and do it. CARPE DIEM! Nothing like a little challenge to make it better.
    While reading thru your story I could not help myself from daydreaming that I was there with you all. How I would have loved it. It sounded for me who loved to walk great distances in the past, who hiked, and sometimes even built, many miles of trails, just like heaven. Living the pure joy, and sometimes a little hell, surrounded by wilderness in every direction, an 8 by 8 bungeed tarp and a light sleeping bag the only 2 things separating me from the natural elements for weeks at a time.
    You see, about 4 years ago, while saving a woman’s life at work I broke my back. The result being that I can no longer go hiking, I can no longer go walking even except for small small distances, never over 300 meters at a time, and that only on good days, I cannot even stand for longer than 5 to 10 minutes max, anymore! And what I hope your readers, your walk or hike or bicycle tour leaders, and all your readers realize, is how lucky they are to be able to walk. To appreciate and not grumble the little things while on one of your adventures. Your amazing adventures!! To seize the day, look up at the sky, smile, and then just go, knowing in their hearts how great it is to be able to join you or others on whichever of your tours anywhere and everywhere around the world. Not to take it for granted but rather be thankful. Those who do, who are, will rarely if ever be without a smile on their face.
    As for me, I still smile! I have so much to be thankful for! I can still travel, I just need to sit often, every 20 to 100 meters, sometimes after a whole 300 meters, or lay down on my left side. That’s why I bought a 30 year old RV. That I’m slowly renovating. A bed nearby, wherever I go, because of the pain. But I’m still smiling. I can travel. I can get off an RV and walk, if only a little. But the combination will allow me to see the world. And for that I am very thankful.
    As for you. I love your writing. Your stories. Your adventures. And I am glad so many people get to enjoy this world, a step at a time, because of your love of business combined with a love of travel at our most basic level, thru the power of our feet.
    Life IS beautiful!!
    P.S. And she (life) is more so because of people, and travel companies, like you and yours!
    I’ll be thinking of your walking and hiking, and cruise integrated trips, while I write my blog postings, and film my adventures for YouTube, as I depart, hopefully, next year on my RV Road Trip Around the World. So thank you, for you, for your travel company, and for the travel you offer, being such an inspiration to follow!

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Dear Richmond,
      I’m happy we inspire you, and am glad to hear that your drive to explore the world remains strong. Getting out into nature and among new cultures is often more about a mindset than ability, and it certainly seems like you’re seizing the opportunity. Enjoy your RV travels and best of luck to you.

  6. Hi Tom, myself and 5 others just completed our first backroads trip, with the exception of the 2 that had done it before and that’s how we heard about it! I just have to tell you that your people are outstanding in every way, every day. The kindness, thoughtfulness, openness and enthusiasm is like nothing I’ve seen before! You have created something amazing as I’m sure you know! I was so sad to leave our new friends but we plan to keep in touch and hope to see them again sooner than later! Thank you for all you have done! And thanks for sharing your amazing people with the planet! For anyone who hasn’t experienced a Backroads Adventure, I can promise you, you won’t regret it! You could have a great time in a paper bag if you were with the Backroads Team!

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi Nickole,

      Well, thank you for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more–across the board, our leaders are uniquely friendly, highly capable, and incredibly knowledgeable. All mixed with a deep (and contagious) zest for life and passion for their jobs. And the guests who enjoy active travel at Backroads are pretty awesome as well–with a shared open attitude and adventurous spirit. When you bring together a group like that, it’s a recipe for success. And forget the paper bag–you get to enjoy these people in some of the most scenic spots in the world.


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