The Business of Love: The Adventures of Bonnie & Clyde

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • March 21, 2021

Brett living life and enjoy lunch through the lens of Laurel's cellphone camera.

When I first met my boyfriend Brett, I thought he was the all-time biggest jerk that ever existed.

Actually, I did not meet him in the sense of a face-to-face interaction that day, but I heard him growling and muttering, getting pissy and cussing.

I was the new girl in the shop, and I committed the ORIGINAL SIN – I made the unforgivable mistake to park in his space on an exceptionally bad morning.

So, I overheard him pitching an angry fit, telling co-workers to not only get my vehicle out of his spot, but to warn me to completely steer clear of his side of the building. I think he also was feeling a bit infringed upon by all the new equipment my small business was “crowding” into a teensy tiny corner of his holier-than-thou space.

Talk about a hostile workplace! Who was this asshole? Steer clear of him? NO PROBLEM HERE!

This was early on during the third year of existence for my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Now one of the top-rated Arizona travel tour companies, we were renting space at the time in the new facility for Stellar Adventures, which is owned and operated by my business mentor and great pal JJ Briles.

I was humbled and honored JJ invited me into his new business home because that directly tied under the same roof my Phoenix guided hiking and Scottsdale guided mountain biking tours to the Southwest’s best and most-recognized off-road ATV UTV adventure company.

Think LeBron James asking a fresh-faced rookie to join his team. That is exactly how I felt.

The move gave my small mom-and-pop specialty shop much-needed street cred and the instant credibility of a storefront. Wild Bunch was not only going to be mentioned by the best adventure business in the “Valley of the Sun,” but we were getting in front of their customers and connections, too. And to learn at the foot of my adventure god? WOW!

Wild Bunch also now had a place to store our mountain bikes in the same warehouse as Stellar’s fleet of motorized vehicles, which were lovingly cared for by an off-putting, crabby, gruff, and grumpy and galling mechanic named Brett.

He reminded me of a grizzly bear, only with less personality. I kept my social-distance, and this was well ahead of the pandemic.

Did I say he was the Michael Jordan of Jerks?

Thankfully, I have learned since then you never really can judge a beer by the label, as together we have turned around the well-worn cliché about “behind every successful man stands a great woman.”

Turns out, I am the thankful one standing on the supportive shoulders of an incredibly patient and super-sensible guy. Brett’s positives help discharge my negatives. He stands behind me despite my many faults and is right alongside of me through my many misadventures.

To help tell this tale fit for a Rom-Com movie, I have enlisted my usual Blog editor as the script writer of the below, so he can share BOTH sides of this story.

By the way, my part will be played by Drew Barrymore, because she is genuinely sweet and downhome goofy enough, and I will cast either Vince Vaughn or Matthew McConaughey for the part of Brett, although neither has his beard.

The Adventure of Bonnie & Clyde: How Laurel and Brett became a couple.
Brett: “I first met Laurel through business. She was kind of annoying at first. She’s the opposite of me. She’s loud, asks a lot of questions, and she’s out there in your face. But we got used to each other a little. I worked on some of her (Wild Bunch Desert Guides transport) vehicles and we just kind of dealt with each other. But then one day we were forced to spend a lot of time together.”

Laurel: “Ken, an h1 Hummer driver showed up that day at the warehouse and he looked really sick.”

Brett: “He’s an older guy and he was looking pale and complained of some chest pain. Classic heart-attack symptoms. Laurel was trying to convince him to go to the hospital, but wasn’t getting anywhere because he’s ex-Navy, a real tough old guy.”

Laurel: “Ken finally said, ‘No, I will be just fine; I will call my wife and maybe go later today. I have a tour I need to do.’ So, I immediately went back to Brett’s part of Stellar Adventures, thinking that no way Ken is going to listen to a woman. So, I asked for help from the guy who I thought was the biggest jerk on the planet. Brett dropped his wrenches and said, ‘Where is he?’”

Brett: “So I said to Ken, ‘You’re not going on tour. We’re taking you to the hospital. You don’t have a choice.’”

