Monday, 26 May 2014

Arizona in the summer

The overland expo, run near Flagstaff, Arizona, was an eye-opener for me. It is not an expo, in the traditional sense. It is an event. Aviation enthusiasts, especially private flyers and those who have dabbled in home-built aircraft, will know of Oshkosh. The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) yearly gathering at Oshkosh. Wisconsin has been described by some of the world’s best-loved aviation writers as, The greatest event in all of aviation. It is where lovers of airplanes, builders of airplanes and flyers come and meet and greet like-minded people. Mostly, they come and see what everyone else is doing with their airplanes. Overland Expo is the overlander’s Oshkosh.

I was struck by the huge range of vehicles and the diversity of accessories on display. Gladly, for me anyway, the show did not showcase much off the vast array of tires, suspension lifts and gear aimed at what I regard as the red-neck approach to 4x4: who’s got the biggest adrenaline-inducing V8, the most axle articulation and who can shout Yee-Haa the loudest? It is mainly for the 4x4 enthusiast who’s primary aspiration is to go overland. Just like me.

Only a helicopter shot would be able to adequately provide an idea of the size of the event. There was an entire dry lake bed (Lake Mormon) on which to camp.  And there were thousands of roof-tents and trailers attached to every 4x4 type you can imagine. But one thing was missing – not a single Toyota Land Cruiser 70-series of any type. I always get a homely feeling when I see one, so I spent the week a little home-sick.

While there were most 4x4 makers on Earth represented in one way or another, amazingly, I saw three Steyr Puch Pinzgauers. The motorcycles section was vast, with a huge array of kit and accessories on display or for sale. The only manufacturer that made any effort at all was Land Rover. A local franchise was involved with a selection of new Range Rovers, Range Rover Sports, LR4s and Evoques giving rides over what looked like a typical, easy-going marketing track. And some North American Land Rovers groups were involved with teaching subjects such as winching, recovery, trailing and overland. It’s the love of their marquee that makes Land Rover in many ways unique in motoring. You can say what you like about Land Rovers, no one can touch them for the owners and their spirit of togetherness. It’s something to be admired.

As for me, my two seminars on Telling Great Stories with Video, and the presentation TV shows, Solo Across the Kalahari were so well received, that I am busy creating a on-line and face to face teaching product. And I have been asked to present the class at a more formal situation in North America and Canada. I must say, I did enjoy presenting and the great interaction with the students, and look forward to more of it.

But perhaps the biggest revelation of all was, that in parts of the US, overlanding is unbelievably free and accessible. Unlike most countries in Europe and Africa, wild camping is not only legal but encouraged, and safe. In parts of Arizona, and many other states, maps are available detailing rough tracks heading into the wilderness. They are marked with GPS points and keys indication were wild camping is permitted. I had never imagined I would want to return to the US for an overland expedition.

And to my new American friends; Kris, Cameron, Jeremy and Robert. (You know who you are) Thank you for your kindness.