Reflections of a Demo Tour Roadie

Whether it’s from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or part of today’s #VanLife, the romantic idea about being free and exploring on the road speaks to people.

My look into that lifestyle couldn’t have happened more auspiciously. Ashley and I were on a week-long climbing trip at the Red River Gorge in mid-April when I got a text message from a co-worker at EMS that read, “Would you be interested in running the Outdoor Demo Tour? I think if you say yes, they’ll let Ashley be your co-pilot.”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The idea behind the Outdoor Demo Tour was simply to take the goodies that we spend hours talking about in the stores and get them into the hands of our customers, all while engaging with them in our natural habitat: the outdoors. Part of a true grassroots effort, Ashley and I would be tasked with towing a 24-foot trailer filled with kayaks, SUPs, road bikes, mountain bikes, trail running shoes, and a slackline up and down the East Coast, taking the pickup truck used to plow the corporate headquarters’ parking lot.

After some discussion, we decided that the chance to travel for two months while getting paid and receiving a per diem was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Ashley gave her notice at her teaching job, and we prepared to live the dream of a sponsored road trip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

In the summer of 2011, we made 11 tour stops, starting in Annapolis, Maryland, and concluding in Hanover, New Hampshire. The next year, we added five more locations and traveled from Annapolis all the way up to Burlington, Vermont.

On most nights during the Demo Tour, we slept on an inflatable queen mattress in the truck bed, parking anywhere we could find: the parking lot of the closest EMS, highway rest stops, behind the local rock gym, or occasionally a nice campground. Sometimes, our fellow employees would take pity on us and let us couch surf, which comparatively felt like a suite at the Hilton.

Realistically, though, living in the back of a truck isn’t too bad. But, being away from a reliable bathroom and shower? Well, let’s just say there’s a good reason there isn’t a chapter about that in On the Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What made running the Outdoor Demo Tour so great? We got to be outside every day. Most weekends, we were busy on both Saturday and Sunday, which meant we had a packed schedule filled with setting up, breaking down, talking with customers, and supporting the events—not to mention, traveling to them. But, we always managed to find some time to get out in a kayak or SUP, go for a trail run, or jump in on a group bike ride and live a slice of the outdoor lifestyle we were promoting.

When the weekend was over, we supported local store events, showing up to paddling nights or group rides with our trailer of gear, and we almost always managed to get in on the action. For the times there was nothing on the schedule, we could explore for ourselves, going to state and local parks we never would’ve visited if we were traveling on our own.

During the first year, when we saw Bridgewater, New Jersey, on the demo schedule, it was safe to say we weren’t psyched. However, little did we know that this would be one of our favorite stops. The incredibly hospitable staff took us on a great trail run, paddling on Lake Carnegie, and to the local rock gym over the course of our short stay. Not to mention, one couple let us crash in their living room (and hang out with their dogs) both years we passed through.

The most important lesson for me? If you want to find out how much you really care for someone, spend two months in close proximity with a weird work schedule, extended travel, minimal showers, and limited bathroom access. If you can make that work, there is nothing that can stop you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Weird Things I Learned:

  • Annapolis has the best Whole Foods.
  • Delaware might have some of the best trails and also the worst roads to ride a bike on.
  • Collegeville, Pennsylvania, is my favorite EMS store.
  • The diners in New Jersey are incredible.
  • We met Tommy Caldwell, Sonnie Trotter, Matt Segal, Russ Clune, and John Bragg in the Gunks.
  • When the temperature light on the dash comes on, stop driving.
  • Driving a U-Haul full of cool outdoor gear is a lot less cool than towing a trailer full of cool outdoor gear.
  • If you bend a trailer jack by hitting something with it, you can bend it back by hitting something with it in the opposite direction.
  • The best way to decide if the trailer will fit under a bridge is to sit on top of the truck’s cab.
  • Horseshoe crab mating season on Cape Cod National Seashore is as wonderful as it is weird.
  • Burlington was the best town to kill time in. Saratoga, New York, and Portland, Maine, come a close second and third, respectively.
  • Everyone from EMS we met along the way treated us like family.
  • Towing a 24-foot trailer is hard. I now look at truckers in awe.
Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck