Rugged Rocks & Rugged Routes provides off-road parts, maps communication equipment, and GPS accessories and high resolution maps compatible with Lowrance GPS units for Overlanders and Off-Road enthusiasts everywhere.
Welcome to episode 72 of the outdoor is podcast with Steven Les from rugged rocks and rugged roots. Brought to you this month by T public rugged rocks and rugged roots provides off-road parks, communication, equipment, GPS, accessories, and high resolution maps accountable with low ranch GPS units for Overlanders and off-road enthusiasts everywhere.
Welcome to the show, Steven. Yes. Thanks for everybody to be here. Yeah. Great to talk with you. I look forward to meeting you one day now to you, we talked to you're down in Southern California. Do you come up to the Owens Valley much? I bet you do. In the winter I loved getting up there, snowboarding advancements a lot.
So pass through I used to teach the wording Epic Kirkwood North of there. Yeah. So that was good stuff. Yeah. I love snowboarding up in Tahoe. I just love snowboarding, honestly. We just got the big dump last week. It's cow. It's going to be there for a while. Yeah. I got to get up there and it's been a weird year, I'm not sure if I should be sitting at home or if I'm allowed to go snowboarding or if I'm a diet Coke.
Yeah. It's bizarre. It's funny. I was talking to a guy earlier today. He was on my show back in March. And when he was on the show before we, then we did the interview, we didn't even talk about COVID and then COVID hit, was probably, around us as I dropped the show, drop the episode and I interviewed him again this morning, we're going to talk more about that whole scene and how his business changed and what he did to pivot and stuff.
It's pretty, it's been an interesting year for everybody and that's the yeah, lot, a lot of pivoting going on for. Yeah. Yeah. So how, tell us about your introduction to the outdoors and off-roading, how'd you get into snowboarding and all that stuff? Oh, that's definitely. I got my first dirt bike when I was five, so yeah, so that's that's one start.
I was also starting out in Cub Scouts when I was very young. So kindergarten, he started in Cub Scouts. And then when I got older it was in boy Scouts. We did the snow scores, fair badge. And then that's when I started snowboarding. So 13 or 14 when I started snowboarding. So always loved being outside though.
Yeah, I absolutely love it. Great experience. Did you make it to Eagle Scouts? He was good. Oh good for you. Yeah, that's a tough one. Yeah, I never did that. Thanks. Yeah, it was a lot of work. It was actually funny cause I had pretty much all my merit badges and they had two or three left and it was like six months to my birthday.
I was sad. I was at a meeting and. One of the other kids' moms came up to me like they're talking about who's turning 18 and how much time they have and whatnot. I happen to go by and they're like, Steven, like your birthday is in six months. I'm like, yeah, I know you haven't even done your Eagle scout project yet.
Yeah. So I got six months in they're like, no, but you don't even know what you're going to do. You haven't put a thought into it. I'm like, no, whatever I got six months, I'm like, no. So they started cracking. The whip is that night I handed it in my binder and everything on my 18th birthday, it takes six months really?
It was a multitude of things, right? Like figuring out what I was going to do, planning it, putting it together, raising the money, actually doing it, writing the report. Getting all the signatures and everything signed off doing my other merit badges and then, putting it, submitting it.
So yeah, six months went by pretty fast. Plus of course I never felt like it was that urgent on my birthday. So that's good. At least you got it in time. That's cool. Yeah, I got it done. Barely. Barely. Have you worked in the outdoor or were you wrenching on new thing? Off-road vehicles stuff where that word, all that come from.
My dad always worked on his own vehicle, so it's around mechanic type stuff. Growing up, my grandpa was very mechanically inclined and actually my grandpa was more of a electrician and electronics guy, but had a very mechanical mind as well. So I learned a lot from my grandpa growing up as my dad, but my grandpa really.
I don't know, it gives a really smart dude. My grandfather, he could build anything at anything. It was amazing. Yeah. This guys back in the day, it's amazing. Yeah. Yeah. I don't understand how he did some of this stuff sometimes though, you're going through stuff in the garage or whatever, and come up with something.
I'm like, man, but actually I found a toolbox a little like handheld. Like a toolbox the other day. And I was like, man, my great grandpa built this or this, you look at the hinges and everything. It's it's perfect. And I was like, how the heck did he do this? I don't know. I don't know how they did it, but yeah, I learned a lot from him to start.
