Being an old-timer (can I finally say that after 57 years of riding?), the whole subject of sponsorship often amazes me, sometimes irritates me, and occasionally depresses me – even if there are glimpses of rainbows here and there. And there are!
Physical, mental, and mechanical needs, scheduled responsibilities, endless hours of social media, the real and imaginary billboards projected with the “me, me, me” signature… and the list can go on.
I remember so vividly riding around the United States for a couple years in the mid 70s after moving here from Europe. There was none of that! Just a Windjammer, Califia bags, the $2 foam cooler designed to disintegrate within a couple days, free paper maps, newspapers to line the jacket on cold days, the instamatic camera, a pocket full of dimes for the phone booths and, the horror, bungee cords! What happened?
I’m the first to admit that I got sucked into it too throughout these last ten years on the road with my buddy, Spirit. Going back to the beginning, that first day when we left on November 6th 2006, our situation was a bit different than others who have actually planned their wanderings. We just started wandering. A decision taken on a Friday night to live on the road. I chose that path and of course Spirit followed, attached to me in his sidecar, out of a need – a therapy – after a personal tragedy. This background is important to know regarding how our sponsorships came about. As so, in my humble opinion, is a most important message I like to share – because you are, or will be, on YOUR journey of a lifetime:
Whatever you do, wherever your travels take you, do it for yourself, for your well-being, your own soul, and lastly for your own pleasure.
There is a “but”, yet first I need to tell you how I ended up handling our own sponsorships. Nine times out of ten, sponsors look for your numbers. You know, those “Likes”. Unfortunately, I’ve met too many people living for their “Likes” that ended up disliking themselves. To my amazement, because of what and how I’ve written in our online journal from day one, our readership increased very rapidly. I think it was at around the million views mark that some companies approached me. I am also very aware that some did approach us because of their love of dogs! I can’t deny that Spirit has been a “door opener” for us.
It did not go well at the beginning. I didn’t like “being owned” and so in a short while I said, “I will put up a logo, but don’t ask me to do anything for you.” A bit brutal, sure, but I preferred by that time to eat rice and beans for the rest of my life versus being a slave to products. They accepted. On my own, I did however write about such products – those that I’d truly used 24/7/365 for years under all weather conditions. When we have the best tent ever made, the best boots, helmet, heated gear, stove, jacket, and so on, why not reward the makers of those fantastic products with endorsement and exposure? Reward, yes, but on my terms and this is where I’ve witnessed so many differences with others.
Let me start with the worst scenario… I don’t even know if you will believe this one. I’ll call him Bob. Bob lives in Boston, let’s say, and has a mundane job that barely makes ends meet. It happens. I’ve been there. Yet, Bob starts a Kickstarter campaign to buy a motorcycle and fund a journey around the world! Promises of photos, writing, sharing adventures and so forth. I never followed up on the story of the real-life Bob, but I doubt he ever reached his goal… And if he did, who do you think owned him?
Another example is a guy with a Masters in Marketing who comes from an independently-wealthy family. He managed to acquire two brand new motorcycles from a sponsor for himself and his partner to take on a journey. That one appalled me. Firstly, because they could afford to buy new bikes themselves. Secondly, because they’d put bikes they already owned into storage rather than using them. Lastly, and most importantly, there are riders out there who have been incognito on the road and would really value a new motorcycle – even a used one! Their trip was cut short, by the way, I imagine because of the intense pressure put on them by their huge sponsor.
There are so many other scenarios, but the bottom line used to be “we did and got rewarded” versus today “reward me and I will do”.
We own ten acres in Big Bend, Texas. Why not? It is a good base camp for winter considering the land was only $100 an acre. We sometimes let travelers camp on our space I call “The Oasis”. I once let a world traveler stop by, one who was sponsored with a new motorcycle on each continent he rode through. After a quick hug the video cameras came out, the laptop, and the need for a chair for him to write his daily ride, before doing some filming of the surroundings seen not through his eyes but the view finder’s. He was so uptight I had to ask him to leave and suggested a little bed and breakfast only five miles away.
Having sponsorship obliges you to be all over social media and keep a public blog. Having the means, minimally or not, to be on the road on your own terms allows you to truly live your journey without being owned. Then you can share your story without having to fulfil someone else’s agenda.
Ara’s book, Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash, tells the full story of his remarkable nomadic journey with Spirit.