The next five years

Avalanche Lake, this evening.

Five years ago today I clicked a few buttons, typed a few words, and this blog came into existence.  Riding the wave of the endurance mountain biking e-revolution, it took me quite a few years until I figured out what I wanted to do with it.  Until last year, in fact, when I graduated from grad school facing debt and an exceedingly modest financial future and figured I’d see what this long-time hobby could really become.  I migrated it to wordpress, started paying attention to viewing trends, and putting more thought into content.

Today, a rough average daily view count is over three times what it was twelve months ago.

This is very gratifying, but views aren’t everything.  I have no desire to become the most popular blog which deals with outdoor adventure and the issues which envelope it.  I do want to become one of the more influential ones.  Outdoor adventure is a culturally significant, participant driven, deeply democratic endeavor; all things too often lost amongst the noise of accomplishment and gear reviews.  Looking at the stats from the past 13 months on wordpress, my top five posts are (ignoring the home page, annobiblio, Mission Statement, and Freshly Pressed “Winter is Coming”) are, in order: The Hardest Trip I’ve Ever Done (Yet), the Bob Open page, the Marquette BC ski review, the Classic race report, and On Hiking in Winter.  I’d be very pleased to let those stand as a CV, and as a representation of what I’d like this blog to do and stand for.

How to make this blog better is a difficult question.  Perhaps the major reason for starting it was to improve my writing, and I’ll continue to do that, with a commitment made right now to make more space for and be more deliberate with how I work.  I’d like to improve and diversify the media content, but the main barrier to that is technological and would require funneling travel funds towards cameras, computers, and software.  A more problematic commitment, but one I’ve been contemplating for quite some time, and should probably move further towards.

This segues naturally into the stickiest issue: money.  It’d be convenient, for a variety of reasons, to have income from my work here.  Problem is that beyond selling photos (something we’re looking into), I can’t think of a way to do this which doesn’t give me compelling reason to throw up in my mouth.  I’m not ipso facto opposed to adds, but am quite sure that anyone for whom I’d be willing to advertise has no reason to use this blog as a platform.  I have a lot of projects I think many would find illuminating, but free gear only goes so far and seems like quite a slippery slope once it gathers momentum.  And don’t get me started on sponsored posts.

Not to be dramatic, but I’d rather delete this whole thing and walk away than compromise what I’ve tried to make this project, or what I hope it will continue to become.

So today is a good day to think about the next five years.  Where I want to be, and what I want to be doing.  I really like blogging, a process of which writing is only a modest part, and am looking forward to the future.  With this in mind, please comment below with answers to any of the following questions.  Or if you prefer, answer some or all of the same questions as part of an anonymous survey.

As always, thank you for reading.  It’s been privilege which has far exceeded my hopes and expectations.

-What do you value most about Bedrock & Paradox?

-What would you most like to see changed?  (and how?)

-Is there any other feedback you’d like me to integrate into the blog in the future?

Advertisements

25 thoughts on “The next five years

  1. David,

    I came across your site, probably a year, year and a half ago via BPL.com and regularly read your musings. And so it is from that path that I offer my comments.

    I enjoy reading your journal entries because they appear to be just that. Random, often serendipitous observations from an individual passionate about being outdoors. You obviously appreciate all that nature has to offer the human experience in today’s techno-driven state. I relate because I share those views, those passions (even a weakness to 35l packs). I grew up in the woods and spend all of my free time out in there.

    So where does that lead you and your website…
    Passion vs. Profit? Are they symbiotic or more like two negative sides of a magnet?

    I believe BPL started out as a work of passion that needed money as Ryan grew the site. In the beginning he had lots of editorial content available and its own micro-society emerged via the forums. Ideas and information flowed freely between seasoned wilderness travelers and first-time hikers.
    Ryan probably wanted to create an income out of the site and who could blame him… I would do the same. But over the past couple years, the editorial content has dwindled to almost nothing at all and the forum has become one part ‘chaff’ having little to do with outdoor travel and one part electronic garage sale. It is almost as if the leadership left the asylum, locked the doors behind them and let the lunatics have their way. To the burgeoning backpacker this site is perfect… to anyone else… well? The site might be generating revenue but the passion and spirit of the wild is … absent. That said…

    Your site is the breath of fresh air – antithesis to the gram-shaving, backpacking hub where ounces lost are more important than rain-drops counted, sliding down a tarp cord in a rain storm. Life in the wild is not about whether you chose a cottage manufactured pack or not, but where and how often that pack gets used. That one pound block of Jarlsburg cheese I take on a week-long trip to Pukaskwa is worth its weight many times over. Time spent in the wilderness is also about the challenges and beauty one finds there. How we as people define ourselves from those experiences. There is nothing better than getting your ass handed to you in the great wilderness areas and I believe your writings reflect that.

