Chuck and Judy Nichols see a different view each day as they prepare for work.
Some days it’s the frozen expanse of Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park; some days it’s the golden hills of Tuscany or lush mountains of Peru. And some days it’s the red rock of Spanish Valley south of Moab.
“When I think of all the places I’ve traveled, (Moab) is one of my favorite places,” said Chuck Nichols.
The Nichols based their tour company, Nichols Expeditions, in Moab since 1988. What started as a mountain bike and river tour operation now has guided and self-guided bicycling, hiking and sea kayaking excursions to five continents.
That transformation has been quite a journey.
Chuck, who grew up in Minnesota, first met Judy, a Pennsylvanian girl, river guiding in a program for disadvantaged youth in Colorado.
The couple stayed in Colorado for the skiing but after their first mountain bike trip to Moab they decided the red rocks where the place to be.
“I came in the fall of ’84 to mountain bike. I thought I’d died and come to heaven,” Chuck Nichols said.
In 1987 they got a permit for guiding the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, and by 1988 they where running their own tour company out a little bed and breakfast they ran on 500 W. After a year the city forced the Nichols to move the mountain bike side of their business to Main Street.
Nichols Bike Spot was born but the name never really took, so they decided to change it to Poison Spider Bicycles.
Business grew and by the late ‘90s, in addition to their Canyonlands’ tours, the Nichols began providing trips all over the country.
As the mountain biking growth in Grand County began to plateau, the business’s more far-flung trips gained momentum. The Nichols embraced the change and adapted.
They sold Poison Spider Bicycles, moved their offices to the building’s second floor, and set their sights farther afield.
Peru was the first international trip for Nichols Expeditions. Bicycle trips to Europe soon followed.
“A couple of years after I started they were tired of doing the White Rim Trail and ready to take on the world,” said Suzie Stengel, Nichols Expeditions’ semi-retired office manager.
In each country they went to the Nichols worked to set up relationships with quality local guiding companies. Rather than maximizing profits by increasing group size and working with big tour operators, Nichols Expeditions chose to focus on creating an intimate cultural and travel experience for each client.
“(Our clients) get more travel for the dollar and more of a feeling for the real location,” Chuck Nichols said.
Their main goal is to create a fun and positive dynamic within the group itself.
“Inevitably after every trip a group of strangers finishes up like they are part of a family,” Stengel said.
Meeting that goal has made the tours successful: Fifty-percent of Nichols Expeditions trips have return clients.
The business has continued to grow, with trips expanding to places like Kenya and Bhutan, and this year to Albania. Bike trips make up around 90-percent of the trips they organize, with sea kayaking and hiking filling in the last 10-percent.
While Nichols Expeditions still puts on 12 to14 guided trips each year, the self-guided tours have exploded. The company organizes around 100 such trips each year.
Chuck Nichols believes that what keeps people coming back and what keeps the business growing is the focus on the experience of their clients.
“So much of our company is led by our customers,” he said. “Rather than pushing our own agenda, we respond to what they want.”
Another key ingredient to the success of Nichols Expeditions is the Nichols themselves. The couple spends six months of the year doing what they love; traveling on nearly every guided tour that the organization offers. That personal touch seems to be a big part of what makes each group of strangers into the family that they so often become.
“I can’t say enough good things about what they do,” said Mary Wilson, a Moab resident who has gone with Nichols Expeditions to Italy and Alaska.
It is that love of what they do that has turned the Nichols’ business, and life, into the success that it is.
“If you stay active, if you have an interest in life, it will take you places you won’t believe,” Chuck Nichols said.