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27 Oct 2021 ~ 5 min read

Merchants of Dirt

It all started with Merchants of Dirt.

Well, it finished with a podcast called Merchants of Dirt. It truly all started with an idea for a blog called Reckoneer.

Reckoneer stood for “Recreational Engineering” and was focused on teaching race directors how to build better races. It was born out of a need to build my own offroad races but soon became a resource for how anyone could plan and produce a race.

To keep getting all the race management stuff out of my head, I forced myself into a challenge: write one blog post about race management a week for one year. It sounds easy, but boy, was it hard! However, I found the discipline to post one article a week for 52 weeks and looked back after a year to see a good library of race management information.

Next, I started taking the blog posts and categorizing them based on where they fit into the race management process. Race planning and strategy were put into the first part of the process where results, timing, and clean-up went towards the end. It didn’t take long before I had a complete process with a blog post for almost every aspect of offroad race management.

Once I had a list of articles laid out how they happened in the process, I could finally see it. I could see the pattern jump out like it had been there the entire time: it was a roadmap. A roadmap to how anyone could take these articles and build their own off-road race.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to communicate the roadmap in a way that made sense. Yes, I could write a book or build an online course (both of which I tried). However, what I was missing was proof. I had volunteered at hundreds of races and I had been directing my own races for over 8 years. But I had never created a race using the Reckoneer process by itself.

So I did what I always do — I decide to conduct a series of experiments!

Out of my Reckoneer process was born the “Wolf Bouncer All-Terrain Series”. This was a mountain biking event that encouraged both collegiate and recreational mountain bikers to participate in the endurance sport of mountain bike racing. The Wolf Bouncer experiment was an incredible success although not a very profitable one. On the one hand, it did make all my money back on what I spent out of pocket on permits, prizes, and course marking. While on the other hand, it did not make much profit.

Fortunately, what it do was prove my process worked! Furthermore, it exposed some of the weaker points in my process and even introduced me to a few edge cases I had not considered. These included disaster management, employees versus volunteers, and even politics.

Out of the Wolf Bouncer experience that formed the baseline for an outdoor race management process that worked, I discovered a new medium for sharing what I had learned: podcasting.

I like to think podcasting found me. I had always been a podcast listener but never considered trying to become a podcaster until a man at my day job asked if I knew anything about how you start a podcast. That conversation sent me down a rabbit hole of discovery that took me to a podcast called “Podcaster’s Roundtable”. I remember listening to almost 50+ episodes of Podcaster’s Roundtable before moving on to listen to almost 150+ episodes of Dave Jackson’s School of Podcasting. By the time I emerged from that rabbit hole, I had enough podcasting knowledge to be dangerous!

The only thing left to do was start my own podcast.

The next steps seemed almost too easy. I bought a microphone (the wrong one), put it in a room (that echoed), didn’t concern myself with any background noise, opened the first post in my Reckoneer blog, and read it all into the microphone.

It was terrible!

You don’t know how loud the world is until you try to record a podcast. This is how Merchants of Dirt (MoD) started. Not with a bang but as a noisy, out of tune, mess. I did everything wrong: from the microphone selection (Blue Snowball) to the audio editing (which was none). The first few episodes went straight into the desktop dustbin.

Yet, sucking at recording a podcast was a good thing. I had started at Step 8, not Step 1. Like with my Reckoneer process and the blog before it, I needed to go back and actually design MoD from the ground up. I had the content and I did know where I wanted to go with the show, now, all I had to do was apply what Dave Jackson had been preaching this whole time.

In doing it wrong I learned all the ways to break it, tweak it, and ultimately remaster Merchants of Dirt into a podcast worth listening to. This, in turn, was the lesson.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — is perfect the first time you try it. I made a ton of mistakes creating MoD. However, 55 episodes and 22,000 downloads later, Merchants of Dirt became my first hit podcast.

Headshot of Kyle Bondo

Hi, I'm Kyle. I'm a UX Designer, Software Engineer and Podcaster based in Fort Worth, Texas. You can listen to me on War Yankee, see some of my work on GitHub, or read more about me on my website.