    Now if you think you can charge people for that, so be it. But will you then find yourself able to write as freely, without succombeing the pressures to ‘deliver’. The easy way to do that is gear reviews… and quite honestly… aren’t there enough of those already. Everybody has an opinion and besides gear reviews are subjective at best, outside of weight measurements. One winter night above Ouray at 3ºF my buddy froze his ass of in a -5ºF down bag and I was warm in +5ºF bag. What does that tell anyone… absolutely nothing.

    I say keep on doing what your doing. If this site was designed to be a release for the random musings and the existential passion you experience in the wild why mess with it. You have a job already, why take on another. I say keep playing and keep the site as you have it. Your site will change, slowly and maturely, as you do as a person. An artist cannot be told how to fashion their art… it just happens organically. My photography is mine and your writing is yours. I am a better photog now at 39 than I was at 20, no doubt about it. I didn’t have the vision or experience then. Keep your writing that way…yours… keep it simple and let it grow.

    Damn, that was long-winded. Hope my point wasn’t lost in all that hot air. Hell, you probably could’ve skipped to the final paragraph.

    Anyway, have a good one,

    rOg

  2. Dave,

    I enjoy your blog a lot. I like you make me hit dictionarydotcom here and there. Your photos are inspirational and gear reviews interesting and honest. The MYOG and customized gear makes me think of getting out my own old sewing machine. Your philosophical musings are thought provoking and have occupied my mind a few times when I have been out in the woods.

    As far as ads go I personally have the ability to completely filter them out and they wouldn’t affect my experience of your blog. I come to your blog for content. You lay out paragraphs with flow and write succinctly. Some ads I ignore are a tiny price to pay for an enjoyable read.

    Thanks for putting your energy out for our amusement and education.

    Lynda

  3. Dave,

    I enjoy most everything on your blog and have lurked around for several years now. I guess I originally found the blog when searching around for outdoor adventure writing and high desert trips. What changes? More posts and more trips and more photos, that’s all! Ads or no, I’m sure I’ll keep lurking around. Thanks for a great product.

    Random Kentucky Guy

  4. How old are you, actually?

    I’m just asking because, a few moments ago I was riding home from a cancelled training session, somewhat frustrated pondering the misery of life, it struck me. I’ve got a 25 years crisis. Fuck. It’s not like me. Wasn’t going there. So where am I really heading?!
    Weell. Enough about that, yeah.
    You and your blog also have a crisis me think? You better come up on top and give me some faith here.
    Seriously though. Reverting the blog to a income probably isn’t a good idea, the money and responsibility kinda mess up the content sooner or later.

    Hey, look at that, there’s an anonymous survey at the end of the post. Nice. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Daniel

  5. Dave,

    You’ve always done a nice job of challenging assumptions. I like that. I know we see certain aspects of the world differently, but I always learn something new, and usually insightful. Thanks for that.

    I’ve been having simialr thoughts about my own blog. Actually have for about a year. New hobbies (bc skiing, cyclocross) helped elongate its life, but I’m left again wondering what the next step is.

    Ultimatley we have to stick to what drew us to write/blog in the first place. And that’s why I like coming back here, because you aren’t trying to get a publishing deal, or win awards, or earn a ton of cash. This space still feels like a blog – organic, spontaneous, personal.

    On the income side of things, I’d consider affiliate programs. I’ve used them for a few years. I don’t make much from them, but they are subtle, customizable, and professionally designed. CJ.com is a good place to start. The other option is to create a product – a book, photos, pdf gear guide, or whatever, and sell it.

    Let’s talk more. I’ve got an idea I’d like to run by you. I’ll send you an email.

    Keep up the good work. Hope to see you soon.

