camping

#019 Roofnest – Getting Off The Ground With Tim Nickles

Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in to Colorado.FM – The Colorado Podcast for this episode with Tim Nickles of Roofnest.

Roofnest is an emerging player in the roof top tent niche and is based right here in Boulder, CO.  As usual, the story behind how Tim was inspired to start Roofnest is one I think you’ll enjoy.

Online, you can find Roofnest at Roofnest.com  and on Facebook and Instagram @roofnest.

If you can leave a review on iTunes, that really helps get the word out about the show and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, apple podcast, Stitcher, or however you like to listen to podcasts and signup for our email list as well.

Thanks a lot.

 


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Show Notes

[03:00] How we met – Maria at Smak Strategies (what’s up!)

[06:00] What inspired Roofnest

[10:00] Refining the product

[13:30] Startup vs Outdoor communities in Boulder

[16:00] Why Roofnest is different

[21:30] The product – features and what’s new

 


Relevant Links

Roofnest.com

Smak Strategies

Laws Whiskey House

Meteorite PR

 


Related Episodes

Eric Larsen – A Life of Polar Exploration

Joshua Berman – Colorado Camping and Purposeful Traveling

Jason Sperling – Family Nature Club

 


Transcript

 

It’s been really great to dig back into this project as I mentioned, had some great interviews already lined up and we might even have to bump up the frequency a little bit. We’ll see. But right now it’s great to get this next one out. Keep the, keep the streak alive. Anyway, in this episode I am speaking with Tim Nickles, the founder of roof top tent company Roofnest. And so they are local Boulder brand and you know, I had the pleasure of meeting him actually through another guest on the podcast. I’m through my interview with poler adventurer, Eric Larsen, so you know, that whole thing of starting this podcast and getting out there and just, you know, kind of expanded my local horizons and getting in touch with people, doing cool things in this area is really kind of paying off.

And that’s how I met Tim. So we kind of get into that a little bit. But uh, you know, for now the rooftop tents, you know, they’re pretty unbelievable if you camp at all, it’s pretty easy to see how it would be amazing to just pull into your spot and in one minute have your no camper all set up basically as opposed to, we’ve all set up tents in the dark and in the rain and the wind gets a little hairy but you, it’s really, really an interesting product in and he’s getting some great press and some great reviews on, on the Roofnest. So we get into that a little bit. And of course if you’re in Colorado right now or if you’re even thinking about getting up here, it’d be a beautiful time to test out one of these. I mean, you know, the weather just follow appear spectacular.

 

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We talk about what he’s trying to do with this company, how he’s a little different than some of the other brands, how we got started, you know, what inspired it. And it’s just a great, it’s a great story. You seem to be doing well and it’s, you know, it’s really cool to watch. So as always, links to a him. You can find Roofnest at Roofnest.com and on instagram at roofnest and we’ll put links to anything we speak about in the show notes. I also just wanted to mention that I did start up a new page on Colorado.FM. There is a shop page and if you go on there you can find links to a lot of the brands that we’ve either spoken to or even people that we hope to speak to in the future. Just cool local companies. Um, you know, it’s a good way to find them and support them and you’ll be supporting the podcast and the process. So, uh, let’s get into it.

Go my conversation with Tim Nickles of Roofnest.

Alright, we’re recording. Nice. Tim Nichols. Doug, thanks for showing up man. It’s good to see you again. Yeah, likewise man. Great scene.

And you know, just I was thinking when back to like how we even met, I definitely wanted to give Maria over at Smack strategies like a call out up and little call out because um, we met at her Christmas party and she does some, some great things and represent some cool people. So I was actually curious how you got even dialed in with her. Well, Maria and I have known each other for Gosh, 10 or 15 years. She’s part of a crowd of friends that I’ve known in boulder for. Yeah. 15 going on 20 years. Some of them. So yeah, I’ve been knowing her for a long time and we just got to talking one day and I knew that she was in pr and I started to need that and uh, you know, met at a coffee shop and, and didn’t even really start to talk about her really working for me.

But she said, hey, I’ve got someone I could send your info to it Outside. And that ended up turning into like one of our biggest splashes in terms of pr, but you know, and it was a supernatural to hire her. Just given common friends and interests and she does a great job. So yeah. Well, she um, has, you know, she really hooked me up too because she reached out and had her husband, Eric Larsen. Yeah, I’m over on the show and that was like cool, amazing for his grade and to have started this little project and next thing I know I’ve got like, you know, this polar explorer the couch, right. So, uh, so that was awesome. But, so I did want to give her a little bit of a shout out in, uh, in uh, her Christmas party was Super Fun and there was lots of Bourbon as I remember.

Yeah, it was at a bourbon distillery. Yes. So a cool, awesome. Well, um, you know, you mentioned being around for awhile, like one of the, you know, we’ll, we’ll definitely get around to talking about roof nest and, and, and things. But I am, you know, this is a show about Colorado and one of the common threads is that we’re all here and that this place is pretty embarrassing and yeah. And not all of us have been around for 15 or 20 years. So, uh, so what brought you here in the first place? Yeah, I came to boulder in August of 1990 to start graduate school at the University of Colorado. I was studying molecular biology and biochemistry at that time I was Kinda in line to be a scientist and yeah, came here pretty, pretty, pretty bright eyed about Colorado. I was pretty stoked on it. And um, you know, Grad school didn’t go quite as planned.

I left with a masters from a doctoral program Kinda abd as they say and um, but yeah, ended up really loving boulder and have stayed here pretty much ever since with some stints in other places. Was in Jackson, Wyoming for a few years and yeah, I gotcha. Yeah. So it’s one of those come to see you and I almost never leave. Yeah, I constantly storage and yeah, exactly, exactly. And uh, you know, I could only imagine what this place was like. I mean going on 28 years ago, eight years ago, it had some of the same features, but quite a bit different. Quite a bit different feel. Yeah. Yeah. Well that’s cool. Well, um, I’m guessing, you know, it’s funny, I was thinking about, so I’m guessing you liked camping and, or maybe you hated trying to sleep on the ground, you know, it’s not always easy to get a good night’s sleep when you’re canceling.

