Editor’s Note: Have you seen all those Postcards that Zac’s been writing lately? They’re all updates from his trip to Arizona. Here’s the story about Overland Expo, his ultimate destination.
In case you hadn’t noticed, adventure riding is kind of a big thing right now. More and more people are riding around the world, and in mid-May every year, a lot of those people converge on Mormon Lake, Arizona, for a little event called Overland Expo.
I went to Overland Expo last week. Here’s what it’s all about.
The skinny on OX
What is Overland Expo? Expo is a lot of things – there’s training, there are vendors, there are lectures, there are movies, and I’ll have more to say about that later. But most of all, it’s a collection of really cool people.
Take all the interesting motorcyclists you know, people who have ridden to amazing places, and who have really embraced two-wheeled life. Then add in many more riders like that, put them in a campground, and you’ve got Overland Expo.
It takes place at Mormon Lake Lodge, a campground outside Flagstaff, Arizona with a Wild West theme. It’s not just a bike event – there are hundreds of campers and heavy-duty off-road trucks and 4x4s. But for me, the motorcycles were the main event.
While the lectures and vendors are interesting and fun (AltRider, Touratech, Black Dog Cycle Works, Giant Loop and many other big industry names had tents set up), the best times at Overland Expo come when business and training are ended for the day, and people just get to hang out.
Once supper hits, almost everyone fires up a campstove and starts cooking up an outdoor feast. I hadn’t had room to pack a stove and had resigned myself to eating canned food from the on-site convenience store, but that wasn’t an issue.
On my first night there, my friends Bill and Susan from Oklahoma invited me over to their campsite for supper, giving me a chance to meet all their tent neighbours. On the second night, Les and Cathy from Canadian retailer Dual Sport Plus told me to come with them for pasta. Thinking they were headed to the on-site restaurant, I tagged along.
It turned out we were actually headed for an RV belonging to their friends, with almost 20 Australians, Canadians and Americans packed in, all eating bowls of pasta and partying heartily, with famous adventure riders dropping in for a visit.
Although I didn’t know most of these people, it didn’t matter; we rode motorcycles, we loved to travel, and we were hanging out. It was a fantastic experience.
For riders who wanted the Rawhyde experience, there was a nightly party that ran until the wee hours; dozens of riders converged at Rawhyde’s trailer every night, keeping warm by clustering around the bonfire (most campsites didn’t have a fire, due to regulations), telling some yarns about their two-wheeled adventures.
The cast of characters
Through the rest of the weekend, I was constantly meeting people with fascinating stories; there was Mel, who’s riding the world on a Honda XR650, complete with some “aftermarket” fuel storage that was stitched together by someone in Bolivia.
Camped right across from me was Amanda, who’d ridden the Trans America Trail on her CBR600 (really). Then, just around the corner was Sergio, from Bolivia, who invited me down to go riding in his home country.
But there were many big names giving lectures at Overland Expo as well. Of course, many of their stories are available on DVDs, websites and documented in many books, but it’s even more thrilling to have Simon and Lisa Thomas telling you in person about their last ten years of globe travels, or hear Chris Scott share his experiences taking on the US southwest on a Honda CRF250L.
And these aren’t like your average college lecture, with a crotchety professor peering over a set of artsy eyeglasses. Presentations like Lois Pryce’s talk on road wisdom are generally more humorous than most of the crap you’ll find on the Comedy Network.
Many of the lecturers have been on the road for years, or have completed major round-the-world trips in their past, and they know exactly what challenges you’ll face. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to live on a shoestring budget or just want to share your story with the world, they know how to do it.
Scared you can’t afford to travel the globe? Canada’s Rene Cormier’s lecture on traveling on $25 a day has the information you need; one presenter even offered a class on how to build a business while on the road. Other folks shared secrets on dodging bribes, avoiding culture clash, or navigating border bureaucracy.
If you want to share your own travel stories, presenters show you how do that as well, with classes on high-end DSLR photography or even iPhone photography. Carla King taught a class on social media and self-publishing, and Austin Vince had an excellent class on DIY filmmaking.
Talking of which, Austin Vince’s Adventure Travel Film Festival was another entertaining highlight of the week. I managed to take in a couple features – first, a movie featuring a crew of young Czechs taking on Africa in two-stroke Communist-era cars, with predictable mayhem ensuing. The second film was even better – it was the world premiere of Vince’s Mondo Sahara. We’ll have a review of that later.
The presentations are entertaining, but they’re also very useful for someone who wants to expand their boundaries and take on the world.
There are plenty of classes as well, such as how to change tires, how to pack luggage efficiently, basic GPS operation, the nuts and bolts of setting your bike up for world travel and classes on the finer points of route planning and navigation.
After absorbing all that information, RawHyde’s trail rides offered a chance to put it into practice on your Adventure motorcycle.
I’d visited the event on a Harley-Davidson Switchback (much to the amusement of my friends, as I was the only H-D there, as far as I could see), so I didn’t take in any of the hands-on riding, but everyone participating seemed to be having a good time … well, except for the chap who crashed hard in the woods on the first day of the event.
By far, BMWs were the most common bike there, but there were plenty of other adventure bikes as well. I must say, it was extremely amusing to hear the comments from the BMW-philes as I roared past them all on the Switchback en route to the showers in the morning – especially considering the fact I’d ridden much further than most of them to attend the event.
Get on the road
If you want to learn how to live on the road for that grand adventure, Overland Expo is the place for you.
While there was a great variety in the lectures and presentations, one theme was constant – all the speakers wanted their listeners to go out and take on the world themselves.
Yes, there were opportunities to spend big bucks on guided tours or fancy farkles at the event, but the presenters weren’t telling their listeners to break out their credit cards. Instead, they kept presenting the same message – stop talking and planning, and hit the road.
That’s the most important thing to take away from the event, as far as I can see. While it’s a grand time, the organizers aren’t just trying to entertain you with their experiences. They want you to have the same experiences yourself, and that’s the true goal for the weekend.
Even the folks who aren’t presenting are constantly offering you advice on travel – which border crossing to take into Mexico, how to insure a motorcycle in South America, which riding gear holds up in the long term, which tent will stay leak-proof the longest. This kind of hands-on advice is invaluable.
So, if you’re thinking about hitting the road for unknown horizons, I’d advise you to think about visiting Overland Expo. It just might be enough to push you over the edge. When you leave, you’ll already be planning future expeditions in the back of your brain – at least, I know I was. And to me, that shows the event was a true success.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.