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Ryan Van Duzer, who says all wanted to do was inspire people to “get off the couch and get out there,” produces at least one YouTube video a week hoping to prod people to enjoy the outdoors. (Provided by Ryan Van Duzer)

The sticker on his front door raises the question: Is Ryan Van Duzer a wizard?

The sticker doesn’t get the same play as those that show how much he worships biking, or how he wants to “keep Boulder weird,” or his love for outdoor meccas such as Moab. But there it is, on the door frame: “What if you just KNOW that everything will turn out all right?” 

The question is worth asking because life for Duzer, as many call him, often loudly, the way the bar patrons announced “NORM!” in the TV show “Cheers,” wasn’t always as great as you’d assume if you met him. 

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

For many, many years, he struggled to make more than a pittance. He lived with his mother until he was 30, and he bought a pad — not a house — only because Boulder had places that carried mandatory affordable housing price tags. Every tiny breakthrough, from doing outdoor videos for the Travel Channel to appearing on an adventure reality show for the Discovery Channel, only dashed his high hopes when nothing came of them, leaving him feeling like a shelter dog being passed around by foster families. Promising relationships left him broken-hearted. He grew up with a single mother. Shall we go on? 

All he wanted to do was inspire people to “get off the couch and get out there,” a catchphrase that summed up his life as much as helped prod people to enjoy the outdoors. 

And yet, Van Duzer remained positive, so much so that everyone, even his girlfriend, Amelia Boone, wondered if he was faking it. He’s not, Boone reports, after some healthy skepticism. That guy you see in his YouTube videos, the one with his face in the camera smiling and screaming “ole” biking through tunnels and flashing the energy of a heeler? Yep. That’s Duzer. 

“I’ve had a jolly disposition since I was a kid,” Van Duzer said. “I have bad days. But there are people I know who are always bitchy, and I’ve always wondered, what does that do you for? That doesn’t benefit you.”

Karma, it turns out, is not always a bitch. Sometimes it’s a fairy godmother. All that positivity for himself and for others paid off. Van Duzer gave up chasing TV stardom and decided to bet on himself — of course he did — making videos for YouTube, just like he did at the start of his career back in the mid-2000s when he essentially became Colorado’s first outdoor content creator, 20 years before TikTok hit the scene.

The videos grew in popularity, but only bit by bit, until the pandemic, when the outdoors became our savior to provide fulfillment, do something fun yet socially distanced and get us out of the dang house. People turned to Van Duzer to teach them. They found his old videos, too, and hit subscribe over and over. 

Today Van Duzer is 43, has more than 165,000 YouTube subscribers and is making $5,000 a month off of Google ads alone. He also has partnership with Priority bikes that allowed him to design his own mountain bike. He’s even written a book, “The Long Way Home,” released Dec. 13, on his first real adventure, when he biked home to Boulder from Honduras, where he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduating from the University of Colorado in 2003. 

Ryan Van Duzer in Honduras in 2005, where he began his first great adventure, riding his bike home to Boulder. The long ride is the subject of Van Duzers first book , “The Long Way Home.” (Provided by Ryan Van Duzer)

He loves his father now — “we’re buddies,” he said — and he’s even found a loving relationship with Boone, making them the powerhouse outdoors Colorado couple. Boone is blonde and beautiful — “she’s a babe,” Van Duzer said — but more importantly, she may be one of the few people in Colorado who can match his energy: She’s a four-time obstacle racing world champion for Spartan and Tough Mudder and was at one time the face of the sport. She’s now mostly an ultrarunner who, among other things, finished 100 miles at Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat, one of the tougher races in the country. 

What is Van Duzer’s secret? How did he remain so positive? The answer is all over his two-story apartment, from that same front door to the eight bikes he has around his apartment (including the one from Honduras, displayed like a museum artifact) to the books he reads and the YouTube videos he edits on a large Mac next to his bed to the fact that he’s never owned a car. 