So, so roof nest. I’m like, how did that come up? Kind of a kind of a funny story really. Um, I spend a lot of time in Chamonix France. Um, I’ve been going there for about 14 years and actually headed there and a couple of weeks. Um, but, uh, I have a buddy over there, Jim Lee who had a rooftop tent, a hard shell rooftop 10 on his vehicle and you know, had camped with him and my other buddies, they’re quite a bit and always thought that was a pretty cool setup. And a couple summers ago I was starting to think about building up an adventure rig and kind of didn’t have much of a budget at all. I was um, you know, not, uh, not, not flush. And so I bought a astro van Chevy Astro van for a 2,700 bucks. Super great condition. I got really lucky with it and um, my plan was to kind of build out the inside a little bit, but then put a rooftop tent on top, you know, as a way to like have a full on camper rig without having to like totally trick out the interior.

And um, what I found was it was pretty difficult to get a, an rtt for in my budget. I mean my budget was like, you know, one to $2,000 and you know, I was, everything I was seeing was like four or five, stuff like that. So I had done a lot of, or some sourcing of manufacturing in China for the bike industry. I kind of had a little stint where I was selling pedals that I designed and you know, had bought parts, bike parts and built bikes from stuff over there. So had some experience. And so I started looking into whether there was manufacturing in China and found some okay options and kind of got some tense shipped over. And um, you know, some of those initial ones were okay but not a definitely needed a lot of improvement. And um, what happened was I had never really thought about starting roof nest directly, uh, but once I had got the 10, I was like, oh, this might be a thing I could sell and thought maybe I could get 10 of these and, you know, make up some name and, and sell them and then kind of put that idea to the side.

But I had taken a craigslist ad out, um, for rooftop tents just to test the market and got some responses. So I was like, ah. And then coincidentally, like two months later, someone just sent me an email at random was like, Haiti, are you still selling those rooftop tents? And of course I just had one on my van. So I was like, oh yeah, well, um, yeah, I have a prototype model that’s not branded. But, uh, you know, I’ve been using it as a demo. But yeah, I could sell that to you for $2,000. And he said, done, I’ll take it. And he lived in Grand Junction and it was getting on December and I, um, met him at the copper mountain parking lot at, went up with four friends in my van and we skied copper and I quit early, came down to the parking lot, uh, we just pump the thing off my van and put it on his four runner and he gave me two.

Granted, I was like, this is a business, this is on, you know, and I promptly like started brainstorming names and looked into building a website and uh, um, yeah, it was kind of off to the races from there, you know, I maxed out a couple of credit cards to get the manufacturing up and running and then it’s just been a constant iteration of, of trying to improve the product and, you know, get the message out to more people that are for sale. And I’ve been lucky. It’s been very well received and it’s been an easy business to, uh, to grow.

Right. Wow, that’s great man. And it’s a little of that story and it’s just so kind of Colorado. I love the deal in the copper part. Totally down is just its roots, but that’s, so that model was kind of more like off the shelf of something you found and then so then you started iterating on it to improve it and bump up the quality. Because, I mean, one of the things I noticed is, I mean there was one of the videos on your website. I think there’s a lot. I loved it. There was these two people setting it up on the side of a road and the wind’s howling so bad that you clearly can’t even hear them talking or anything like that. It’s just like,

yeah,

and you know, you can still pop it. So I’m, I’m assuming that, you know, those first ones that you ordered probably weren’t up to snuff. They were

okay. But yeah, just so many of the features, I mean it’s a simple thing really is just two shelves with hinges and gas struts with a mattress on the inside. But as, as everything, I mean there’s so many details that go into making it a, a nice product. And I was, uh, I, I found a factory that I was able to create an exclusive relationship with and really start working on my own designs and um, and that’s been super productive because, you know, I’ve been over there a couple times and you know, I’ve met the people at the factory and you know, have a really good open communication with them and we’re constantly talking about improvements and you know, it’s always a struggle. You want to keep a sort of set feature list on your product so that you don’t have a bunch of different models out there.

But, you know, we’re constantly making improvements. And um, now we have, I think a great product. It’s super competitive quality wise with the other kind of top brands out there. And that’s been a lot of work to get there. Right. Well, and I, you know, it’s funny, I haven’t written down to ask you about that process of finding the manufacturing and everything because you have a lot of people you talked to are dealing with like digital projects these days and things like that. And you just don’t get like these, like, or people manufacturing locally where you can control a lot of that process, but you know, finding that manufacturing overseas and things like that can be a real deal breaker for a lot of people. And so, you know, having established that relationship I’m sure is pretty clutch to for sure. Maintaining everything. Yeah. And, and like I said, I think I was very fortunate with what I was able to find and create.

But it, it’s been constant work. I mean, I, I think last year, you know, uh, my factory, uh, the context of their wake up at about five or 6:00 PM Colorado time, so pretty much all last year and most of this year, uh, and, and still to some degree, but I’m, you know, I work all day on the business and then I work all night, uh, communicating and, and uh, stuff with China. So it’s been, yeah, it was a difficult, uh, last year and the start of this year, we’re, we’re a pretty tough on the old social life and everything else, you know, just like pinning it. Just a burnout espresso machine. Totally, well, what about like, um, like locally, I mean such a great, you know, startup infrastructure in boulder and such a great community especially for such, for a gear type product and things like that. Like how has that been?

Like, what, you know, aside from knowing people like Maria, I’m like, what has it been to be part of that kind of more like a startup thing in boulder? Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. There’s two elements that you spoke of. One is the startup community in boulder and the other is the outdoor community and those two don’t really overlap a ton. I mean there’s outdoor startups here. We’re one of them, but for the most part, you know, a lot of the startups or tech companies and then the outdoor brands are, they have presences here, presence here. Like, you know, Dina fit has offices here, Selayla and lots of other companies obviously. So it’s been really great to create some local partnerships for both, like branding, getting the word out, doing events together and um, and then, you know, as far as the startup infrastructure, you know, I’ve definitely attended a lot of talks and events and stuff to learn what people do when they’re starting a business.

