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Steve Silberberg had a perfectly good job at an investment firm in 2002 when the notion hit him.
He was “sitting there in the cubicle, getting stressed out and getting fat,” and he reflected upon his father, who had died at only 54 years of age.
“I thought, if I’ve got 10 years left to live, what am I going to do?” Silberberg recalls. “Sit here and make money and not enjoy it? Or go out and do something I’m really passionate about?”
Silberberg opted for the latter, and in 2005, he led his first group backpacking trip designed to help travelers lose weight, experience the wilderness and feel inspired to protect the natural world.
Fitpacking was born.
“Fitpacking is somewhat self-serving,” says Silberberg, of Hull, Mass. “I’ve been backpacking or camping since Boy Scouts. When I took vacations, I went backpacking. When I’d get home, I’d notice I was calmer and my clothes fit better. I thought maybe this was something I could bring to other people.”
Fitpacking has grown from two trips in its first year to 25 a year, about half of which Silberberg leads personally. His goal is to build the business to the point where he can join in every trip, leaving behind the day-to-day operational tasks such as marketing, IT, and legal and insurance issues.
Fitpacking adventure vacations last one to two weeks, taking travelers to destinations such as Crater Lake National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon and many more.
Participants lose an average of five pounds per week of backpacking, but Silberberg says the trips are about far more than weight loss or physical fitness. He describes the effects of the “digital detox” his travelers feel after a few days in the wild.
“Day 1 or 2, people are checking their phones all the time, consumed with stress,” Silberberg says. “By the end of the week, they don’t even know what time it is, and they don’t care. Being in the outdoors opens you up to being more creative and gets you in touch with what’s really going on. Initially, you’re just trying to manage hiking with this huge pack, maybe enjoying the scenery. But after a while, you work through other things.”
For many participants, a Fitpacking adventure instills a sense of independence and accomplishment. That can be crucial for them when they return home with goals of sticking to a diet and exercise plan. More than 40 percent of Fitpacking travelers have been on a previous trip, and some return with family or friends.
“They find the Fitpacking experience keeps them on point,” Silberberg says.
Keeping his business on point in the startup phase was facilitated by his previous employer, which let Silberberg taper his hours as he built his own company. That was a luxury most entrepreneurs don’t have, which is why Silberberg advises caution to would-be business owners.
Make sure you have a cushion, he says, and don’t gamble away your family’s well-being. Prepare to spend time on things like setting up Google Ad Words and credit card systems, which might not be your expertise or your interest. And when you take risks, make them measured ones.
For Silberberg, those risks have been worth it.
“Every time I look out over the Grand Canyon, I still get chills. That’s really meaningful to me, really rewarding,” he says. “And I also like it when our guides tell me how much they appreciate being guides. They’re people who have similar worldviews to me who want to be out there, and I’m able to bring that to them.
“After two days back home, I’m ready to go out again. This is my life now. It’s great.”
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