Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bog Dogs Reach Half a Million Views


Lately I have been trying to practice Amor Fati, a love of fate. The problem is that you never know where fate might lead. I never imagined that one day I'd be a widely followed blogger. It was a job that didn't exist when I was young. Growing up there was no internet so there was no such thing as blogging. Back in the 1980's writers scribbled in isolation and hoped one day to be noticed. Luckily I got noticed very early on.

My journey started at 12 years old when a few of my poems were published in a school poetry book (You can read the story here). I didn't know it back then but that was the start of my writing career. It was a bittersweet beginning because although I liked having a talent, I didn't want to be a writer. I certainly didn't want to be a poet.

The truth is that I wanted to be an athlete. The problem was that I sucked at organized sports. As a kid I played 2 seasons of soccer, 1 season of baseball and 1 season of basketball. In all cases I was the worst player on each team. Outside of sports and far away from school there was one thing I was really good at - exploring. I loved the woods and was always leading adventures with my rag-tag group of friends known as the Hawks Foundation.


That's me in the black beret. I gathered a group of friends and led them on exciting little treks through any dark nook we could find on the south shore of Massachusetts. Growing up in a military family I had a collection of Army gear that we used for practice drills in the woods. While many people had a bible on their bedside, I had the soldiers manual of common tasks. I was a bit of a fanatic.

While we considered ourselves a military preparation group, our parents, others teenagers and the police preferred to call us a gang. Well, there was some truth in that. I had been bullied in elementary school so I studied martial arts and started fighting back. However, the kids I faced in high school were much larger, stronger and more clever. That was why I needed friends and weapons to defend myself.

We got involved in buying guns, ended up in street fights and even committed a few drive-bys. We started carrying weapons in high school, just in case. Conflict in the classrooms reached an apex when I was finally expelled for fighting at the end of my Junior year. At this point the only option left for me was a career in the military.


My leadership abilities were not appreciated in the U.S. Army. Despite coming in 1st place in my physical training test and passing both basic and advanced rifle marksmanship plus an expert score on the grenade course, I was too rebellious for such a rigid chain of command. Worse yet I had no respect for my drill sergeants who were wimps compared to my father.

I had come into basic over-trained and under-disciplined. That was the ruin of me. I returned home and fell into a terrible depression. I had no idea where my life was going. I dived into work and even went to college studying English literature. That didn't last long either. Sitting in a classroom was so boring. Clearly I was a man meant for action but my underlying emotional problems were hampering everything I attempted. This was a problem that would get worse before it got better.

After surviving a few near attempts at suicide the truth came out. At 21 years old, during a fight with my father, I was told that I was adopted and then I was thrown out of the house. It turns out that I had been the family secret, everyone in my enormous family knew the truth. They had been lying to me all those years. This sent me into a tailspin. While it did explain the deep feeling of loneliness that I had experienced my entire life, it was also so astonishing that I didn't know how to react.

In the following years I opened the door to any possibility, letting my creativity run wild. I traveled with a circus troupe out of New York, I filmed and starred in small budget movies and I worked on stage plays. I joined a backyard wrestling federation, boxed in Florida nightclubs and bought my first mountain bike. I even tried my hand at political activism. During this time I worked at over 50 jobs and wrote more than 50 short stories. That was, until I met China Smith.


Let me give you some back story. My adopted father used to box at Brockton's Petronelli's gym back in the 1970s. That gym was famous for producing such stars as Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano and Middleweight Champion Marvin Hagler. My father's love of the sport rubbed off on me. I was reading boxing magazines before I started reading books.

While I fought a few amateur bouts, my love for the sport was more as a spectator and analyst. I educated myself on its history, met some prominent fighters and then decided to get involved in the magazines. At first I merely sent in letters to the editor but my name became well known rather quickly. In fact, Nigel Collins, the editor of Ring Magazine would later call me, "A prolific letter writer." Ten of my letters were published. The first time that a picture of Welterweight Champion Andre Berto appeared in a boxing magazine, he was standing next to me. I had come a long way in short time. This dream of being a boxing magazine writer seemed quite possible.

Enter the Dragon. I met China 'The Dragon' Smith at a nightclub in Sarasota, FL. I had a bout that night and afterwards he made an announcement about his upcoming fight nearby. I went to his fight and was blown away by an electric performance. I sincerely believed that in terms of talent, this guy could be the next Mike Tyson. I got a hold of his manager, convinced him to sign me as a boxing publicist and eventually China got a shot at headlining an event on Showtime Championship Boxing.

Ring Magazine received the article I wrote about China but it would have to wait pending the outcome of his fight on Showtime. Unfortunately he lost that bout in spectacular fashion and he never fully recovered from the loss. Just as quickly my credibility in the sport of boxing was knocked out as well. My dream was laying on the canvas covered in blood.


Whenever progress careens into a ditch, I return to writing. People loved hearing the crazy tales about the things I had attempted. They loved the gang stories about how we risked our lives every weekend as teenagers. This sparked a revelation. Maybe people would pay to read these stories? Many years later while living in Orlando I finally turned my adventures into novels.

I wrote fictionalized versions of my time with China Smith, my backyard wrestling matches, my political escapades and our crazy gang adventures. Then I found a way to get these books published. At that point I assumed that my fate had been fulfilled. I had become a novelist. My books were on the shelves, my face was in the newspapers and reviews appeared in magazines. I was doing booksignings and selling copies on Amazon.com. It all looked to be moving in the right direction.

