A Thanksgiving feast from Phoenix hiking tours

A Thanksgiving feast from Phoenix hiking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • November 26, 2021

“Thinking about scheduling a hike or bike ride with Wild Bunch Desert Guides, just do it and you won't be disappointed. My 15-year-old son wanted to do something different for Christmas Day 2019 and I am glad that we did. Even though he finished the trail ride and I did not, we still had quite a memorable experience. ... They are second to none if you're serious about having the adventure of a lifetime.” – Antonio on Tripadvisor, Dec. 25, 2019


Todd (left) and Tracey Hjerpe (right) are hand-in-hand while making their way down a treacherous portion of Camelback Mountain. After a pair of attempts on a prosthetic leg, Todd successfully summited Phoenix's iconic local landmark in 2019.

Pictured (left to right) at a Scottsdale restaurant are Tracey and Todd Hjerpe, veterans of two epic Camelback Mountain hikes, and their trusted guide, Lauren Darren, the owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides. For the first time since Todd's memorable summit on a prosthetic leg in 2019, the trio got together to reminisce and celebrate with a lunch during Thanksgiving week 2021. The entire experience with the Pennsylvania couple -- and the lasting connection forged -- are among the many blessings celebrated this Thanksgiving by the Wild Bunch owner. 
The "before" and "after" shots. (TOP) Todd (left) and Tracey Hjerpe (right) are hand-in-hand while making their way down
a treacherous portion of Camelback Mountain. After a pair of attempts on a prosthetic leg, Todd successfully summited
Phoenix's iconic local landmark in 2019. (BOTTOM) 
Pictured at a Scottsdale restaurant are Tracey and Todd with their
trusted guide, Lauren Darren, the owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides. For the first time since Todd's memorable summit,
the trio got together to reminisce and celebrate with a lunch during Thanksgiving week 2021. The entire experience with
the Pennsylvania couple -- and the lasting connection forged -- are among the many blessings celebrated this Thanksgiving
by the Wild Bunch owner.


 
I wanted to send along my sincerest best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving whether you are:
  1.  Reading this in an attempt to fight off the post-turkey nap required after your family’s holiday dinner (or subsequent leftovers)
  2.  Using this to help pass the time standing in a “Black Friday” shopping line
  3.  This is your halftime entertainment while pigging out watching football on a festive final weekend of November
  4.  None of the above 
The past year – and especially the last few months – I have much to be grateful for personally and professionally as a small business owner. So, I am duty-bound to spread the good cheer.

This Phoenix adventure tours operator celebrated Thanksgiving a little early this year when I was reunited for a holiday week lunch with a couple of alums of the Phoenix hiking tours offered by my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
 
Todd and Tracey Hjerpe of Pennsylvania have become dear friends since I met them a few years back for a couple of epic Camelback Mountain hikes.
 
Todd has a prosthetic leg and was unable to finish the challenge the first time we attempted to reach the summit of the iconic local landmark. Todd is a big guy and a tough dude, but we had a hard time getting the leg over some of the boulders, and it was hot out, so he had to keep taking the leg off and wiping it out. 
 
Todd decided to stop that difficult day but resolved to train to get in better shape and come back to try again. That took a lot of courage and persistence. I was so proud he returned but was even prouder of Todd for accomplishing that feat because I knew how hard it was for him.
 
Todd’s dueling experiences were part of – and a big inspiration for -- my Blog wrestling with the love/hate relationship I have with Camelback.
 
We have stayed in touch through social media – and they have been super supportive of me and my small mom-and-pop specialty shop despite all the physical miles between us.
 
But when I was sitting across the table from them at our Thanksgiving lunch, it was the first time I had seen Todd and Tracey since that incredible day of conquering Camelback. So, it was fantastic to finally see them in the flesh and get caught up. 
 
We also did our share of reminiscing. For instance, Tracey recalled freaking out because she is scared of heights, but noted I had a calm way of reassuring her everything would be fine while she was clinging to the handrails or hugging the mountain.
 
So, between Todd’s prosthetic leg and Tracey’s fears, Camelback was something they never thought they could do. The lunch and our chat that afternoon was their gratitude for me helping make it happen.
 
Just to hear them talk about how challenging the mountain was and how grateful they were for me getting them through the experience meant so much to me.
 
Just listening to them made any struggles and sacrifices on my end well worth the pain.
 
For all the times I have doubted myself on business decisions, or for any times I have felt like a failure, I had two people sitting across from me to remind I am doing A-OK.
 
