The Yin and Yang of Phoenix hiking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • May 20, 2023

“We had a fun morning hiking Spur Cross with Laurel from Wild Bunch Desert Guides. She is friendly, knowledgeable, high-energy and goes above and beyond your expectations for the day. We would definitely contact her again when we are in the area.” – Debbie, Columbia, Mo., on Tripadvisor, March 2017


Laurel Darren, the founding owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is ready to attack one of the favorite home trainers of her web designer Brian Rideout, founder of BANG! Web Site Design. The two share a fast friendship built upon their shared love of hiking.
(TOP) Laurel Darren, the founding owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is ready to attack one of the favorite home trainers of her
web designer Brian Rideout, founder of BANG! Web Site Design. The two share a fast friendship built upon their shared
love of hiking. (COVER) Laurel, her longtime boyfriend Brett, and their plott hound Waylon are ready to roll.



 
My longtime boyfriend Brett and I made the four-hour roundtrip south recently to Tucson to work for a Destination Management Company (DMC).

So, I finally got a chance to get together with my web designer Brian Rideout for a long-anticipated hike on one of his favorite home trails, Wild Burro.

With my plott hound Waylon in tow, the four of us met at the Ritz-Carlton and found everything is blooming south of Phoenix, which is awesome! All the Cactus are off-the-charts spectacular right now.

One problem, though: We think Waylon got stung by a bee, so he and Brett returned to Waylon’s Impact Crate at the trailhead while Brian and I finished the rest of the hike.

The time spent together walking and talking together proved too short, of course – but it also had my mind taking a trip down memory lane reflecting on our friendship.

Like me with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, Brian is the founding owner of his own company – BANG! Web Site Design.

So, we are kindred spirits and Brian has become more than a business collaborator to me.

Both of us are only children, so we connect on that level. Brian’s mom is in her 90s and doing really well, while my mom is in her 70s and needs assistance. So, Brian has been great to listen to my problems with a knowing ear.

Additionally, the two of us are dog lovers, so we have a lot more than business to talk about when we see each other during his weekly visits to Phoenix.

Hiking also is a passion of Brian’s, so he literally walks the walk and talks the talk and is a fan about what we do at Wild Bunch – offering Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours.

I don't know how many people out there can actually say they get to share a connection like that with a business partner – but knowing Brian is an avid hiker makes him a great critic and advisor for me.

Along with his excellence in web design and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Brian’s “street cred” on the trails keeps me on my toes and is really beneficial to me.

A guest shows off to his friends one of the amazing pictures taken during the Southwest Conference Planners event that Laurel and Brett worked in Tucson before meeting up with Brian.
A guest shows off to his friends one of the amazing pictures taken during the Southwest Conference Planners event that Laurel and Brett worked in Tucson before meeting up with Brian.


Friendship path for Phoenix hiking tours
In 2019, I was a part of a pretty prominent business networking group here in the Valley of the Sun.

This organization had opportunities for local small business owners to also attend meetings at other chapters.

So, I tried to attend as many meetings as I could to promote the Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours for my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Fortunately for me, at one of these other chapters, I met this computer geek – and I say that with love and admiration for the whiz who was handling all of the technology during the meeting.

I just really liked the way Brian presented his business. He was very calm and had a really great vibe.

So, I got his business card and told myself as soon as I had enough money, I was going to upgrade my website and use BANG! Web Site Design.

I knew it was going to be expensive – but I also knew he did really good work. And I knew he also was a hiker, so I made a commitment with a deposit.

Brian had never done an adventure company’s website before, but his credentials on the trails add value to the way he views my website, and so I was kind of a one in a million for him, too. 

But then the pandemic hit right as we were ready to start.

I remember calling him dazed and confused.

“Brian. I really don't know what’s going to happen now,” I confessed. “I don’t know if I am even going to have a business to promote after this.”

Brian was his normal calm self, though.

And he was so kind when he told me to take my deposit back.

“You will come around when the time is right,” I remember him telling me confidently.

I am still blown away by his generosity and faith. Brian did not have to return my deposit. He had his own company and employees to think about, too.

But a simple gesture like that showed me this was more than a good businessman – this was a good human – and it instantly made me a loyal fan vowing to return victorious.

And so I did.

By the fall of 2020, I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that I was going to be OK – and the Wild Bunch was, too.

And a new website for my small mom-and-pop specialty shop was launched a couple of months later in Jan. 2021.
 
A Wild Bunch Desert Guides Phoenix hiking tours group makes its way along the trails recently.
A Wild Bunch Desert Guides Phoenix hiking tours group makes its way along the trails recently. 