And that motorcycles and stuff, just being around that you're always fixing something or something stupid happening on a bike or yeah. When you're a black owner, you are, you do have to learn some, at least basic mechanics to keep the thing running and all that. Yeah, totally. So that's how some of that started and was camping in the desert and that kind of thing growing up.
And then when I got to high school I got a call and I'd always been involved with computers. Like I first and foremost, I've always been a. Somewhat I'm a nerd. And I say somewhat, that puts it lightly. I was in deep. Yeah. So when it comes to computers, ham, radio, programming, electronics, all that kind of stuff.
It's Yeah. I took to that kind of stuff and ran with it my whole life. So there's like these parallel experiences or parallel worlds. Yeah. I got the outdoor thing and the indoor thing flying at the same time. Pretty good for you because you created rugged rocks and now a rugged roots, is what was the inspiration behind rugged rocks?
How'd that word? That idea come from. So when I first started getting a for billing, I really. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it. But I have, my first car was a, is a 1990 Pathfinder I see is because I still have that. But but that car, my mom drove me to preschool when I was little.
Yeah. So it became my first car. And then. We would take it out in the dirt, once in a while here and there, but it was only two wheel drive and I was always surprised it's how far I could go into a drive. And then I start wanting to go snowboarding and wanted to drive myself to the mountain and stuff, but I'd love this truck and I didn't want to get rid of it.
So I converted to full wheel drive and yeah, I did a bunch of research and I was on the forums and stuff. And hadn't been on the Nissan forums for a long time. It then After that going down that path. I realized how hard it was to get Nissan parts. And I was like, here's a, there's a problem here.
Like all these people love, these trucks, parts are hard to get most of the parts that you can get. People don't even know where to start looking for them. So I started pulling them together and started going down that route and around the same time, my dad's friend, Rick, oddly enough. It wasn't me.
Yeah. He, yeah, old CJ five and in the desert one day. We were out camping for Thanksgiving and it was the first time it written into G my dad. We just went crawling up this Hill, like stupid steep Hill, right? Like at the time I just thought it was undrivable. And next thing, we're at the top and I'm just looking down with, seemed like at the time I share a cliff and I'm like, how the heck did we just drive up this thing?
So there was like, I got bit by the Jeep bug around the same time I just wanted full will drive to go snowboarding. And then things just flew off from there. Yeah. And then Yeah. A few years later, I got hired on at a company that's not around anymore, but Amex, spike.com. You're selling dirt bike parts.
I was called in because they needed a tech guy to get the computer set up. And the company was just recently required by. By a friend's father. So I was like, yeah, I'll come help you out. And next thing I know I had a job selling part and maintaining the website and all that kind of thing. And then I moved on to rugged rocks because while I was selling dirt bike parts, there was still this Nissan parts problem going on.
And so when I was moving away from that company, I was like, I'm just going to. I'm gonna do my own thing. And so while I started putting together the website and that stuff, I was working at sport chalet and for a short time, yeah. Then for a short time, I was working on the websites for Peterson's four wheel drive and.
Peterson full on off-road and off-road magazines, full drivers for activity that will, magazine conglomerate and I was working on their sites and that kind of thing. And then eventually it just split off in monster. Yeah. So where does the where's the D that entrepreneurial spirit come from?
Do you have any other business folks in your family? Anybody else start businesses or? Not too much. My grandfather worked for. Phone companies for a really long time, but my grandpa was always a creative guy and I think he just he was retired, but he could never sit still my grandfather too.
So he, spend summers with them and he would go on these calls and he, so he had me started again, starting up his own from foam and repair businesses. Yeah. So he would do that for various businesses and. And that kind of thing, but besides that, it was really about it. I would go on calls with them and when I was little, it was cool.
Yeah. Yeah. It'd be fun. Yeah. Did you did you ever do any off-road racing or motorbike racing? No, but you know what? It's on my list. It's a definitely a bucket list item. I have been off of two wheels for quite some time, but just last year I just bought a bike. So I'm looking to get some seat time, hopefully this year and.