Laurel: “Next thing you know, Brett has Ken piled into Ken’s car, and they are absolutely flying on the (U.S. Route) 60 to a hospital nearest to where Ken and his wife live. At the time, I was chasing them in my Mitsubishi Outlander.”

Brett: “When we got there, we hung out and made sure Ken was checked in and doing good.”

Laurel: “Brett and I ended up driving back in my Mitsubishi. It was kind of an awkward silence at first. We did finally start talking about what we’d just been through, and we mentioned Ken being retired from the Navy, and Brett opened up about his dad being a retired veteran. He talked about how proud he was of his dad and all the achievements his dad has within the VA here in Phoenix. As he was talking, I was thinking how wrong I was about him being a complete jerk.”

Brett: “It was a scare that day that turned out OK for Ken, but also got us talking on the long trip back to get to know each other in a different way than business. That was the first time we spent some personal time together. We talked about both of our fathers.”

Laurel: “It was that day that I started to wonder what his status was in relation to the dating world. Of course, I started kind of sniffing around with some of the other guides at Stellar to get some sort of background on his love life.”

Laurel and Brett enjoy another outdoors adventure.

Laurel: “I would see Brett at the shop every day after that and kind of try to talk to him, but always kept a professional distance. I found out he had been in a relationship with a not-so-great-ending and had been single for about four years. Fast forward about 8 months later to August 2018. I had landed some killer Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson tickets, but could not find anyone who wanted to attend this concert with me. I texted JJ and asked him if he knew anyone and he suggested Brett.”

Brett: “So, out of the blue, she invited me to go to a show.”

Laurel: “I was hesitant at first because I knew that Brett worked his ass off at Stellar Adventures and was there literally 10 to 12 hours a day. But next thing I knew, I had a confirmation that he would meet me at the concert. I was so excited that someone would attend with me!”

Brett: “And the rest is history. We hit it off from there. So, it’s funny how things work out. We’d known each other about a year before we started dating and definitely didn’t like each other at first.”

Laurel: “Well, let's put it this way -- I don't think Brett knew what he was really getting himself into as far as dating a passionate, direct, honest, small business owner who pours her heart and soul into every single guest that Wild Bunch Desert Guides takes out on a guided Phoenix hike or guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour.”

Brett: “Oh, I knew. When you are a small business owner, you’re pretty much working from the second you get up in the morning to the second your head hits the pillow at night.”

Laurel: “I will never forget what I will call date number two. Brett and I were texting back and forth, and he asked me out to dinner. I literally was jumping up and down in my studio apartment and talking to my dog, Daisy Mae as if she were my best friend giddy and so excited. ‘Daisy Mae, Daisy Mae,’ I said, ‘he asked me out to dinner!’ And as we sat and ate sushi that night, it was clear to me that this guy was pretty amazing. I remember that night, I told myself, I just wanted to make sure that we did something else together again soon. So, I tried to figure out ways to see him and there were many nights of texting and conversations. We started out hanging out on Sundays. Now it’s been almost 3 years of dating and we are still going strong with several really memorable moments.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cue the obligatory music montage of cute interactions between our hero and heroine).

Brett and Laurel channel their alter egos, Bonnie & Clyde, during a Halloween costume party.
Laurel: “I was so stoked when I got a call from the Jerome Grand Hotel in Jerome, Arizona, for a room available on Halloween night. Brett and I had been hanging out now for right around 2 months and I was so excited when I told him I had gotten a room at a place that typically has a year 2-year waitlist. I sat for hours with his coworkers trying to figure out how to convince this guy to dress up in Halloween costumes. Finally, one of my guides said, ‘Hey, why don't you go as Bonnie and Clyde – super-easy, super-efficient, and I'm pretty sure Brett could pull that off. I went out to a Goodwill Store and found him a jacket and I found one of Bonnie's best looks with a black dress and beret. I also had a kick ass fake Tommy Gun. We looked awesome, and we had one of the best fun nights ever. That turned into a tradition that every year on Halloween we dress up and stay at a spooky hotel. In 2019, we ended up at the Hassayampa in Prescott dressed as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. Do not get me started on how exact Brett fit the bill as Elmer. I tried everything to find the exact hat for him. We went to sportsman's stores and everything. Let's just say, Halloween has been quite the fun time for both of us.”