And, you know, it’s interesting. I think so much of what I’ve done has been. I’m just making it up as I go along because some of the challenges I’ve faced are different than the challenges other companies have faced. And I think especially in the tech world, the whole kind of startup thing, you know, uh, you know, startup, even just that phrase is somewhat new. I mean we used to call that a business when you created a business, now it’s a startup and now it’s like a, you know, there’s all venture capital and all this stuff. And you know, I basically self-funded, like I said, I’m maxed out a couple of cards. I actually borrowed some money from my mom and you know, it was a little. I actually took a loan out on my car. I didn’t even know you could do that. I owned my old Volkswagen Jetta and I called the bank and I was like, I need money. They’re like, well, what do you got? You got a car? I was like, yeah, I got a car. It’s like, well, let’s, let’s put a loan on it. So yeah, it got some. Got some capital there and so yeah. And it’s, you know, so, you know, I haven’t been in that infrastructure of the startup community as much, but uh, you know, it’s been good to be here. I definitely have friends and a context that have provided a lot of assistance and advice and that’s been helpful.

Right, right. Well, you know, it was funny, we were just starting to talk before we even hit the record button and we had to, I had to stop us, but um, you know, so you’ve created this company, we won’t call it, you know, so start up. It’s real one. It’s like, thank you. We’ve got a, you know, a, a cool product in and there’s. But there are other people doing what you’re doing. There are, you know, some of these other brands out there and uh, you know, I do see the difference between your, the hard shell ones and kind of those soft ones and, but I am starting to see you around town man. I definitely see roof nests out there. But, you know, one of the things that you, you mentioned that was, that, you know, you’re, you’re different, you know, like you’re trying to be not only like a different product and different companies. So like let’s kind of talk about what you’re trying to do with it.

Yeah. So I’m pretty frugal person and I, I always like to find the best value in things that I purchased myself, cars, bikes, whatever. And uh, what I’ve wanted to create is a company that can sell a really good value to customers. And I, again, as I said I, you know, I’m kind of making all this up as I go along, but what I understood the way to do that to be was to sell direct to consumers, kind of control as much of the distribution supply, etc. Etc. As I can intErnal to the company. So I can kind of save costs at each stage and not have to pay third parties some of my margin. And uh, you know, I, I worked on this company by myself for a long tIme and now I have several really great people working with me, but I in the beginning, that was part of it too.

And I think one of the big features of roof nest is that direct to consumer thing. I mean, we don’t have a dealer network that we need to build in a margin, uh, to sell a, at a higher price. And, you know, I, I, you know, I, I, I always tell people we’re selling wholesale to the public, which is true. I mean we, um, uh, you know, we get the proceeds of every sale, so that allows us to put that back into the business and keep our prices really competitive, which there are several companies making not only hard shell but softshell rooftop tents and, you know, as a new brand, I think we’ve had to offer pretty competitive pricing just to get out there until now. I think we have a pretty good reputation. You know, there’S a lot of revIews and discussion on the web and we have a super good customer user community that’s very supportive and I think that’s helping us.

Um, you know, people aren’t sort of saying like, who the heck is roof nest and you know, why should I buy their 10? But um, but, so that’s the main thing. And then like I said, keeping all the processes of, you know, creation, supply, distribution, warehousing, we’ve, we’ve set up all those things to be as inexpensive as possible. You know, we’re warehousing in los angeles, all of our ocean freight goes right to there and get stored and um, you know, we ship all over the country and even north America from there, uh, you know, we used to do that in Denver, but it was really expensive to bring the tense, all of them, overland storm in Denver. And so, you know, this is just all to California where they had then. Yeah. And then sell it to someone in la. Wow. It’s just, they’re kind of silly.

But yeah, it’s been. Yeah. And that’s all, like I said, been stuff I’ve had to learn on my own. I haven’t had anybody to sort of teach me how to do that, you know? Yeah. Well, and now you’re like a employing some locals too. you just got to be a good feeling. Jobs, man. Totally, totally, totally contributing to the local economy is. Yeah. My first hire was my next door neighbor. Right. All I didn’t have to go far. Just like conversation in the parking lot. You already saw them standing there. It’s like, I know you’re not working, man. Yeah, that was perfect. That’s awesome. So like you said, you’re not, it’s all direct sales. So are you doing even anything like, uh, you know, it was at the outdoor retailer show here. I mean, but for most people that’s just about landing, um, you know, you’re not really meeting direct customers there.

You’re meeting retail outlet. So I don’t know if that was a big deal for you or I’ve, I’ve, I’ve gone to a couple out to our retailers, that’s where I met you really associated with the first one last winter. And um, yeah, it’s not really our show, we don’t, we don’t buy space there or anything. I mean, I go and I, I talked to people and meet some folks and stuff, but um, yeah, not, not our gig grade now, you know, we thInk about distribution as channels, retaIl channels and online channels and this and that and the other thing and you know, it, it’s just in today with the technology and people using the web for so many things. People buy a lot of things off the web. I mean, that’s nothing, that’s not news. Not mad. I’m not, you know, making news here. But uh, it, it’s been really effective for us to set the company up to sell to people online, you know, getting information out there online, getting video content, that’s always a challenge. But, you know, just making it easy for people to make that call.

Cool. Well, let’s, um, so let’s talk about the product a little bit. We talked about, you know, a lot, you know what I mean? It looks like you’re getting some great feedback and great reviews out there. I mean, I read some of the articles that you have online on, you know, you know, some great magazine. yeah, kind of feedback and uh, so how are you loving this thing? I mean it’s just the rooftop tent thing, just the idea of getting off the ground and getting caught up in the air. It seems to me like the only challenges, making sure your is like in a level spot. Yeah. Other than that, I mean,

yeah, you got no worries. Yeah. The nice thing about our tents is they pop straight up so you don’t need any thing to the left or right of your vehicle and you’re kind of self contained, just like a, an old westfalIa camper van type thing and you know, the sprinter craze that’s going on now, you know, it’s all just, you know, right in that space where you park and, and yeah, I mean leveling your vehicle. Really nobody mentions that. I mean, you know, a lot of overlander have these uh, you know, a little plastic things that they bring with them to level their vehicle. and of course if you get way out in the back country, you know, that can be an issue, but you know, a lot of our market is people that are, you know, just using these things for weekend getaways and they’re not necessarily going up to a mountaintop to camp, you know, they’re kinda near some infrastructure and so pretty easy for them to find flat ground.

