The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner published this great story about Out in Alaska, Tim Stallard’s successful business taking gay and lesbian visitors on wilderness adventures in Alaska.
Read the story, then visit Out in Alaska
and check out Tim’s exciting tours.
Fairbanks tour guide finds niche in gay, lesbian market
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Our basecamp among the fireweed of Bulldog Cove was right out of an Alaska postcard.
Behind us sat a freshwater lagoon hemmed in by jagged peaks covered in a lush carpet of green. The view from our beach overlooked the coastal Bear Glacier. Waves crashed against the twisted sea stacks that cut the cove off from the rest of Resurrection Bay, about 20 miles from Seward. It was picture perfect; exactly what you want if you are a traveler paying a pretty penny for a guided Alaska experience.
I was one of a dozen guests on a week-long tour with Out in Alaska, a Fairbanks-based guide service that specializes in adventurous trips for gay and lesbian travelers. Our 10-day itinerary began with three-days of sea kayak touring in Kenai Fjords National Park and the charter boat had just dropped our gang on the beach. Guide and company owner Tim Stallard was earning his paycheck, zipping around the beach to help clients setup tents, making sure the kayaks were secure and erecting a tarp for the camp kitchen. This definitely wasn’t his first rodeo; Stallard moved around camp, taking care of
challenge after challenge while keeping his cool. To watch him calmly explain how to set-up a tent for the fifth time or answer 101 questions about bear attacks was to witness superhuman patience.
“Guiding takes a tremendous amount of patience, which luckily I seem to have,” Stallard said, noting he expects many questions on his trips; most of his clients are gay men from big cities whose outdoor experience measures little to none.
Roughing it doesn’t seem to score very high with that demographic and Stallard is usually taking clients on their first big outdoor adventure. For Ronnie Ventura and Bob deLuna of New York, this would be their first camping trip. Ever. Thomas Gardiner, an Englishman who is now living in New York, said this was something he hadn’t done for a very long time and never in big wilderness. Californians Jeremy Marble and Joe Dintino were a bit more experienced with the outdoors. Dintino enjoyed telling his “bears in camp” story from Yosemite National Park just after Stallard had given assurance to a sleep-deprived guest.
Mylissa Denny from Austin, Texas was fresh out of the Army where she had done plenty of sleeping on the ground, mostly in Afghanistan overlooking Tora Bora.
“Looks like I’m the token lesbian,” she said, introducing herself at camp.
She was the only woman on the trip roster, which might prove awkward for a week-long tour where you don’t know anyone else. But not here on the beach of Bulldog Cove.
“It’s always good to have a lesbian around to do the heavy lifting,” Gardiner joked, much to the delight of Denny.
It became apparent that the ice has already been broken and the crew is already fast friends.
“And you’re the token straight guy,” Denny said, referring to me just when I was wondering where I stood with this eclectic group.
It was also apparent that nobody was going to be out of the loop throughout our journey, which began on the waters of Resurrection Bay and culminated with a backpacking trip into Denali State Park.
About Out in Alaska
Stallard’s Out in Alaska is the culmination of over a decade of experience managing outdoor recreation projects. In the mid-1990′s, he took over the student-run Outdoor Adventures at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Stallard had some big ideas for a major overhaul of what was a small closet space with a checkout desk for ratty sleeping bags and miss-matched skis. Within a few years he turned the office into a proud outdoor program that allowed students from all over the world to rent high quality equipment and sign up for guided trips that would get them out in Alaska. Many of the trips offered were his own creations, including our adventure to Bulldog Cove.
“I used to bring UAF students out here,” he replied when I asked how he knew about the place.
Stallard’s UAF program took hundreds of students backpacking along Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park, which is also the second part of this week-long Out in Alaska adventure.
Even though Stallard came from a family steeped in business sense, he didn’t take a turn down that road until graduate school.
“My dad is a successful entrepreneur, so I always knew it is possible to create your own opportunity, work for yourself, and even create jobs for others,” he said.
Having spent several years in the world of outdoor recreation and instruction, Stallard made the decision to study business and make a go of his own guiding company when an opportunity for graduate school surfaced.
“There were already a number of guiding businesses around Alaska so I would need to offer something unique,” he said. “About that time I read that the gay and lesbian segment of the USA travel market was estimated to be around $55 billion. Niche travel of all sorts was growing in popularity and nobody was offering trips specifically for gay travelers in Alaska, so I had my idea.”