Brett: “If we’re going to go do something, it’s likely to be outdoors, though. She likes to go to baseball games. But we’re more likely to take our two dogs hiking as much as anything. Our vacations are likely some sort of outdoor adventure since we both are at Arizona adventure travel tour companies. I try and get us a remote as possible, so her damn phone doesn’t go off. But it’s amazing where those things get reception. A good example is we took a camping trip. I like to fly fish, so we went to the Black River in the northern part of the state, almost in New Mexico. When we got there, we spent a couple of hours looking for a good camping spot, and I found a nice, secluded spot on top of a cliff, and I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way she’s got reception up here. We’ll be nice and quiet.’ But within 30 seconds, here comes the first text. And then a phone call. And then another. And then this and that. I never wanted to throw a phone off a cliff so bad in my life.”

Laurel: “During our first few months of dating, I learned Brett loved to listen to the Joe Rogan podcasts. So, I decided to start listening to see if I could somehow relate to Brett. I know that sounds kind of stalker-ish. But I found a date where Joe Rogan was going to perform at a Hollywood improv club and made reservations for Brett and me to go see the show and stay in Los Angeles. As a mechanic, Brett is a true motorhead, so we rented a 2019 luxury Camaro for the trip. This car was fast as hell. I remember picking it up from the rental car place and thinking to myself, ‘Holy s***.’ There was a hologram of the miles per hour on the windshield and it had track mode, race mode, and a few other modes plus shift paddles and manual shifting. So, driving to LA and I made Brett pull over so I could take a shot at driving this beast. As soon as I took the wheel, I started weaving in and out of LA traffic and Brett said to me I had no business doing that! I'll never forget walking up and down Santa Monica Boulevard looking for a dive bar so we could grab a drink. All Brett could think about were the crazy things about the area, yet he dropped me off at an intersection outside the sketchiest liquor store to pick up some fun drinks for our evening. And, of course, we had to have a side adventure to get pictures of the car and ourselves with the iconic Hollywood sign in the background. On the way home from LA, I told Brett I had always wanted to do a burnout. I figured he would say no way. Next thing I know, though, Brett pulls off the interstate onto a lonely side road in the middle of the desert and is teaching me how to do a burnout. On my second attempt, I lit that car up spun those wheels and made that burnout sound that we all love, and it was f****** rad. I felt so exhilarated and powerful, and my adrenaline was so high. Just another adventure with someone who makes my heart smile.’

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cue the loving look between our hero and heroine).

Elmer and Buggs make an appearance at a Halloween costume party.

Laurel: “Brett and I love to go to Lake City, Colorado. He has been going there for many years prior and I got to experience that small town hospitality firsthand. Of course, I had to make sure that our Gowdy Rental Studio had Wi-Fi and cell service to conduct business.”

Brett: “It’s a little town up in the San Juan Mountains. The first time she went, she spent the first week doing the TransRockies Run, and then the next week she spent with me fishing. Moose was introduced to that area in the ‘80s, so there’s a lot of really good-sized Moose there, and they like the water. So, one day we were walking around in the river where there’s a lot of really tall bush, and I looked down and saw some fresh Moose tracks in the mud. I stopped her and said, ‘Be really really quiet.’ Right then, we heard something crash through the bushes and I said, ‘Don’t MOVE.’ She just looked back at me and whispered, ‘Brett, it’s right behind you.’ So, I peeked back and all I could see were the antlers of a Bull Moose, about 5 ½-foot wide. It was the biggest bull I’d ever seen, and it was no more than 10 feet away from us. At that point, I didn’t have a gun on me, so I looked at her and said, “Drop your shit and RUUUUNN!” Moose are the most dangerous animal in North America. They kill more people than Grizzly Bears. So, it was quite something to be that close. But they’re not a chase predator. So, we just hauled ass up the river and got to the top of a hill where we could look down on him and watch him for about 20 minutes. We’re a little more Moose-aware when we’re in that area now. But that was an exciting moment. Something we won’t forget.”

