New hire announcement time! Yes, the rumors floating around are true, there’s a new “sheriff” in town at Backcountry Journeys.
By now it’s possible you have already corresponded with Kelley because she’s been on the job for about a month. However, everyone here at BCJ is entitled to an introductory post like this one, so let’s do that now, shall we? Please help me welcome Kelley Stich! Kelley is our new Photo Adventure Specialist, taking the reigns from Jillian Swalwell, who is moving into her new role as Operations Manager.
Kenton: Welcome to Backcountry Journeys, Kelley! We are all excited to have you on board. Thank you for taking some time to talk a bit so that we can all get to know you. We enjoy these Q&A-style introductions so the people who work for Backcountry Journeys can be more than just a voice, or a name, or even a photo on a computer screen. Why don’t we just get to it? Tell us a bit about yourself. You live in Iowa now, yes? But, you grew up in Alaska?
Kelley: Yes! Quite the changeup. I was born in Anchorage, and my family moved to Wisconsin when I was 6. We went back to visit (Alaska) quite often, my grandparents lived there up until a few years ago, and my brother and some other family are still there. I ended up in Iowa when I went to Iowa State University- I got a scholarship for being Alaska Native (my mom’s family is from Kodiak, specifically, Woody Island). I’ve been in Des Moines for the last five years, heavily involved in the fitness industry, until I started at BCJ in March!
Kenton: How did you come to find Backcountry Journeys? What about the position is of most interest to you?
Kelley: A lot of searching on Indeed… Jillian and Russ actually asked me this in my interview- I don’t think they put any feelers out in Iowa, hehe. I left my job managing Anytime Fitness at the end of January 2021. I wasn’t in a rush to find a new full time but knew I wanted to get out of the gym industry. I’ve always been adventurous and loved traveling, and recently invested in my first DSLR to do more than iPhone photography when I travel. To be completely transparent, I was in a moment of panic scrolling through endless, mundane job listings thinking that I had made a mistake leaving a comfortable position in something I was familiar with and had a degree in. After a multitude of filters for “adventure”, “travel” “remote”, “work from home”, I found the BCJ post and it seemed like all the puzzle pieces fit together. A company that revolved around my passions and a new hobby, and a position that seemed to require many of the skills I developed managing a business. It’s hard to narrow down what interests me most about the job, seeing everything that goes on behind the scenes has been awesome, but getting to know a whole new group of clientele who are also excited and passionate about adventure has been so fun and energizing!
Kenton: You’ve actually been on the job for a while now, correct? How have things been going? What is the most interesting thing you’ve heard so far on a phone call, or in an email?
Kelley: Someone told me their name is spelled wrong on their birth certificate!
Kenton: Is it safe to say that you enjoy both the outdoors as well as photography? Do you have a background in wildlife and/or landscape photography? Or, perhaps is your background in the outdoors? Or, both?
Kelley: Absolutely. My only background stems from personal experience and wanting to go, do, and see. I’m very excited to be part of something that will further expand my horizons for the outdoors and photography, apart from the dabbling I do in my free time.
Kenton: What kinds of things do you look at around home that helps to satiate this need for outdoor living or even some photography? Like a favorite camping spot, or someplace that’d surprise people as far as the scenery is concerned? I think most folks consider Iowa to be void of things like that. I’m from Nebraska and know that it’s not exactly the stereotype outsiders have for it. I mean, the Hawkeyes are exactly the stereotype people have of being terrible at football, but…
Kelley: I think the Hawkeyes are actually ok at football… it is the Cyclones we worry about. Iowa has some surprising scenery! I get decently lucky in Des Moines, there’s a river that the city is built around with great bike trails. I’ve also found some really awesome spots for paddleboarding, we even have some cool caves on the eastern side of the state! When I can time morning runs right, I can catch the sunrise coming up over the river on a trail. It’s really neat as you come out of a tree tunnel with the light filtering through the leaves just right. When it is chilly, you can see the fog floating over the water- you forget you’re in the midwest!
