Overland Expo 2014: What do you mean it’s not about the gear?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

This was my fourth year visiting Overland Expo.

It’s easy to get caught up in the show.  Every year Mormon Lake finds itself swarming with giant shiny vehicles, classic overland rigs, and custom monsters designed solely to roam the Earth in style.  It’s hard not to get excited about all the chrome, steel, grease and rubber promising adventure and travel like you’ve only imagined it could be.  From restored off-road classics to bright and showroom-shiny marvels of technology the Overland Expo definitely focuses on the vehicles.  But this is no car show.

Range Rover-1

If you’ve got the vehicle, well there’s always the specialized gear to go with it.  You can’t have an off-the-beaten-path adventure without the right field-recovery kit, or high-powered winch, or maybe you need a bad-ass light kit, roof rack or gnarly new bumper.  If your rig is settled, maybe it’s the camping gear you need?  Rooftop tents, pop-up adventure trailers, fully integrated camp kitchens with pressurized hot and cold water and a solar powered refrigerator.  As a gear-head I get it.  I want to see the newest improvements in technology and the bright-and-shiny “best of show” on display so I can picture myself aggressively throwing sweaty handfuls of money at the vendors praying that I’ll get to take it home and love it and pet it and name in George.

Vehicles of Overlanding-4

Maybe you’re not in the market for anything in particular.  Then it’s simply the spectacle of the Overland Expo that pulls you in.  Everywhere you turn there are massive land-crawling monsters of mechanization decked out with every impossible combination of equipment reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic-Mad-Max-sci-fi thriller.  If you should happen to witness one of these massive lumbering beasts in action, growling with every movement and belching diesel-drenched awesome from it’s battle-blackened exhaust pipe, I dare you not to stare in wide-eyed child-like wonder.

Vehicles of Overlanding-2

But there’s another side to the Overland Expo, the real side, the soft pink underbelly where you’ll discover the human element that tells the real story.  People travel from all over the world to converge on the little wind-swept patch of dusty grass outside Mormon Lake to be a part of a unique community that gathers here to celebrate global travel and human culture.  When you venture past the noise and gleaming metal you’ll discover a common theme in the stories of the sun-baked, trail-tested, road-wise representatives of this community.  They are people who laugh easy and place high value on friendships, good cigars and a well crafted story.

Overland Expo 2014-1

The gear becomes less and less important as you realize the human side of the equation wholly eclipses the mechanical.  People that have been away from home, friends and family for months, maybe years, at a time in the holy name of adventure.  In some cases it is a permanent lifestyle change wherein every material possession is sold, donated or abandoned to make life on the road a full-time pursuit.  Others save for years, or sell assets to take extended leave from the day-to-day drudgery of an old career and escape.  Others, usually the younger Overlanders, have found ways to work on the road in fields that don’t require a desk, a chair or a brick-and-mortar storefront allowing them to make enough money to keep moving from one adventure to the next.  The underlying subtext that permeates every story is the urge to experience the larger world first hand, face-to-face, to see it, smell it, taste it and make it a part of themselves.

Overland Expo 2014-6

Spending long months, or years, traveling the globe and living with, around and in your vehicle is a unique experience that may be difficult to relate to if you haven’t been there yourself.  It can be difficult among your “normal” friends back home to find a sympathetic ear for your story about blowing out your suspension in the middle of the African desert on a lonely, rutted dirt road.  It’s hard for the non-traveler to find context with your fear, anxiety and ultimate triumph in that situation.  Finding people to relate to, and who can relate to you, is an important piece of belonging.  For all it offers, the most important value of the Overland Expo is the ability for these people to gather as a community and share their passion with like-minded, similarly-experienced people.  The more unique a community is, the stronger it’s connection and the Overland Expo has the feel of a family reunion where everyone is the crazy uncle with the good stories.  It is, for the most part, a community that doesn’t care if you travel by motorcycle, car, truck, van, Earth Roamer or 1993 Mercedes-Benz UNIMOG U-2450 UNICAT.  The important thing is that you travel, experience the world, get off the beaten path as much as possible and see the world with your own eyes.  If you can make that leap and be brave enough to drive a road that makes you nervous, visit a city with a name you can’t pronounce and have food you don’t recognize with someone who’s language you don’t speak…then these are your people.  Come out next year, say hi, and ask them about their latest adventure.  You won’t regret it.

Overland Expo 2014-2

For another perspective (and a little more information about Overland Expo itself) check out the recent coverage by Val-in-Real-Live about OX14.

Getting ready for Overland Expo 2013…

Early Friday morning I get to head up north to a bustling little campground just outside of Flagstaff where a huge community is gathering.  The Overland Expo is in it’s 8th year and celebrates people who explore the world.  I attended the Expo last year for the first time and was overwhelmed with the amazing vehicles, interesting stories from seasoned travelers and the closeness of the community.  Even though most of the people attending travel alone (or as a couple) they tend to embrace other Overlanders as kindred spirits.

Overlanding Rig from Overland Expo 2012

I won’t be able to get up there until Friday morning, but I can’t wait to see who is there this year.  I’m looking forward to seeing friends from last year like @OverlandNomads, @AmericanSahara and @ExplorElements as well meeting some new people.  I am also looking forward to seeing some of my favorite vendors like @TADgear and @OverlandGourmet.

I’ve been looking to get my camping/overlanding rig outfitted with better gear.  So I will be looking for some specific (awesome) gear from Goal Zero Solar, Canyon Coolers and pretty much anyone showing travel trailers.  And I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures!

 

What is Overlanding?

from the Overland Expo website:

“Overlanding is a way to describe exploring by your own means, usually either by vehicle (often with four-wheel-drive capability) or adventure motorcycle. It’s long been a traditional way to describe safaris in Africa or exploring in Australia. Brits head “overland” to Africa and Asia and across the Continent.

We use the term to differentiate the activity from other four-wheel-drive activities such as rock-crawling or rallying. For overlanders, the journey is as important as the destination or the activities that we do when we get to our destination (if there even is a specific destination): hiking, nature watching, kayaking, mountain biking, and so on.

For overlanders, the camping is really a highlight as well ~ we enjoy innovations like roof-top tents, 12V fridges, and high-quality awnings, ground tents, kitchen kits, and equipment such as compressors and winches and other recovery gear.”

What is the Overland Expo?

“Overland Expo is designed as a unique event to introduce consumers to all the innovative equipment for camping and vehicles, and to introduce travel enthusiasts to the pleasures of exploring the world via your own means, whether it’s an old van or a new Land Cruiser or Sportsmobile or BMW motorcycle.

Through social events and 85+ programs and classes and over 140 exhibitors, Overland Expo is the largest and most unique event combining adventure travel, vehicles, and motorcycles with education & commerce.

It’s the place to come to get outfitted; get trained; get inspired . . . and get going.”