But yeah, I mean the beauty of a hard shell rooftop tent like roof nest is you can literally park your car, you undo a couple straps, they pop up on gas struts, you can be inside the thing within a minute of pulling your car over, which is unlike any other camping experience other than a camper van or a our rv or that sort of thing. You know. And these, they go on any car, we’ve got them on cooper mini’s and prius’s and that sort of stuff. So it’s really open to anyone. You don’t need to buy another vehicle, you just used the vehicle you have and you don’t need another parking space for an extra camper vehicle. It’s like, you know, and they’re pretty easy to put on and take off. I mean, I think normally if, if somebody’s got a decent rack and there’s enough clearance to kInd of access everything, you can get these on in 15 minutes. You know, I had a guy come to my house to borrow one the other day and we popped it off my jetta and popped it on his truck. Took us less than 10 minutes, you know, all said and done. So you know, you can take them off if you want to use the car for something different or, or seasonally or whatever.

Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s amazing because uh, you know, I did some road trips with my two little kids and I was like, thinking that would have been killer. It would have been perfect for that situation. You know, you’re just like boom, pop the thing up. and uh, you know, it stores like, you know, everyone talks about, you know, a lot of the bedding and things like that are kind of in there. So it’s just like literally ready to go. Which kind of begs the question of whether I could just like leAve my kids in there like, or even like, like you know, men, you go camping long enough. Even like a regular adult campIng partner, you might want to just close them in there for like a few days, but if it’s too long you can get on each other’s nerves lately. You need to stay on the roof, man.

You guys just put your headphones on. Yeah. Now it looks like pretty. I mean the benefits seem pretty obvious even compared to like um, you know, the westfalia type type things. The one thing people kind of complain about in that whole setup scenario is that, you know, if you’re kind of parked here and you want to go drive even just a couple of miles away to whatever the actual feature of, you know, that you came to see is that it takes you an hour to actually pack the whole van backup, go over there, you know, for the day and kind of come back where it seems like um, you know, with if it’s just your 10 on top and not like a whole bunch of other stuff. Like yeah, like a little less of a deal. You can just like slammed that tent down and like get out of there in a few minutes and come

certainly compared to like a ground tent or any other kind of camping setup. And you know, a lot of places, uh, I camp and other people camp. I mean you can leave stuff set up at your camp site and just take off for the day. And so yeah, pop in the tent down and driving somewhere pretty easy. Yeah. Yeah. It looks like fun, man. It looks like a good way to camp, that’s for sure. And I’m sure it’s been a fun thing to be involved with. That’s the cool thing about running a, an outdoor business, especially one involved with camping is, you know, everybody I deal with is pretty chill. I mean there’s always the exception, but like most of the people uh, are out there trying to have fun trying to get more adventure in their life and you know, it’s, we’re just sort of facilitating that and it’s a cool thing to be doing.

Well. It’s funny, I was just thinking, uh, you know, speaking of erik larson, when is he, when we were speaking, he was saying how when he was growing up, all he wanted to be was a, like a professional camper basically. Yeah. I’m like, well that’s kind of funny and I think maybe you’ve pulled it off. Yeah, like a, you. Yeah. I have a, like a 10 company that I may be a professional

camera, might be a professional camera. That’s awesome man. Anything else? Anything coming up for like new year, like I know you’re trying to, it seems like you’ve, you’ve got, you know, ford models or something like that, you know, you’ve got the basis covered as far as size and different vehicles. We’ve got some new stuff that we’re working on that hopefully will be telling people about this winter, you know, get ready for 2019 spring and stuff. We’ve, we’ve introduced some accessories, you know, just other products that go with the whole car camping thing. We’ve got a 12 volt fridge that was branded roof nest and we make this a down blanket that’s actually a super cool piece of kit. It’s like a seven foot by six foot big puffy down blanket, like a technical sleeping bag with no zippers, you know, so it’s great for the roof nest and also just great to have around the camp where you can just pull it out, wrap it around your body, go look at the stars, whatever.

So it’s a pretty cool, a cool thing. So we’re experimenting with that kind of stuff. Stuff like the accessories that fit perfectly and all that. That’s all those things make the experience totally. All right. So we’ll keep our eye out for stuff like that is, is there anything else? uh, you know, you wanted to mention man? No, no, I’m good. Doug’s super nice talking to you. Thanks for letting me on your show. Yeah. Well there’s one last thing that I like to ask people. Uh, and I didn’t give you a heads up so this is going to be a, you know, a real. It’s not like anything crazy but like I do like to ask people who they’d like to hear on, on this show and I get some great ideas from, from my guests, you know, somebody like around here and they don’t have to be in your field like anywhere in Colorado.

I mean it is a Colorado show, but people doing cool stuff, somebody doing something really, you know, whether it’s for the community or business wise, I don’t know. I meAn, I don’t know if you know Eric Henderson, you know that guy? No, he’s a, he’s an old buddy from jackson and uh, he’s lIving here with his wife and family and um, does sImilar stuff to maria, you know, works wIth brands and, and she’s just super cool guy. Tons of energy. Great to talk to. He’d be, he’d be a fun guy to have on the show. There you go. That’s all I’m looking for. Perfect. Alright, well thanks agaIn man. I appreciate you making some time and coming over. My pleasure, man. Easy trip is a trip across town for me. awesome. All right, thanks. See you doug.

Right everyone. Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Tim from Roofnest. Again, you can find them at Roofnest.com. Again, a great local brand and doing some great things.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, go ahead and subscribe, you know, whether it’s on apple podcasts, android, stitcher, you listen on any one of those devices and also join our email list if you are interested in that.

Thanks again and we will speak to you soon.

 

#004 Colorado Camping and Purposeful Traveling with Author and Travel Writer Joshua Berman

Colorado.FM Interview: Joshua Berman

Hey everyone!

Welcome to this episode of the Colorado.FM podcast where I had the pleasure of sitting down with award-winning travel writer, Denver Post columnist and Colorado camping aficionado Joshua Berman.

Josh’s articles and photography have appeared in the likes of The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Outside Traveler, 5280, and many more.

