Quit Your Job: Bike Shop Owners Became ‘Career Adventurers’

‘Quit your job and follow your dream’… that is advice few of us heed. Sarah and Tom Swallow did just that, however, closing their bike shop in Ohio last summer, packing what they could on their bicycles, and heading west.

imogene pass

“Prior to this trip, our longest trip was seven days,” Sarah Swallow, 28, owner of the now online-only Swallow Bicycle Works, told us. She and her husband, Tom, 31, are now 10 months and 8,000 miles deep into a giant bicycle tour that has taken them across the country and captured the attention of Specialized Bicycles for its Adventure Dispatch series.

We stole a few minutes of the duo’s downtime while they were in in Grand Coulee, Wash., making their way to Whitefish, Mont., to catch up with Sarah about what it’s like to quit your job and go.

tom swallow trans america trail
Tom Riding Skyline Drive in Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah

How are you two making a living riding across the country?

We make the least amount of money we ever have right now, but we also have the least amount of expenses we have ever had.

We take advantage of unique housing situations that cost less and give us the opportunity to leave and live on the bike for a while. Right now riding is paying the bills, through sponsorship, photos, and articles. We’re definitely learning as we go.

Today we are in our first town with a grocery store in five days, so we are staying in a motel, doing laundry, re-charging, resupplying, uploading, writing and answering e-mails before we leave for the next few days of riding and camping.

sarah swallow dogs chasing bike
Sarah chased by dogs in Mississippi

How did you make the decision to give it all up and go for adventure?

During the summer of 2015 we closed our shop to ride 5,000 miles across the country on dirt roads following the dual sport motorcycle route, The Trans America Trail.

The idea for the trip was to take a sabbatical of sorts, away from the shop, to see if that lifestyle was really sustainable for us. It was the hardest and most freeing thing we have ever done, but at the end of it, I still wasn’t prepared to give up the stability of a normal job.

sarah swallow cleaning mud off bike tires
Sarah scrapping mud off her bike after days of heavy rain in northern Mississippi

When I got back into the shop environment and working again, I realized that it didn’t feel right and I was really unhappy. We were forced to make a decision: fall back into life at the old shop, or pick up where we left off on the Trans America Trail. We opted for the latter.

How did it feel?

We took a step back and evaluated our situation. We had enough money to do what we wanted for a while, so we decided to say goodbye to the job and continue riding. Leaving the stability of normal life and a job for an adventure is not a secure feeling. You can’t predict what will happen next. I think a lot of people rely on this stability – I know I certainly did, and sometimes still do.

bike touring adventurers

What happens when you let go, when you open yourself up to the experiences and interactions with people around you is incredibly freeing, and so far it’s worked out OK.

Sometimes you take a wrong turn, or something doesn’t work out the way you expected it to. During those times it’s easy to doubt yourself and the path you are on, but if you can push forward, the reward will be waiting for you, in the form of a private beach, a kind individual, or even a huckleberry milkshake. The key is to participate.

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How long will this last? Will you ever get back into the shop?

Probably not in the same capacity that we were before. Even if this lifestyle doesn’t last forever, I will remember these days as some of the best days of my life.

touring bikes continental divide
Tom’s Hunter WoodRat 27.5 (left) and Sarah’s Specialized Ruze 27.5 (right) on Marshall Pass, The Continental Divide in Colorado

We always say, the worst thing that could happen is that we spend all of our money and have to get a job at Whole Foods and make new money. That’s not a bad price to pay in exchange for this life.

swallow bicycle works shop
Swallow Bicycle Works as a full service bicycle shop in Loveland, Ohio

What was Swallow Bicycle Works before you left and what is it now?

At first, Swallow Bicycle Works was a tent at cycling events and a room in our apartment, servicing bikes for the clientele. Then we rented a retail space, and became more official. We stocked and sold the products we used and loved. We put on adventure rides, hosted clinics, documenting them, and writing about them on our blog.

Swallow Bicycle Works is now a lifestyle adventure cycling brand where we share routes, stories, images, and sell a small selection of gear to help fund our adventures.

bike camping
Sarah camping by a water source in Sheldon National Antelope Refuge, on Catnip Reservoir in Northern Nevada

 

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie – from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it’s outside, it’s worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.

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