I'd like to enter a race just to say, I've done it. Even if I come in dead last, I'd be like, Hey, you know what? I survived. And they cross the finish line. So yeah, we'll see how that materializes, I start out with simple ideas then. I guess there's a lot of, I guess there's a lot of ways to get into that too.
A good friend of mine. His dad started BNB cycles, which is now up in Victorville. You probably been in that shop maybe. And he's, we're old guys now we're 60 years old. He races every once in a while, up on the desert, there's some track up there where they got to the senior circuit, where these guys, they.
They don't really raise the Gore. They're going faster than I would ever go. I don't do that, but there's all kinds of places now, I guess you can get in and race. You can join these groups and yeah. Some of my dad's friends they still race on occasion and it's pretty cool.
They'll do the the Enduro Oh, it is not the Enduro fee endurance. Oh yeah. The pecan desert races. Yeah. The at Glen Helen right here at six 12 and a 24 hour race and thing. So you like, you'll take a couple of laps and then. Pull one of the pits, which writers get gas and keep going.
And so that was pretty cool. Like I've been around racing here and there, but I've never been in the car even with the King of the hammers. I seem to always know people that are, in the hot seat with a steering wheel. I, it feels like it's in your future. Yeah. It feels like it's in your future.
Is it kind of it for you sooner than later? And and now you're working on high resolution maps. Where did that idea come from? After the whole, all the off-road stuff that happened and doing rugged rocks and everything is, I just went farther and I've always liked maps for some reason.
I don't know if that comes from being a boy Scouts probably. The whole mapping thing has always been cool, but then when it comes to off-roading, it just seems like everything was always falling short. And I knew that Lawrence units that they've learned in CPS units had been used in. Racing for quite some time.
And I was like, I don't know anything about these things, but I know that's what the pros are doing. So I got to get my hands on one. So I did, and then my relatives are wearing candy naps for him. It's gotta be a solution to this. So I did some digging and I called Lawrence and it was a thing of talking to the right people at the right time, introducing myself the right way.
Hey I've got pretty techie person. I can figure it out. Just throw me a bone and we'll see where it goes. And next thing I know we're putting satellite imagery on GPS, units, overlaying all the trails and all that stuff. And at first it wasn't going to be a business. It was like, I just want to do it for myself.
And then I did one for Johnson Valley and I, the first time I loaded up the satellite imagery and the GPS, I was like, Holy cow, like this came out really good. Other people are going to want this. So I put together a website real quick. I'd say real quick. I literally threw the first website together on I dunno, eight hours.
Yeah. Throw it together. And I was like, we're going to see where this goes. And then my first order and him just a couple of days later with minimal marketing minimal. Minimal anything. And I was just like, you had no way to take payments, no Stripe thing or anything like that. I already had rugged rocks going.
Oh, okay. So you knew how to do that, right? Yeah. So that was already basically set up. Ready to go. So I just needed another front hit menu on another storefront and another name and everything. And I did it pretty quick. Like everything from, I think I'm going to do this too. You know that up and running was probably within a couple of days.
And did they, did you sell them right away or did it take time to get that? Cause you've got to tell people about it. What's crazy. So what I was so short answer, I always have a short answer. A long answer. A short answer is I think it took less than a week for my first sale to come through.
Yeah, and I didn't really do much marketing. I've always relied a lot on word of mouth and search engine optimization. So when I was doing a lot of the the website stuff for the magazine company, They were always pounded into our heads, SEOs and stuff. Yeah. So when I was doing this, I was like, okay, what are my keywords going to be?
How am I going to make this work? I got it. I've always, it's always been like versus Google rather than me versus the rest of the industry. Gotcha. Yeah. That's good. Yeah. Yeah. And so that's why I've always looked at it and it's worked out pretty well. Cool. How do you decide which areas to the map?
That's the hardest thing. Once I I started with the ones I know the best because they require the least amount of homework. And then from there Cal fire got up, got in touch with me. And so I actually do maps for Cal fire for dozers. Yeah. So they find that really useful. Mostly just in California.
I actually just got an email today for a up in Washington. So it looks like that might start coming up there too. And how do you, so if you're going to do something in Washington, how do you figure that you go up there? Do you satellite imagery? How do you do all that? It depends what the goal of the map is, right.