Josh is a freelance writer specializing in Travel/Adventure, Wilderness Education, and Spanish language education, especially in Central America and Colorado.

In our conversation, Josh tells how he was able to weave a common thread through writing from his time in the Peace Corps to his work for Moon Travel Guides where he is currently tasked with updates to both his Nicaragua Guide and, perhaps more relevantly to this podcast, the Colorado Camping Guide.

Josh has worked as a fixer in Central America for such shows as Bizarre Foods, and brings his love for Central American culture back to both his classrooms and the Colorado community as a whole through what he calls Nicarado events where Nicaraguan artists, writers, poets, come to Colorado.

You can find Josh online at http://joshuaberman.net as well as on twitter @tranquilotravel and on amazon where you can find his catalog of books.

Of course, we’ll be sure to put all of the relevant links from this conversation in the show notes.  So now, here we go.  My conversation with travel writer and columnist Joshua Berman.

 


Subscribe to Colorado.FM – The Colorado Podcast – on iTunes


 


Selected Links from the Episode

JoshuaBerman.net

Joshua Berman Denver Post author page

Joshua Berman Amazon page

Moon Colorado Camping

Moon Travel Guides

Valmont Bike Park Boulder

La Choza Mexican Restaurant

Chautauqua Meadow Music

Empowerment International

Peace Corps.

Ryan Van Duzer

 

Campgrounds:

Transfer Camp Ground

Teal Lake Campground

Great Sand Dunes National Park – Pinon Flats Campground

 


Show Notes

[2:30]  Boulder – Nicaragua – Pakistan – Back to Boulder

[6:30] Honeymoon adventure becomes a book

[8:20] Back to Boulder

[9:25] Landing the Colorado Camping Guide

[14:35] Some standout campsites in Colorado

[17:45] Nicarado Connection – Nicaraguan cultural exchange in Colorado

[22:45] Being a ‘Purposeful Traveler’

[27:30] Some local favorite spots – Valmont Bike Park, Chautauqua Meadow Music

[29:30] Who Josh would love to hear on this podcast: Ryan Van Duzer

 


 

Transcript:

Colorado Podcast Interview with Joshua Berman

Josh Berman:                       Hello, everyone. And thanks for tuning into this episode of Colorado.FM – the Colorado podcast – where I had the pleasure of sitting down with award winning travel writer, Denver Post columnist and Colorado camping aficionado Joshua Berman. Josh’s article and photography have appeared in the likes of the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Outside Traveler, 5280 and many more.

Josh is a freelance writer specialing in travel adventure, wilderness education and Spanish language education, especially in Central America and Colorado. In our conversation, he tells how he was able to weave a common thread through writing from his time in the Peace Corps to his work for Moon Travel Guides where he is currently tasked with updates to both his Nicaragua guide and, perhaps more relevantly to this podcast, the Colorado Camping Guide.

Josh has even worked as a fixer in Central America for such shows as Bizarre Foods and he brings his love for Central American culture back to both his classrooms and the Colorado community as a whole through what he calls Nicardo Events. Where Nicaraguan artists, writers, poets, et cetera come to Colorado. You can find Josh online at joshuaberman.net as well as on Twitter at tranquilotravel and on Amazon where you can find his catalog of books. Of course we’ll be sure to put all the relevant links from this conversation in the show notes but for now, here we go … my conversation with travel writer and columnist Joshua Berman.

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Doug:                                         Josh, thanks for being here today on Colorado.FM, The Colorado Podcast. I really appreciate you coming in.

Josh Berman:                       My pleasure, Doug.

Doug:                                         As we let on in the intro, you’ve been a travel writer for over twelve years, or even longer probably.

Joshua Berman:                       I’d say about 20 years.

 

Doug:                                         Okay. Man that’s a long career and you’ve also had a chance to do some of your travel writing right here in Colorado and so that was part of what was really interesting to me. You got in with Moon Handbooks but before we get into that, why don’t we back up and just tell us what led you on your path into writing and how that brought you to Colorado.

Joshua Berman:                       When I was 22, so recently out of college, I ended up in Boulder for a year and I got a job at a new startup magazine called Gravity where I was an intern. First an unpaid intern and then got on and learned the business of making magazines here, basically. And there was doing a whole bunch of other thing too. I was waiting for my Peace Corps application to go through and I ended up going to Nicaragua in the Peace Corps which eventually, 10 years later, was gonna lead me back to Colorado when I met my wife. But at first it was … yeah, went to Nicaragua with the idea that I wanted to keep writing. So I did my Peace Corps experience but also edited the Peace Corps publication with a buddy of mine.

While we were down there, this was 1998-2000, we realized there was no complete guidebook to Nicaragua. At all. And he and I worked together on the volunteer publication. So we wrote it and that got me into writing guidebooks, writing about travel, writing about Nicaragua. And what had happend was I had a niche all of the sudden put in my lap. I was the Nicaragua guy. I knew about travel there and that, to this day almost 20 years later, that’s one of my expertises, is travel in Nicaragua. So it was all pretty serendipitous. And ended up there and ended up writing this book and getting into guidebook writing and working for Moon. We wanted to write for them because they’re books are very thorough. So now I’ve written five titles for them and it’s about 19 years later and I’ve got three kids and I’m in Colorado and still figuring out away, yeah, to keep with this freelance travel writing thread through my life as I do other things.

Doug:                                         Yeah. That’s amazing. When you were going into the Peace Corps, were you already writing a lot at that point? Were you thinking, “Man, I’m definitely gonna get a good story out of this.” Or, did you go in for different volunteering reasons and travel reasons and then thought, “Man, I should start writing this down.”

Josh Berman:                       The writing was secondary probably. Although, because while I was waiting for the application to go through and was working at Sport & Fitness Publishing and learning about magazines and realizing, actually, it’s not … this is something I want to do. I actually put off Peace Corps for four months or so because it was going so well at the magazine. But I figured out a way to support it pretty much immediately, by doing this volunteer publication. So, yeah, my primary reason, I wanted to learn another language. I wanted to live abroad. I wanted to experience that. I worked in environmental education so I was working with teachers down there. And some disaster relief. We were there for Hurricane Mitch, 1998.