Laurel: “What I never will forget is the cooler was full of IPA because Brett won't drink cheap s*** beer (a pre-dating tip from Stellar Adventures operation manager Chad Turner). I remember I was calm when telling him there was a Moose standing right behind him. I also recall how calm he was in telling me to drop everything and run. I also believe I beat his ass up that hill, and I know we were both dying out of breath after that mad dash because of the altitude. But before I was able to properly freak-out about our brush with death, Brett showed more concern for the IPA in the cooler instead of his own well-being or the safety of his girlfriend! He turned around and walked right back down there and grabbed the cooler out of the river. Meanwhile, I was having a heart attack hoping and praying he would not run into the Moose again, but I was quite ready to explain to authorities why the dumb-ass got trampled retracing his steps if it came to that.”

Brett: “The most amazing thing, though, is even when we’re on vacation and trying to relax, Laurel never relaxes. We went back there last summer and within a few days, she knew half the town. She knew all the business owners. She’d walk around and introduce herself to everybody. She picked up a job for next summer at the brewery when we’re there again. And she has another job lined up to help some people out with their properties doing some cleaning and maintenance. But that’s her idea of a vacation – meeting people and finding other ways to keep herself busy. It’s not about making money at all. She just has to have something to do.”

Laurel: “At dinner one night, he told me he would be impressed if I could learn how to tie flies for fly fishing. So, I looked up the best fly-fishing guide in Arizona, Manny Chee, and asked him if I could pay him to teach me how to tie a fly to impress my boyfriend. Manny had me meet him at Bass Pro Shops and made me go through the entire purchasing experience. We then went to his home fly tying office and there we sat for 3 hours with him teaching me how to tie a woolly bugger. I was so proud of myself that I had learned how to do this, and I knew Brett would have to be impressed that I took the time to want to learn about what he loves. This last time in Lake City, Brett actually caught a fish with my sketchy, not awesome-looking woolly boogers.”

Laurel learns to tie fly-fishing flies (top) and Brett catches a fish using one of her creations.

Laurel:Stellar Adventures quickly grew in size, which kindly and nicely forced me to find another space for the mountain bikes and other equipment for Wild Bunch Desert Guides. So, I ended up with a space of my own, but during the shutdowns for the CoVid-19 pandemic, to save money and overhead, Brett let me put all the stuff from my small boutique service in his small garage. He sacrificed shelter and parked elsewhere his pristine and for-sale ‘92 Corvette (less than 60,000 miles if anyone out there is interested!)

Brett: “The additional stress of the last year, and everything the Arizona adventure tours industry went through, it definitely took its toll on her and our relationship. She had to make some major adjustments in her life, going from running the business full-time to being a delivery driver and then having the combination of doing both at the same time. It turned out to be too much and it would for anybody. But Laurel is extremely competitive, and the person she’s most competitive with is herself. She doesn’t like the idea of failure. She didn’t want to use the ready excuse the business died because of the economy, so she’s done everything she can to keep her business running. I’ve tried to step in and help at times, which brings us closer to together, but there’s stress there, too, because you’re working with your significant other and that can be very difficult. Taking commands from Laurel can be a little challenging at times. I’m also in the tour industry, so I have over the last year had my ups and downs with that job, too. We had some odd times where we had nothing to do and then the next second, we had a thousand things to do. Coming together to help each other sometimes is impossible when you have your own thing going on. I want to be there for her, and help her out as much as I can, but I have my own job, too.”

