Inside the Overland Expo

So what is “overlanding,” anyway? One thing I learned from spending three days immersed among seasoned circumnavigators to adventure wannabes is that it means many different things to as many different people. It might mean circumnavigating the globe in one’s own vehicle, or merely driving the dirt Mojave Road across California’s Mojave National Preserve. To me, overlanding means crossing multiple borders/countries/continents by vehicle with no air travel involved. My brother Don is currently traveling in his Navion in Honduras, having started his journey in Texas. That’s overlanding.

I had to laugh at the contrast between this beastly vehicle....

I had to laugh at the contrast between this beastly vehicle….

...and the dainty hula dancer on his dash!

…and the dainty hula dancer on his dash!

I liked the subtle mountain shadows image on the side of this one.

I liked the subtle mountain shadows image on the side of this one.

There are three levels of admission to the Expo. The day trippers only get to visit the vendor area and observe the demos.  Sadly, many of them spent much of their one day admission in traffic, something that will no doubt improve next year.  Then there are the weekend attendees who stay overnight.  They get camping included with their pass so they can linger at the bar and stay for the film festival and be able to walk home.   And the third tier is the “Overland Experience.”   These people pay $500 for the weekend to attend all classes, plus special hands on training and driving skills training.

If you can't decide which tent to bring, bring them all!

If you can’t decide which tent to bring, bring them all!

My friend Maureen wants a dark tent...Maybe this one fits the bill.

My friend Maureen wants a dark room tent…Maybe this one fits the bill.

For those home schooling millenials. LOL!

For those home schooling millennials? LOL!

My “job” for the three day event is to staff the concierge tent for those attending the Overland Experience.  Duties include checking credentials and directing participants in the CTESA and MESA, (Camel Trophy Expedition Skills Area and Motorcycle Expedition Skills Area.)  This is a primo post, first of all because I am in the shade!  But also, I get to see the 4×4 vehicles and motorcycles as they enter the arena for their classes on the hour.  In between classes, I get to watch as the “dare devil” element builds in the skills area right behind me.

This area of the arena is the Motorcycle Expedition Skills Area (MESA)

This area of the arena is the Motorcycle Expedition Skills Area (MESA)

Lots going on here to watch in between directing participants to their class locations.

Lots going on here to watch in between directing participants to their class locations.

One of the classes offered was named "If you don't drop, you're not trying hard enough."

One of the classes offered was named “If you don’t drop, you’re not trying hard enough.”

The sand pit seemed to claim the most victims.

The sand pit definitely had the most “drops!”.

Immediately behind me, motorcycle riders gain experience on all terrains on the “Silk Road” course with steep ascents, rocky stretches, big bumps, and the trickiest of all, the sand pit.  The most fun to watch are the “Women Only” classes, because their support and confidence-building among riders is palpable.

And speaking of women, the Overland Expo was actually founded by a woman. Back in 2009, Roseann Hanson, former guide, world traveler, and overlander extraordinaire held an event at the fairgrounds in Prescott. Five hundred people attended that year. Ten years later, the crowd this year was estimated at 14,000. Roseann has done a phenomenal job in making sure women are well represented in what has typically been a male-dominated sport.

That white tent behind the Camel Trophy Land Rover is my volunteer post for the weekend.

That white tent behind the Camel Trophy Land Rover is my volunteer post for the weekend.

The two Camel Trophy Land Rovers are demonstrating the "tri-pod" method of ferrying the motorcycle across the chasm.

The two Camel Trophy Land Rovers are demonstrating the “tri-pod” method of ferrying the motorcycle across the chasm.

One of the big draws for the “weekend experience” is the driver skills training in the Camel Skills Expedition Area.   For those who may not know (I did not,) the Camel Trophy was an annual competition held for twenty years, between 1980 and 2000 sponsored by Land Rover and RJ Reynolds tobacco, ergo the name.  They were grueling endurance tests, not only of the Land Rovers used in the competition, but of the drivers themselves as they crossed rivers, traversed swamps and jungles, all where roads did not exist.  It would often take up to 24 hours just to go two miles.

Here, former Camel Trophy Team Member Tom Collins is giving a presentation on the event. Note photo of Land Rovers in his slide show.

Here, former Camel Trophy Team Member Tom Collins is giving a presentation on the event. Note photo of Land Rovers in his slide show.

Another picture of a picture from Tom's slide show, this one building a bridge...

Another picture of a picture from Tom’s slide show, this one building a bridge…

In the end, the Camel Trophy event began featuring more outdoor activities outside the vehicles, so Land Rover pulled out of sponsorship.  Around the same time, Camel was sold to Japan Tobacco, thus ending the annual competition.  All that remains are a few of the original vehicles, along with the drivers to tell their tales of sleepless nights, disease-born insects, and efforts to leave a positive impact on the  underdeveloped countries.