I also just knew if you throw yourself into these incredible scenarios then the story’s gonna be there and that was a big theme of it. Putting myself out there in situations where I knew there was gonna be some kind of great story to tell.

Doug:                                         Sure. And that became that common thread that you were starting to develop, kind of became a part of your marriage as well. Right? When you took off on another adventure on your honeymoon … and I learned this through you and I also saw some of these videos on your website, including your Boulder TEDx talk which we’ll be sure to link to and things like that. So you took off on a honeymoon and ended up with an amazing story and wrote a book on that as well.

Joshua Berman:                       Yeah. I met my wife … I met her in Baltimore of all places. She was from Colorado and we met through our mutual Peace Corps friends. She had done Peace Corps in The Gambia in West Africa. And we met, it was all pretty quick. We got married pretty quickly and decided that … we had each been in the Peace Corps. We had each had this transformative experience abroad but we knew that to have that experience together somewhere would really help us make up for lost time. We met when we were both 31 years old so we did it as a way to pressurize our new relationship. We went abroad. We signed up to volunteer in India and Sri Lank and Ghana. We connected those volunteer stints with several months of travel so we really kind of milked out … and did some freelancing while we were going along as well.

So we ended up traveling 16 countries in 16 months and came back and there’s the answer to your first question. That’s when we landed and Colorado. We wanted to come back and be here, we love the mountains … be near her family and accessible to my family back east and we landed where my wife got a job at the hospital. She’s a registered nurse who works with childbirth. The first job she got was Boulder and here we are. It’s been about 12 years now that we’ve been in Boulder and three daughters later.

Doug:                                         Gotcha. Did you have much experience with Colorado before you got together with your wife?

Joshua Berman:                       A little bit. Yeah. Growing up I had an uncle and aunt and cousins in New York, growing up in New York. And they would take me to Colorado and that’s … I did learn to ski. We came on some vacations here. But it really was that year before the Peace Corps where I lived in Boulder. I slung bagels at Moe’s on Broadway. I was a security guard at the Boulder Theater. And, oh yeah, I had this magazine job. And then amidst all that going up and going hiking and backpacking and snowboarding.

Doug:                                         Right.

Josh Berman:                       It was a little bit hard to give up when the Peace Corps invite finally came. It was definitely a fun year.

Doug:                                         That’s interesting. So you’ve done your 16 months of travel. You’re back in Colorado and you already at that point have this experience with Moon writing the first Nicaragua book. Is that correct?

Josh Berman:                       Yeah.


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The Colorado Camping Guide

Doug:                                         Bring us to getting in charge of the Colorado camping book.

Josh Berman:                       I wrote the first four editions of Moon Nicaragua with my co author Randy Wood. And then we gave that up and some other people continued it and I’ve recently taken it back. So I’m going to Nicaragua next week to update the seventh edition of that book. Randy and I also wrote Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua. I wrote the Moon Belize book for ten years for four editions of that. I did a regional book for them that was called Maya 2012 that was about the Maya calendar and the whole Maya region.

Then, a couple of years ago, I heard that the author of the Moon Colorado camping book could no longer continue the book. The way these work is somebody has to update these guidebooks every two or three years and that person’s name, with Moon, still goes on the cover and they get to update the text and take it over and make it theirs and I had that opportunity. I’ve been camping for years. Growing up, back east, going Outward Bound as a student and then as an instructor. I worked for a few years for them. I’ve done quite a bit of wilderness education and worked as a Wildland Firefighter one year. Managed to find jobs that paid me to sleep on the ground and go camping.

And as I travel around Colorado and get to know more places, and take my kids camping and try to get them into it, it just seemed the perfect timing for this. To take it over. Because updating the book forces you to get out there and do it. There’s no … real no excuses. You have a deadline and you have to literally visit as many campgrounds as possible. Which we did and I’ll get to update that next year as well.

Doug:                                         Bring us into what that was like when you first took over the Colorado camping book and what that meant for your time as far as having the family. When did you do this and how did you get out there and see as much as you could of Colorado? There’s gotta be thousands of camp sites in this state.

Josh Berman:                       There are. There’s 480 campgrounds that are listed in my book. I knew I had to hit as many as I could and otherwise I had to find out has the price changed? Has the number of sites changed? Are reservations accepted now? There’s not that much that changes at a campground but sometimes they do get closed and new ones open. So you really do have to take a pretty thorough approach to sweeping the whole state and for me it’s all about balancing act with my schedule as a Spanish teacher and being able to work on my breaks and take on these bigger writing projects during the summer breaks, basically.

The goal was, two summers ago, the kids were ages two, five and eight. The youngest still in diapers. And we decided to go on a thirty day trip around the state. Pretty much anchored in the main national parks and national monuments and camped at almost a different place every single night. Tent camping. Setting it up, taking it down. Making sure that the little one didn’t fall in the fire or off a cliff. And it was exhausting. It’s not relaxing to camp with your family. It’s like there would be the little moments, a beautiful moment of sitting next to the camp fire and everyone’s relaxed and not fighting and safe. And then it’s … all mayhem breaks loose. And it’s just finding those moments and not turning the kids off to it. They enjoyed it. They saw a lot.

Doug:                                         Yeah, I would imagine.

Josh Berman:                       My wife grew up in Colorado and she said in that summer our kids saw more of Colorado than she had growing up there.

Doug:                                         I would imagine that would be a feat that’s hard to replicate. Until, maybe, I guess next summer if you update that book again. I don’t know what you’re committed to on that but, yeah … I just did a couple of days of camping at the Sand Dunes a couple of weeks ago and by the end of the second night everyone was pretty much ready to pack it in. So I can imagine what day 30 looked like of the camping caravan.

Josh Berman:                       Yeah. Hot springs help. We would break up the camping by staying in a few … and that’s what we did last summer, was do the similar loop anchored to the hot springs. And there was just enough to do and see around the state. It really is amazing how much is there.

Doug:                                         Yeah. And so, out of 480 … I’m sure it’s difficult and I’m sure you get this question a lot. If you could get away for … I guess a couple of things. Like the weekend or versus, you had a little extra time. What places just stick out in your mind as being those places that were just super special where everbody seemed to be happy and entertained? And, I don’t know, something … maybe there was a nice river there or something. But whatever it was that just brought it together that really made it a great spot.