Laurel: “Since I am 24/7 on my business phone, often it is stressful and hard, and I know Brett has put up with a lot of s***. Many times, he has tried to find remote spots where there is no cell service only to find out that my phone will ring or ding with a notification. Being involved with someone who is in the first years of business must be extremely rough. I have tried to put up boundaries only to say ‘I have to take this …’ I know I should not answer the phone after 7 p.m., but then a resort concierge calls at 8 p.m. with an emergency.”

Brett: “It’s a little frustrating sometimes. It’s like, ‘Can’t you just take an hour? Can’t we just have dinner?’ The past year we spent a lot more time at home, and not going out to dinner as much, so that built in extra time for us to be around talking about things. Laurel’s always talking shop. She’s all business. She’s going to talk about what happened to her that day. That’s who she is and that was accepted going into (the relationship). I knew it was going to be different right from the get-go, because certain times of the year, she’s on the phone pretty much the entire day. The average year she puts 25,000 miles on the vehicle because she’s never out of it. You can’t get her to sit still. She pretty much doesn’t stop. So, that takes a little adjusting and getting used to.”

Laurel: “This guy has enjoyed many appetizers alone, the first beer of two or three alone at the bar and has pulled over so I could have cell service so many times I cannot count so I could take business phone calls late into the evening. This same guy has stepped up and did guided hikes for me when no one was available. He has been that guy who has brought me pies and other goodies to the trailhead for my guests. He is the same guy that has been there through lots of emotions, crying and has talked me off the ledge so many times when wanting to throw the towel in as a small business owner.”

Brett: “The most feared words out of her mouth are, ‘Hey, can you …’ I usually hear that right when I’m in the middle of something. I don’t mind doing things for her, but her mind is moving a lot faster than the rest of us. Way faster than mine. I must slow her down so I can try and keep up. She’s just one of those people who when they wake up in the morning, they are just ready to go. I don’t know how she does it. Me? I need a couple minutes. So, don’t come at me when I’m first waking up. Wait until I’ve gotten a few things done for myself and my eyes are fully open. I’m a really slow eater and she’s a really fast eater. So, if she gets a call in the middle of a meal, then I might be able to at least keep up with her. But if she has a good 30 seconds to a minute, she’ll polish off her meal and move on to something else she’s working on. It’s just constant. There’s never a day off. She’s somebody who doesn’t have very much time for a relationship. She tries to make time when she can, but when she does, she usually gets a phone call.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Roll the tender strings music for lots of shots featuring tears, angst-riddled frustration and standing in the rain).

Brett and Laurel (top) and the 2019 Camaro (below) pose in front of the iconic Hollywood sign.


Brett: “But the times I roll my eyes, scratch my head or bang my head against the wall have started to go down. I’m getting Laurel to understand the idea of working smarter, not harder. She’s coming around to the idea she can’t do it all for too much longer. The (Wild Bunch Desert Guides) is really taking off, so she must grow with the business, add some guides and or find some people to help her manage all the details. Hopefully, that gives her an opportunity to pick one part or the other. Do you want to be business side? Or do you want to be out in the field giving (guided Phoenix mountain bike tours or guided Scottsdale hikes)? You really can’t do both. I love her being out there getting the sun and exercise. Being on the bike around people is what she loves. She’s the face of her business, so she needs somebody to help co-manage the business to take the phone calls and allow her to get away and have a life. That is why companies fail -- the small business owner tries to take on everything themselves. No good business can be accomplished by one person. With the way her business has to be sold -- and there’s so many aspects to it -- it’s starting to click with her.”

Laurel: “He's always standing across the kitchen from me, or staring back across the dinner table, doing the throat-slashing motion to tell me to cut off an abusive conversation when somebody is giving me a hard time on the phone. He constantly reminds me it's okay to say no and it's also okay to turn away business. He's seen me at 10 p.m. still dealing with guests who just don't get it or fail to comprehend when I have told them how ridiculously tough Camelback Mountain is and hang up the phone wondering if I made the right decision turning down their booking.”