  6. I wouldn’t change a thing. Seriously. Your blog is one of very few that I read every post word for word.
    The only thing to avoid is being too political or assume that your success here qualifies you to push any specific agenda. Those blogs push me away very quickly. I most value the packrafting and backpacking posts, but really admire how you seem to maximize the return of your locale.
    Your posts are extremely well written, and your opinions seem to be well thought out. By all means, sell ads. Even sell products. Just stay content focused and you’ll continue to grow. In readers and personal fulfillment.
    Merry Christmas, and thanks for the great year!

  7. Interesting thoughts, Dave. I went through a similar thought process with my blog about four years ago. I was riding the wave of a big publicity boost via my blog posts and radio interviews on NPR, my personal blog readership had tripled in a few short months, and I seriously considered turning it into a revenue-generating site. Not by doing what I had been doing, but by refocusing all of my content toward a go-to snow biking site, including guest posts, gear reviews, how-tos etc. Basically, I was going to dump the personal blog and turn it into work. I eventually decided not to do pursue the snowbike.com project because I wanted the personal blog; I didn’t want the extraneous freelance writing/editing/advertisement selling/Web site maintaining job. I already had a job. My blog was my outlet, my personal sanctuary and my way to unwind at release creative energy at the end of the day.

    Now that I actually *am* trying to make money with writing and the popularity of snow biking is exploding, I kinda wish I had set the precedent four years ago. (Because starting such a site now is likely to become just another voice among many.) But in most ways I don’t regret keeping my blog small and personal. I’m of the opinion that most blogs don’t stand a chance of generating income-replacing revenue, unless they tap a specific and lucrative niche. Even Elden at fatcyclist.com doesn’t actually generate much money from the ads on his blog. He raises quite a bit of money for charity from readers directly, and receives a decent amount from a percentage of the products he sells. It’s still not enough to support his family. (He and I had a discussion about publishing recently. He is interested in leaving his current job to write a book.) Realistically, if you want to make money from a blog, that is exactly what you will need to do — sell stuff. Doable, but again, worth it? That’s up to you.

    I know this doesn’t answer any of your questions but I thought I’d weigh in. I’ve been reading your blog pretty much from the beginning and always enjoy it, usually much more so when you focus more on your own outdoor experiences than gear tinkering. But that’s just my own personal preference.

  8. Well, this is why I do this. I’d like to think I’d stay with the writing if no one ever saw any of it, but the fact of the matter is that having a thoughtful audience consistently gives me reason to raise my game. So thanks for that.

    Daniel, I’ll be 31 early next year, and if I’m having any crisis its the quintessentially adult one of trying to make a living doing what I already want to do. I love my “real” job, and wouldn’t quit it if I won the lottery, but it pays shit and a bit extra would be nice. I have no intention of changing what I’ve been doing here in any fundamental way, but will continue to look for ways to make it better, and being able to get a camera that takes better vid would be one way to do that. For example. I think Rog hit it right on, this has to remain a work of passion or it will suck.

    Adam, I’ll look for that email.

    Lynda, hope to see ya’ll again soonish.

    Everyone else, keep dishing the feedback. Love it. And thanks again.

  9. -What do you value most about Bedrock & Paradox?

    I’ve read it since early on mainly because I have ridden with you and enjoy your adventures. I am pretty much a pure MTB person, but have enjoyed learning other aspects of outdoor recreation.

    -What would you most like to see changed? (and how?)

    Have a couple kids and integrate them into the wilderness experience. You can figure out the how part on your own.

    -Is there any other feedback you’d like me to integrate into the blog in the future?

    Nah.

  10. How does an independent writer or podcaster receive fair compensation for the content provided to people while still remaining true to original vision and purpose? Eventually (I hope), most of the dollars we funnel toward cable channels, books, magazine subscriptions, etc. will be shifted toward independent podcasters and writers such as yourself. Three ideas I have seen tried : 1) a voluntary monthly subscription of $3 (or similar low amount that people won’t notice; this is what KMO does with the c-realm podcast). 2) Pay what you can afford for a subscription. (Author Charles Eisenstein lets you download a lot of his content and just pay whatever you want.) 3) Half of the content is free; other half is only for paid subscribers. This is what Red Ice Creations radio does.

  11. The value I get from Bedrock is the inspiration to do the small adventures, push harder, learn, and do different things. Your writing is pure from the heart, the variety and number of posts lately has been great, the travel guide was unexpected, and will be used by many. Techniques could be integrated, things learned in the field would be helpful to others.