Kenton: Which Backcountry Journeys trip location would you be most excited for if you could go?
Kelley: This is hard… Even though I’m from Alaska I have never spent a lot of time “doing” things there- its always been about family. I would go on any of the Alaska trips to experience more of the state! Iceland also looks incredible. If you put me on a plane, it probably doesn’t matter where I’m going, I’ll be excited.
Kenton: I love this answer, especially your last sentence. Since I was a kid every single time I walk through an airport I have chills because I’m so excited. And, even when I’m heading somewhere I am really excited for, I still often glance at each departure location as I walk past the gates and wonder what it would feel like to just get in that line instead.
Kelley: I like to think about what all those other people are going to do when they get to their destinations!
Kenton: You’ve done a fair amount of traveling, yes? Is there a place you’ve been that has had a more lasting impact on your life, and if so, why?
Kelley: I don’t have one particular place, but a whole trip. After I graduated college, I packed a bag of clothes, threw a mattress in my jeep, and road tripped “out west” for 3ish weeks (alone! 😊 ). It was the first time I’d been to National Parks, the desert, parts of the west coast, and parts of the United States I didn’t know existed. It really opened my eyes to what “adventure” and “exploring” meant, outside of seeing pictures on Instagram and watching movies, or going on a family vacation to Florida.
Kenton: Nice! Trips like that are remarkable and can be life-changing. When your thoughts go to that trip, what is the first thing you think about?
Kelley: There is actually a very specific spot, and there’s a photo of it on my “mantle” at home. You might be familiar with it- as you’re hiking to Delicate Arch, at Arches National Park, sort of across from the path on your left as you’re coming up to the arch, wayyyy in the distance you can see a rock formation with a perfectly circular hole carved out of it. On a busy day, you can see people exploring it. I decided I wanted to explore as well! It was my first desert experience and climbing over the smooth rock formations without a path to follow made me fall in love with the landscape. Also, the first moment when I realized I needed (wanted) more than my iPhone camera. I didn’t even explore much of the park after seeing Delicate Arch, I was having too much fun on everything that wasn’t considered a trail. So the picture I’m speaking of was my favorite view hiking over to that spot. It also inspired me to look for more than just the top 5 things to do in an area… there’s always more to see and explore, and it’s so much more intimate when you’re not surrounded by a tour bus of people. I encourage everyone to get off the beaten path a little!
Kenton: So you got yourself a camera upgrade from your iPhone. What did you go with?
Kelley: I have a Canon EOS Rebel T7, I recently acquired a Sigma lens. I’m very excited to be around people with knowledge to share with me as I get started!
Kenton: When it comes to your photography, what is it? Wildlife or landscapes?
Kelley: Definitely landscapes. I haven’t had a ton of opportunity for wildlife photography, but there’s something about finishing a hike/climb/walk/whatever it might be, and sometimes being the only person there to experience that view, at that moment, and I like the sense of accomplishing something that others didn’t take the time/put in the effort to do.
Kenton: Looking back at your new position… what can BCJ guests look forward to when working with you?
Kelley: I really like establishing connections with people… it’s a little bit harder here since we do most of our business over the phone and via email, but even through that I’d like to be able to create a more personal relationship with our guests and add that to our travel experience. Obviously, the actual tours are where the magic happens, but that doesn’t mean the process of getting there can’t be a great, fun experience too!
Kenton: I think you are in the right place for that, Kelley, I really do. If someone were to ask me what the number one thing about working with BCJ is, I’d say it’s those personal connections. And I’d argue that you can develop and maintain those kinds of connections, even over the phone and email. It’s great to have that kind of perspective in your position!
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.
Don’t miss the next session of BCJ Live!
Big Alaska: Stories & Slideshow
with Grant Ordelheide
Tuesday, February 1st, 2022
11 am – 12 pm Mountain Time