A group of Camel Trophy drivers now attend the Expo to serve as instructors in the Expedition Skills area. They teach vehicle repair, rigging and recovery skills from winching to welding and everything in between. It’s basically a weekend of “self rescue” for one’s own vehicle. Were it not for my volunteer gig, I would have likely missed this interesting aspect of the Expo.

No one should go hungry at the Expo! (At $7 for a breakfast burrito, you might go broke, but you won't go hungry!)

No one should go hungry at the Expo! (At $7 for a breakfast burrito, you might go broke, but you won’t go hungry!)

Hibachibot Korean BBQ had a pretty good beef bulgogi bowl.

HibachiBot Korean BBQ had a pretty good beef bulgogi bowl.

Mediterranean Majik offers "food that will change your life," though Genie didn't come through for me.

Mediterranean Majik offers “food that will change your life,” though I’m still waiting to find out how…

"Rustic" wood fired pizza from the Dough Broughs was my favorite.

“Rustic” wood fired pizza from the Dough Broughs was my favorite.

Volunteers also get to audit all classes while off duty. I must confess that I found the few classes I was able to attend to be much more elementary than I anticipated.  I expected instructions on how to ship your vehicle around the Darien Gap, or which route is the safest to traverse Africa.  Instead, they were geared toward people yet to cross the border.  “Beginners Guide to Mexico,” and “The Journey Before the Journey.”  It was at this point when I realized many of the attendees were there more for the gear than the guidance.

Figures the "American Adventurist" is posing by a couple of big-a$$ed trucks!

Figures the “American Adventurist” is posing by a couple of big-a$$ed trucks!

IMG_4727

This vehicle epitomizes “American Adventure.”

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From my first timers perspective, there seem to be two very distinct cultures who attend the Expo.  There are the weathered, seasoned travelers; explorers who tell of travels to faraway lands, immersion into other cultures, travel on a shoestring.  And then there are the “gear heads.”  That includes people who own the six figure behemoths like Earth Roamers who spend enough to feed a small village just to look the part.  When I asked one of the expedition staff members, “Where do people go in these things, because these vehicles are too big to ship” his answer was “the Shopping Mall.”

This one needed some size perspective to show the extreme opulence. I could barely reach the door handle! Had to love the sign in the doorway that said "Photos of the interior can be found on our website." In other words, "Keep your dirty feet out!" haha!!

This one needed some size perspective to show the extreme opulence. I could barely reach the door handle! Had to laugh at the sign in the doorway that said “Photos of the interior can be found on our website.” In other words, “Keep your dirty feet out!” haha!!

Here is the opposite end of the size perspective...I would have to unfold to get out of this one.

Here is the opposite end of the size spectrum…I would have to unfold to get out of this one.

Overall, this one may have been my favorite. Maybe it's just because the Sprinter chassis is familiar to me, but they got all my comforts of home in a 4WD. I really liked the L-shaped kitchen.

Overall, this one may have been my favorite. Maybe it’s just because the Sprinter chassis is familiar to me, but they got all my comforts of home in a 4WD. I really liked the L-shaped kitchen.

My favorite events at the Expo were the talks, films, and presentations given by authors who had actually done the time on the road, crossing borders and cultures.   It’s interesting to note these were typically Brits or Aussies.  This holds true for a lot of the blogs I follow.  Most people from the US just don’t do that kind of travel.   In a culture more focused on gear and gadgets, product names like “The Black Series,” “Dominator” or “Poison Spyder” seem to target a demographic more intent to master adventure rather than merely experience it.

My favorite talk entitled “Can you buy Adventure?” given by author and world traveler Ted Simon, addressed this difference between travel and adventure, which boils down to the element of risk.  His point was that many think you need lots of money to travel, but in fact money insulates you from the local culture.  Best example, nothing separates a traveler from the local culture more than a fancy BMW motorcycle suit.  Spend less on the suit and more on the ticket to get there…

This "Jeep Kitchen" was pretty innovative. The stove slides into a shell that is used as counter space that slides into a bigger shell for more counter space, which eventually slides into the bottom drawer.

This “Jeep Kitchen” was pretty innovative. The stove slides into a shell that is used as counter space that slides into a bigger shell for more counter space, which eventually slides into the bottom drawer.

One item I saw a lot of which surprised me was fire rings, in the spirit of "leave no trace." This one was innovative...it travels on the spare tire!

One item I saw a lot of which surprised me was fire rings, in the spirit of “leave no trace.” This one was innovative…it travels on the spare tire!

They think of everything at the Overland Expo!

They think of everything at the Overland Expo!