For them up there. What they're really looking for in a dozer is that they're not going to. Like trampoline to mulling over the forest someplace where this is gonna miss an existing road by a hundred feet, or if something's too steep or if there's a clearing, like they, it just helps them plan stuff and not get into too much trouble or figure out contingency plans.
So if they cut a fire line and they look, they dropped the truck in one spot, they kind of fire line. The fire takes over. Okay. Now what's the next way for me to get back to my truck. So I'm not right. It's no extra risk. When it comes to those, the goals, they really just stayed the picture like you would normally see in Google earth and they need the Topo lines.
So they have a better, yeah. So how steep it is. Cause those dozers, they could. They could drive up and down some really steep stuff, but also it depends on the terrain. Whereas if you only had Topo wines, you could look at it and be like, okay, I could probably drive that. Yeah.
Because what if it's just the, it's just a flat rock, right? You have no traction in the tractor, right? So you just you're like on ice skates are all over the place. So I don't need to go up there as long as I am able to acquire the data that I need. But with the recreational stuff, there can be a lot of dirt time.
So cockatiel Wells. I just finished up after a lot of people waiting a long time for that one, but it was very complicated. That's why that land is basically managed by California state parks. But most of it is owned by BLM and then the different districts of BLM. All come together in that one spot, there's three or four different.
So you had to deal with three or four entities to get all the information you needed. That'd be tough, especially those guys. Yeah. Government. Yeah. Yeah. It was a wreck. It was absolute wreck. I got call one office and they're like, yeah, this is what I need. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. I'll see you when it happened.
I'm like, Oh, awesome. Thanks. So it gives me a good starting point because even if I get data from them, it's not everything. It's just. Yeah, this is the foundation. And then I filled and correct things from here and then they would just leave data out. So I call another office and they're like, Oh yeah, I got it.
And then they send me the data and then I realize it's incomplete. And then at the end of that, yeah, they told me, Oh, the area you need at that there's no roads there. I'm like, There is, I know there is because it's on the California state parks, so it's just, yeah. Chasing my tail on and off for a long time.
But those guys do they're there. They don't get out and about, and they, they don't know everything. We, I think sometimes we expect some of these officials to know everything. Look, they don't know all like your own you're our jobs. We don't know everything. So yeah, not at all. So actually with that one, what ended up happening is I just ended up going down there.
I made probably a dozen trips down there and I just started bombing down every single wash and every single road traced, every single one, fresh myself. Yeah. It took some time, but yeah, but it was cool too. Cause then you ended up finding stuff and marking things that you wouldn't ordinarily just really fun.
Yeah. So it's, I was under the gun cause I wanted to get the project done. So it's a little bit different when you're doing it. Like work-related for exactly. It's still good to get outside, but it's definitely worth it at the end of the day. It's still work. Yeah. We're going to take a little break and give some love to our sponsor.
I'm always on the lookout for new t-shirts with funny sayings, inspiring graphics or just something with a simple message. And I often find it at T public has all kinds of apparel, tees, hoodies, masks, and more. Visit the outdoor biz podcast.com/t public. And find something to add to your tea collection today.
I know you have one. That's the outdoor biz podcast.com/t public. And now back to the show, which areas have you got mapped so far? So Sam 70 national forest. I did a while back, so basically big bear Arrowhead, suburban area, which that was huge. There's a lot of roads there. You have Johnson Valley, Aqua two Wells.
Glamis. I have I've got some stuff out in Arizona a little bit here and there. I do want to do the Arizona peace trail with extra satellite coverage along the river. So I think that's going to be a big one for a lot of people which I started that one. This comes back to like, how do you pick what to do?
Because I feel like if I had a hundred different arms in different legs, everybody would be grabbing onto each one of them pointing in different directions. So it gets challenging. But I do want to do that. So what prioritizes it, the demand or what you want to do? A combination of what I have going on, like where I've been lately, personally what foundational data I can acquire and demand.
So I'll, if I just start getting phone call after phone call. For, let's say California city, which has been another big one which is another one is even more complicated than . And I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I get a lot of calls for that area because people want a job. They want red rock Canyon, state park, Cal city, Spangler Hills, and they want to be able to ride the Randburg.
