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2019 Overland Adventure Part 1: The Excitement Begins With Canyons, Trail Repairs, and a Swimming Hole

Overland Adventure: Part 1

It wasn't just about the obstacles or the distance traveled, Overland Adventure was also about the memories formed along the way. We know many 4x4 enthusiasts enjoy camping while wheeling, and some of us choose to extend those trips over multiple days, covering great distances and relying only on what has been packed into, on top of, or behind our rigs. Whether you call it a sport, your hobby, or a way of life, overlanding can be described as self-reliant and vehicle-based off-road travel where the journey is the purpose—and from that description the new-for-2019 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure was born.

From the stacks of applications submitted through fourwheeler.com, we selected 20 overland vehicles of various sizes, makes, and models; all were equipped with true four-wheel drive and unique sleeping accommodations, and they came from all corners of the United States to join us on our inaugural expedition.

One-of-a-Kind Adventure
We crafted an adventure you likely would not experience by simply heading off into the backcountry on your own. Not only did our route traverse the awe-inspiring mountains, rocky canyons, and thick forests between Wickenburg and Flagstaff, Arizona, the trip also concluded at the largest-ever Overland Expo West (the official event partner of Overland Adventure) with a celebration banquet, raffle, and VIP camping on-site at the Expo.

That's not all. Nena Barlow is celebrated in the off-road community for her many years of 4x4 experience, recognition as an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers' Association Master Trainer, and also for her shining attitude on the trail—and she was the professional guide leading the way on Overland Adventure. Nena's infallible enthusiasm, extensive knowledge of the American Southwest, and acclaimed 4x4 acumen are only a handful of the reasons why we selected her to lead the inaugural Overland Adventure. In addition to handling many of the nuances of the expedition, Nena kept the group engaged and informed using her Rugged Radios GMRS radio as we traveled, calling out turns, pointing out pieces of history along the way, and inserting well-placed humor.

But wait, there's more! Overland Adventure even had gourmet meals at camp each night! Since we squeezed so much adventure and excitement into each trail day, we made sure to appeal to each overlander's sense of taste with a sizzlin'-hot, freshly cooked meal with some hinterland-inspired zest—and we didn't forget dessert. The food wizards at Overland Gourmet prepared it all, and it was served in fine-dining style.

As the event kickoff date of May 13, 2019, drew nearer and the overlanders were preparing for adventure, some chose to take advantage of offers from Overland Adventure's sponsors. BDS Suspension, Bubba Rope, Canyon Coolers, Conqueror Off-Road Campers, Dick Cepek, KC Lights, Offroad Power Products, Power Stop Brakes, Rugged Radios, Superwinch, and VTX Wheels extended everything from gift certificates to product discounts to the participants of Overland Adventure. In addition to helping participants outfit their 4x4s, each sponsor had a vehicle on the trek to represent its brand as well.

Tech and Safety
On Day 1 of Overland Adventure we established a check-in base camp at the rustic and spacious Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. The only things higher than the stoke level were the Saguaro cacti and the Arizona desert temps. As participants rolled in from their respective corners of the U.S., the Four Wheeler team was waiting with clipboards and cameras at the ready. After excited smiles and handshakes were exchanged, each vehicle was inspected—first in a safety inspection, and then by our photographers who were tasked with gathering stunning, feature-worthy images of each overlander's loadout. For anyone who chose to stay at Flying E Ranch, a welcome dinner followed, and before the sun set on Check-In Day, the first seeds of friendship had already been sown.

Come sunrise, the sky was breathtakingly blue, the mercury was steadily climbing, and the morning air was abuzz with sounds of tire deflators and anticipation. A team of adventurers, who until this day had only been loosely acquainted through social media, gathered for the first driver's meeting of Overland Adventure. Four Wheeler Editor Ken Brubaker welcomed the group and introduced a true pillar of the off-road community—and the owner of the dulcet tones soon to be echoing through the cockpit of each overland vehicle via radio—Nena Barlow. She reminded the group that in order to remain together on the trail, we would be practicing the Rubber Band Method—travel slow enough so that you never lose sight of the vehicle behind you, and any gaps in the pack will fill themselves in if everyone pays close attention to their mirrors. Nena laid out the remaining plans for the day and passed command of the floor to Traci Clark, the event's medic. Traci's resume includes contributing to various off-road media outlets and more than two decades serving as a firefighter and paramedic. She was stationed in the middle of the procession and was the Ace bandage holding the group together, reminding us to drink at least one gallon of water per person per day and offering sunblock to anyone who needed (or didn't think they needed) it. With the sun rising higher in the sky, it was time to line up and begin the adventure!

Pavement Ends
Though it might be a routine activity for the participants of Overland Adventure, driving past the "Pavement Ends" signage when you are part of a 38-vehicle convoy has an electricity that's hard to match. We transitioned from blacktop to gravel, and soon dropped into a dry streambed (referred to locally as a "wash" or "arroyo"). The drainage began as a wide swath of sand and rocks, but it became narrower as we continued upstream. Though there were signs of past flash flood activity, no more than an intermittent trickle of water remained in the canyon. Jagged cliffs painted in earthy reds and purples lined our path, Saguaro cacti towered overhead, and we even found brief refuge from the heat beneath the Salt Cedar trees lining the canyon.

