OVERLAND, TO OVERLAND EXPO WEST
The Route to Overland Expo West
On the Road Again", may be a cliché title, but it is quite true in our case. Only 8 months had passed since we drove over 9000 kms from, Ottawa, ON, through the American northwest, (North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana) and came back through the Canadian West (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario’s Lake Superior region).
We were now about to embark on a 3 ½ week American southwest expedition, planning to attend the Overland Expo West weekend in Flagstaff, Arizona, and travel off the beaten paths of northern Arizona, eastern Nevada, southern Utah, (mainly around Moab, UT - the ultimate rally point of all off road enthusiasts), to finish somewhere in Colorado before heading back home after registering just over 9600 kms. We are “Overlanders”. Overlanding is a way to describe exploring by your own self-contained, “cost effective” means, usually by vehicle (often with four-wheel-drive capability) or adventure motorcycle. It’s all about exploring, not conquering. This has long been a traditional way to describe safaris in Africa or exploring Australia. The term “overlanding” is used 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, including the activities that we do when we get to our destination (if we have one); like hiking, nature watching, kayaking, mountain biking, or fishing.
We are Tammi and Alain, we both work and live in the Ottawa area, and I’m a Veteran from the Canadian Armed Forces where I served with the Navy mainly in Halifax, NS and on various operations and postings outside Canada. Our kids are out of the house, living their own life experiences so we needed a “couple” hobby and the great outdoors became our playground. We have a dog, Vegas, a Vizsla who did not accompany us on this trip due to the possible encounters with scorpions and rattle snakes (which fortunately did not happen).
Our rig is a 2012 Toyota Tacoma, mounted on Toyo Open Country A/T tires, with Dirty Life wheels, and a 2.5in lift. Bilstein 5100 shocks are all around along with a set of Firestone airbags in the rear. The front skid plate and modified Taco grill are from Bullet Proof Fabricating, an A.R.E cap is mounted over the truck bed with a Baja rack on top. My newest addition is a Decked drawer system, to stow away a large amount of our camping equipment into two super smooth sliding drawers. We are equipped with a “Sundog” rooftop tent and a “Batwing” awning both purchased from Wild Coast Tents, a company operating near Digby, Nova Scotia operated by Trish and Peter Van Delft - avid overlanders themselves. You can find them at www.wildcoasttents.com.
Knowing that we were new to overlanding, Trish and Peter also provided us with additional crucial equipment for this trip, including a 56 liter Snomaster two door freezer/fridge that works on normal 110V or your vehicles’ 12V, along with a set of TRED 4X4 recovery and extraction devices in case we get stuck, and a Snomaster 90W solar panel, where we could re-charge the rig’s battery or my homemade 12V battery pack.
With this state of the art equipment in hand, we could enjoy a few more continuous days “off the grid” than we had originally anticipated, without having to get ice for the cooler or draining the battery of the truck dry. It was a great addition to our own personal equipment, which includes a portable toilet, a shower pack, a Buddy Heater for those cold nights, a propane fire ring (when there’s a campfire ban), and all the necessary cooking accessories. We just add food, water and beers, and we are set for adventure.
We planned to cross most of the American mid-eastern and mid-western states using the old “Route 66” around the southern corners where Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma meet. From there we followed “the mother of all roads” as much as possible, occasionally switching to Highway 40 to save a bit of time. The complete Route 66 doesn’t really exist anymore, however there are portions of the route that remain, mainly through small rural towns all with their own roadside attractions that are worth the detour. Route 66 was the main road from Chicago to Los Angeles and you can find various books and websites to guide you through the trip.
Winslow, Arizona, as referred to in the Eagles song “Take it Easy”, was a nice laid back little town and a highlight of Route 66 for me, along with the towns of Hackberry and Seligman, Arizona where the old gas stations, road signs and road side trading posts have all kept their 50’s look. It was like going back in time.
Our first “scheduled stop” had to be near Page, Arizona, where we had a hiking pass for one particular day to hike the Wave Trail. The wave is a sandstone rock formation located in Arizona’s Coyote Butte near the border of Utah. It’s absolutely spectacular.
Only 20 passes per day are available to proceed into the Paria CanyonVermilion Cliffs due to the fragile nature of the formation and the large number of people that would like to hike to it. You must participate in a lottery system online, five months prior to your planned journey, and I was lucky enough to have my name drawn for the day we wanted. It’s a rough 16 km (return) hike, basically in the middle of the desert, but so worth it. We stayed for two days in a small, remote campsite owned and operated by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). This is free of charge and you must only camp in designated areas and they are well marked.
We then drove the two hours to Flagstaff, Arizona to attend the Overland Expo West 2018. Flagstaff is the gateway to the Grand Canyon and nestled in a cool ponderosa pine forest. It has a relaxed vibe, and reminds me a bit of Jasper, AB. There were plenty of restaurants, along with local breweries & pubs, making it well worth the stop.
