Thirteen years ago, Northwest Overland Society started up as a small group of weekend explorers, eager to take their families out on more than a camping trip and not a wheeling trip, but both; expeditions or overland trips that would provide experiences and memories that were longer lasting than a campground or RV park. Over the years, the term "overlanding" as cliche' or maybe, over-used as it sounds, has literally and figuratively, taken off! As one of the originators of the overlanding experience in the Northwest, NWOL is focusing more of the true "Overland" definition by including more of a philanthropic approach to what overlanding truly is; providing a means for cultures, educators, students and explorers to cross-pollinate resources. More on that later, but this article below is from Autoweek at the Overland Expo that just recently concluded in Flagstaff, AZ. Take a read and see what you think.
Stop saying it’s just camping! It’s “overlanding,” gol dang it! There is a difference!
“Camping” can be done in a station wagon, always takes place in a well-marked campground with fancy bathrooms and marked camping spaces and you have to put $6 per night into one of those little brown National Forest Service envelopes and clip it to the post at your site. “Camping” involves a bunch of rules. Even though you may have a higher than average mosquito bite total, you’re still a slave to civilization.
“Overlanding” is all about self-sufficiency and rugged adventure to just about anywhere you want to go. There are no fancy, comfortable toilets, no 25-cents-for-two-minutes warm showers and no ranger-led singalongs around U.S. government-funded semicircular amphitheaters. In overlanding, you are your own boss, the rig you drive has torque at all four wheels and if something breaks, there ain’t no AAA to come save your skinny carcass -- you fix it yourself or you become part of the food chain muy pronto.
What is overlanding? I went to a seminar by that exact name at Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona, last weekend to find out.
“What is not overlanding?” asked seminar leader Mark Carrara rhetorically, drawing on his experience as a lifelong overlander and amateur archeologist. “Four-wheeling in and of itself is not necessarily overlanding, camping is not overlanding, a short weekend trip is not overlanding ... overlanding has two of these four things: 1. Remote locations 2. Cultures other than your own 3. Under-explored or under-documented areas and 4. Self-reliance in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks, months or even years.”
We could argue about the definition for weeks, but that is what the internet is for. Suffice it to say that overlanding provides one major component our cave-dwelling ancestors enjoyed that is painfully missing from most of our modern, coddled lives: DANGER! Or the possibility of danger. Or at least the risk of great inconvenience. And also: getting lost, having to improvise or MacGyver-fix problems you run into and, ultimately, having to figure out just exactly how you’re going to get out of this mess without calling for a high-priced Life Flight chopper extraction. Overlanding is where camping ends and real adventure begins!
The Overland Expo just celebrated its 10th year with a gathering of fans and faithful in Flagstaff. While the first Overland Expo hosted 320 attendees and 20 vendors, this year’s show saw 22,000 practiced and potential overlanders from across the globe. They wandered through or camped out in the tall pines of the Coconino National Forest to check out all the new gear and to swap stories with one another. ("So there I was ...")
At this year’s Expo there were 375 vendors, new-model introductions by four major car and truck manufacturers, and there were more than 450 classes, seminars, demos, activities, slideshows and films held over the course of the show’s three-day run. The latter ranged from the above-mentioned “What is overlanding?” to classes on knot-tying, first aid, solar panel design and navigation. There was hands-on instruction in off-road driving and off-road motorcycle riding. And Friday and Saturday night there were big, whoopin’ parties where everyone swapped more stories and maybe danced around a little or just howled at the conveniently planned full moon. It was a little like Rendezvous, the great annual 19th century gathering of fur-trapping mountain men in the Wild West, except that here everyone had clever slide-out kitchen trays with inductive cooking surfaces and pop-top nylon sleeping tents with portable heaters.
While the two Overland Expos, one East and one West, serve as gathering points for the clan, they are only touchpoints in everyone’s year of outdoor, off-pavement adventure. The whole overlanding scene is becoming a powerful force for car- and truckmakers to include in their plans, both catering directly to the actual overlanders and using them to create aspirational vehicles and a sort of 4x4 halo effect to move crossover utility vehicles out showroom doors.
For instance: Nissan introduced the Project Basecamp Titan Pro-4X here in 2017, the Mountain Patrol Armada in 2018 and two new customized rigs this year -- the Ultimate Parks Titan and the Destination Frontier. Jeep brought a wildly customized Gladiator with a wraparound sunshade, rooftop camper tent and a high-speed, industrial-strength margarita blender operated by compressed air. Honda showed off tricked-out Passport and Ridgeline models customized for overlanding by Jsport Performance Accessories, along with a healthy display of all Honda’s off-road-capable craft, from its side-by-side vehicles to its CRF450Lto the large and comfortable Africa Twin adventure bike with automatic transmission. Even electric SUV- and truckmaker Rivian was there with a new overlander model - the all-electric 4wd R1T pickup truck with an unheard-of 180 kWh battery pack good for 400 miles range. It featured a rooftop tent and an impressive slide-out kitchen that you pull from the center of the vehicle like a giant, energy-efficient drawer.
“We’ve been coming to the Expo for a long time,” said Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe. “This is a really concentrated version of what we’re trying to accomplish as a brand in terms of the use cases, the way the vehicles’s gonna be pushed to its limits, so it’s great to interact with people, get feedback and show these folks who are excited about this space what we’re doing.”
Motorcycle manufacturers were out in force, too. Just as it had at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering, Ducati had a nice display of its Scrambler line of off-road-capable motorcycles. Ural was giving rides in its motorcycle sidecars. And there seemed to be BMW GS1200s everywhere you turned.
It’s big business based in a growing market segment. Baby boomers are retiring, finally, but are not content to just sit on the porch and complain about the government like generations before them did. These former yuppies and DINKS (double-income, no kids) are still relatively active and want to go out and enjoy life. Others, far from retirement, are realizing they don’t have to sit in an office their entire working lives, they don’t have to own a stucco eyesore in tract-home-suburban hades, that they can instead chuck it all and go to Baja, eating fish tacos all the way down the peninsula while blogging and YouTubing about it for fun and profit.
“People want an adventure,” said Overland Expo organizer Jessica Kirschner. “People are leaving their corporate jobs, selling their homes, and they want to do something different with their lives. So they buy a Sprinter van or a Tundra with a rooftop tent, and they are living on the road. I have met so many people this week who have done that. It’s absolutely amazing to me, absolutely amazing.”
You can do it, too. Or at least you can buy a Frontier, Tacoma, Ranger, Gladiator or F-150, slap on a roof rack and a rooftop tent and light out for the territory. Do it now, while you’re still alive. Overland Expo East is Oct. 11-13 at Infinity Downs in Arrington, Virginia. Go get some ideas. Then do it. Do it! What are you waiting for?