I’ve been playing in the swamps of Saginaw since I was a young boy. Collectively known as the Shiawassee Flats, I’ve hiked, biked, boated, and ridden my motorcycle on the ice through the labyrinth of channels, ditches, rivers, and creeks. For me it’s like going to church, or recharging my batteries- as Don used to say; “I feel like a million dollars!” There have been times when I wanted to disappear for good out in the swamp, my heart full of sorrow and pain, but almost always I feel a presence or power that surrounds me. I can feel Don, my Dad, and others looking down at me, smiling, urging me to savor the moments and get back on course. When I started Johnny Panther Quests nineteen years ago, I thought I’d be killing it within five years- doing it full time and selling franchises. Well, I am not even close.
My wife has put up with me chasing her, my dreams, and passions for over twenty years now, and frankly, I am a lucky man to still be married. Every year I’ve told her; “This is gonna be the year, I can feel it!” and it doesn’t happen. It’s a long quiet ride home from the CPA’s every spring. I have had many positive experiences sharing my “ecotours” with others over the last eighteen years professionally. Some of my guests have been world travelers, and claimed they saw more wildlife in one afternoon with me, than on safari in Africa. Others have told me the experience is invaluable for students, seeing the impact of man, urban sprawl, and climate change, not to mention history. These comments make me proud of what I do and share, but unfortunately don’t pay the bills.
2012 was full of challenge. I had no “real job”, and the water level and finances were moving the wrong direction. My saving grace is I was able to spend some quality time with the boys, and be ready on demand if need be to run trips. Strapped for cash, advertising was on the back burner. Logistics and overhead play a huge roll in taking people out on adventures which usually last 3-5 hours. Licensing, inspections, insurance, fuel, propellers, and vehicle upkeep require a lot of time, effort and cash. But this year it happened. We’ve had the same friend do our taxes for twenty years now. She’s seen us good, bad, and downright ugly. She said when I gave her the gross earnings this year she knew we would show a profit! Was it enough to pay our bills and support a family? NO! But it was a profit!
For years I have had people telling me I’m never going to make it. In my mind, I made it a long time ago. I am hopeful that I will again be the primary bread winner and can give back to my family like they have given to me. I don’t think they will ever fully understand the energy and love of life I experience when on an adventure trip. But if I can pay the bills, make them smile, and eliminate some stress in their lives, I will consider myself successful! So whether it’s an afternoon in the swamps of Saginaw, or a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I feel blessed and privileged to be able to share it. This is gonna be the year, I can feel it!