Overland Expo is the world’s most complete event for do-it-yourself adventure travel enthusiasts, with hundreds of session-hours of classes for 4-wheel-drive and adventure motorcycling, inspirational programs, the Overland Film Festival, roundtable
discussions, demonstrations, food, and a large expo featuring over 300 vendors of adventure travel equipment, including camping gear, bikes, vehicles, and services. Attendees come from all over the world and this year they were expecting over 14,000 visitors during the 3-day expo. We stayed at the Expo’s dedicated campground, which was walking distance to all the exhibitors and activities.
There are two Overland Expos each year, one in Flagstaff, Arizona - aptly named Overland Expo West (in May), and one in Asheville, North Carolina, - called Overland Expo East (in November).
Various training sessions, discussions, demonstrations and presentations were available by purchasing the three-day pass, from ‘Overlanding for Beginners’ to ‘First Aid for Overland and Wilderness Adventure Seekers’. You could also register to attend various seminars on 4x4 troubleshooting, and essential maintenance and repair for your overland vehicle. There were lectures by technicians explaining traction control and demonstrating proper tire pressure for various off road situations. Other overlanders offered presentations on their recent Pan-American trips through the Americas, and a variety of round table type discussions about planning your next trip through Baja and Mexico, discussions on how to safely travel through South America, and classes for women travelling alone. There’s an extensive schedule of all classes that were available on their website www.overlandexpo.com
There was also a Range Rover driving experience, where you sit behind the wheel of a Range Rover along with one of their driving specialists who guides you through an obstacle course to get a first hand experience of the off-road capabilities of the vehicle, which is pretty impressive. You can do this as many times as you like and you can also register to undertake the manmade track with your own vehicle.
There was also a similar track experience offered where you had a
chance to drive a Jeep or a Toyota Tacoma to test the performance of the latest M/T tires. Both experiences were great. Motorcycle enthusiasts had a similar opportunity to try out various motorcycles in off-road situations under the guidance of specialized instructors. All this was included in your three-day pass, you just had to register the day you wanted to try the tracks, and within 30 minutes you were sitting behind the wheel.
During my exploration of the expo, I was glad to find a couple Canadian exhibitors, namely Duane Leedell from Off Grid trailers (www.offgridtrailers.ca) who was exhibiting two solidly made trailers “ready for your next overland adventure”. These trailers were very impressive, and we are seriously considering getting one for our next adventure (in eastern Canada). It is especially attractive as it is Canadian made. Next there was David Loretto of Cascadia 4X4, (www.cascadia4x4.com) who specializes in the production of high quality parts and accessories for Jeeps, trucks, and SUV’s such as the innovative fairlead “flipster”, which allows a front mounted licence plate to “flip” and cover an equipped winch mounting system - brilliant idea.
There was also an eclectic mix of privately owned rigs on display, from old Land Rovers to large Mega Trucks that are absolutely out of this world. It was enlightening and gratifying to talk to the dedicated and proud owners who have made astounding restoration/ modifications to their rigs. Just viewing these rigs was worth the admission fee.
All in all the Overland Expo West was a great experience and we fully enjoyed chatting with most exhibitors. We gained some great information on equipment we already own, and now have a list of new equipment and accessories that we need (or want) for our next trip.
After three days at the Overland Expo we made our way to Las Vegas. There, we actually booked a hotel room for two nights, which provided a nice break in the middle of the trip. After our two nights in Vegas we proceeded to
Moab, Utah via Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. An absolute must do road trip if you are in that area. It was a completely different landscape than anything I had previously experienced. Trailhead parking everywhere along the main roads yielded access to hiking trails with absolutely spectacular views.
Moab is a small resort town surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of old mining roads and 4x4 trails, making it one of the most popular backcountry driving experiences in North America. There’s full range of backcountry trails, from easy scenic drives to ultimate challenging four-wheel drive rock climbing trails. All trails are named, marked and published in a 4x4 trail book available for purchase at the visitor centre or one of the many local camping supply shops in town. There are so many trails that you hardly ever encounter anyone else. You can drive your own rig or rent various 4x4 vehicles, such as a Jeep or side-by-side ATV/UTV (2, 4 or 6 seaters).
We drove a few trails namely the Potash trail and Shafer switchbacks, which were incredible trails with
magnificent views of the Utah landscape, finishing at the “Thelma and Louise drop off ”. We ended our trail rides at the La Sal Pass where we camped at an elevation of 3000 metres in a very remote location. A snow-capped Mount Peale (4000m) provided a picture perfect view.
After spending our last day wandering around the town of Moab, we made our way into Colorado, where the scenery changed significantly right before our eyes. The desert terrain of Utah gave way to the green mountainous forests of Colorado. While in Colorado Springs, I got an oil change and tire rotation done on the truck and we reluctantly started on our way home. The drive home took us mainly through Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan to our border crossing in Sarnia, followed by a very busy, and constantly under construction, Highway 401. We were back home for sure!
When all was said and done, we managed another faultless 9000 kms on our truck, and arrived home safe and sound. We loved our overland adventure so much we are already planning our next trek through Quebec and Eastern Canada.