On screen, a handsome, but weary-looking guy points to a pair of gnarly red volcanoes sprouting from his upper arm: “I have something living in these little wounds. We don’t know what that is, but we’re gonna pull on it.” With this, tweezers plunge into the bloody abyss and, mercifully, the camera cuts away, with only a parting “unnnnnggggggh” offering any indication of the off-screen sufferfest taking place.
The on-screen groans emanated from Ryan Van Duzer and the squirmy things burrowed in his upper arm were botflies (Look it up; it’ll make you want to throw up, he says) that hitched a ride sometime between his two years spent in Honduras with the Peace Corps and his three-month bike ride back to Colorado from his service. Turns out this nasty little parasitic incident is the only vaguely displeasing thing about Van Duzer, unless you’re allergic to sheer, unbridled enthusiasm.
The upbeat Boulder native refers to himself as “adventurer, filmmaker, TV host and all around happy guy!” and he’s got the proof to back up his claims—the botfly video, part of his documentation of that trip back home from Honduras, is one of nearly four hundred he’s posted to YouTube since 2006, with a combined 1.2 million views. That doesn’t even take into account the endless stream of Vine snippets that appear on his Twitter feed (with over 3,300 followers, since we’re talking numbers), the videos populating his Vimeo channel, his overflowing Facebook followership, or the countless snaps posted on his Instagram feed, documenting a life stuffed full of adventure travel, sunsets, smiles, bikes, and burritos.
Part of his cachet comes from Van Duzer’s appearance on Discovery Channel’s 2011 series Out Of The Wild: Venezuela, where he joined eight fellow masochists for a month-long endurance rally in a remote jungle rife with malaria, yellow fever, poisonous snakes, and jaguars, an experience he calls “by far the most difficult mental and physical challenge of my life.”
But long before he was snacking on wasp larvae in South America, Van Duzer built his adventure reputation on two wheels. “I’ve been riding bikes since I was a little kid, and have never stopped,” he says. “[My earliest memory was] waking up to a shiny new BMX under the Christmas tree when I was a wee lad…it was so exciting! Little did I know that it would set off a love affair for the rest of my life.”
“Love affair” isn’t too strong a phrase here—the guy is borderline obsessed with all things cycling (check out his video “Bicycle Honeymoon” that features scenes of Van Duzer cuddling, twirling, and kissing his faithful steed while traversing the island of Aruba). His go-to rig is affectionately dubbed The Duzer Cruzer, and together they’ve burned rubber all across the Americas.
“There is one special bike that has been with me since my days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras. It’s a Trek 8000; I bought it from an American who happened to be working in Honduras. I used it for two years riding far into the mountains to work at schools, then I rode it home to Boulder when I finished service, and have since ridden it across the country and down both the East and West coasts…lots of stories on that baby!”
The Duzer Cruzer is still his trusty commuter bike, but it’s also going Hollywood with Van Duzer’s new project, an upcoming Travel Channel web series he describes as “a cycling adventure through Sonoma and Napa, trying out wine and discovering local flavor.” It’s no surprise he’s psyched about the show, considering it combines two of his passions: cycling and traveling. “Ever since I was an exchange student in Sweden at 17, I was hooked. It opened my eyes to the world; I had barely traveled before that. There’s nothing better than travel—it opens up your heart and feeds your soul.”
This “total dream job” is one he’s been working towards for quite some time, from earning his degree in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Colorado in 2003, to creating his first television show, Out There Guy, on a Boulder cable access station three years later. From there, he harassed the Travel Channel until he scored a gig hosting a segment of America’s Scariest Haunted Houses, and the work flowed in from there—TravelChannel.com, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic, to name a few.
If you park yourself on his YouTube channel, you quickly realize that Van Duzer’s a natural in front of the camera—enthusiastic, intelligent, and good-looking, he’s an easy draw—but it hasn’t always been that way. “Talking in front of the camera has come with time. My old stuff is painful to watch…I had a little too much ‘Anchorman’ in me, trying to be a local news reporter dork.”
He’s also had to slick on the elbow grease to become a natural on the other side of the camera, doing much of the behind-the-scenes hustle himself. “It feels good to be where I am today, cause I started at the very bottom, on public access TV, not making a dime and living in mom’s basement. I learned basic editing in college, but pretty much taught myself through trial and error, and with the help of some very talented film making friends.”
The goal of all of this screen time isn’t to inflate Van Duzer’s genuinely humble ego; he simply hopes that his work will inspire people to pursue their own passions and hold fast to their dreams, whether those happen on two wheels, on foot, or otherwise. One very important person he’s inspired along the way is his mother Donna Jobert, the star of Van Duzer’s short film Mama Picchu, which earned a slot at the 2012 Adventure Film Festival.
“I had my biggest smile when we got to Machu Picchu after hiking all day…and it was all covered in fog! She came all that way and couldn’t see it. But it wasn’t really about seeing Machu Picchu, it was about the seven months of preparing mentally and physically…it was a pretty special journey.”
Talking to Van Duzer, skimming through his website, and watching his videos, you get the sense that his entire life has been one special journey. In a time when sports heroes tumble from podiums with injected disgrace, where adventure television is often more artificial than it is inspirational, he’s almost anachronistically positive, a slice of light cutting through the foggy din.
“The secret to happiness is waking up every day by bouncing out of bed and making yourself laugh at how dorky you are, enjoying simple things like dancing around while brushing your teeth, eating ice cream before dinner, blasting music and jumping on your bed like a fool, having parties with all your best friends and buying them endless pizza and beer, rolling rocks off a cliff and watching them smash into things on their way down, spinning kids around by their legs as if they were a clock, riding a bike to the top of a hill to watch the sunset, getting caught in a rain storm while spinning around in circles with your arms high in the sky, climbing trees, catching bugs, jumping in cold lakes on a summer day in Sweden, being a father/older brother figure to a kid who needs love, giving a talk a your local retirement home, working in an orphanage and giving out piggy back rides, or simply just making a stranger smile…and hugging your mom!”
If America is ready for sheer, unbridled enthusiasm, I think we have our Next Big Thing in Adventure Television in Ryan Van Duzer.
(Photo courtesy of Ryan Van Duzer / Horny Toad Activewear)
With many, many thanks to Ryan Van Duzer, this interview & post takes care of badge requirement #5: Interview some person in whose ideas you are interested. Write up the interview in newspaper style.