I am so thankful for guests like them, who have meant as much to us as we have to them.
 
I am so thankful for friends like them, too, who have taken a genuine interest in me and my business.
 
And I am so thankful I was able to help them because there have been people like that helping me, too, along on this crazy, twisting trail of life.

Five female friends pause during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides mountain bike ride in Scottsdale for a picturesque photo next to a cactus with a rocky cliff facing as the breathtaking backdrop. The Thanksgiving holiday only helps to remind that friends and family are among the most cherished blessings to celebrate.

Five female friends pause during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides mountain bike ride in Scottsdale for a picturesque photo next to a cactus with a rocky cliff facing as the breathtaking backdrop. The Thanksgiving holiday only helps to remind that friends and family are among the most cherished blessings to celebrate. 
 

 
Thanksgiving for Phoenix hiking tours
Sitting across from Todd and Tracey, I was telling them all about the current flood of guests for the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
 
It is a different type of crowd right now, with people especially grateful they can travel AND feel normal by getting outside for the first time in so long.
 
For many, visiting the wide-open, socially-distanced spaces of the Sonoran Desert – and in Arizona’s endless sunshine and warm temperatures -- the feeling is they have been awakened from a long slumber.
 
And who can blame them, with COVID lockdowns and shutdowns affecting everyone everywhere in some way?
 
My guides have heard all the stories on our Phoenix adventure tours.
 
Guests who worked from home during the height of the pandemic because their office was shutdown. Or guests who were forced to stay home and juggle their jobs with teaching their kids because schools shifted to online learning. Or guests who remained huddled at home alone because of their personal fears of the virus.
 
So, it has been a different type of joy to see people who are like, “We have been sitting in our apartment in New York for over a year,” as one guest told me. “And now, we’re standing next to a cactus, and for so long, none of us knew if that would ever happen.”
 
It is so nice to see the stress and anxiety just melt off our guests when they are on one of our Phoenix hiking tours or Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
 
When you get to enjoy that kind of fun and sun every day for a living, you tend to take those circumstances for granted and forget it is not like this everywhere.
 
So, moments like that remind me how lucky I am and really reinforces why I love being a guide and small business owner facilitating these once-in-a-lifetime moments for people.
 
The light just comes on inside of me when I see the rush of pure joy in our guests. The outside stresses of running a small business just disappear and all I can do is smile. That makes everything worth it – all the struggles, all the blood, sweat and tears, any of the problems.
 
Sometimes I just stand there while I am taking a picture of guests standing next to an iconic Saguaro Cactus and inside my head I am thinking, “This is so awesome!”
 
Prior to the pandemic, I always thought it was cool to take that picture because that is really why I love what I do – I get to be the fly on the wall in those moments with all sorts of people AND I get the self-satisfaction of having helped facilitate it.
 
But this year, it means even more, and that is something to savor like a bountiful Thanksgiving feast.

A couple are arm-in-arm while surveying together the beautiful otherworldly landscape of the Sonoran Desert during one of the Phoenix adventure tours offered by the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. Loving relationships and memorable experiences together are always high on everybody's list when assessing one's blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday.
A couple are arm-in-arm while surveying together the beautiful otherworldly landscape of the Sonoran Desert during one of the Phoenix adventure tours offered by the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. Loving relationships and memorable experiences together are always high on everybody's list when assessing one's blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday.
 
 
A Phoenix hiking tours Thanksgiving
So, what are you thankful for this year? Let’s talk turkey:

 
  1. For this Phoenix adventure tours owner, I am thankful first and foremost for growing up in the world of athletics and having a work ethic and never-say-die mentality ingrained in me.
 
I am the kind of person that doesn't EVER give up on the goal. I always have my eye on the prize, and I do whatever it takes to stick with my dreams.
 
I am still like that – whether I am racing a mountain bike or running my small business. I am not a person who gives up – it has to be a mechanical issue that can’t be fixed on the bike, or the medical staff pulls me off the course because I am dehydrated.
 
Otherwise, I always keep moving forward.
 
So, I am thankful for that drive to never give up -- that attitude led me to do anything it took to keep my business going, as detailed in this Blog from earlier this year.

 
  1. I am thankful for all the great people in my life.

For starters, there is my incredible boyfriend Brett, who I hailed in this Blog earlier this year.
 
I also got personal to dedicate this Blog to many of my friends and supporters after a fantastic summer.
 
