Over the Thanksgiving holiday, MotoQuest founder Phil Freeman took some time to reflect on a particular customer encounter which changed the trajectory of his small and struggling business venture. Today, we’re sharing his words of gratitude toward the person who made it possible for Alaska Rider Tours to grow into the globally recognized brand that we now know as MotoQuest.
As I look back through the years of MotoQuest, it brings me heartfelt pride to think about all the characters that I have been fortunate enough to meet along the way. It was an unintended consequence for starting a small business out of pocket, with the expressed desire to show the state of Alaska by two wheels.
For the first five years as Alaska Rider Tours, I was living the sole proprietor’s reality. I was wearing all the hats as I tried to keep my dream afloat: applying for loans from banks, working two jobs to make bike payments, changing oil and tires, responding to booking requests – everything and anything it took to keep the business alive. It was not easy, and there were many a night I stayed awake, trying to figure out how to keep the doors open and grow the business.
Behold, the humble beginnings of MotoQuest.
As my father always told me, good people attract good people, and I never completely understood what he meant until I met Bill Weil. Our introduction was at the airport, where I went to pick him and his friend up to start a motorcycle tour in Alaska. I liked him right away. He claimed it was the flight attendant that did it, but the unmistakable splotch mark of beer spilled down the front of his shirt made me laugh out loud.
These pictures are posted on the wall at our Anchorage shop.
Yep. We have an office with walls now!
We spent the next week exploring Alaska on BMW GSes and Kawasaki KLRs, discovering its highways and backroads, and there was even a ghost story thrown in as well. There were only three riders on the trip, and Alaska Rider Tours was clearly not making any money; but in those days, I ran a trip regardless. I was just excited to host riders. The week went by with many laughs and adventures, and as I dropped him back at the airport, I thanked him for coming to Alaska and told him I looked forward to our next adventure. Little did I know, this would be the beginning of not only a long term friendship, but a business partnership that would elevate the one-man band known as Alaska Rider Tours to the world-wide brand known as MotoQuest.
Bill returned home and gave me a call a couple of weeks later. He was responding to a query I had sent out, searching for investors in Alaska Rider Tours. He told me that he had a great experience on the trip and went on to suggest that he would be interested in becoming an investor.
At this stage of Alaska Rider Tours, I was at wits’ end finding a path forward. This call could not have come at a better time. Sleepless nights are par for the course for a small business owner, and I was coming to terms with having to let the dream go. It would take a miracle – an angel – to keep the dream going.
As I write this, I take pause to think about what this phone call meant to my life, and the life of the business I created. It was the most influential conversation I have ever had. Since then, Bill has never wavered in his commitment to this dream I had started. What used to be five motorcycles at Alaska Rider Tours, has now evolved to 80+ motorcycles, four rental locations, and 20 international destinations as MotoQuest. Bill and I have shared the road in Alaska, Mexico, Laos, Chile, Argentina, Japan, California and others.
Bill not only breathed life into this dream business I had created, but also dedicated his time and effort in supporting the business far and beyond what I would have expected from any investor. He has always been there to guide me during times of indecision. He made it possible for Lee Klancher and I to publish the award winning travel book, The Adventurous Motorcyclist’s Guide to Alaska. With his knowledge and insight, he helped create the brand that we now know as MotoQuest.
Nina, Bill’s wife, and her sweetie on a ride to the Arctic Ocean – 2005
Japan Three Island Scout trip with Bill on the far right – 2009
Bill is part of the group on our Northern Patagonia adventure – 2009
Bill Posing in Peru – 2011
Nina and Bill in Peru.
Bill, our guest Ellen, and Phil in Peru living that high-viz life.
If you look at MotoQuest today, it is a far cry from what it was when Bill Weil first committed to being a part of. With his influence, I met future partners Kevin Hagerty and Brenden Anders, whose insight, experience and fortitude have not only put us on the map in the world of motorcycle tours and rentals, but propelled us to industry leaders.
Part of the MotoQuest team at Long Beach IMS – 2018
When a rider tells me that a MotoQuest trip has changed their life, I think about all the years, all the laughs, and all the miles. I think about all the riders we’ve met on our adventures who have started lifelong friendships. I think of all the stories and the camaraderie. It’s not the easiest business in the world to run. There have been tragic and inspirational moments. There has been uncontrollable laughter and unrelenting tears. But when I look back at it all, I can’t help but feel lucky that I met Bill Weil, an unwavering force in not only MotoQuest, but my life.
The next time you rent from us or go on one of our organized adventures, you might just reflect on what it takes to make this all possible. MotoQuest is a business that comes from the heart and is driven by passion. It is more of a family than a sterile corporate entity. We are a group of friends who host as family and work hard to make sure you have memories to last your lifetime.
To you, Bill, I thank you for making it all possible!