Brett: “Laurel’s brought out a lot of good aspects in me, and I’ve tried to toughen her up a bit on the business side to make her a little more rigid when it comes to dealing with her guides or rude clientele or management at a resort. I’m the polar opposite. She takes it personally and gets upset, but for me, when it’s business, it’s more about just getting past the hiccup and moving on quickly because I have other things to deal with. Don’t obsess over an email you got from an upset customer all day. You don’t want it to destroy the rest of your day and distract you from what else you need to get done. That’s a big step for her because she’s a people person; she loves everybody, and most people love her. She’s a very emotional person and takes everything personally. So, maybe that’s been my biggest contribution to the whole thing has been to make her more of a businessperson and not so much doing it from the passion side of things.”

Laurel: “I cannot tell you how awesome he has been over the last 3 years for me and my business. I know he absolutely hates to get up early and hates me for probably 15 minutes or more on the days I leave super early and wake him up. But during the pandemic, he’s the same guy who worked on my mountain bikes so I wouldn't have to spend a lot of money. There is no way I could find anyone who would allow me to maintain a good, genuine friendship with my former husband Bill, who still has some involvement in my highly rated Phoenix adventure tours company. Brett has never made me feel terrible about anything I have done in business except when I just can't let stuff go. He has put bike racks on my truck at 5 a.m. in his pajamas. He has carried bikes out to my truck at the crack of dawn, too. He has jumped into Scottsdale guided hikes when no one else was available and received great reviews for the Wild Bunch.”

Brett: “It’s like a lot of relationships where you have your good times and your bad. But with owning a business and running it virtually all on her own, it’s a lot for her to handle. It’s a lot for me to handle sometimes, too. We’ve had our blow ups and arguments. But we’ve always had the ability to talk about it and come to some conclusion. It’s definitely a different relationship than I’ve ever been in before. But then, Laurel is just a different kind of woman than I’ve ever been with. Her drive and passion and love for what she does pretty much dictates her entire life. The business has become her No. 1 thing. She’s stepped away from the racing and all that to focus solely on the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. So, it's been interesting and exciting. Life’s never boring. It’s been a real adventure.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cue up a gorgeous Arizona sunset as our heroes embrace looking over the vast Sonoran Desert toward an ever-brightening future together).

Laurel: “I sincerely cannot ask for a better man in my life than someone who I know would do anything for my business to survive. Brett would never ever let me give up and or walk away unless he knew 100-percent that's what my heart wanted. He has been my go-to, my support, my best friend, and the one person I always can be who I am when around him. We had some really rough moments during the pandemic in 2020. Brett's job slowed way down, and we had to figure out how we were going to keep my business open and manage his bills as well. We were able to pull through and right now we are both in an awesome place. We will be spending many months in Lake City coming up this summer when the Arizona adventure travel tours slow down as the heat rises in the “Valley of the Sun.” My hope for Brett is that working as hard as he does, he will be allowed to fly fish his heart out and spend as much time outdoors as possible. The best news for him, though, is the cell service is pretty sketchy, so he doesn't have to worry about me calling him during the day. (LOL) … It’s funny, sometimes the most opposite personalities are the ones that survive the storms together. We have been on many, many adventures together already and we have many more to enjoy.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Fade to black. Roll credits).


About the Author

Laurel Darren is the founding owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a 5-star rated adventure tour company that offers guided hiking tours and guided mountain biking tours in Arizona’s picturesque Sonoran Desert in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Arriving in the legendary “Valley of the Sun” in 2012 -- from the home of John Deere in the Quad Cities of Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois -- this corn-fed Midwest girl brought 30 years of athletic chops under her chaps. A 3-sport high school standout and former college softball player – who won her conference’s Athlete of the Year award as a prep senior – Darren has graduated to competing in many races as an adult, from road running and cycling, to cyclo-cross and Mountain Bikes, and even Duathlon and Triathlon “Ironman” competitions. Darren was a popular, top-rated senior mountain bike guide at Arizona’s Outback Adventures before branching out to start her own small adventure business in 2016. To book a guided mountain bike tour or guided hiking trip – or a combination of the two adventures – please visit the home page or call 602-663-0842.


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