    Not sure what to say about income from the blog, do whatever seems right, possibly you could make money outside of the day job by guiding trips in your area, or start writing a book on “off the beaten path of Northwest Montana”, make and sell your own line of backpacks. I can relate, our income is down since moving to Colorado, especially with cost of living, however I couldn’t be happier having the Rockies at my doorstep.

    Thanks for the hard work of keeping this going, and, thanks to you, I am looking forward to my upcoming training adventures to prepare for “The Bob”

  12. I read your stuff for the raw, honest,, and unique content. I originally started reading due to your ski content. Your theories of ski travel fit what I am hoping to do, thus I found it very helpful. Thanks =) I kept on reading due to your quality writing and passionate opinions. You make me think and I love that. I don’t know how you could make money off this blog, but more power to you if you can.

  13. Good ideas all. I’m quite pleased that the words ya’ll are using to describe the value of this are pretty much exactly what I’d want. Thanks.

  14. I’ve been reading for a little over a year and I appreciate the simplicity in your style and directness of your approach to writing. I’d like to see the blog used to continue developing that voice. That’s more a literary opinion, I guess, but I enjoy engaging writing as much as I do interesting topics. The current content is a good mix, but selfishly I would prefer more of the musing you tag “social commentary.” In contrast to the classical canon of wilderness writers, I find very little of that in outdoor blogs on the whole, and I’d like to see it become something people think about as much as they do about gear. I appreciate the obvious care you take with the blog, and overall would be pleased to see it continue to develop in the same direction it has been.

  15. I started a website ~3.5 years ago where I wrote purely for the passion of it. I suspect a great deal of good websites start this way. It was fun for a year or two, but a little draining keeping up with it all while juggling all the other pressures of life like money and time. I always said that I never wanted ads on it, because I didn’t want to introduce bias to the writing and because of aesthetics.

    About a year ago, I found myself doing less and less with the site despite visitors and community being better than ever. My passion for the topic hadn’t wavered, but my passion for spending hours of my free time in front of a computer writing about it had. At that point I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to do much more with the site. I debated between adding some ads to cover the hosting costs (so I wouldn’t be out $80/year for the next 20 years….hey that’s a couple packrafts) or just shutting it down.

    This is going to read like a lame internet scam post, but I ended up adding Adsense to the website and it blew me away. I added Adsense because it was really easy to do, and because with Google generating the ads it wouldn’t introduce bias. It’s true that Adsense is often ugly, but that’s largely because you only really notice the ugly Adsense ads. You can blend colors right in, so that it looks like just like more writing at the bottom of your pages or where ever. You can also opt for image ads instead if you prefer that look.

    I’m sure you’ve got some reservations about this….I sure did. It’s just something to keep in mind as the years go by in case you ever think it’s right for you. What Adsense did for me, is that it lets me justify the time I spend writing for the site, which has really renewed my passion for the writing. No longer am I spending hours in front of the computer for no gain. Instead it has become a significant part of my income that lets me work less and enjoy a lot more flexibility with my life. I’m estimating in 2012 about half of my [mediocre] income will come from my site, which does about 2000 visitors / 5000 page views a day. Email me if you want more info.

    A lot of great sites (BPL et al) start out with noble intentions which can be ruined when money comes into the equation. But money doesn’t necessarily have to take over and spoil the passion. It can also allow you to pour more of yourself into the site and greatly improve the site. Think of how great it would be if this blog provided a primary income stream….you could spend a lot more of your time doing what you love and then there would be that much more to write about back here on your blog. Judging from Alexa.com, your blog isn’t at this point yet, but if you keep it up I think it easily could be.

  16. It seems that I represent a minority opinion of your readers. I think the blog is pretty good, and I enjoy it. But I often find myself alternating between mild frustration and genuine enjoyment. I sense a certain inconsistency with your posts as well as, and maybe I am imagining this or pushing it on you, a certain striving.

    Your Mission Statement is what originally drew me to the blog. It’s bold, and it proclaims a vision of something that almost no one is doing on the internet (at least that I am aware of). As someone who is also trained in philosophy and has come to find in the wild outdoors new possibilities for human thought and experience, I was very excited about this project. You had me hooked from the get-go.

    Following your blog also aligned with my personal life very well: my wife was interviewing for a job in Northwest Montana and I was desperate for to move back this direction. When we made the move, I found your blog to provide helpful advice and encouragement for getting outside in the northern winter. (For a Texas native, this has been a vital transition!)