Stallard completed his Master of Business Administration with three years of night classes and launched his niche business in the fall 2004. He credits his initial success with a strong web presence, some carefully placed advertising and networking at a few travel trade shows. Out in Alaska took off with four scheduled trips the following year. After the 2006 travel season, Stallard’s venture was almost breaking even. “But I was getting busier and busier and could no longer continue to work a day job and develop my business,” he said. “This was a moment of blind faith; I could cut my losses of money invested and stick with the safety and benefits of my regular job or quit and develop my business further.”
He jumped. And he jumped far. His 2008 listing holds a dozen adventures, from the Brooks Range to Katmai National Park to Fjords of the Kenai Peninsula. Most of them filled way in advance. The trips are not limited to gay and lesbian individuals, nor do they have limits on experience level. Stallard’s business is geared to urbanites who have little to no experience in the wilderness. Anyone who can handle a computer and the Internet can make a reservation on his Web site, www.outinalaska.com
, and sign up for an adventure.
Sea kayaking from a basecamp could be the perfect trip option for novice wilderness travelers in Alaska. Paddling a tandem kayak for a 10-mile tour was just about perfect for our crew. And when the seas began to pick up on the third day, we cut our tour short and headed back to the protection of the cove. Our water taxi even stopped by to check on us while out making another pick-up.
We made it back, and life in Bulldog Cove was easy, but plans for the upcoming hike reminded us we weren’t done working. Backpacking in the Alaska Range in August, as we were preparing to do in our next leg of the excursion, is a whole different story. As a whole, this group was out to push themselves. It’s a good thing. Our tour was a 17-mile section of the popular Kesugi Ridge Trail system. An initial three-mile climb up the Little Coal Creek Trail took us to a high alpine wonderland, complete with hooting Arctic ground squirrels, boulder-strewn cascades and crystal tarns as clear as the mountain air. Stallard’s guests were in awe as the setting sun cast its rays on our camp during dinner. Little did we know this light show was the precursor to a violent night of big wind, rain and hail. Everyone’s tent-pitching skills where put to the test as the storm came out of nowhere. Once again, Stallard was working hard, checking in on each tent after taking care of the cook tarps in a torrential rain. Sitting tight to wait out this storm with a couple boxes of wine was not an option up here. Tomorrow we would have to hike in this car wash. For a minute I wondered if there would be any casualties, but laughter from a distant tent gave confidence that this crew was going to be all right.
Our final morning in Denali State Park dawned cold and wet. The entire crew crowded the cooking area, huddled over steaming cups of coffee in their rain jackets. Stallard worked the small camp stove to keep the coffee thermos filled and bring water to boil for morning hot cereal. Our camp high on Kesugi Ridge was now in the clouds and a hanging mist entrapped us in a shroud perfect for hypothermia. But even in the steady drizzle, Stallard’s guests remained in the highest spirits. Cheerful sing-song calls of “g’morning” went around camp. Searching the bear-proof food kegs for hot cocoa, my wet hands struggled with the lid.
“Ask Mylissa, she’ll get that open for you,” Ventura chided with a grin.
Denny put down her own steaming mug and motioned for me to hand it over. She effortlessly clicked the lid and handed me the cocoa bag.
Conversation swirled around the hissing stove, but a lot had changed in the past week. For the first time in their lives, these travelers got to partake in one of the great traditions of wilderness travel. Spend enough time with any group in any wilderness and the morning conversation invariably turns to toilet talk. It was inspiring to see this collage of folks from urban America hilariously sharing their bathroom adventures while scarfing instant oatmeal from a plastic bowl in the rain. It was a sure sign of complete immersion: They were backpackers. Stallard’s work here was done.
Well, almost done. Stallard actually had a lot more work in front of him. My time with Out in Alaska was done, but he and his seven guests were on the hunt for a few large pizzas and pitchers of beer in the Denali National Park area. Stallard planned to see the last of his clients off a couple days later in Fairbanks and almost immediately start preparing for the arrival of the next crew for a weeklong adventure on the world-famous Yukon River. But Stallard has no regrets about the pace; he recognizes that he has a job that many would dream of having.
“My office is the great outdoors,” he said. “I get paid to visit spectacular areas of Alaska.”
But the job can also be exhausting and Stallard admitted by August he is looking forward to things slowing down in the winter. To do this work means that he forfeits his own summer. But, he said, it’s worth it.
“My guests continually remind me of how special Alaska is and how lucky I am to live here.”
Token straight guy Matt Hage works as a magazine photographer based in Anchorage.