“Outside really resets me,” Van Duzer said. “That’s my medicine. My happiness comes from riding my damn bike all the time.”

Runners as a role model

This might be the only thing you need to know about why Van Duzer is the way he is: He ran his first Bolder Boulder at age 6.

Ryan Van Duzer outdoors in the snow in 1982. (Provided by Ryan Van Duzer)

His mother, Donna Jobert, wasn’t thrilled about her small child running a 10K with tens of thousands of people, but he had enough friends and, yes, adult supervision, that she let him do it after walking him around the stadium so he’d know where to meet her. 

“It was a little freaky,” Jobert said.

Most Colorado kids growing up in Van Duzer’s day worshipped John Elway. Van Duzer worshipped running legends such as Frank Shorter, the Boulder legend who won two Olympic medals in the marathon, gold in 1972 and silver four years later. Because it was Boulder, these amazing pro runners would speak to his PE classes. Star-struck, Van Duzer tried running and liked that he turned out to be the best in his class.

That lasted until high school, when the other kids in cross-country caught up to him, forcing him to forge another identity with running. It’s remained to this day: He’s great at it, but it’s a relatable greatness, not nearly at, say, Boone’s level, and probably the only thing he loves as much as biking. He’s finished 100-milers at the Javelina Jundred and the iconic Leadville 100 race twice, where he first connected with Boone after she volunteered to pace him. 

“I wound up falling more in love with running,” Van Duzer said. “It was stressful before because I was very serious about it and just wanted to be the best.”

He was drawn to adventure: His bookshelf is full of classics stuffed with sticky notes that he uses to mark passages he finds especially inspiring. When he decided to ride across Honduras, he journaled like crazy, determined to write the next great adventure. Instead, he did videos for $50 a pop for the Boulder Daily Camera.

“I decided to do the ride because I wanted to figure out life,” Van Duzer said. “I didn’t know my next step. It would be a great way to process that.” 

But Van Duzer, like most of us, didn’t figure it out for a long time.

Bad news is a bummer 

Van Duzer knew he wanted to be a storyteller and went to CU to get a broadcasting degree. But he was disappointed by an internship at a Denver television station.

“Local news makes you bummed out,” Van Duzer said. “I wanted to make happy news. I wanted to make content that inspired people.” 

Van Duzer got his start on Boulder’s public access cable channel in 2006, filming a dozen 30-minute episodes of himself doing fun and relatable adventure stuff. He even had a Christmas special.

But public access went away, and he started doing videos for the Daily Camera again for $50 each. He could do whatever he wanted and used the clips for casting on adventure channels.

Not many were doing what he did beyond Jeff Corbin and the Crocodile Hunter — he did love Steve Irwin for his goofy energy — and Van Duzer found it hard to get any traction. He’d ship off clips constantly, and he found occasional work with the Travel Channel, which liked the fact that he could do it all on his own because it was cheap. He was on a 2011 Discovery show and did pilots and nothing really worked out.

Ryan Van Duzer and his mom, Donna Jobert, on a 14er in Colorado. They also hiked the grueling Inca Trail to Machu Picchu together, Jobert’s first outdoor adventure as an adult. (Provided by Ryan Van Duzer)

His mother began to question his desire to keep making videos. She didn’t mind him living with her — two of his three siblings also “boomeranged” a bit, she said — and she liked how frugal he was, a trait he learned from her years as a single mother. But she was a boomer, she said, and she couldn’t help but suggest to him, more than once, that maybe it was time to “get a real job.”

Van Duzer wondered about that too. In 2016, the Travel Channel told him a pilot, “How The World Works,” would be his big break, but that didn’t work out, either, and he decided to quit TV and its empty promises.

He pondered going back to his only “real job” organizing an after-school program. He was in his mid-30s. Instead, he decided to go back to what he loved, posting adventure stuff on YouTube that he hoped would get people outside. In the beginning, there were fewer than 75 views. But he stuck with it because he loved the work, occasionally posting about his personal journeys, such as his decision to quit drinking or his supportive feelings about Black Lives Matter. 