And not just because they were all available to offer Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours on Thanksgiving morning – or continue to do amazing work and earn incredible reviews from our guests – but I am ever so thankful for my loyal, dedicated and insanely talented guides, which I saluted in this Blog.
 
To borrow from the cliché: While it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a large community to support and nurture a small business and its crazy owner.
 
From operating that small mom-and-pop specialty shop during the pandemic, I can say you really see who your true friends are – who is willing to step up and have your back.
 
I thank everyone who has been there. Named or not in one of the Blogs mentioned, you are incredibly appreciated.

 
  1. I am thankful for all of our guests at the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
 
Over the last several weeks, we have been blessed to consistently see guests that were booked with us in 2020 -- but had to cancel because of the pandemic -- and are now coming back. 
 
I was understandably cool about refunding money because of the pandemic problems and many shutdowns – and now these people are doing right by a small business that did the right thing by them.
 
Honestly, it has been heartwarming to see and amazing to get to know these guests and their stories.
 
The Wild Bunch has been super busy this fall, and all of our guests seem so genuinely delighted to be on one of our Phoenix hiking tours or Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
 
In turn, we have been so honored to have people choose us out of the many options here in The Valley of the Sun.
 
The guests have been remarkably generous with their gratuities for my guides, too.
 
We also have encountered a number of returners, who like Todd and Tracey, wanted to verbalize their thanks – like “Don helped me get through a tough mountain bike,” or “If I didn't have Rebel out there with her accent, having fun, there's no way I would ever done 7 miles.”
 
So, gratitude is circling in my energy field, you know?
 
All that does is reinforce the choices I have made and remind me to keep going -- don't give up when times get tough.
 
Last year at this time, I honestly was scared. I can’t deny that. I was afraid the Wild Bunch Desert Guides might not make it.
 
But we survived and are now thriving, and I am so thankful for that.

 
  1. In a crazy way, I am actually thankful for the pandemic.
 
When I say that, I need to be clear – I am certainly not reveling in all the pain and grief and sorrow wrought by COVID.
 
Too much death and destruction has occurred because of this scourge.
 
Instead, the old saying, “darkest before the dawn” applies here.
 
I know the pandemic really shifted the way I see the world now – and I believe that is for the better.
 
Like me, I think COVID made a lot of people a little kinder, a little more thoughtful, and a little more grateful for what they have and not so much worried about what they do not.
 
People are back to being a little more humble and hard working – you know the farmer’s work ethic, sunup to sundown, keep your head down and do your job. Keep life simple.
 
People are paying more attention to the small details it seems to me.
 
Having everything ripped away from us in the blink of an eye tends to make you more appreciative of the people, places, and things around you. You know?
 
You look around and go, “God, I am so glad this person still is here.” Or “I am so glad to be back to doing what I love to do.”
 
As was the theme repeated several times in the final season of “The Sopranos” -- you never see the end coming; you never hear the bullet.
 
The pandemic was a huge reminder how fragile we all are as humans and how quickly the people we love and the things we love to do can be taken from us – and how we need to be thankful for those blessings every single day, and not just on Thanksgiving.



Laurel shows off her crazy side to the camera while Brett remains her rock.
Laurel shows off her crazy side to the camera while Brett remains her rock during a visit to an "Old West" style saloon complete with replica six shooters from the late 1800s.

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 www.wildbunchdesertguides.com or call 602-663-0842.



 

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My sister and I had the opportunity to hike with Laurel and members of her amazing team. We were first timers to the Scottsdale area and Wild Bunch Desert Guides were recommended to us. We did two wonderful hikes, Gateway Ridge and Spur Cross in Cave Creek. Laurel could not have made this any easier--hotel pick up, narration about the trails, the area, plant life, and she was fully stocked with water and snacks. For me though, what makes WBDG so exceptional is the work on the front end. Laurel was rigorous during booking--what did we want, what was most important, our assessment of our own skill level and then her follow-up questions. Everything was geared to us and for us. Laurel, Ellen and Tommy didn't just guide us, they hiked with us, and after four hours we felt as if we had made new and wonderful friends. They were also attentive to others on the trail, checking in with hikers who looked like they might need assistance and offering guidance to a mountain biker who had gone astray. These hikes were the highlight of our trip and truly I can't say enough about the experience. Pricing is more than reasonable and frankly the opportunity to spend time with these experienced guides -- Priceless!

- Katherine C.

Loved it so much, I booked a hike for the next day with another guide, Ellen, who guided me through Cave Creek. She was excellent! Would highly recommend this service to anyone, no matter what your level of experience is.

- Sharpie M.

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