PHOTO: Teri Smith left the corporate world behind for the wide open spaces, but found enough space to take it with her. (Courtesy Bicycle Adventures)
Ah, the joys of the open road! No windshield barrier between your face and the glorious scenery around you, your legs pumping hard, the wind caressing your cheeks. These are the pleasures of being a tour guide for a bike tour company called Bicycle Adventures in Issaquah, Washington.
“I sing all kinds of songs when I’m riding, just whatever strikes me at the time,” she says. “Thankfully no one is around me most of the time when I’m doing that.”
Like many other tour guides, Teri Smith escaped the corporate office world for the wide open spaces, managing to find a rare job leading outdoor adventure tours in the American West. But unlike many other tour guides, she didn’t entirely leave the corporate world behind. She brought it with her.
“I’m probably an anomaly,” she says, “because I also need the business side, which is what keeps me managing the shop here.”
TravelPulse caught up with Smith for an interview from the auto repair shop where she works as financial operations manager.
“I do that remotely when I’m on a trip,” she says. She also operates her own corporate team-building company, and she does some office work for Bicycle Adventures.
“I like owning my own business,” she says. “I like managing a business and helping it succeed. I’ve been really lucky at Bicycle Adventures, they let me do some extra things to help out or to mentor new guides. It’s fun. It makes me feel needed and lets me see people shine. It goes back to that corporate management lifestyle.
"My favorite thing about being in a corporation was being able to help develop staff. I’ve been lucky that Bicycle Adventures lets me do that in a small-scale way. It keeps me engaged with the company. I enjoy that very much.”
Balancing her office work and her adventure tour guiding is challenging. She has a pretty full schedule just with the tour guiding.
“Last year, I guided 14 trips and they were all over the board, mostly Utah, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, as far east as Montana. This year I’ve been to New Mexico and Bend, Oregon, on the Covered Bridges trip. I just got back from Washington Cascades Epic trip and I’m leaving for Hawaii on Wednesday.”
Maintaining two parallel work lives is double the work, but in Smith’s case, one side fuels the other. Each side provides rest and restoration from the other.
Tour guiding for Bicycle Adventures is challenging work, as is carrying the responsibility for the clients. But when Smith speaks of her work on either side, she speaks in terms of fun.
“There are some fun, new creative trips that Bicycle Adventures put together,” said Smith. “I got lucky enough to lead the Bend Breakaway trip. It’s only a four-day trip, but it’s so much fun and so active. So we did hiking and a lot of great riding.”
The Road to Adventure
Smith developed a love for the outdoors from the beginning. She lived on a lake in Alabama until she was 7 years old. Her family then moved to Boise, Idaho, and later to Orange County, Calif.
“I gained three really different perspectives on people and places growing up,” she said. Now she has lived in Oregon for more than 20 years.
Smith lives in a small town southeast of Portland, Ore. “It’s close to a river so I can paddle,” she said. “It’s close to trails so I can bike or run if I want to. It’s close to everything I like to do.” She likes to do the same kinds of things whether she working or not. There seems to be no clear line between work and play. She works all the time, but she has fun almost all the time.
She started her college education as a pre-law student, then went into marketing and management.
“It all pulls well together because whenever I had a corporate job large or small I always had some outdoors business going as well,” she says. “For a long time I ran a program with the Atlas Snowshoe company working with women.”
For years, Smith heavily pursued the team sport of adventure racing.
PHOTO: Teri Smith doing what she does best. (Courtesy of Bicycle Adventures)
“I worked at some academies around the country teaching people to adventure race,” said Smith. “It was my sport for a long time. I was teaching people how to do it or how to improve. Now I own a corporate team building company that pulls everything together.”
“I love the sport,” she says. “It helped me grow as a person and gave me knowledge of myself and my team mates. It helped me develop parts of myself and my team mates that you can’t really get in any other kind of relationship. It’s a good sport to learn who you are as a human being”
Her employer, Bicycle Adventures, gives her a wide berth, let’s her work on her own terms and doesn’t mind if she has other business interests outside the company.
“It’s been really fun,” said Smith. “Bicycle Adventures is a really good place to work and to be a guest because the owners are 100 percent about their employees and the people that come on their trips. It makes it really evident in the field. We have a lot of autonomy to create good trips for people. I’ve been there a long time so obviously I love it.”
Out of the Corporate World
Before she discovered the opportunity to be a tour guide, Smith had a straight corporate life. She worked for 10 years with Boise Cascade Corp. in the white paper division, then followed a manager she enjoyed working with to a few other companies. “I had a great manager,” said Smith. “She left to go to another company. I followed her around a bit. Every time she left she would call me and say, ‘We want you to run this business,’ or whatever. I had a really good relationship with her.”
When she worked in corporate office jobs, she always needed to keep outdoor activities going. And when she went full time into guiding active tours, she had to keep some corporate office activity going.
“I’ve always had that,” said Smith. “That’s why I’ve always combined office and outdoor activities in my life. I always thought had to have something else that was active, whether racing or training other people to race, leading a women’s program or whatever. Ever since 1999 I’ve always had two things or more going. Sitting in an office all day didn’t do it for me so I always had to have some outdoor interest continuing in my life.”
She discovered Bicycle Adventures through a like-minded friend.
“Like me he is always trying to do multiple things,” says Smith. “He had stepped out of his corporate job and written a book. He decided he wanted to do something like that and ended up going to work for Bicycle Adventures. He called me at some point and said need to check this out. I said, ‘Are you crazy? I need health insurance.’”
Fortunately Bicycle Adventures hires its tour guides as employees, not independent contractors, so health insurance is part of the package.
Her last job full time in the corporate world was working for a company called CPD Wireless that managed stores that sold AT&T. When the company decided to close its West Coast territory, Teri plunged into a full-time outdoor life.
“I had been thinking about Bicycle Adventures then but I thought, ‘No, I need to keep a corporate job.’ But then when we decided to close down the West Coast I decided to just explore that option. And I’ve been here ever since.”