So it's okay, we're dealing with the city BLM force, your service. And somehow that has to come together. And somehow the limits of the map have to make sense. So when I make another map, it fits and so it put the data, like if the data was easier to work with, that would already be done because I actually know a lot of that area fairly well, but it's.
There's just a lot more to it. It together. Who's your target audience for that then? Would it be, you must have multiple audiences for each project, right? Yeah, definitely multiple audiences. A lot of it is just recreational side-by-side guys, which is the vast majority, but I get a lot of racers as well, depending on the area, like we just got done with King of the hammers.
And I say, we said if I really had anything to do with it, but I used to be more involved with that race than I am now. But the. No, there's a lot of guys that are running my imagery and stuff are out there racing it. And I got off the phone with a couple of teams today, and they're saying, we want imagery for the rest of the ultra force circuit for this next season.
And so now they, they want that. They want imagery for all that preloaded. So it's you, it just depends, Mexico would be big too. Yeah. Let's talk about Mexico today. Yep. Yep. During the peninsula would be huge and I know there's a ton of demand for it, but the access to the imagery for it is fair to eliminate.
Just cause, some people are like you can get on Google, like Laura as well, Google pieces together, imagery from a lot of different sources, get what and you can't use their imagery legally. So there's that. So getting imagery in a format that is okay with the owner to be. To be redistributed, not just outright did redistributed because I change it or I improve it.
When I get my imagery, it's flat, like imagine flying an airplane, high noon, no shadows. And you're looking straight down. You can be over the top of Everest and think you're a sea level. So I actually take elevation models, artificially shade, those elevation models, and merge them with imagery. And then that's where you get the 3d look and It, it brings a lot of extra detail and it just helps you understand what the terrain is actually looking.
Yeah. You get to put a picture of, Hey, know what you're looking at. Yeah. What's happening. So you must get out all the time. You must be out off road and exploring all the time it comes and goes for sure. I don't get out as much as I would like to. The last couple of years I've been a little slow.
I've had some personal stuff going on. It's helped me get back from going out. But you cans are coming around. You can't break up. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Love camping. Nothing beats sitting around a campfire. Yeah. So that's fantastic. So what other outdoor activities do you participate in?
You snowboard? Yeah, I love snowboarding and four-wheeling dirt bike riding. I don't have a side by side right now. I have friends and side-by-sides, I used to have a car, but that's one of the list. I'm sure I'll have another one coming my way in here pretty soon, but all the dirt sports stuff and pretty much snowboarding connotation.
So that's good. How much hiking do you have to do when you do the maps? You have to get out of the vehicle and go, like you say, walk up a wash and. See exactly what's going on. And can you do it from the vehicle? No, if I can't do it from the vehicle, then it's probably not a road you're talking Johnson Valley or something, I asked a buddy, that's got a car.
That's basically just the Johnson Valley rig. It's okay, there's a new trail or whatever, what is this? So I heard somebody cut this trailer recently. What is. What's the scoop on that? So I used to run the Pathfinder through the hammers on occasion, but I don't know.
I love that truck too much. I I go back to the hammers and start reeling there again. It's going to have to be with a purpose-built rig. That makes sense. So you've launched a couple of different businesses. Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to launch their own product or brand that you've done?
Yeah. Yeah. So number one if you come up with a really good idea make sure it doesn't compete with mine. There's always risk involved, but you can't be scared or you can't be scared, but you can't let the fear stop. You. Is what it really comes down to. Granted, I do maps, but know there's other things I'm working on the interface with the low rants units too. I did the UTV belt temp center.
I launched that year, which gives you real time. CCT belt temp on screen. Yeah. So it's pretty cool little gadget and I've got some other ones, but that was my first built from the ground up. Like I designed a circuit board program, the chip, like I did the whole thing a to Z myself. And when I launched, I was scared, but you also hear that if you launched a product and you feel like it's a hundred percent already, then you waited too long.
Yeah. So it's you have to be confident enough that it's going to go smooth. But but if you're waiting for the a hundred percent, really the a hundred percent is it's never going to come. So then your product's never going to get off the ground. So you sometimes you just scattered, you just got to jump really?
Really? Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Do you have any daily routines you use to keep your sanity. Yeah, head's in a lot of complex things, day to day. It doesn't stop. My friend does. So yeah, it gets tricky. I have to, I spend a lot of time on the phone and email corresponding with customers.