Phoenix hiking tours tests friendship
During our hike together in Tucson, I was able to point out a Double-Crusted Saguaro Cactus, and began talking about it when I kind of went into guide mode for a minute -- until I pulled back after reminding myself I wasn’t working -- these were simply two friends enjoying time together.

Like the trail itself that day, there have been bumps in the road for us to navigate, same as any friendship or relationship.

I know I am overly emotional – but I wear my heart on my sleeve because I frankly give everything I have got to everything I do.

I am brutally honest – but sometimes too direct for my own good and those around me.

I am a fast-twitch, hard-charging athlete – so I have high standards, a high motor and as a former Roller Derby Girl, I have been known to throw a couple of sharp elbows from time-to-time to fight for what I want, need or think is right.

And when it comes to tech, I have a MILLION pointed questions to go with those elbows trying to figure out how it is all supposed to work.

Brian has somehow remained pretty patient with me, though.

He has always been just very real and genuine in his approach with me.

He’s always guarding our “ranking” -- being on the first page under different search categories.

And I have learned there are some crazy things in his industry you won’t understand unless you are a tech guru.

Because of that, we have clashed occasionally about topics for this Blog.

I push for the sappy stories from my heart and soul (like this one) talking about the stresses of being a small business owner in the crazy Phoenix adventure tours industry.

Meanwhile, Brian is always on the other side reminding me to be super professional and remain focused on the SEO of Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours.

Like I’ll want to write about my struggles when my plott hound Daisy Mae got sick and was taken from us suddenly and shockingly -- but Brian wants me to stick to doing Blogs about guided hiking in Phoenix.

In the beginning, it was a little hard for me, because I didn't quite understand everything that goes into a really good website.

And I still wonder sometimes how many times can I say the same thing in a different way? (Ha)

Sometimes, it is stressful to try and meet his expectations because they are so high – like what the hell, Brian? I’ve got this, that and another 12 things going on in my life AND you want another hiking Blog??

Brian also has been good about allowing me to do some personal stuff as long as I mix in talking about the X’s and O’s of my business.

I think people who read these Blogs can relate to my problems and personality. It's who I am and who our guests are dealing with. If they're going to mesh with me by reading about me, they're certainly going to mesh with me and my guides on the trail. 

But whenever my skin appears to be too thin, I realize he is my best critic – and I know he only wants the best for me.

And when your whole season has been basically hiking tours, then you understand.
For all the days where I questioned him, now I get it. 
 
Laurel does tend to make a lot of friends during Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours. Here she is all smiles at the center of a friend's group during one recent adventure.
Laurel does tend to make a lot of friends during Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours. Here she is all smiles at the center of a friend's group during one recent adventure.


Finding friends on hiking tours in Phoenix
I will never forget the first time my website appeared above REI Adventure Center on a Google search.

And I say this with love to REI, but that is a pretty big deal when you are a small local company like mine, and you appear above the biggest and best outdoor recreation entity in the whole world.

In my mind, I can imagine a whole team of highly paid people sitting in a room up there in Seattle at their headquarters going, “Wild Bunch Desert Guides is above us?”

Talk about that one shining moment of glory for the little guy.

But that shows you how freaking awesome my web designer and his team are at what they do.

Wild Bunch Desert Guides has actually had people book tours because of our Blog posts, too. Brian said this would happen when first urging me to Blog.

Guests will meet me for the first time and say, “I feel I know you from reading your blog!” Or “Oh my God. You're so right about Camelback Mountain” or something like that.

Also, just the other day on one of our Phoenix hiking tours, we had a guest who called me to book because she loved the fact our website was “real.”

Some of the photography is professional, but most of the pictures are photos shot by guides.

When I talked to her on the phone, she was like, “I don't know if you remember me, but I'm the one that booked with your company online because your opening shot is of a woman with a plus-size physique. I appreciate that it’s real like that – real people, real bodies and looks like a real good time.”

“Everything on your site,” she said, “is real compared to other sites or photos that are ultra professional looking, so they come off plastic like the models they’re using. Everything's scrubbed and cleaned and unauthentic.”

Besides the A-plus work, Brian also was a great friend during a great time of personal need.

Brian does the SEO as well for Dr. Ware’s website, Phoenix Vets Center, and Brian recommended we visit him when Daisy Mae got sick. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d not found this incredible veterinarian for my plott hounds.

After our hike in Tucson, Brian treated Brett and I to lunch at Dove Mountain Brewery.

That was so nice of him! He didn’t have to do that!

But Brian is full of those kind of pleasant surprises. And it makes him makes him more than simply a business partner.


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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