Catastrophe Avoided
While some of the vehicles with trailers in tow opted for a milder route, others chose to exit the canyon the hard way. A sharp lefthand turn presented three ways to climb an eroded embankment in the trail, each requiring a spotter and proper tire placement. Jason Lewis, Power Stop Brakes Trail Partner, brought his '09 Ram 1500 on the trip. Loaded with off-road upgrades including stronger driveshafts, upgraded brakes, axleshafts, and knuckles, Jason attacked the hillclimb with some momentum and got up with no issues—it was the mini-fridge-sized boulder 100 feet farther up the trail that quickly identified the least-strong link in his driveline.

As Jason described it: "After clearing what was considered to be the actual obstacle, we were all heading up that fire road back to the main group, and someone dislodged a boulder onto the driver side of the trail. Many of us struggled to get past that thing. I got my driver front tire over the rock and as the driver rear started to climb, I heard a 'clunk' from the passenger front suspension. I've broken front halfshafts on this truck a few times in the past so I'm familiar with the drill. Hear the clunk in the open front differential and all front drive is lost."

As if by reflex, Dan Cressall, an Overland Adventure participant from Logan, Utah, and fellow IFS Ram enthusiast, selected some choice tools from the back of his truck and dove in to help with the repair. Trail Leader Nena Barlow made sure the scene was safe, offered a traction board as a support for Jason's bottle jack, and brought a tarp to keep sand off the tools and truck parts. In the time it might have taken to eat a trailside sandwich, the group had Jason's truck back on the trail, albeit in 2WD.

Gaining Elevation
With some spotting efforts from Jp Magazine Editor Rick P w and fellow participants, the other vehicles were able to negotiate the boulder without incident, and travel resumed. We twisted through more dry desert washes and passed by various mining claims identified by posts in the ground and signs forbidding us from metal detecting, prospecting, sluicing, or otherwise entering the premises. The green mountains in the distance drew nearer, and we soon began our climb from the desert floor up to Yarnell, Arizona. Over the next four miles, the road switched to and fro as we gained 2,000 feet of elevation and were treated to a view of the valley below.

In addition to the breathtaking views, Cody and Cade Jones discovered what they believed to be a blockage in their solid-axle-swapped '94 Ford Ranger's radiator, causing the rig to overheat during the climb. Bart Miller and JR Rowntree, Overland Adventure participants from Salisbury, Maryland, pulled their '17 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter up to the steaming Ranger, cracked open a tool set, and helped the two with a trailside radiator swap. Where did the new radiator come from? Cody and Cade suspected the radiator was faulty before embarking on Overland Adventure and were carrying a spare. Following the swap, the Ranger turned over and ran, but it was still hotter than they preferred, so they were thankful for the downhill grades on the way to camp.

The First Night
After roughly 50 miles of twisted dirt roads, creek crossings, switchbacks, and dust, our procession filed into the Gold Bar Ranch for the evening. The campground was primitive and pastoral, adjacent to a serene pond and herds of grazing cattle, and had plenty of space for the participants to spread out. As some folks deployed rooftop tents and lounged in camp chairs, others headed to the pond where a rope swing offered relief from the late-day heat. Participants were well accustomed to the chores and joys of unloading the grill and cookware to prepare a camp dinner after a day on the trail, but this time it was different. Though some adventurers' eyelids were pressed together amidst a peaceful hammock nap, the dinner bell snapped them from their slumber and drew them toward the smells of sustenance. Instead of milling about dicing and simmering ingredients for their own suppers, drivers, navigators, and passengers gathered around the white tablecloths, grazed on charcuterie platters, and sipped on cold drinks before they were served dinner beneath a glowing sunset. Laughter and storytelling carried on well past sundown as dessert was wheeled out, and everyone made their way back to camp.

The adventure continues in the next issue of Four Wheeler, where you can join the crew for two more days on the trail, more backcountry camping, and the journey to the 2019 Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona. In the meantime, check out fourwheeler.com for even more photos and video from the event. And stay glued to fourwheeler.com for info on the 2020 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure.


From the Logbook
Highest elevation (ft): 7,200
Righthand drive rigs: 2
Lowest elevation (ft): 2,050
Number of tires: 221
Adventurers: 71
Miles driven: 217
Cinnamon rolls consumed: 72
#overlandadventure19 Instagram tags: 503
Total miles driven by participants to get there: 20,196
Fire extinguishers deployed: 2
Patches displayed: 386
States represented: 15
Hottest day in Wickenburg: 99 degrees F
Coldest night at Dogtown Reservoir: 40 degrees F

Jason Lewis, Trail Partner from Power Stop Brakes, had no problem on the steep part of the climb; it was a boulder farther up the hill that dealt his frontend a temporarily paralyzing blow. Dan Cressall and a handful of others jumped right in to help. Dan had the exact socket Jason needed to remove the axleshaft, and a portable impact wrench made the job a breeze. Jason's aftermarket axleshaft was intact; however, the intermediate shaft for the front axle disconnect was severed. Without replacement parts, Jason opted to remove the passenger axleshaft (except for the outer end, which was reinserted into the unit bearing to keep the wheel from falling off) and finish the trail in 2WD.


A great collection of photos provided by Overland Adventure participants and sponsors.

Photo credit: Cameron Hotchkiss/Offroad Power Products

Photo credit: Aaron Meyer

Photo credit: Paul Perry

Photo credit: Nick Savatgy

Photo credit: Stephen Garrett

Photo credit: Yolo Freeman