By Laura Myers
Kim Stamps interviewed for her first job in Key West as a pedicab driver nearly a decade ago and instantly landed the gig.
"It was the first interview I ever did in shorts and flip-flops," said Stamps.
Now 40, she still wears shorts and Kino sandals — the brand of footwear made in Key West — but leads tours at her own company, Up The Keys Eco-Tours. Launched in February 2016, it showcases off-the-beaten-path Lower Keys attractions to visitors and groups.
During the tours, the Key West resident shares her knowledge of Florida Keys history, culture and ecology.
"People drive up the Keys and often don't know what they're missing," Stamps said. "Our tours are friendly and interactive. I encourage people to get out, and point out wildlife to the group."
A roundtrip All-Day Adventure tour, priced from $149 for adults and $139 for children 12 and under, leaves from Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island and travels north to Grassy Key.
Stops include the Bat Tower on Sugarloaf Key, the National Key Deer Refuge, scenic Bahia Honda State Park and the Marathon area's Turtle Hospital, Dolphin Research Center or Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters.
Tours can accommodate six to 13 participants in a comfortable 14-passenger Ford E350 van owned by Stamps. Groups up to 26 can travel in two vans with advance reservations. Lunch, snacks and cold drinks are included.
"Our tours are like a fun road trip with friends," Stamps said.
A four-hour Twilight Tour departs Hogfish in the late afternoon and visits the Bat Tower, Big Pine's Blue Hole and the offbeat No Name Pub. Other tours are dubbed Turtle Tuesdays, Dolphin Days and Aquarium Encounters.
Stamps was born and raised in California. She moved to Florida's Pensacola area at age 12 when her father retired from the U.S. Navy. Her mother is a Key West High School graduate and her parents met in Key West.
"My first visit to the Keys was as a small child, visiting my grandparents on Big Pine Key," Stamps said.
She remembers visiting the Middle Keys' Flipper's Sea School, now Dolphin Research Center, and Key West's Kino Sandals factory where sandals have been handcrafted since 1966.
Stamps graduated with honors from Pensacola's University of West Florida in 2003, earning a bachelor of science in business administration with a finance concentration.
Working at a ceramic tile distributor, with two weeks of annual vacation, made the adventurous, athletic young woman realize that an office job "wasn't going to cut it for me."
Stamps recalled a tearful "breakdown over a sushi lunch." Her lunch friend, meanwhile, took off to New Zealand and Australia.
Seeking to help Stamps in her quest for adventure, the friend queried her trip's tour director. That guide recommended certification training at the San Francisco-based International Tour Management Institute.
Stamps quit her office job, moved to California, earned an ITMI certification and learned how to conduct tours in any global destination.
After the training she drove to Durango, Colorado, to visit a friend. While researching tour companies, she learned about Los Angeles-based Trek America, which guides adventure tours for travelers ages 18 to 38.
During a subsequent solo trip from Colorado to Southern California, Stamps visited seven national parks, hiking in and reflecting on stunning outdoor beauty. The trip became a life-changing adventure.
"I became a different, freer person," Stamps explained.
After several phone interviews, Trek America hired her. Stamps traveled throughout western Canada and the United States in 2005 and 2006, leading adventure tours for six- to seven-month stints. She spent her 30th birthday in Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
Pulled by the call of home, where she kept her residence, Stamps returned to Pensacola. She ran an art gallery that was owned by the same friend who told her about ITMI and also managed a music studio.
But in late 2007 adventure called again. A sailing journey with friends brought Stamps to Key West — and to eight years of pedaling visitors through the island town.
She also drives a Key Lime Taxi part time.
According to Stamps, Up the Keys Eco-Tours educates visitors about conservation and indigenous wildlife. It recycles and pays entrance fees at national wildlife refuges and state parks.
Future expansion plans include adding eco-tour activities, half-day tours and additional vans for smaller tour groups.
"I've been learning and living the dream of the Florida Keys and Key West," Stamps said. "This life so far has led me to build Up The Keys and help our visitors create memories like no other memories — in a place like no other place."
Stamps, born and raised in California, moved to Florida's Pensacola area at age 12 when her father retired from the U.S. Navy.
A stop at Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key is popular among Stamp's tour guests.