The Greatest Show ... Under The Stars
As a kid growing up near San Diego, California, family weekends were spent kicking around the deserts of Southern California, Nevada, and Baja in our International Travelall. We'd off-load our dirt bikes and spend days exploring the remote cactus-lined arroyos and hidden canyons of the desert southwest. Each night, we'd watch the stars disappear on the western horizon, and I'd imagine their birds-eye view from another hemisphere. But when it was time to go home, there was always another distant mountain range yet unknown to us and waiting for our return. When I bought my first 4x4, each month I'd anxiously await the arrival of Four Wheeler and another story about the adventures of the Turtle Expedition. Living vicariously through Gary and Monica Wescott's overland treks to Mexico, South America, and Africa, I dreamed of the day that I'd turn the key and head out to the open road for months at a time. I'm sure I wasn't alone in my visions of expeditionary grandeur, so when I learned of a major gathering of international adventurers in Prescott, Arizona, I fired up my rig and took a drive. This fall marked the beginning of an era, the inaugural Overland Expo. And along with the Turtle Expedition, Four Wheeler was there to bring you the details.
Overland travel is not new, and rather than pulling a covered wagon across the Great Plains, we now enjoy the speed and comfort of our trusty 4x4s. The Expo is unique in that it was the first event dedicated solely to vehicle dependant adventure. The concept of "overlanding," and what is needed for successful treks through those empty places on the map, is much different than your typical two-day, rock-hopping trip to the Rubicon. It's not about mongo articulation, beaucoup horsepower, or 40-inch tires. Overlanding is a means to an end. When you want to search out the far corners of British Columbia, the Nevada desert, or the Kalahari, the important stuff is: Plenty of fuel and water, competent navigation skills, the proper gear, and foremost, a reliable rig. And that is what the Expo was about.
In addition to rubbing elbows with the likes of the Wescotts, the Expo drew one of the most impressive groups of world adventurers roaming the backcountry. Tom Collins, previous Camel Trophy participant and long-time U.S. team trainer, was on hand to teach driving technique and how to properly choose your gear. Lois Pryce, a young British ex-office worker, shared the tale of buying a motorcycle, blowing off the daily grind, and hitting the road for a solo trek from Alaska to the tip of South America (which she followed up with a white-knuckle ride from London to Cape Town a year later). And then there was Kristy and Nick Taylor, who shared their recent three-week trek through-get this-Iran.
The Expo, which was conceived by 25-year globetrotter, author, and guide Roseanne Hanson, packed more into three days than the guys in The Amazing Race. I felt like I was in an off-road educational Camel Trophy. The three-day schedule looked like that of Grand Central Station, with something happening every minute. In addition to the travel presentations, there were hands-on workshops covering everything from overland driving technique and vehicle recovery, to properly lashing your load and selecting the right gear. A favorite was "How to Stitch a Tire" (with hand tools and thread!) by Martyn Davies of Adventure Trailers. The Expo also attracted more than eighty manufacturers and vendors, including Jeep, ExOfficio, ARB, Four Wheel Campers, Tuffy Security, and Sportsmobile. When we weren't learning how to select and store food for a three-week trek in the Sahara, we were roaming the vendor showcase for the latest in hot showers, dual battery systems, fuel and water storage, and the newest in rooftop tents and camp gear.
Since those childhood days exploring with my dad, I've had the good fortune of setting foot in 43 countries on five continents. But I never get tired of watching the stars dance across the heavens each night, dodging out of view to the west as the sun presses them along. As for hearing or reading tales of those that have come before, who have turned the wheels for that empty quarter of the map before, I could spend weeks listening, daydreaming, and planning for the open road and an Overland Adventure. For details on the 2010 Overland Expo, surf the web to www.ovexpo.com. We'll see you there.
Cool Gear from the Expo
One of the great things about a show such as Overland Expo is the vendors' showcase, which brought out manufacturers of more unique and specialized products than what you might normally find at a show such as SEMA. The following is an assortment of neat new (and some familiar old) products we spied at the 2009 Overland Expo.