The 2016 Overland Exposition East in Asheville, North Carolina was our first visit to an Overland Expo – but it won’t be our last. And, there’s so much more to the Overland Expo than just Land Rovers.
Sited on the magnificent and sprawling Biltmore Estate, the Expo hosted thousands of overlanders, campers, and explorers of all stripes for three days of education, skill building, networking, and general camaraderie. Julie and I presented two sessions on our 2015 trip to southern Africa, and participated in an Africa travel roundtable.
There were dozens of exhibitors selling everything from cutlery and portable solar panels, to tents and fully-built global expedition vehicles. Our two-wheeled friends buzzed around on Triumph Tigers, BMW GS’s, and Honda Africa Twins, and hundreds of folks turned a wheel on the B.F. Goodrich and Land Rover off-road driving courses. Winches and tow straps were put to the test at the Camel Trophy Overland Skills area.
The campground was a sea of roof-top tents and expedition trailers – and not even two days of wind, rain, and drizzle (courtesy of Hurricane Matthew) could put a damper on the good vibes at the event.
But, beyond the striking array of jaw-dropping adventure rigs and drool-worthy gear, the real heart and soul of the Expo is the human element. The opportunities to swap knowledge, stories, and aspirations with your fellow travelers, to share a beverage with one of your overlanding heroes, meet new friends, and simply to learn something new are unparalleled anywhere.
These were our people.
The Expo offers scores of classes on topics ranging from camp cooking to major expedition route planning – all from folks who have been there and done that.
At the Camel Trophy Overland Skills area, you can learn a variety of essential skills from some of the most experienced off-road and adventure travel instructors on the planet.
This vintage FJ60 Land Cruiser equipped with an AdventureSole RTT caught my eye.
As did this beautifully restored FJ40 – an iconic shape.
While they were definitely the soggiest bunch, the moto tribe always seemed to be having the most fun.
Not your average biker bar – adventure bikes lined up in front of the concessions tent.
Dometic was a major exhibitor at the Expo – a 12v portable fridge is a prime piece of overlanding kit.
This Syncro Westfalia sports 6-cylinder Subaru power and a trick custom rear suspension with massive amounts of articulation.
The owner and builder says he surprises lots of folks on the highway with all that new horsepower out back.
Our only complaint? Too many amazing classes and sessions to attend, and not enough time to see them all.
Says it all.
The bridge spanning the entrance to the Camel Trophy Overland Skills area was built using nothing but logs and manila rope.
One of the perks of being an instructor was access to all the amazing educational opportunities at the Expo.
Role playing in the “How to Cross International Borders: An Interactive Simulation Experience” course with Peter Sweetser as the Congolese customs agent.
This little guy looked familiar.
There were a surprising number of military vehicle-based builds. Some of them were huge.
Speaking of huge, this GlobalXVechicles expedition rig drew a lot of attention all weekend.
Based on an International Trucks platform, it looks ready to conquer the world!
Egypt – a classic overlanding destination, but recent travelers there have run into a host of geopolitical and logistical problems moving through the country.
This International Scout sported a V8 from a Cadillac CTS-V (!).
I hope it has upgraded brakes!
The Mitsubishi Fuso is a versatile platform that has been popular with European overlanders for some time now – the well-respected firm EarthCruiser is responsible for this impressive build.
Four Wheel Campers had a large display, including this undeniably cool flat-bed Mercedes Unimog.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a well-stocked kitchen to enhance your travel experience. This is a high-end Camp Champ set-up.
More from the Camel Trophy Skills area – winching and recovery on side-slopes. Skills instructor Tim Huber is behind the wheel of the yellow Discovery.
One of the highlights of the Expo was meeting Overland Expo founders Jonathon and Roseann Hanson, and having Jonathon sign my copy of The Vehicle Dependent Expedition Guide.
See you at Overland Expo West in May 2017!
Some totally random free-associations for our first Overland Expo:
- We were genuinely pleased with how friendly and solicitous everyone was. We had been warned several times in our instructor’s manual that assholery would not be tolerated, and to call out “know-it-alls” on their b.s. But we never once ran into that situation - most of the folks we talked to who might be considered “know-it-alls”, um, really did know it all, but they were never dickish about it.
- The wide variety of participants among exhibitors, instructors, and Expo attendees was pretty amazing. Dirt-bag bikers living on the ground with one change of underwear and eating out of a single tin cup shared space with cashed-out dot-commers rocking $250,000 rigs with Corian countertops. And there was everybody in-between - from casual weekend off-roaders to fully committed nomadic families.
- We had decent attendance during our teaching sessions, perhaps a little low on Friday due partly to the weather, I think. But we had 20 or so on Saturday, just enough to get a good substantive conversation going about African travel.
- The organization of the event went very, very smoothly, and the catering was pretty good. Asheville has a thriving local beer scene (actually, that’s an understatement), and a funky vibe. I’ll definitely look forward to going back and exploring the area some more. We went on a fantastic hike in the Shining Rock Wilderness.
- I got to have lunch with Will Hedrick! You’ll remember him as the North Carolina-based “badass lawyer” who helped the owners of wrongfully-seized imported Land Rover Defenders recover their trucks from the Feds last year, pro-bono. What a genuinely warm and funny guy - he told us a great story about how all the folks he helped banded together after the court victory to buy him a Defender of his very own. His success in the case has actually translated into a full-time specialty of his own firm.
- The people we met who are living 100% nomadic lives were absolutely fascinating. And, to a number, they were enthusiastic in encouraging even our rather modest overlanding dreams - very inspirational.
- Somehow, Tim’s schedule and ours never managed to mesh (he was a busy dude over at the Camel Trophy set-up), but we’ll just save the toasts for next May in Flagstaff. :)
- I don’t have enough money for all the deeply cool gear and vehicle enhancements I really want, but maybe with some good financial management enough for the stuff I need...
- In addition to our own classes, I attended sessions on: Bribes and Difficult Situations at Customs and Border Crossings, Overland Safety, Route Planning and Execution, Regional Q&A’s on Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, “Buy and Fly: Your Own Australian 4x4 Adventure”, Trail Maintenance, and Overland Blogging (Hah!).
- As you know, I drove the Land Rover off road course; and, I piloted an AEV Brute JK-based pickup on the BF Goodrich tire-testing loop. Man, that’s a big truck - it has a turning radius you can probably measure in km’s.
- We made a lot of new friends.
Photos: Julie and Steve Edwards