Josh Berman:                       I’d say there’s a lot of amazing ones. And the tricky thing is, the biggest question we always get too, is the reservations on the weekends thing. It really is hard to go out on the weekends. And you either are the kind of person that makes the reservations five, six months in advance or you can adapt if you don’t get into the campground you want and you’re kind of ready for that. But just about every campground we went to in the San Juan National Forest in the southwest of the state blew us away. Always in a different way. Transfer Campground is north of Mancos and that was in a beautiful aspen grove with this view of some sacred mountains.

The Teal Campground was one of our favorites. That was 22 miles north of Pagosa Springs and we ended up … it’s a first come first serve place and two years in a row we ended up at site 12 where you can walk your tent down this hill and just be in the middle of this huge meadow, looking out over this lake. So we started developing some little traditions. Hopefully, I’d like to make it back there. And Sand Dunes, too is one of our favorites. If you get a site on one of the outer loops in the Pinon Flats campground there, the one inside the park, that’s just spectacular.

Doug:                                         Yeah. And that’s the reward you get, right, with camping? We were just there, like I mentioned, and it’s a little gritty in your teeth and maybe you didn’t sleep all that great. But when you walk out the view is just spectacular. It’s so … I mean, as soon as you walk out of your tent it’s just one of the most amazing things that you can see. And it almost doesn’t make sense, right? All that sand in the middle of the mountains. And so your mind’s just really working pretty hard on that. But those are great suggestions. I appreciate it. And, of course, like I said we’ll make sure we put links to any resources we mention in the show notes so that people can find these places. Because if something like Teal sticks out in your head, that’s probably pretty special amongst that month of traveling. And if you get there and spot 12 is taken it’s not my fault.

So that’s really interesting how you’ve been able to tie that experience … and I’m sure if I asked you the same thing for Nicaragua you would be able to go off, but that’s a different conversation, I think. But one of the things that is really interesting that you’re doing is bringing your love of Nicaragua and it’s culture right back here. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about some of the cultural things you’re doing to help bring awareness and bring some of that Nicaraguan culture right here back to Boulder and Denver and Colorado.

Joshua Berman:                       Sure, yeah. I feel really lucky to stay really connected with Nicaragua. It’s a very special country in Central America by itself, but also to me personally and I’m able to travel back there once or twice a year doing different work. And just stay connected to my friends and adopted family down there. And I discovered very soon after we moved here 12 years ago I discovered, I call it the Nicarado connection. There are … sometimes it’s official. One of Boulder’s official sister cities is [00:18:52] in Northern Nicaragua and there are several delegations that travel regularly from Boulder to Nicaragua. Several at CU Boulder who do that. There’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of international work that’s based in Colorado that does work in Nicaragua. Whether that’s bringing groups down there or supporting water projects down there. There’s NGOs that are based here and I just found that there’s a strong connection and I wanted to take advantage of it.

 


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Over the years I’ve invited Nicaragua friends, musicians and writers and people to come visit. And they’ve come. Visited my Spanish classrooms. We’ve done radio shows. We’ve done live concerts and fundraising efforts. There’s a group called Empowerment International who just had … one of their graduates came up and visited some or our schools. They’re based in Grenada, Nicaragua and Boulder. And it just doesn’t feel like it’s a coincidence that that’s happening so I just feel really lucky to be able to keep that up and to bring that … just to share some of it.

In Peace Corps it’s called the third goad. The third goal is bringing knowledge of your host country back home and teaching people about that experience and what you learned there. So for me to have that alive in my classroom and in my community and in my city is … I feel pretty lucky to do that.

Doug:                                         And like you said, as a teacher, that’s gotta be really special. Any time you get a chance to make it real, right? And if there is one thing that people knock Colorado and the front range for is kind of a lack of diversity. It’s always interesting to me though that there are all these opportunities out there to engage in the world that you just need to go look for them. And then, on top of that, people like you who are bringing the world to us … our kids benefit so immensely because in the classroom they’re learning Spanish and they’re doing some of these activities, but it makes it real when you bring in a poet from Nicaragua and they can talk and they can listen in their language and still understand what’s going on. It’s just like a really special moment and I’m sure they remember those days more than all the other ones combined, probably. I’m sure you can get a good sense for what the classroom’s like when you’re able to do that.

Joshua Berman:                       Yeah. There’s more opportunity than we realize. Even literally just down the … in front of our noses. Right across the street from the school where I teach there’s a taqueria called La Choza and that’s my standard field trip. I’ll take the 8th graders there, the high school students there, and we sit down and we eat tacos. They’re like Mexico City style street tacos but they have to … I make them talk with the people there and say how are you and what’s your name and where are you from. And how interesting is it that everyone we meet in North Boulder is from Zacatecas, the same state in Mexico? There’s some interesting community there and it’s just a matter of not only knowing that language but just knowing the cultural … what’s accepted to be able to approach somebody and talk to them. That’s the big thing that I learned in Nicaragua was you just talk to people all the time. So trying to keep that going here.

Doug:                                         I think that really ties in. I mean, not all of us had that intense experience of being in the Peace Corps even if we have traveled pretty extensively. And you just don’t get that real tie in to the community when you’re a traveler. And so I was looking at your TEDx video on your website and you talk about being a purposeful traveler and I thought that was kind of interesting. And one of the things you said was that travel is not supposed to be easy. What does being a purposeful traveler mean to you?

Josh Berman:                       It’s a couple of things. One thing is it’s just traveling with a mission. With a job to do. Whether that’s I need to go visit as many campgrounds as I can in the next 30 days or whether it’s I’m going to Nicaragua next month and I’m going through this book and systematically checking it hotel by hotel and looking at all the prices and everything and just making sure that’s up to date. So knowing that you wake up in the morning and, yes, I’m in this beautiful place with these incredible people, but my job is to walk the grid of the city. Of this beautiful colonial city and duck in and out of cathedrals but really look at it systematically. And I like having that direction and that drive when I’m traveling. Sometimes.

