As the year winds down I’ve been taking the time to do two things. First, reflect upon 2017 (spoiler alert – awesome year). Second, look ahead to 2018 (no spoilers, you’ll just have to keep reading).
|One of my all time photos from my 2017 adventures.
Tanto National Forest, Arizona
I like to think of myself as an ambitious person. Starting 4Low Digital Labs 10 years ago was ambitious. Authoring the No Highways Tour book series is ambitious. ECOA is also an ambitious project. However they are all end products. They all stem from an internal ambition I have to be a better person. That’s reflected mostly in the mission statement to “educate, encourage, and inspire.” That’s ambition. With that in mind, I have some interesting news…
If you’re even the least bit astute you’ll have noticed an ever-so-slight decrease in activity on both the ECOA blog and its associated social media outlets. That is because an opportunity presented itself that I felt compelled, if not a little bit obligated, to pursue. As such it monopolized a bit of my time, energy, and focus. Long story short, coming soon to my area is a new off-road parts store. My name came up in conversation for a management level position. At first I was hesitant to follow up but after some persistence on behalf of their recruiter, and some encouragement from a few friends, I relented and opted to toss my hat into the ring. After completing the interview process I was offered the job, and I’m going to take it.
|My favorite opportunity of 2017.
Working with the VA Four-Wheel-Drive Association and the USFS for an Earth Day trail cleanup and maintenance day.
Sherando Lake Recreation Area, Virginia
ECOA was, is, and shall remain, a cornerstone passion of mine. Just because I’m resuming working in the “real world” with a day-job doesn’t mean I’m giving up on ECOA. If anything it will hopefully rekindle some of the passion and sense of fun that’s been missing the last few months. Laboring to make ECOA and the NHT book series into a lifestyle sustaining business right now is a daunting task. In many ways that took the fun out of my overland adventures. While my entrepreneurial spirt will always seek out ways to blend passions together and then capitalize on such things, there is a risk in turning something you love into a chore. I love to travel. I love attending events. I love teaching. I love writing. I love photography. I love blending all those things together. Sadly it just wasn’t paying off enough to keep the status-quo going. Something had to change and a day-job was it.
If there was one mistake I made, and continue to make, with ECOA it’s that I do not self-promote or advertise enough. The overland community is small and I had hoped word of mouth, coupled with exposure at events, would be enough to carry my name out there. I also lacked the budget to continually pay for promoted posts on social media. It’s also pretty tricky to self-promote without seeming desperate or pushy. As such, book sales for the NHT and the other goodies on the ECOA store just aren’t where I wanted them to be nor where I need them to be to continue with business as usual.
|Out on the trails with some local friends
Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Readership on the blog is the best it’s been (Thank you all for that). Feedback on workshops at events like Overland Expo and the Rooftop Tent Rally has been awesome. Even feedback through the blog and social media has been reassuring to know that you all appreciate what I’m doing here with ECOA. In the end, that’s why I do what I do.
|More exploring with some local friends
Tuscarora State Forest, Pennsylvania
On a personal note the last year, as chaotic as it was, has been the most epic year to date. Lots of fun adventures had across the country. Many new friendships made. Lots of great food eaten and more than a few quality beers consumed. All-in-all it’s been a great year.
I’m sure there will be some that say I’m “selling out“and “going corporate.” I’m honestly not worried about them or their comments. The job that I’m taking is still an industry job. It’s also an opportunity to take many of my ideas and put them into action. Also, as much as I love the off-road industry I’ve also been critical of it. This opportunity is the ultimate “put up or shut up” moment. This is an opportunity to take many of the things I’ve been doing on a small scale with projects like 4LDL, ECOA, and the NHT series and scale them up. There are many things I’ve been wanting to do I just lack the budget and resources to do on my own. Now I’ll have a store, a staff, and a company at my disposal. The best part is I get to have my cake and eat it too. I will be working in the off-road industry for my day-job and at the same time I can keep my side projects.
|Sometimes I might be a little too ambitious
Tanto National Forest, Arizona
This job will also be an opportunity to apply my ambition in a new way. Although I’ve never worked in retail, I do have a lot of industry knowledge and experience. So taking a job like this will be a test. It will test my leadership skills working with my staff. It will test my professionalism as I go back to work for someone else (being my own boss has spoiled me). I know it won’t be easy and I know I’ll have a lot to learn. Luckily I’m ambitious; challenge accepted.
The Future of ECOA
One critique, constructively given, of ECOA that I’ve been chewing on for a while now is that it’s a little too scatter-brained. Although the mission is clear (educate, encourage, & inspire), the manifestation of that mission is a bit foggy. Taking this job will allow me to not so much hit the reset button but rather at least take the time to tune things up a little. That said, ECOA will not be going away. It will, however, experience is a little bit of a throttling back. I will still publish regular articles but most likely it will be done on a bi-weekly rather than weekly basis. I will still attend events, but will be focusing on east coast and in particular mid-atlantic events (so no Overland Expo West trip for 2018). I may even do my own event (finally) once things get settled with the new job.
|The LJ perched on the rocks after a long day of trail guiding
Rausch Creek Off Road Park, Pennsylvania
The Future of the NHT series
The pendulum is going to swing from having time and not enough money to having money and not enough time. As such, I won’t be able to do a long-distance No Highways Tour trip in 2018. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a NHT book in 2018 or that their won’t be any future books in the series. I still have plans for a compendium book which I will be starting work on here soon. I also have plans to rework the series and update all of them to second editions. My goal is primarily to bring the first book more in line with the other two. I will also use the compendium book to fill in a few blanks and answer a few frequently asked questions (such as route planning, trip logistics, and camping locations).
|The 2015, 2016, and 2017 No Highways Tour books may be purchased here http://www.blurb.com/user/4lowdean|
First of all, thank you all for your support and interest in ECOA and the NHT series. Thank you to those of you that have attended workshops at events. Thank you to everyone who has joined and continue to be a part of the Patron Support Team, purchased stickers and patches, as well as purchased NHT books. All of those purchases help make all of this possible. Also thank you to all the various Corporate Partners that have supported ECOA and the NHT series over the last three years. Things will only get better from here and I hope the support continues!
|A few of the many upgrades on the LJ
Suspension: JKS Manufacturing
Tires: Cooper Tire
Skid Plates: Skid Row Off Road
The best part about the new job is it will allow me to reinvents some much needed funds into my rig and my kit. There’s a real difference between “being on a limited budget” and “being broke.” I started off with a limited budget and things were going well. Now, at the end of 2017, if I may be blunt, I’m broke. There are some things I need to be more successful (like a new camera and new computer so I can do video stuff, some stuff I want (like a way to better mount my iPad in my Jeep for navigation and route making), and some things I should have done months ago (like fix the trailer suspension, get an off-road hitch, and solve some wiring issues). This new job may even afford me the opportunity for a new vehicle in my stable (no spoilers as to what it might be just yet).
If you’ve enjoyed reading the ECOA blog in 2017, and would like to be a part of helping ECOA fulfill our mission to educate, encourage, and inspire by doing more educational articles like this in 2018, please considering showing your support by purchases stickers, patches, and books from the ECOA/NHT online store. Every purchase helps put fuel into the LJ’s tank which helps me make it to events as well get out there and get material for the blog.
The 2018 Patron Support Team, with a revised patron tier system will begin forming soon!