That's a lot of my time, which gets difficult because. No, I like building stuff. And although I love like helping people out and like making things happen for them it gets really exhausting for me. And I have to spend time just alone. Like I have to just reset. So meditation of sorts can help.
But I have to work out exercise somehow going to the gym is always boring for me. Yeah, I can ever do the gym. I work at it the day, but I can't do the gym. Yeah. Yeah. It's not my favorite place. And there's a point like once they get back into it after a couple of weeks or maybe a month, I'm like, okay, like it starts to become routine, but then something I'll unlock the house that bandwagon, but I have to run.
I have to spend time outside. And whether that's in the garage, tinkering on something that really has zero significance work-wise or whatever it is. Like I just have to, I have to have a change of pace and I just have to be quiet. So I actually do most of my creative work whether it's programming something for maps or programming, my next gadget or whatever it is, it that kind of stuff typically happens for me between sundown and 2:00 AM.
It's just quiet, yeah. The anticipation of emails coming in, or the phone ringing gives me a bit of anxiety and I can't focus. So you're right. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, it gets challenging, I start spinning plates and you drop one once in a while, but you can't cry about it. You just gotta keep going.
You gotta keep going. Yep. I hear ya. Do you have any favorite books or books you give as gifts or maybe it's inspired you over the years? There was there's a book I got a while back called the astronaut's guide to life on earth. And yeah, so it's a pretty good one. It was written by. What was the guy's name?
He's the guy that spent a lot of time on the space station. Okay, man, I'm kicking myself. We'll look it up. I'll put it in the show notes, but I'll figure it out. Yeah. National. Yeah, this guy he's from Canada. It's a really cool story about just, he had some dreams and he wanted to become an astronaut, but he was from Canada and Canada didn't have a space program.
And so it was like, man, the chances of hand becoming an astronaut were so slim. And he did it, it's cool that hasn't come up. I'll yeah, we'll look that up. I want to get that one. Yeah. So that's a good one. Check that out. And then I just got one for Christmas this year called no dream is too high and this one's actually written by buzz Aldrin net.
It's his story. And I haven't gotten through this one, but but similar kind of premise, it's just like, how, like, how did they get there and what kept them motivated? And. It's good stuff. Definitely check that one out too. Yeah. For some reason they're always like space-related I think, cause I don't know.
You already do a lot of technical stuff. I think a lot of that stuff, if you're dealing with. Maps and satellite imagery and various things are related to speed. That kind of makes sense to me. I don't think, Oh, there you go. I've always tinkered with radio since Scouts and I've contacted the space station via hammering.
Oh, cool. So yeah, it just doesn't end, man. I think you're right. Everything. So what's your favorite outdoor gear purchase? Under a hundred dollars. Oh, okay. So that's a tricky one. That's a really tricky one. I don't have an answer. At the moment, but if you come up with something, you can send me an email.
You can put it the show notes. Yeah. I think that's probably a good idea. That's really tough. There's a lot of, it's funny how many different things come up that I ask that of everybody. So it's a pretty interesting range of answers I should say. As we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to ask or say of our listeners?
I guess just if you're dreaming of something or come up with a good idea, at least write it down, draw a picture. And don't be afraid to jump. Yeah. Don't be afraid to jump. And if you're looking to get more information on stuff that I do then yeah. Check out rugged rocks.com for the Nissan stuff and rugged routes.com for the navigation stuff.
That's pretty much it I'm on social media and all that good stuff too. So yeah, we'll find all that stuff. Put it in the show notes and link to those two websites. What's been great talking to you look forward to meeting in person up here one day or down there or something. Yeah, absolutely. If you ever down this way or next time I'm passing through.
Sounds good. All right. Thanks. Awesome.
Thank you for joining. No. On another episode of the outdoor biz podcast, be sure to visit our website, the outdoor biz podcast.com, where you'll find show notes with links to everything we talked about and more subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. So you'll never miss an episode.
And while you're at it, if you found value in this show, we'd appreciate a rating on iTunes. Spread the word and tell a friend about the show that would really help us out too. Be sure to tune in every week. And thanks again for listening to the outdoor biz podcast with Rick says.