It was a fascinating three days, and a stark diversion from my current lifestyle.  I had a lot of fun, met some interesting people, and got a chance to explore more about my own views of overlanding.  In the end, I think the guys from the magazine Overland Journal summed up my own personal definition brilliantly:

“Overlanding is about exploration and adventure travel. While the roads and trails we travel might be rough or technically challenging, they are the means to an end, not the goal itself. The pursuit is to see and learn about our world, whether on a weekend trip 100 miles from home or a 10,000-mile expedition across another continent. The vehicle and equipment can be simple or extravagant – they, too, are simply means to an end. History, wildlife, culture, scenery, self-sufficiency – these are the rewards of overlanding.” ~ Overland Journal

Well said! With that, I will leave you with a few parting shots of the Land Rover’s Overland Driving Course. I hope you enjoyed my insiders view of the Overland Expo. It’s a beautiful world out there…regardless of “gear and gadgets,” get out there and explore it!

Brings a "test drive" to a whole new level!

Brings a “test drive” to a whole new level!

Overland Experience Weekend participants were allowed to bring their own vehicles onto the course.

Overland Experience Weekend participants were allowed to bring their own vehicles onto the course.

Land Rover driving instructors offer tips for challenging terrain.

Land Rover driving instructors offer tips for challenging terrain.

They are all watching to make sure this one does not drag bottom.

They are all watching to make sure this one does not drag bottom.

Here comes the Earth Roamer....but check out the front wheel on that vehicle behind him! YIKES!

Here comes the Earth Roamer….but check out the front wheel on that vehicle behind him! YIKES!

20 thoughts on “Inside the Overland Expo

    • LOL! How do you really feel, Kelly? If it is not your “thing,” then I am happy too! It was crowded enough as it was!

      Hope you didn’t waste too much time on the blog post…

      • Actually Suzanne, I think this was one of best posts! Totally fascinating! My ex liked to get stuck in mud and mountains and slides and figure out how to 4WD out of the predicament, and I think him and these guys sort of miss the local culture :)

        • Thanks, Terri. The funny thing is, I tend to be too much of a nervous driver/rider to enjoy the 4WD culture. But I do enjoy “dabbling” in order to see something I couldn’t otherwise experience. For example, in 2015 my friends Chris and Mindy took me over Black Bear Pass in their Jeep. It was terrifying but exciting at the same time!

          • Terrifying the first half dozen times, then it just gets downright annoying cause someone needs to help with the winch, the gathering of raw materials for traction, the jack to lift a wheel, etc, it’s an endless journey toward survivalism and bragging rights to stories later which sort of get old :( Never thought of myself as a girlie girl, but with these guys, I’m Little Miss Prissy!

  1. Hi Suzanne….

    Looks like a fun, interesting, educational experience! I’d love to see the insides of some of those rigs. Other than the one sending people to their website to see the insides were you able to go inside some of them…the one that was your favorite with the L shaped kitchen?
    I bet you did meet some interesting people. I continue to love your idea of volunteering at these events…you get such a different perspective!
    Kat

    • Hi, Kat! Thanks for the nice comment. That one jumbo-sized EarthRoamer was the only vehicle in the entire expo that wasn’t open. All others had the “welcome mat” rolled out, and some were even giving away “swag” like stickers, caps, and beer coozies. And in fairness to EarthRoamer, they did have a smaller vehicle that was open for touring. It was nice with lots of extras including induction cooktop and cedar-lined closets, but it was very small inside.

      I will definitely volunteer at an event again, and hopefully one day at the Wooden Boat Festival! Curious to hear if you will be going again this year?

      • I’ll have to make note of this event….a fun reason to head to Flagstaff at this time of year to visit friends there. I had a conflict with the Wooden Boat Festival. The plain air art festival at the Grand Canyon the same weekend so I decided to go to that this September. But I definitely want to head back to the boat festival sometime soon! Loving all your posts…you’re often my inspiration! I’m thinking of driving to FL at the end of the summer to spend some time with a friend there…have I lost my mind?

  2. What a glorious diversion from regular highway experiences! The fact that one is among them and able to experience and learn something completely different without the requirement that one’s own unit be put into those situations, is very appealing.

    I continue to experience “Suzanne Envy” to the max!

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    • Thanks, Judie. As I sat and watched the Land Rover driving course, I just kept thinking “I’m glad that’s not the Winnie out there!” haha!

  3. Suzanne,
    Thank you for posting about the Overlander convergence! It is a warning I dare not disregard. I CANNOT ATTEND THIS THING, EVER! I’d be like a kid in a candy store and would surely deplete my meager retirement nest egg. There is no doubt but that Lovely Wife would disown me!
    Safe travels and enjoy the adventure.

  4. I would love to be an overlander, in the true sense of the word, driving from one country to the next. Not sure I could convince Terry however. Perhaps a girls’ trip?

  5. Fascinating and a whole lot of fun. I saw some Overland Campers when we were in Scotland, they just ooze adventure. Great post.

  6. This expo seems like an upscale version of monster truck competitions at the county fairgrounds. Oh but wait, the latter only appeal to Deplorables!

  7. How interesting! I have *got* to show my birding girls the last photo b4 the parting shots. And all this time, we’ve sat on the inside edge of the car door 😉

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