However, I am a pretty crappy businessman so 5 years and 7 books into this new journey the trickle of sales never grew into a river. The media spotlight faded. During that time I had grown bored of the isolated lifestyle and was frustrated by a lack of interest from the publishing industry. Just as quickly as it had sparked up, the flame extinguished. Fate had eluded me yet again. It was time to move on.


At 35 years old my girlfriend and I were back living with my parents in Massachusetts. I was depressed, overweight and sick. I had no idea what to do next. One day my brother Kevin and I were flipping through coverage of the Beijing Olympics on television when they announced a brand new event - Mountain Biking. We had no idea that that mountain biking was a sport. We started researching it on the internet and found that people of all ages could compete.

It didn't take long before Kevin and I got into riding. Mountain biking brought me back to what I was good at - exploring. Now I had new adventures to write about. However, since the books weren't selling, I decided instead to keep an online journal known more commonly as a blog. On September 12th, 2009 I posted the first few posts. My wife even came up with a catchy title, we would be known as The Bog Dogs.

We hooked up with the local trail group which was part of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA). Coincidentally one of the ride leaders was a well known mountain bike writer by the name of Bill Boles. I told Bill about my blog and past writing history and he encouraged me to send my work in to the magazines. Click, another door opens.


My blog started with one picture and one paragraph about what happened at a given ride or event. As we met more people we included them in our stories, posting the photos for free on Facebook. It didn't take long to gather a small following. One of my letters and a later article were published in Dirt Rag Magazine. That was followed by 2 articles in NEMBA Singletracks magazine. Had we finally grabbed fate by the handlebars? Not quite.

Massachusetts was expensive and we didn't have a stable place to live. Many of the races were a hundred miles away and even with a sponsorship bike upkeep was pricey. The blog didn't earn me any money so we simply couldn't afford to maintain an active racing schedule or even live in the state. We missed Florida so it was time to return home.

In late 2010 my wife and I moved back to the sunshine state where we traded down for smaller tires by taking up the sport of  BMX Racing. It was here that the Bog Dogs Race Report grew from a personal journal into a news and event website. We volunteered at the local track, raced in the state series and joined teams. In less than a year we were interviewing competitors, promoting races, producing highlight videos and taking thousands of photos.



The Bog Dogs Race Report was getting 2,500 views a month while covering BMX news from all over the State of Florida. We had picked up advertisers from within the sport and readers from around the world. We got the attention of the NBL, the ABA and I was even nominated to the board of the Sunshine State Association (I didn't accept the nomination). The website had become the most successful venture I had ever created.

In terms of racing we weren't doing too bad either. I had won my class in the 2011 SSA State Championship race and Terri won her class overall in the 2012 SSA Series. Together we competed in more than 100 races at nearly every track Florida. Our collection of trophies fills a room in our house.

My wife and I were neck deep in the sport of BMX racing. In addition to reporting news, making videos and running the website I also ran websites for other BMX tracks in the area. A year and a half into this endeavor the income had started to look promising. For once we were in the black, taking in enough money so that the website paid for itself. I finally had a rope around fate and it was not getting away... well, that's what I thought anyway. I'd been wrong before.


Returning home from a weekend race in Orlando, I learned that the company I was working for had gone out of business. With my day job gone I decided to devote all of my time to the website and perhaps even expand it. I created a Kickstarter account and proposed to raise money for a BMX video webseries. The plan was that the money would get the show started and added advertising would keep it going.

We successfully raised $2,400. and used it to fuel six months worth of video and website news. While people had rallied to get the project moving, we had exhausted all possible avenues. BMX racing is a niche sport that is made up mostly of kids. Our video numbers were dismal, our financiers were tapped out. Instead of picking up new advertisers, our old advertisers were running out of money, some were going out of business. After covering the first major race of 2013, we were broke. It was over.


The Race Report had become a sinking ship. The sport had gone through some dramatic changes during our time and the new rules did not favor our inclusion. The newly formed USA BMX racing company was publishing national news, rider profiles and track pages into one all encompassing website. The SSA started a new website of its own that reported the state news. In no time flat, we had become obsolete.

When the going gets tough, the tough go running. We slowly let go of our ties to BMX and instead my wife and I took up running and returned to mountain biking. Using a new blog called Bog Dogs Secret Stash, we cataloged our 5k races and mountain bike rides. Working with the Sarasota County Off Road Riders and Zoomers Running Club we were simply doing what we are good at, she took pictures while I wrote stories. Some of the articles were later published in the Zoomers 'Finish Line' newsletter.


Over the last two years we have built up a whole new audience which has doubled the readership that we had at the Race Report. The Bog Dogs Secret Stash attracts 5,000 views per month. Between the two sites we have finally reached 500,000 views. Granted it only brings in a trickle of money through Google Ads but this site and all of its stories are a labor of love. We don't plan out our adventures, we simply go where the wind takes us.

So, I never became a great athlete or a great novelist but I have become a popular and respected blogger. I also know that this is not the end of the journey, who knows where we'll go next? Ok, I do know where we are going next, I'll give you a hint - the sports initials are CX.

Regardless of direction, every day I try to remember that timeless phrase Amor Fati in an attempt to appreciate who I am and what we have accomplished. Perhaps it can be best summed up by the Amy Steinberg song "Exactly" which sings, "I am exactly where I need to be."


Note: While 500,000 might not sound like a big number, it is what's called a 'hard number.' We don't use advertising, cookies, pop-ups or any other nonsense that provides some websites with false clicks. Our readers find us through Google, Facebook, Reddit or links on mountain bike, BMX and running websites that are posted by enthusiasts. The average visitor represents 5 to 10 views thus giving us a readership of more than 50,000 people over 5 years.



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