“There were consequences to that,” Van Duzer said, “but I liked that too. I just had total freedom to tell what I wanted to tell. When I was working for the Travel Channel, that wasn’t me. It was me reading from a script.” 

When the pandemic hit, his channel began to take off because people wanted to get out and they had the time to watch him. Van Duzer never changed who he was, but he did strike silver with a couple videos, including riding the Great Divide, an iconic Montana mountain biking trail where bear spray is a necessity. Those videos got him tens of thousands of followers.

“That was my one big breakthrough,” Van Duzer said. “People just needed something to watch.”

The second video was something he never expected: He was out of ideas in January 2021 and thought back to Honduras. He made a movie-length video on the journey, and people loved it. He brought out his journals of the adventure and asked Aimee Heckel, a writer he met while working for the Daily Camera, to help him put it all together for a book.

That’s how “The Long Way Home” came out just in time for Christmas. 

DUZER!

Boone is used to being recognized, but when she’s with her boyfriend in Boulder, as she was earlier this month, in a hardware store, she’s still amazed at how many cries she hears.

“DUZER!” she heard that Sunday, at least half a dozen times. 

She agreed to pace him in Leadville a couple years ago just to get to know him a bit. They got together for a bike ride on Gold Hill a few months later and clicked. By then she’d made a conscious decision not to watch his videos so she could draw her own conclusions, just as she hoped Van Duzer didn’t watch those NBC specials on Spartan racing. But she still had to wonder: Is this guy for real? Van Duzer’s positive energy had to be a game, right?

“His positive force is pretty incredible,” Boone said. “It doesn’t come very naturally to me. I’m a glass half-empty person. He just has this baseline level of enthusiasm for life that’s totally different.” 

Ryan Van Duzer on his bike. (Photo provided by Ryan Van Duzer)

Once she figured out he was real, on that bike ride, she felt comfortable talking to him about everything, even their shared heartbreaks and her open struggles, eventually seeking treatment for an eating disorder and anxiety. She learned to embrace him for who he is and even allow him to rub off on her. Van Duzer has an example of this: Because it’s Boulder, residents have gathered for three seasons of the year to ride single-speed cruiser bikes through town every Thursday night since 1992, and Boone not only learned to love it, she’s now one of its most enthusiastic participants 

Van Duzer doesn’t have a good answer for why they clicked, except for the answer you’d expect to hear from him: “Gold Hill is a magic place.” 

Everything is magic now for Van Duzer, which is why things like a little difficulty getting his book printed doesn’t bother him (he wondered if he would have copies for his release party Dec. 13, but he did).

“It’s self-published, and it’s as eco as a book can be, and that’s important to me,” Van Duzer said. “So whatever.”

He now produces one video, generally up to 30 minutes, a week for his channel, and besides the Google ads, he gets money from his partnership with Priority, a low-maintenance bicycle, and Patreon subscribers send him money monthly. You’d think, given his past struggles, that he’d try to ride the gravy train as long as he could, but Van Duzer hasn’t forgotten what got him there.

“I turn down ads all the time now,” he said. “I don’t want my page to be a billboard. This is the first time in my life I have money and the freedom to make the content I want to create, and I can be engaged with people now. This is what I want from life.” 

Jobert has changed her mind about her son’s work too. She’s proud of him.

“I’ve never understood the concept of making money doing what you love,” she said. “But I’ve learned that through Ryan.” 

Lo and behold, or maybe we should say Abracadabra!, it all worked out, almost like he knew it all along. Or maybe he just didn’t stop believing in himself.

He produced 65 videos this year, which has left him a little burnt out, but thank God for the holidays: Van Duzer doesn’t feel bad about taking a break.

“I love Christmas,” he said.

Of course he does.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, to correct the wording of the sticker on Ryan Van Duzer’s front door.

Dan England

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @DanEngland