Overland Expo East 2015 - Val in Real Life

Overland Expo East 2015

Even for adventure travelers, the conditions were somewhat daunting for this year’s Overland Expo East event in North Carolina. The rain and winds were the courtesy of Hurricane Joaquin. At our location near Asheville, we were on the outskirts of the storm but the impacts were still significant. It had many of us longing for the less-challenging conditions of Overland Expo West AKA “Snoverland Expo” back in May. That’s saying something.

Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
My soggy entrance to North Carolina was only the beginning.

The Venue…

The stunning Taylor Ranch played host to Overland Expo East. With a lake, pavillions, and sprawling grounds, the location is well-suited for a gathering of overlanders. I’m afraid to think of what it looks like after we left, though. Massive four-wheel-drive vehicles churned up the turf and even small cars simply slid downhill as the grass sheared off of the saturated substrate.

In spite of the challenges, I felt the staff and facilities handled the situation well as could be expected. Some driving and riding sessions had to be cancelled due to safety issues but most sessions went on as scheduled. There were a few who were put out that they’d “come all this way” to not be able to get the hands-on training they’d anticipated. That’s the situation when you simply stare at them slack-jawed. Apparently they missed the memo that there is a hurricane, flooding, and a state of emergency. South Carolina was nearly washed off the continent so get over yourself.

Throughout the event, organizers asked for cooperation and flexibility. It seemed to me that most attendees embraced a healthy attitude, understanding weather is entirely out of their control. The biggest complaint from other attendees was the “lockdown” that was put in place to preserve the ranch grounds. The organizers were trying to mitigate the damage by minimizing traffic so if you left, you were not allowed to return. It’s not an ideal scenario by any means but I’m sure there were many considerations that went into that decision. It didn’t impact me because I had no intention of going anywhere. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure how I would get my bike out once, much less multiple times. So I had no problem staying put.

Overall I would say most of us laughed about the situation with the “That’s adventure travel!” mantra we often use when things go sideways. Then we went about our business connecting with and learning from our fellow travelers.

Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
Vendors and campers across the picturesque grounds of Taylor Ranch.
Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
My tent proved unable to withstand many days of constant rain. My Eno hammock tarp saved the day(s), though.

Presentations and vendors…

Much like my experience at Overland Expo West this year, I didn’t make it to all of the sessions I intended to. Slogging through the mud and rain on Frankenleg once again proved exhausting to the point of not being able to do what I wanted.

I did manage a good bit, though, and had the privilege of talking with experienced overlanding families, meeting Sam Manicom, chatting at length with Ted Simon, and partaking of in-depth discussions with other travelers. When you immerse yourself in a community like this, it’s a feast of inspiration and information.

In between downpours, I hobbled my way through the mud to check out the vendors. I didn’t make it to all but there are a couple that are now very much on my radar as a result. Getting the chance to speak with representatives in person is one of the benefits of attending an event. In fact, a lengthy discussion with the DeLorme reps has me making some changes in my gear. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming weeks.

Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
Conversations with Ted… sometimes they include knot-tying.
Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
I got to hang out with fantastic presenter and all-around groovy guy, Sam Manicom.
Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
The offerings for junior overlanders has increased over the last few years. All kinds of awesome, yes?

Ingress…

My current running joke is that I need a shirt that says I survived Overland Expo East and West this year. While I do like a good adventure, day-after-day of rain while living out of a small tent will start to wear on you.

When I rolled into Overland Expo East, I knew I was going to have issues exiting. But my first order of business was simply to get the bike in. When I paused at the beginning of the road into the campground, one of the marshalls looked at my bike, then back at me questioningly. The exchange went something like this:

  • Him: “That’s not an off-road bike.”
  • Me: “No, no it isn’t.”
  • Him: “How are you on this stuff?”
  • Me: *grimace* “Well, it’s Overland Expo. If I have a problem, there’s lots of help to be had.”
  • Him: “Yep. And you wouldn’t be the first person to dump it today.”
  • Me: “Ok, then. Time to get to it.”

No one ever wants to dump their bike but we always know it can happen. Unfortunately, I’m all-too-aware of the need to protect Frankenleg. Bike damage is such a distant concern compared to that. It adds a different kind of stress to a challenging situation.

In the end, I managed the ingress part well enough through the mud and ruts. I even got to test out Nina’s ABS and traction control as I slid slightly sideways on the downhill slope into my chosen camping spot in the wet grass. It took some effort to get her settled in the mushy, wet turf in a way I was fairly certain she wouldn’t take a nap.

I knew I wouldn’t be moving her until it was time to leave but throughout the weekend, passers-by looked at my street tires and, often with raised eyebrows, asked me how I was going to get the bike out. Three more days of churned up mud, gravel, and turf before I would leave meant a daunting exit was ahead. I told them I’d figure that out when the time came but, in truth, the matter was on my mind all weekend.

Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
Shawn extracting Nina through the ruts and mud.

And egress…

By Sunday, I was wiped out. I’d intended to stay through Monday, but the weather and stumbling through the mud on Frankenleg for three days took everything out of me. My leg was fatigued and stiff. And because of the challenging weather, most people were leaving on Sunday, which meant most of my help was leaving. So I had to alter my plans.

On my best day, the exit scenario was beyond my skills as a rider. And I was nowhere near my best. The likelihood of a spill and more damage to a still-recovering leg was too high. I had a couple of options though:

  1. Have someone ride her to the road and take it from there OR
  2. Put her in back of my buddy Shawn’s truck to get her to Greenville and ride from there.

Most of the weekend I thought my biggest issue would simply be getting out of the ranch. As I watched the news about flooding and other damage from the storm, I knew the entire ride home would be a challenge. So I went through Door Number 2, knowing the weather would be clearing and a good night’s sleep in a bed would be what I needed to handle the rest of the journey.

After lots of antics from Shawn and the rest of the RawHyde crew extracting vehicles, including my bike, I managed my exit, spent a restful night in Greenville and headed home. The storms had cleared so I was riding under blue skies but the residual winds made for an exhausting trip. Gusts up to 30 mph meant I had to be at the top of my game for the ride home.

It proved to be as challenging as I expected but not unmanageable. And returning to my cozy loft in Roswell was all the sweeter for having an adventure.

So I survived Overland Expo East… and Overland Expo West, this year. Here’s hoping for fairer weather for next year’s events. Big Val-love to the RawHyde crew for their help, pizza, beer, and entertaining company. Any day you laugh so hard you cry is a good day. Cheers, friends!

Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
Nina getting a lift into the truck.
Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
Mine was not the only vehicle needing some assistance. The RawHyde crew had a lot of work to do Sunday morning.

For more images, visit my Overland Expo album on Flickr.

And now for your moment of green…

Overland Expo East - Val in Real Life
A peaceful, welcome lull in the rain at Taylor Ranch.

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