An adventure guide walks into a coffee shop … (no joke!)

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • January 28, 2021

"We had a blast! You guys are amazing! ... The best is yet to come!"
-- Wearetotl on Instagram, Dec. 2020

A behind-the-scenes look at how the multi-media magic was made that day.

Friends and family are forever marveling at my good fortune. I have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Chance meetings make me the “Queen of Serendipity.”

I officially claimed that undisputed title for the rest of eternity in Dec. 2020 while simply throwing back some swanky Nitro Brew in a Phoenix coffee shop. A passing compliment led to getting some of the best media coverage the Wild Bunch Desert Guides ever has received.

And to think, it was supposed to be the latest in a long line of normal, ho-hum workdays.

I was looking over some copy for my new website that I had rolled the dice on and decided to pull the trigger for despite the still-frightening financial worries of the CoVid-19 pandemic.

However, I was confident in knowing outdoor exercise activities are especially essential to the physical and mental well-being of people during this challenging time.

Also, a guided mountain bike tour in Phoenix or guided hiking trip in Scottsdale ranks among the safest activities on our changed planet right now because of the built-in social distancing in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

So, I knew my small mom-and-pop specialty shop had a pretty good shot of at least hanging in for another year of business.

Months of doubt and worry rushed from my mind, and a big smile crossed my lips, as I was closing the lid on my laptop and preparing to leave for the day when this guy walked past me with a backpack that was super cool. I was my usual bubbly self and blurted out, “Hey, cool backpack!”

Those three words launched a conversation that quickly moved into swapping stories about small businesses. “The backpack” and his like-minded friends were visiting Phoenix to escape the pandemic lockdown of Los Angeles.

They noticed the logo on my Wild Bunch gear, and I told them I owned one of the adventure tour companies in town -- a small, boutique service offering customized guided mountain bike trips and guided hiking tours in the Phoenix and Scottsdale area.

They were multi-media specialists very interested in going out and exploring Arizona’s Sonoran Desert in a possible exchange for a few photos and a 30-second video.

I admit some initial hesitancy.

I had heard this all before and been burned once in the past by a group like this.

But, ultimately, I decided the past was the past. As they say, we were blessed with eyes in the front of our bodies for a reason, so keep looking forward and moving ahead, always in pursuit of a better future.

So, this was a way to try again. Wipe the slate clean and start anew. Great lesson re-learned by this small business owner.

Plus, truth be told, I did some quick research by looking at their Instagram account and was Uber impressed with some of the work they had done. I thought to myself, “Wow, this looks like a great opportunity.”

Also, I reached out to my "Instagram gal," Samantha, to get her opinion and she advised me to give it a shot, that the experience should make for a great post on the Wild Bunch Instagram account.

Another reminder for small business owners like me became apparent that day. The old cliche is so true: NEVER look a gift horse in the mouth

Next thing you know, the crew from TOTL was out on mountain bikes with us enjoying all the things the legendary “Valley of the Sun” has to offer -- sunshine, plenty of Social Distancing, mask freedom, free Vitamin D, great exercise, and inspiring views, plus a whole heck of a lot of fun to forget about CoVid-19 for a while.

They brought along real-deal video-production and still-photo cameras and they were using them every chance they had to soak up the amazing scenery and wide-smile fun we were all having.  

Every single shot they took was realistic, not contrived, and my guide Rebel and I were instructed to do exactly what we would normally do while providing a Phoenix mountain bike tour. We were riding and smiling and laughing; riding and smiling and laughing. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was a blast.

The multi-media crew stops to admire and photograph the cactus-filled scenery.


TOTL Mountain Bike Tour experience

Looking back over our short history, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides have been blessed for a small local business to receive a lot of media coverage because of our off-the-beaten-path industry and out-of-this-world playground. We have even gotten international coverage, with feature stories in major magazines and on huge online platforms.

This, however, was different.

There was a lot of love shared that day – Rebel and I showing off our passion for guided adventure tours and mountain biking, and the TOTL multi-media crew feeding off the experience and matching that intensity with their photgraphic skills and video-production magic. It was a genuinely great experience on both ends.

They had minimal mountain biking experience, so this gave us an opportunity not only to give them "good copy" and stunning visuals, but the chance to really learn how to ride and truly enjoy an amazing mountain bike adventure.

Time truly flies by when you are having fun!

We rode a lot, but also took breaks to enjoy the scenery and share many a laugh, and even had to tend to a minor crash on the trail.

We also gained so much respect for each other that glorious day. Indeed, we formed a mutual admiration society on the spot.

Like the Wild Bunch, TOTL started up in 2016 as an alternative to bigger, better-known, cookie-cutter corporate outlets.

Their vision as a small media company resembles Wild Bunch Desert Guides in that we both always want to give people the best we can and make people happy while living their best lives. They are here simply in hopes of helping many with their amazing photography and media skills.

TOTL founders Tyler Lynch and Josh Jones were on the mountain bike adventure. So, too, was immersive traveling photographer Shannon Klein.

I highly recommend any business – regardless of size – to check them out online at or They are truly fantastic at what they do.

The TOTL gang put together an amazing video for the Wild Bunch – linked here from our website:

They also still use the Wild Bunch video as the lead post on their own site.

The TOTL team also shared some amazing still-shots for us to use for future marketing purposes.

But the bottom line is we had a blast with them!

This felt like one of the days when the CoVid clouds of 2020 began to part. This was the payoff for all the times when it seemed like things were never going to get any better, and we were trapped inside a never-funny version of Bill Murray’s “Ground Hog Day” nightmare.

And, best yet, the feeling was mutual.

"You guys rock!! I had the best time!!" Jones wrote under his Instagram profile thatsjoshjones.

"We had so much fun!!” added Klein, who posts as Shannoncsw..

Agreed Lynch (theetylerlynch), “Thank you all again for the amazing journey and time! One love!"

Photographer Shannon Klein is up on the bike for a turn in front of the camera lens for the TOTL multi-media crew.


Adventure Tour company owner's "Guide to the Universe"

I truly believe that you are put in the right place at the right time for all the right reasons on this journey of the random.

Have you heard the song "What you give” by Tesla? If not, here it is:

The lyric that always strikes me is, "It's not what you’ve got, it's what you give. It ain't the life you choose, it’s the one you live."

I think of the TOTL team every day now and they are living their life supporting us with positive vibes and encouraging words, too, from all over the United States.

We could not have had a better time or made a better group of new friends.

I could not be more thankful for the much-needed fun, laughs and inspiration out on those bikes.

That chance encounter reminded me again the next great experience is right around the next corner. We just have to be open to the opportunities and always be ready to seize the day. 

For the “Queen of Serendipity,” this random experience easily was the highlight of an otherwise challenging and somewhat glum 2020 -- as well as the promise of a new day in 2021.

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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