When I first began speaking to my now friend and then contact Jonathan Hershberger (Hershy) about becoming a guide with Trek Travel, there were many questions. Anyone of a certain varietal would seek this job under any circumstances. I, however, had a mild background in active-travel guiding and knew there could be caveats to the dream. Long hours, inconsistent work, life in a bag away from home.
Words by Gabrielle Porter, Trek Travel Guide
I asked Hershy about the company culture, the home office and guiding. His response? “We are, I dare-say, one big family.” I read these words and was a tad suspicious, a jaded reaction perhaps. Come on. One big family? But he really wasn’t trying to sell me anything. We had enough in common to treat each other honestly. Even if he was exaggerating, it was clear there were good people within the company and I pursued the long application process with suppressed yet lingering sarcastic suspicion.
Now, one year in, I can say with confidence that we truly are like one big family here at Trek Travel. Just like a family, not everyone gets along all the time, there are some you are closer with and others you barely know. Yet you would do any of them a favor in a minute, because they are part of the family and that’s what you do. Some things drive you crazy and sometimes you just need to get away, but they make you incredibly happy, they are fun and loving, and they are there in the very thick and the very thin.
I know our company’s family-like culture most poignantly from the co-guides I have had the great pleasure to live and work with. If you are spending all waking hours with one or the same group of people and wish to enjoy life, it is essential to get along with them. The stakes increase when the context is extremely diverse. We jump between professional situations including paper work, inner-company logistics, bike tuning, actual guiding, cooking, contract developing, and designing (to name a few). We jump between social situations like going from acquaintances to roommates in seconds; our schedules are such that we essentially dominate each other’s social lives (what little there may be) for months. We jump between personal situations, supporting each other in times of loneliness and happiness, when graduations, weddings, funerals, reunions, and births are all occurring at home. We don’t know each other from an early time but our existence with one another becomes rapidly intimate.
The best part of all this time spent together is that somehow the greatest humans on earth have found their way to populate Trek Travel. Sure there are similarities amongst us, we all have a few common passions essential to the job: cycling, traveling, interesting people, good food. But the more you interact, the more you learn the great intricacies and diversities of each person, their background, personality, humor, interests. Each has their own incredible story of the most engaging quality and it’s almost freakish that a group of people with such goodness could be collected into one entity at any one point in time.
There came a time late in this season in which the full meaning and impact of Hershy’s statement came to be truth. The night before a trip start, a dear friend of mine was murdered. It was one of those awful moments, when you get news and your legs can’t hold you. What do you do? What can you do? How do you support or even navigate being around someone who is finding out such news? Let alone if you really don’t know them beyond a few weeks or months, don’t know their context or where they come from. It doesn’t matter. The sneak-peak insider’s look into guide life that so many guests ask for is this: adventure, camaraderie and support network.
So, as this year draws to an end and we all reflect upon what 2015 brought and gave, I think back to one year ago when I was approaching Trek Travel for the first time. When I had not met the many wonderful people I now know. I think about that sentence Hershy sent me and I am grateful for its validity. For the many moments of vast laughter and jokes over pickled carrots and table wine out of porcelain cups in Puglia. For take-out Vietnamese, shivering at the base of Mount Ventoux and 16-hour chamois days, moving trailers at midnight. For dance parties in the parking lot of Chateau de Mazan and family meals on the patio, the sun setting over Provincial fields and spending night after night with the coolest ladies in the world. Who else can say they genuinely enjoy having six house mates and a tiny kitchen? For getting lost countless times amongst the never-ending Bordeaux vineyards and a co-guide that doesn’t judge you for insisting upon pulling over and napping by the side of the road before you can GPS another kilometer of the route. For late night long drives and many tolls. For warm meals and an impeccable whistling ability. For the constant invitation to visit fellows’ regions. For the great adventure of finding an open recycle center on a Saturday. For hard workers, smart people, and jokesters who can share a landscape with all our wonderful guests. When too many questions is not a thing. For Belgian brews and drizzly walks. My colleagues can fix everything, save any situation, make anyone smile, and teach and teach and teach.
I am thankful for all the laughter and productivity. And I am thankful for the best support system I could have asked for during those two weeks. For the shot of whisky Leanne immediately took with me, no questions asked, the night of. For the constant reminder Celine gave that La Vie Est Belle. For the graceful way Tara navigated working with me immediately after, despite the turbulent internal energy I had that we had to keep secret. When she stroked my hair until I fell asleep for the first time in days. For Marcia’s text and all the extra work she took on. For the moments she let me bike away, for just a bit, to breathe. For the many texts of affection and support and proper space I got from co-guides who were far away in other regions. For the office getting me home. How many companies would actually respond that quickly and with such sincere support?
So, now amongst the holidays, when many of us are home with our family and friends, I extend my gratitude and affection to the incredible humans within Trek Travel. In all its corniness, I dare-say that we are one big family.