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Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I have to say this right up front: I am not a big off-road driving fan. There, I said it.

We have a huge four wheel drive truck--10 cylinder Ford F250, Warn winch mounted on oversized bumper with brush guards, back bumper with extra guards that carry a second spare and gas cans--the whole nine yards. We use the truck in the winter sans-camper to bring home large pieces of lumber for home projects, haul Christmas trees, help new-found friends move (those jokes about having lots of friends when you own a truck? all true), take loads to the dump, etc. In spring we back that monster down the driveway, get the camper hooked in to the bed and we're ready to roll. In between using the truck for load capacity and using it for camping, it sits in our driveway looking all testosterone-y. The cost to fill a 28 gallon tank on a truck that gets 10 mpg in the city makes it a little prohibitive to use as a commuter car. Our carbon footprint is huge for about 5 weeks of the year. We do have a little solar panel on the camper to top off the battery, does that count for anything?

Our dirty truck on it's way to Prudhoe Bay, pre-monster bumpers
Anyway, I get really nervous when we have to put the truck in four wheel drive. I'm fine with graded dirt or gravel roads, in fact, I prefer them because it weeds out more than 90% of the traffic. But when we start bouncing over boulders, the bushes are screeching across the paint, and the truck feels like it might tip over from the angle, I tense up. It's not the money it would cost to fix the damage (ok, it's a little about the money) or the worry of getting stuck if we break down (we always pack a ratio of a months worth of food and water per day we plan to be gone). It's just uncomfortable. You know that tailbone jarring crunch you feel when you hit a pothole on the road? Well that's four wheel driving. Over and over and over.

Looking back toward Death Valley,  Johnson Canyon Road

The only reason I go along, other than marital harmony, is that it gets you to places you can't get otherwise. Once there, you can get out of the truck and hike even further out to where you otherwise wouldn't have been able to reach. We've been able to drive up some remote side roads in Death Valley, hike up narrow canyons and find petroglyphs left hundreds of years ago by Native Americans. I suppose you could hike all the way out 20 miles from the main road then 3 more miles up the canyon in 90+ degree weather to see them, but that would take a bit more fortitude.

Petroglyphs somewhere near Marble Canyon, Death Valley

We're getting ready for what's become our annual trek to Overland Expo in May. Overland Expo is a collection of people who, like us, want to get out and see the world by land, in whatever chosen conveyance. It's a three day weekend gathering that offers classes in technical driving skills, getting un-stuck from various situations, navigation, cooking on the road, first aid and more. But the most important thing it offers is a gathering of people with experience doing the things we'd like to do. It's a gathering of our "peeps."

There are people there who have driven around the world. Some with campers, some on motorcycles, a few even on bicycles. But those are the stars--most of us dream of doing those things but have done much shorter trips. Some haven't done anything yet but want to learn enough skills to feel comfortable doing it. My favorite part of the whole thing is being able to walk up to anyone, ask them where they've been and have a two hour conversation that doesn't involve eye-rolling and stifled yawns. It's a road trip version of Comic-con.
One of the many vehicles at Overland Expo

So this year we've signed up for an 8 hour class in Wilderness First Aid, getting unstuck from mud, and GPS navigation, among other things. Mark has dreamed for years of doing some sort of monumental road trip: circling the United States and Canada. Driving to the tip of South America. Circumnavigating the world. In order to do these things we're going to have to make some major life changes--rent the house out and be willing to live like college students again for starters.

I'm not sure we'll be doing any of these big trips soon, but at least we're getting some helpful training to practice closer to home. Not to mention providing something to dream about in those zoned out moments at work when it feels like looking at another spreadsheet will make your brain explode.

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