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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
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!
Happy I missed it.
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!
And oh yeah, I’ve got a story about TWO wheels up in the air 🙂
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!
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?
Kat, I think a good friend should outweigh a weather forecast any day! 😉
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!
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!
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.
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?
Very cool, what a great way to get a feel for the overland experience!
Fascinating and a whole lot of fun. I saw some Overland Campers when we were in Scotland, they just ooze adventure. Great post.
Hmmm…all this begs the question “where are you going next?”. I sense more cross border stuff coming perhaps?
This expo seems like an upscale version of monster truck competitions at the county fairgrounds. Oh but wait, the latter only appeal to Deplorables!
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 😉
Hmm, Chris would have a lot of fun here!
I did!! I DID enjoy your insider’s view of the Overland Expo…what fun! In our little neck of the woods lies Land Between the Lakes, which straddles the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. Turkey Bay OHV Area is a mecca for off roaders where we creep up and plow around boulders, creeks and mud pits in our mini four wheelers with big fat tires. The fun for me is watching a mini version show of adventurers do daring and treacherous things while I sit safely on my ride munching a bologna sandwich before puttering off to a flat woodland trail to forge a babbling four inch creek. Our “outlander” fun is sort of the next mini step from an “expo” without the time and expense of actually crossing borders and dodging land pirates. As you described, seeing all the different rigs folks come up with is part of the enjoyment. Thanks for another wonderful two-parter, Suzanne! 🙂
Well shoot, when I read the header I thought it was the one up here in my woods by Plain Wa….I was ready to ask if you knew a guy by the name of Hodakaguy..
Turns out many states away..eh?
Looked like fun and interesting!