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From Hi-Tech to Hardcore

Who needs A job in silcon Valley when you can run your own adventure tour company and play for work?

Editor’s Note: This story was the winning entry in a contest at Creative Conferences ( The prize was publication here in Elevation Outdoors, with the hope that we can help launch the careers of aspiring writers.

May in Moab can bring all kinds of weather, so Dave Harris was not entirely surprised to be shoveling 10 inches of snow off the top of his van on the first morning of his bike tour. In years past, he would have been a guest enjoying a double espresso inside. This year was different. Harris left his career behind to buy the tour company, so figuring out how to salvage the trip was now his problem.

After 30 years working in Silicon Valley at companies like Texas Instruments and Adobe Systems, Harris walked away from the high-tech world to take over Timberline Adventures. He runs the Colorado-based adventure travel company with his wife Kisa. In spite of taking an 84 percent pay cut to do it, he couldn’t be happier.

Dave and his wife Kisa have long been avid cyclists and hikers. Riding, hiking, and exploring together has always been a cornerstone of their relationship. They even did California’s famed “Death Ride” together—130 miles in one day with a vertical gain of 16,000 feet. Weary of the software scene, the couple jumped at the opportunity to reinvent themselves as tour operators.

The change has been liberating.

“Once the euphoria of their early success fades, a lot of tech companies have the tendency to get stuck,” Dave says. “My last few years in Silicon Valley were mostly an execution game instead of a learning game. With Timberline, I am challenged every day and constantly trying new things. And I’m exploring sublimely beautiful places on a bike or hiking trail.”

While leaving established careers and buying a travel company involved risk, it was not a decision that the couple made blind. Having been customers of Timberline Adventures for 22 years, they knew the company well. When the founders retired in 2011, Dave and Kisa were eager to take over a solid operation they respected. This was no fly-by-night software startup. Timberline Adventures had been guiding active vacations for 30 years.

These days Dave and Kisa spend their time guiding trips to places like Oregon’s Rogue River Wilderness, Canada’s Kootenay region, Glacier, Yosemite and Death Valley. That’s the fun part. Juggling the innumerable logistical details involved in running over 60 bike tours and hiking trips a year is significantly more demanding. Especially when it snows in May.

Fortunately, the roads are still warm from the preceding week of sunshine and the snow melts quickly. With a minor route change, the Moab tour proceeds. The contingent from New Zealand is actually thrilled that their Rocky Mountain experience includes riding in the snow and their enthusiasm sets the tone for the rest of the trip.

Dave takes a turn riding with the group as they reach Island in the Sky. The road follows the rim of the mesa with stunning views of the surrounding canyons. He grins wide as the river below.

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