    So while your thoughts on getting outside have been very helpful, I’m not sure your thoughts on being outside have been as enlightening. I think what has been the most frustrating has been a certain sloppiness and incompleteness of thought, (your recent “Not winter, yet” [sic] post comes to mind). That post in particular felt like the germ of a thought that was put forward too early.

    Yet, on the other hand, your more recent “More Problems of Authenticity” stands on its own as a vitally developed critique. Your form even matched the content in the cruder representations of the Patagonia catalogue, removing the slick and shine that quickly dulls our own responses. It was very, very good, and with a little editorial work could be excellent. This is a significant part of what keeps me coming back.

    I feel like I should also say something about your writing. I often find that your prose reflects this same inconsistency. The quality of your voice varies quite a bit from entry to entry. Some of that has to with the nature of what you are writing about, but I don’t find a consistent identity running throughout. I get the sense that you are testing different styles without necessarily developing your own voice as thoroughly. (It’s even more apparent when you consider in your BPL articles, and though they are a different medium and context, I think the connection is relevant.) It’s an issue I see with a lot of well-educated young people, and it’s not necessarily a problem. You have some very well-written posts that give the impression of an emerging sense of self as a writer. Unfortunately, your more thoughtful posts tend to reflect the labored prose of the academy than the inspired prose of the artist-as-cultural-critic. I think clarifying your sense of direction and focusing your development will help you immensely.

    To sum it all up, I think that you should integrate your Mission Statement more fully into your blog, whether explicit or not. Gear reviews, trip reports, and photography are abundant. However, a platform that integrates these into a narrative of human interaction (dare I say communion?) with the non-human would not only be a true innovation but a necessary intervention.

    1. Clayton, you are more correct than I care to admit. Completely accurate, in fact. For a variety of reasons, most having to do with a nutty week at work, I’m feeling thoroughly defenestrated at the moment, and difficult though it is to be faced with my own sloth (that’s what we’re talking about), it’s bracing and fulfilling to have someone who cares enough to pay attention enough to know me so well.

      Thank you (and everyone else for their thoughts and emails, the quality of feedback has been remarkable). Email me. I’ve been meaning to PM you for a while, but your BPL account wasn’t set up. We should have a coffee/beer and go hiking. Soon.

  17. Heavy Stuff! I have to hit your blog once a month as its always alot to digest…. blows mine out of the water content wise!

    with lynda i can filter out ads, and if its a gear review that doesn’t apply i can skip…. All i can say is please dont make it go away!

    More food posts =)

  18. Another one of the reasons I keep coming here is illustrated so well in your response. Thank you for hearing my criticisms well.

    I’ve been struggling a lot with motivation lately, and you are doing more than I am–you’re writing and engaging this community and broader. For what it’s worth, I find your voice to be one of the strongest outdoor writers currently out there. You set incredibly lofty goals for this project, and I have little doubt that you’ll attain them.

    One thing I did forget in my previous post is this: Thank you for doing this. I’m excited to see the next five years.

    I’ll definitely send you an email in the next couple of days.

    1. Motivation for much of anything is tough in the Flathead this time of year. I was typing away at work this afternoon and the light outside told me it was getting late. Looked at my watch and saw it was 245. Ugg. Espresso consumption is high these weeks.

  19. have you been writing for you?
    do you enjoy it?

    are folks that read and follow you here because of what you write (see above)?
    yes?

    repeat.

    please don’t turn into a veiled navel gazing / pseudo philosophical / profit seeking / gear blog like the countless others out there.

    WWEAD?
    that is a loaded question.

    your fan,
    mike in VT (who pays for hosting a ‘blog’ that a very few folks read, that doesn’t have any ads, that is basically a journal of sorts for me)

  20. -What do you value most about Bedrock & Paradox?

    The thing I value most about Bedrock & Paradox is that you’ve stayed very true to its purpose as your trip report log and a place for completely and totally biased and partisan gear reviews.

    -What would you most like to see changed? (and how?)

    Slow down a bit. I read each and every one of your posts but given I’m no longer sitting at a computer all day – and not even necessarily everyday – I literally have a backlog of your posts that is over a dozen long (hence I’m finally commenting on this post so late).

    -Is there any other feedback you’d like me to integrate into the blog in the future?

    Avoid focusing on how to make money from this if you can. If you can continue to maintain this purely as a work of passion I applaud you and know it will ultimately make it a better thing.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s