Frank Ledwell is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of OutdoorX4 Magazine – an overland adventure lifestyle publication.
Frank knows the overland space: it changed his life.
Houston born and raised, he says “I went off to college in fall of 1996 but went to Colorado during the summer of 99 with four or five of my best friends. That experience was when my passion for the outdoors truly began.
When I finished my undergrad degree in economics, I was going to go to Colorado and do economic development. I swore I was never coming back.”
But he did.
That Summer in Colorado
“In the summer between my junior and senior year we had an opportunity to all work together in Colorado at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado – in the foothills of Rocky Mountain National Park.
It was the most memorable summer I’ve ever had. It was labor intensive for grounds and maintenance. We picked up trash at the cabins and worked outside building fences and an irrigation system on the property.
When we weren’t working we were out hiking. We had another good friend who had an old Jeep YJ that he had bought before we all went off to college. We used that Jeep to get everywhere, especially up into the mountains for hiking. That summer I really developed this love for being outdoors.
It was memorable because it was 3 months immersed in the mountains. I’d never experienced that. I belonged to the Boy Scouts, but this was different. It was best friends working together – a really, really fun experience. That summer in Colorado was the catalyst that created this passion for what I’m doing now.
The following semester I had to take economics and fell in love with it. I liked numbers, so I was very much intent on an economic career in Colorado; but I also liked writing. I was on the yearbook staff and had tinkered with the idea of getting a journalism degree.
A couple months before I got ready to graduate, my father started to get sick. I’d always had a close relationship with both parents. When he got sick the best decision was to move back to Houston to be with family and spend as much time as I could.
Over time, crunching numbers refueled the interest in writing.”
Just for fun: JPFreek Adventure Magazine
“In 2005 I bought a white Jeep TJ Rubicon. I and one of my best friends – a graphic designer – wanted to start doing something for fun to take a break from the daily grind of our day jobs. I love to write, he loves design and we both love photography. We decided to tell the different stories of adventures we go on.
A few months later – In January 2006 – we launched the world’s first fully digital Jeep lifestyle magazine. JPFreek Adventure Magazine was small, a 16 page digital magazine intended to capture the aspect of getting out and having adventures in Jeeps – about hiking and mountain biking, things we enjoy doing. It went out to 20 people, friends and family.
After the first issue we decided to launch a second, maybe 20 or 24 pages. We put it on Jeep forums to gauge interest and gather feedback and it EXPLODED. People were completely engaged in the idea of the adventure lifestyle and all the things people do with their jeeps.
We continued to publish bi-monthly up until I left in 2012. By that time this little digital Jeep magazine had an email database of 20,000 readers in all 50 states and over 60 countries worldwide. It was certainly the largest digital Jeep magazine available. It was the catalyst that led me to OutdoorX4.”
Taking a Chance: OutdoorX4
“I started working on OutdoorX4 in the third quarter of 2012. The first year was tough because the publishing realm is a pretty tricky business to get into. When you’re an unknown on the print side, it’s very costly. I paid expenses out of pocket to be able to continue publishing; but I felt strong about what we were doing.
By 2013 I was sure we were going to go forward with it. I spent all of 2013 getting the work done. We released the first issue in January of 2014. Last year that expense turned into a tremendous investment financially and emotionally. It’s a testament to the quality of the people that are working with me. I couldn’t have done it by myself.
When you can relate to what you’re publishing, it gets people engaged. They can identify with it.
A Unique Perspective
“There are so many publications on the market, but they’re either off-road or outdoors; nobody brought the two together. It’s a natural fit to attach the vehicle to the recreation aspect. It makes us unique.”
What’s the difference between off-roading and overlanding?
“The two are interrelated to a degree. Off-roading is more general, things anybody would do if they have a 4 x 4 vehicle. It’s typically about getting in a Jeep and being off pavement, going over big rocks and through the mud. With overlanding, it’s not so much about the off-road aspect, although that’s certainly part of it.
Over the past 5 to 7 years, overlanding as a whole has grown to become the fastest growing segment within the off-road market.
You don’t have to have a big built up vehicle to get out and have an adventure. The vehicle is a tool to get out and enjoy the off-pavement element of being away. It’s also a tool to enjoy the other aspects of being out, from hiking and mountain biking to kayaking and more.
Overlanding is about getting out there and being self-sufficient when you go, with the right clothing, food and equipment. It’s about the experience. It’s something anybody can do.”
Plans For the Future
“The big mission has been for us to create solidarity between the off-road demographic and the outdoor recreation group. There has been a division between the two. People who enjoy all outdoor recreation have been anti motorized vehicles for recreation because of the bad apples who destroy public lands. We’re here to show that – through responsible recreation – enthusiasts can have a memorable experience.
We promote responsible family friendly oriented adventures to the broadest demographic possible. Anybody who reads an article can identify with it and say ‘this is something we can do.’ They don’t need a $100,000 vehicle with huge tires and a special suspension to get out and do these things.”
Something in Common
“The companies that we’ve worked with thus far are passionate about the products they build. They create products that our readers are engaged with and interested in. These companies share our values. They love what they do and the quality of what they do is seen in the products that they create.
I know Amanda Products is a company that’s passionate about producing and building quality products. We’re all about supporting people that come up with genuine ideas that are created here in the U.S.”
“If I had moved to Colorado, the whole situation would have been very different. I met my wife and had children. Now I have a family that shares my passion. We enjoy getting in our Land Cruiser and taking week-long trips to the mountains. They really enjoy that.
I’m grateful for the sequence of events that got me here. It’s been a fun ride and a tremendous learning experience. It’s a true testament to how you can find something you really enjoy and do that.
It’s very rewarding. I couldn’t be happier.”
Our thanks to Frank for taking the time to share his story.
Subscriptions to OutdoorX4 are available in Print plus Digital and Digital only.