There’s a new chaperone in town who’s willing to go the extra mile, or two, before arriving safely at a final destination. Martin Calkins started The Valley Hopper shuttle service, in part, to get to know neighbors and out-of-towners.
Calkins’ website, www.thevalleyhopper.com, offers a plethora of options for tourists and locals in need of transportation or sight seeing, which comes with a personal touch. From wine tours in Paonia and brewery hopping down the Roaring Fork Valley to smooth rides up the Crystal River, The Valley Hopper will show people around in style.
Calkins grew up in South Dakota and moved to the area in 2011 to work for Ascendigo Autism Services. “I ended up loving the Valley,” he said.
He’s been an educator for the past several years throughout the Valley, from Aspen to Glenwood High School and most recently at the Two Rivers Community School. He’s also dabbled in teaching outside the United States, namely in Thailand and the Dominican Republic.
While teaching at an international school in the Dominican Republic, Calkin’s northern friends would come to visit and they’d saddle up in his Jeep so he could show them around. There, “They have what they call ‘comodos’ — they’re like mom and pop stores where the locals hang out and have a beer or coffee,” Calkins explained.
He discovered a few favorite comodos: one in the mountains, another on the beach and in the barrio. The idea came to him to start a touring business there “and it just went viral,” he said. He called the tour service, operated out of his Jeep, The Comodo Hopper. “People were loving it,” Calkins added.
He’d come back to Carbondale during the summers to work for Ascendigo. Once the pandemic hit and things shut down, he and his wife decided to move to Colorado indefinitely. It struck him that people — like his parents — love seeing this area too.
So, he went to it: put the money down to purchase a 2018 Ford Transit, obtained a hefty insurance policy and the limo permit required to run such a business.
Business is good, so much so that Calkins hired another driver. It’s gone beyond the various routes offered on The Valley Hopper website. “I always say ‘I’m a man with a van,’” Calkins laughed, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Clients such as Aspen School of Music and Aspen Learning Center request the service regularly and he’s been hired for private parties, weddings and the like. Heck, he’ll even pick up fly fishermen.
Part of what he likes so much is meeting different people and learning about their various backgrounds and cultures. “My day is never the same and I really enjoy that,” Calkins said.
A friend gave him a tip that Amish visitors are often in need of transportation, and possibly tours as well, after deboarding the Amtrak in Glenwood Springs. So, Calkins put an ad in an Amish periodical and sure enough it paid off. “They’re just the most wonderful people,” Calkins said of his Amish passengers.
As is his nature, if he’s in Glenwood Springs already, he’ll stop at the train station and offer rides to nearby accommodations, free of charge. The good karma seems to always circle back.
When things slow down during the off-season, he’ll likely substitute teach. He also looks forward to traveling again. He inherited the travel-bug from his parents and it never ceases to beckon.
Besides, he enjoys riding in the backseat of a tour van in new places he and his wife visit, and won’t mind giving up the steering wheel, at least for a short while.
Calkins enjoys the art of photography and, with the passengers’ permissions, will post photos of their trips and all the fun in-between on The Valley Hopper’s Facebook page and Instagram account (@thevalleyhopper).