It’s summertime and the Big Bend’s coolest outfitter, Desert Sports, is feeling the heat—even more than a typical August in the Chihuahuan Desert. Just when the company was heading into a March full of bookings for mountain bike treks and Rio Grande paddling adventures, the virus hit. Spring is the busiest time of year for Desert Sports but, suddenly, cancellations snowballed. By the end of March, it was a complete shut-down.
“In 20-plus years of connecting people with adventures, we have persevered through our fair share of challenges,” says Crystal Allbright, co-owner of Desert Sports. “But the coronavirus has brought our challenges to a whole new level. We quickly realized that we needed to make some plans to survive.”
The business applied for the Payroll Protection Plan funds, which enabled it to pay employees, utilities, and rent through the end of May. “Then we contacted the Small Business Administration, thru Sul Ross State University, and they helped us with” an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Albright says.
Desert Sports also started beefing up its bike repair business. “Bike repair was considered essential in Gov. Abbott’s executive order, and that helped get us through,” Allbright says. “We shut down everything else except bike repair and a little bit of retail by appointment, in case someone needed some Chacos.” (The river-sandal brand, Chaco, is essential desert footwear around town.)
Terlingua is home to a big mountain-biking community, so a lot of Desert Sports bike repairs, including tune-ups, were local. Co-owner Mike Long is the shop’s repair wizard, whether in the shop or on the trail. I can attest to Long’s skills after running into a boulder on a three-day mountain biking trek. Long was able straighten out my bent wheel with some trailside tinkering and a few swift whacks.
Long is also a valuable resource for riding tips. “Mike gave me a quick lesson on shifting gears so that I really understood it,” Adrienne Evans, of Terlingua, says. “He showed how a pickup tailgate and a blanket double as a bike rack by covering the upright tailgate with the blanket and draping the front tire over it and then tying it down.”
By the end of July, the Desert Sports crew recognized they needed to kickstart the entire operation if it were going to remain a viable business. “So, we started looking at other outfitters around the country to see what they were doing and sculpted our response to COVID-19 based on what we found,” Allbright says.
As of Aug. 1, Desert Sports reopened for business, including the retail shop and scaled-down options for tours, rentals, and shuttles—all with mandatory precautions. Tours are limited to no more than two family or travel groups per tour. The shop is also following state requirement for masks in all spaces that do not allow social distancing, and it is limiting the number of people on shuttles and inside the shop.
“Desert Sports has always set a high standard for health and hygiene for our operations,” Allbright says, “and we are enhancing these standards to meet the current challenges of COVID-19. We are asking all our visitors to respect the new guidelines and to help us keep them, as well as our staff, healthy and safe.”
Mountain bikers can still make an appointment for bike repairs as well. So you might as well get those new wheels mounted and disc brakes adjusted. And throw in a new pair of Chacos while you’re at it. You’ll need them.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect cities and towns across the state, Texas Highways asked our writers to share stories of adversity, recovery and strength in Texas’ small business community. We also checked in with businesses we’ve covered in the past and invited members of Texas travel associations to give us an update on how they’re doing and how you can support them. Click here to explore our map of nearly 500 small businesses.