Vehicle dependent adventure travel is not a new concept to most of the MOTUS tribe. Packing up your daily ride, or your adventure rig as we like to call them, and heading out for destinations unknown is one of the easiest ways to get away from the daily grind. In the past few years, there has been a growing group of like-minded folks that take this concept to greater heights. Generally referred to as “overlanding,” these adventurers seek to push the limits of self-contained travel. Pushing these boundaries in search of the more remote local, virgin beach, or epic mountain sunset requires a specific set of skills.
Within this community, it is widely held that the best gathering to learn these skills in a classroom format is at the Overland Expo which has taken place in Arizona for the past 6 years. Traveling to the southwest of the United States is not always practical for folks who have precious little time to spare, and may live on the opposite side of the country.
Enter Overland Expo East. In its inaugural year, Overland Expo East was held at the Taylor Ranch outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Bringing many of the same aspects of the parent event, the East event draws from the high density population of the east coast as well as the central areas of the country. As the sibling of the cornerstone event for the community, Overland Expo East event enjoys many of the same exhibitors and trainers as the main event and gives those of us who cannot make the cross-country trek a chance to gather the skills and be embraced by the community.
The venue for the event is a large community campground where attendees set camp and settle in for a four-day experience. Adjacent to the camp ground are education areas providing diverse classes on all aspects of the “Overland Life.” Driving seminars, vehicle prep, safety skills, travel planning, and a variety of topics are covered in a relaxed, stress free environment by other adventurers and industry leaders. A vendor exposition area is also available to participants and it’s filled with companies displaying products and services that help make vehicle dependent travel safer and easier. Full details of the classes offered, as well as the the vendors that attended, are available on the Overland Expo website.
For me this was a coming home of sorts. I am an attendee of many of the Arizona events back to the days of the event being held in Amado. I have, however not been able to attend for two years due to schedule conflicts and this was an opportunity to reconnect with several of my friends and colleagues as well as members of the tribe. I loaded up my adventure rig and set my course for Asheville early thursday morning and a pleasant 6 hours later arrived in town.
My first order was to acquire provisions and food stuff for the trip. A call to a local friend, Chris from Ujoint Offroad got me directions to a local grocery and an invite to meet him for lunch. Brown bags loaded in the truck cooler stocked and refrigerator loaded, I headed over to 12 Bones Barbecue for lunch. As it turns out, that was a much-needed stop and set the tone for the rest of my weekend. Great conversation and great food over lunch, turned into me making a side trip to Chris’ shop to look over the latest projects they were preparing for the show. Ujoint is an outfitter of sorts for adventure travel and can handle just about any need. However they specialize in four-wheel drive van conversions on the Ford Econoline platform. And I will say this, if you want an adventure van, read this article and then call Chris!
Arriving on site after the visit with Chris, I was greeted by staff and given my credentials as well as a comprehensive package covering all the available activities and seminars for the weekend. From there I was directed to the campground to stake out my spot for MOTUS HQ for the next few days.
If you’re an off-road junkie or just a car nut, you could spend days wandering the campground looking at the vehicles proudly displayed. Most folks are warm and welcoming, and excited to share the different aspects of their prized cars and trucks. However there was a bit of a muddy hill issue coming into the campground from the previous nights rain and my truck tour of the camp was cut short by the need to focus on driving in. A spot selected for its remote location and flat terrain was procured in the farthest corner of the camp and I went about the task of setting up my base of operations. A fellow tribe member joined me in my location and opted to set up as well. Once set I shouldered my backpack and grabbed my camera and headed out to the vendor area to have a look at what was on display and catch up with some old friends.
Heading into the vendor area, I was impressed at the diversity of the folks in attendance. Knife makers, lighting providers, trailer makers, tent makers, and adventure consultants as well as a host of others to varied to list in one sitting. I hot footed it over to the Equipt Expedition Outfitters / AT Overland booth to visit with Paul May and Mario Donovan. I wanted to get an up close look at the wide assortment of items they had on display prior to the crowds of the official event (starting on Friday). After lending a hand setting up a banner or two, I got some one on one time with the guys and as the night fell a couple of drinks under the soft glow of the LED lights were consumed. As I headed back to camp to find a bit to eat and get settled for the night, contributor H.P. Lefler called to tell me of his arrival. I directed him to the camp, and after a quick set up of his gear, we had a meal and shared some stories over more adult beverages. Lets just say that we solved all the worlds problems that night.
With the Dawn came rain, a lot of rain. So much so that making the rounds of the event were uncomfortable. So we called the audible to go into town and get a hot cup of coffee from the local Starbucks and wait out the rain. Our timing was perfect as when we got back to the event the rain subsided and our adventure was returned to its regularly scheduled programing. We headed back to the vendor area and took time to walk and talk with as many of the folks as possible until dark. More info on the specifics of what we found in will be in some upcoming articles on MOTUS.
An invite went out over social media channels to the tribe in attendance to join us at the camp site for a meet and greet. And I will say that it was taken to heart. MOTUS tribe members from all over the east coast showed up for some story telling, cigar smoking, and sharing of spirits. New friendships were made and old friends were re-united over a few drinks and a warm dinner. It was a pleasure that I cannot express in words to meet each and every one of those who made the journey to embrace the MOTUS lifestyle. One of the things I like so much about the tribe is the sense of family and belonging to something greater than yourself. The folks who came out to visit and take part in our get-together re-enforced that for me.
As dawn broke over the next day of the event I found myself seeking coffee again, however this time there was no trip to town for an espresso. So off to the Snow Peak stove for some hot water, and freshly ground beans to the french press. With a cup of java in hand, we headed out to the event once again. Throughout the course of the day we “dropped in” on several of the training sessions. The alumni of past Camel Trophy events plying their skills at bridge building and rope work capture an audience like few others can. Where else can you get the chance to spend one on one time with this level of instructor? Students gather around tables, stumps, and vehicles as well as under shelters to learn many of the long-term skills they will need to travel the world. Drivers are given opportunity to get instruction on technique from various instructors and experts from all over the world.
Let’s not forget about our two-wheeled brothers and sisters out there. There are as many motorcycles at the event as there are four-wheel drive vehicles. Vendors specific to motorcycles and training in the specific disciplines needed for riders are readily available for all the participants.
The evening ended with a happy hour of adventures and movies inside of one of the structures. We (the MOTUS team) retreated to the camp site to hunker down for a cold evening. In a bit of a personal oversight, I did not expect the temperatures to drop as low as they did that evening. This precipitated an impromptu mission to the REI in Asheville for extra clothing options to avoid freezing in my tent that night. Returning to camp with my body warmer and pockets lighter, we made dinner and hunkered down into a sub freezing night. The next morning we wrapped up camp, closed up the tents, and got prepped to return to home. After goodbyes were said and hands shaken with new and old friends, I hit the road.
To summarize my experience with the Overland Expo East, I would rate it a rousing success. Roseann and Johnathan Hanson, along with the staff from the event, did an amazing job at delivering the same high caliber event to those of use on the east coast as has become expected on the west. I am looking forward to next years event, and take away new skill and new friends from this years. See you all on the trail!
Special thanks to John Johnson for sharing some of his images with us for this article.