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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On to Overland 2013

After spending the first night of our trip in the Mojave desert, we were ready for our annual trek to the Overland Expo. As it was in 2012, this year's Expo took place south of Flagstaff at Mormon Lake Lodge and campgrounds. Mormon Lake itself is actually mostly a field--an intermittent lake dependent on the amount of rainfall it receives during the year. The last few years have not brought much rain, and the "lake" is mostly deeply cracked earth and some tough grasses.

When we arrived we found our friend Mel had already secured a nice spot in the campground for our little group, and he had joined forces with some other people he had met along the way. This, I think, is the best part of the Expo. Every year we meet more and more people, gathering together the next year, comparing notes about where we've been, where we'd like to travel, and of course, what new equipment we've added to our "rigs". The Expo itself is a chance to learn more skills in off-road driving, map reading, cooking, and offer the vendors a chance to market their latest creations to us. Something to learn, something to buy, and a whole lot of people to share stories with: 6000 as a matter of fact.

So our group consisted of our truck anchoring one end, two Jeeps and a truck with roof-top tents in the middle, a Suburban with a really nice ground tent, an all-terrain tent trailer, and later, a few backpackers that pitched a small tent on the grass finishing out our "circling of the wagons." This is the beauty of overlanding: size really doesn't matter. You can travel in a rental car with a backpacking tent and have just as good (if not better) an experience as in a monster RV.

After extensive study and beer consumption, decided to call ourselves "The Group"
Logo, official flag and business cards to follow.

Had a nice potluck meal the first night and caught up with last year's adventures over a huge pile of food. That's another advantage to the Overland Expo: you might not get a shower for four days, but you will never starve. As a group we represented 6 states and two species: Hawaii, Kansas, Georgia, Washington, Arizona and California. (The Hawaiian's cheated; they didn't actually drive to the expo. They were stationed in Kansas temporarily and drove from there. We let that slide after they invited all of us to visit them once they get back to the islands.)
Mr. Jackson, our canine representation
Friday morning Mark and I had our first class: Wilderness First Aid. We thought it was about time to face the fact we are no longer invincible, and if something happened 100 miles from a hospital and out of cell phone range perhaps we ought to brush up on our first aid skills.

Our first lesson: if you have a heart attack, you're screwed.  Yes, our incentive to cut back on the bacon was doubled by our instructor, who told us the chances of surviving a major heart attack beyond the reach of professional aid are pretty darn poor. You can learn CPR, keep perfect compression rhythm with the BeeGees "Sayin' Alive" and give mouth to mouth all day long, but if you have no means to get the heart started again, you're toast.

Well, fine. Mark and I agreed to save our myocardial infarctions for closer to home (we shook on it.)

So then the class moved on to what we might be able to fix. We learned tourniquet techniques, splinting, stopping blood flow and applying bandages. Clearing breathing obstructions, cleaning wounds, diagnosing head injuries, and over and over and over, stabilizing the neck and spine. This was a constant theme during the course, as it is one of the few injuries that if ignored, there's no do-over. Our instructor, Kristina Hall of Sweet Otter Training and Certification (, drilled this into us by choosing "victims" and having the rest of the class stabilize and diagnose the injuries. It was a great way to hammer in our lessons and make it a bit more real. Plus it was a huge advantage to have your "patient" help you when you forgot a step. I can only hope the next injured hiker we come across will be so helpful.

After a full day of stabilizing necks and dressing wounds, we were tired and hungry. Back at the field/campground, the wind was showing no signs of stopping, so it was sausages with a fine coating of dust for dinner, along with a bottle of dusty water and some dusty carrots. This was becoming a theme...

Saturday's roster was all vehicle skills classes. First up: Terrain Management. We brought the truck over to the course and couldn't believe our eyes when they showed us what we would be driving through. We walked the terrain examples they had created first, with the instructors pointing out the trouble spots and explaining how every vehicle would need a different plan to make it through, largely dependent on wheel base, turning radius and weight distribution. We, of course, had the heaviest, longest vehicle there. Looking into the gaping pit they called "terrain" we were doubtful. So we watched as, one by one, the Jeeps, Land Rovers and small trucks made their way over the course. Each vehicle had a team of two; a driver and one person outside feeding hand signals to the driver (marshaling.) We agreed it would be best for Mark to be in the truck, so I by default, was to marshal. The instructors helped both of us along the way and, unbelievably, we made it though without a scratch. Here's the proof:

Instructor giving his reassuring talk.
 Taking the plunge

Cutting it close

So far so good...
Marshaling Mark out of the pit

A spectacular exit on three wheels
This is a picture of relief, if it can be captured in a photo.

After that, the rest of the our classes were a piece of cake: driving through mud, cross-axle terrain, GPS and mapping skills. The truck was even called upon to do a few recoveries when a Jeep and a small truck got stuck on the course. Every once in a while it pays to have the biggest vehicle.

That night the wind was even stronger, if that was possible, so we decided to splurge and go out to dinner at the lodge, followed by a movie at the Overland Film Festival. Anything to stay out of the blowing dust for a while. Every night before bed we had to wipe our arms and legs down with a damp towel to keep the layer of dust from rubbing off in our sleeping bags.

The ever-present wind blowing across the campground area.

Sunday was a lazy day spent wandering around the vendor's stalls, chatting with everyone and checking out the assortment of camping vehicles. The array of equipment is pretty staggering: everything from bicycles to motorcycles to gigantic Unimogs were on display. It's funny though, the more we looked, the happier we were with our set up. This was reinforced by the fact that our rig is paid off and what we might spend on a new one could be used for our next big adventure. And on that note, we researched an outfitter that sets people up with Land Rovers in Africa for a self-driven safari. Next year perhaps?

Self propelled adventure (too much work)...
and a bit bigger than we're willing to go.

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