Field of Dreams: Overland Expo 2010
Hundreds of trucks and sport/utilities came to the Amado Territory Ranch in southern Arizona, just 30 minutes from Tucson, for the second annual Overland Expo. The trucks and events covered 17 acres of ranch property, framed by the Santa Rita Mountains. Every make and model you can think of was there: Land Rovers, Toyotas, Hummers, Fords, Chevys, GMCs, Rams, Jeeps. Even an odd ex-military 6x6 M35-A3 and a Freightliner M-2 106 4x4 were on hand.
The owners of these trucks dream of adventure and overland travel. Some plan on staying relatively close to home, and others crave travel to distant lands. Despite the fact that virtually every vehicle, except for the motorcycles, had four-wheel drive, these people were not four-wheelers or rock crawlers, or even off-road racers. Quite a different crowd has emerged in North America in the last 10 years (it's been going on for decades in Europe): Some dream of driving around the world in a $500,000 Unicat built on a Mercedes Unimog platform or an Alu-Star Magirus Deutz (as seen in the July/August issue of Truck Trend). Others are perfectly happy to spend a year or two in Mexico or South America in a Land Rover Discovery or in a Toyota Pickup with a rooftop tent and a slideout kitchen. Your shower might be a bag of solar-heated water hung from a tree. Since the perfect campground could be on a dirt track 50 miles from the nearest RV park, bathrooms are most often a shovel and a bush. If that sounds like roughing it, it is, but with the right equipment and knowledge, the trip can be very comfortable.
It's precisely that knowledge and specialized equipment that the Overland Expo is all about. This year, there were 100 exhibitors showing off the latest in campers, tents, cooking gear, recovery equipment, and accessories useful to the backcountry explorer.
The tent trailers were a mere step up in comfort from a ground or rooftop tent. Towed behind a 4x4 or even a motorcycle, tent trailers often include full kitchen setups, sleeping for two to four, and even a Porta Potti. Water, propane, extra fuel, and a small generator allow you to take along some of the conveniences of home.
For those fortunate enough to have a full-size truck, several camper manufacturers were on hand with the latest pop-up designs. Some even have full bathrooms with a small shower. If the weather gets rough, truck campers give you the option of closing the door, cooking dinner, and relaxing with a good book and a glass of wine while the rain pitter-patters on the roof.
Only slightly larger, our own Turtle V with its European-designed Tortuga Expedition Camper was on display. Built on a Ford F-550 4x4, it has all the comforts of home with the mobility and load capacity of a full-size American pickup truck.
Borrowing ideas from European expedition camper manufacturers such as Unicat, Alu-Star, and Langer & Bock, the Tortuga Expedition Vehicle saves precious space with a collapsible bed and by incorporating an inside shower and a slide-out Porta Potti in the doorway, an area overlooked and always open in any small camper.
Still not comfortable enough? Move up to the new GXV Patagonia powered by a 351-horse Cummins. Fully loaded with 300 gallons of diesel (75 gallons of gasoline for the motorcycle or ATV you're carrying), 125 gallons of water, and more, its weight can push its GVWR of 33,000 pounds given its 31-foot length and 152-inch height.
Want even more room? Check out the three-bedroom EcoRoamer. This unique custom 4x4 Ford F-650, powered by a 350-horse Cat C7 7.3-liter engine, stretches 33 feet bumper to bumper, with a height close to 13 feet. Its 130-gallon fuel capacity will take you to your favorite campsite, but it gets only 6-7 mpg, so you might want to fill up before leaving the blacktop. Amenities include 150 gallons of water, a full bathroom, two refrigerators and a large freezer, plus an all-electric kitchen, all powered by eight solar panels on the roof, twin military 200-amp alternators, eight 162-pound 8D Lifeline batteries, and a diesel generator. It may be bigger than your house -- and possibly heavier. With each of the 275-pound, 46-inch-diameter Michelin 445 tires (plus two spares), the EcoRomer tips the scales at 34,000 pounds. Owners and designers Jay Shapiro and Alice Gugelev and their two children plan on touring the world in the EcoRoamer while they promote their Muskoka Foundation. They are on the road right now.
Amazing trucks and equipment displays drew more than 2000 day-trippers from Tucson and Phoenix. Perhaps the main goal of Overland Expo 2010 was education. Whether you're exploring in a Unicat or on a motorcycle, or just dreaming about it, there are many skills that can make your adventure a success.
Over 300 enthusiasts came from all parts of the country for three days of intensive learning, taking advantage of dozens of classes, seminars, and travel films offered from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily during the event. Participants paid $255 for one person in one vehicle or $465 for two people in one vehicle. Overland driving and recovery courses included driving techniques in sand, mud, and water, how to sew up the sidewall of a ripped tire, introduction to winch recovery, vehicle recovery for women, and other valuable skills.
Workshops and seminars covered a wide range of topics such as medical kits for overlanding, a couples' survival guide for overlanding, international culture (how to not piss everyone off), overlanding with dogs, and security for overlanding, to name only a few. There were several "Ask the Experts" roundtable discussions with noted world travelers and others who have circled the globe in a self-contained vehicle or on a motorcycle.
Two-wheel overlanding was not omitted. There were classes on motorcycle travel, including two-wheel recovery, chain repairs, and choosing and setting up an adventure motorcycle. BMW set up a test ride center.
In the evening, Four Wheel Campers and Sportsmobile hosted complimentary happy hours. The Amado Territory Ranch includes the Amado Inn and two excellent restaurants, for those who didn't want to cook. Wandering through the equipment exhibits in the evening, many of the daytime displays became instant camps, with rousing conversations about the pros and cons of this or that stove, that tent, those tires, whether Mexico is really dangerous (of course not), or Corona versus Coors. Participants who were not already overloaded with information could view several excellent documentaries shown at the Adventure Film Festival in the Amado Territory Ranch theater and conference facilities.
After the final farewell banquet Sunday night, many gathered around the bonfire at Kristofer's Bistro. Others were busy folding up steps, tents, and chairs and departing to all points of the compass as if they were off on a grand overland expedition.
As interest grows in the adventure of overland travel here in North America, we look forward to Overland Expo 2011. Dates are set for April 1-3 at the Amado Territory Ranch and Rex Ranch, Amado, Arizona.