When I’m with my family I like it also. And they often are with me when it’s on assignment. For my column in the Denver Post which is around Colorado, where everything outside of Denver is … we’re technically researching it when we go there. But it’s always a different pace when it’s with the family. But I like the idea of having a goal when you’re traveling. Or a theme. When < and I began our honeymoon, that extended honeymoon, we started in Pakistan. And the reason we did that is because her great grandfather had spent 50 years of his life there. He was a Presbyterian from New York and a scientist and a biologist and he had spent so much time there that we knew that if we went with the mission of looking up his past that doors would open for us. And they did. Immediately. Amazing doors opened for us there just because we mentioned his name and we went there … that whole family origin quest and I’ve hear of people doing that kind of trip and that’s fascinating to me.

So it’s really available to anyone, not just travel writers on assignment. But, make a reason for your trip or set a theme to it or make a research project out of it just for yourself or for your blog or whatever it is. And I think that that’s … it makes it easier to find something that you’re passionate about. It’ll bring it to life for you and it gives you a different lens to see each day through when you wake up in that colonial city.

Doug:                                         Sure. And you get to bring that home once you get back. On your website it also mentions you had a gig as the fixer for Bizarre Foods show with Andrew Zimmerman.

Joshua Berman:                       Yeah. Yeah.

Doug:                                         So, speaking of purposeful travel … did you have to eat anything weird when you did that with him?

Joshua Berman:                       I did. My job was to research and come up with the menu that he was gonna eat. It’s an hour long show. So the Travel Channel came to me in 2009, I had been writing the guidebook for about eight years and I had this network of people all over Nicaragua that I needed to do the guidebooks. And I was like, “What else can I use this network for?” And then the Travel Channel came asking questions about researching the show and I said oh, there it is. And I started calling all my friends that I knew down there and the chefs and the guides and I pulled together six stories for them. And I flew down there with them and then they ended up using me in one of the scenes as taking Andrew back to my Peace Corps site, to my village and treating them to some dishes there.

Doug:                                         Oh, nice. It’s amazing that you have been able to keep that common thread going from that experience through to your current life. Including, like you said, leaving in a week or so to go to redo that book again. I like to start wrapping these things up by asking people some of their favorite spots and activities to do. You already mentioned obviously from your camping trips some great spots. What about just right here in Boulder? When you have a Saturday, whether it’s just to yourself or with the kids, what’s a can’t lose kind of day for you?

Joshua Berman:                       When it’s with the kids and the weather is perfect, which it usually is here except for the couple handful of hot days and the handful of cold days, but my kids love going to the Valmont Bike Park. It’s free. It’s active. We try to go early. The other day when we went the four year old face planted on the very first little hill-

Doug:                                         Nice.

Joshua Berman:                       … down into the skills loop so that ended that trip early. The kids are now … they’re still pretty young but they’re getting out there. So bike park and the library … make it to the library for story time, and that’s the morning. But it’s just so easy. They’re not big hikers yet but we’re trying to edge them toward that way and there’s so many places to do it. And tonight there’s a free concert down at Chautauqua, out in the meadows there, and there’s just no shortage of things to do here. Whether it’s just going downtown and hanging out next to the creek.

Doug:                                         Yeah, the bike park is a great one. That place is amazing. It’s a really great, local resource. And then the Chautauqua concerts, what do they call those again? [crosstalk 00:29:13]

Joshua Berman:                       Music in the Meadow, I think.

Doug:                                         Music in the Meadow, okay.

Joshua Berman:                       The Jeff & Paige concert that’s sponsored by the city and Open Spaces.

Doug:                                         Okay. Right.

Joshua Berman:                       So, pretty classic Boulder scene. A lot of kids running around.

Doug:                                         Right. Yeah. So that’s a good one even if you’re just coming in town just to look up.

Joshua Berman:                       Every Monday evening during the summer, 5:30. The show starts at 6, there’s a family hike right before that so …

Doug:                                         Oh, there you go. And then the last thing I like to ask is, who would you love to hear on this podcast? You got any ideas for that?

Joshua Berman:                       You know, there’s so many great characters around the state and around Boulder. But one of my favorite is Ryan Van Duzer … is a Boulder boy who I first met him because he was in the Peace Corps in Honduras and we had some common Peace Corps friends. Exc pet when he finished his Peace Corps he got on his mountain bike and rode it home to Boulder from Honduras.

Doug:                                         Stop!

Joshua Berman:                       So he’s kind of a long distance cycling adventure guy. Travels the world but is based right up the road here. So he and I check in, every few months we’ll see each other and sit down and catch up. He films shows for Nat Geo and Travel Channel and Discovery all around the world but he’s just based in his little place up there.

Doug:                                         Oh, no way. Wow. Well, that’s a conversation I would love to have.

Joshua Berman:                       Bicycle Missionary, I think, would be part of his title.

Doug:                                         Okay. Nice. I’ll have to look him up and, again, put any links and maybe with your help I can get in touch with this guy. That would be fantastic.

Joshua Berman:                      We can nail him down.

Doug:                                         Yeah, if he’s not riding around somewhere, right?

Joshua Berman:                       Yep.

Doug:                                         Awesome. Well, I gotta say it’s just really interesting to hear some of the backstory on how you’ve ended up here and, again, this common thread that you’ve been able to weave through your personal and professional life is just fascinating. And so thanks for sharing the story with us and thanks for all those great recommendations. That’s the kind of information I think we can all use.

Joshua Berman:                       Well, thanks for having me Doug. Yeah, just keep … we’re exploring whether we’re doing it down the block in Boulder or around the world or down Nicaragua. So [crosstalk 00:31:37]

Doug:                                         Right. Just explore, every day of your life, right? Just keep exploring. Awesome. All right. Thanks again.

Joshua Berman:                       Thank you.

Doug:                                         Hey, everyone. Again, thanks for listening. As we mentioned in the intro, you’ll be able to find all of the relevant links and resources from this podcast in the show notes. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or however you like to consume podcasts. And you can also join our e-mail list for updates. If you can, please leave a review on iTunes. It really helps us get the word out on the great folks we were talking to here at Colorado.FM. So again, thanks a lot and we will talk to you soon.