Why I Don’t Overland
What I have recently begun, this year’s tour of the western part of the U.S., is basically a drawn-out and circuitous commute from Arizona to Illinois and back. Along the way, I hope to find some very nice camps as well as boondocking spots which may be difficult to access with more formidable RVs.
Although I’m headed for the Overland Expo West on this leg, I do not “Overland”. See, overlanding at its essence involves: “Vehicle-supported, self-reliant adventure travel, typically exploring remote locations and interacting with other cultures.” It’s a broadening experience centering on the journey itself, neither a race to get somewhere nor sticking around each campsite for weeks. Because of potential resupply issues over long distances across remote areas, it requires careful pre-planning and preparation. Even calling what I do “adventure travel” would be quite a stretch. Right now, I’m Adventure Loitering. I admit that I do incorporate certain elements needed for successful overlanding into my peculiar camping quest. They help me locate camping areas that are more likely to prove workable, to weigh priorities, navigate trails more safely, sense when to quit, equip for the task, limit needless risks, know what specific camping equipment holds up, and so on. I cherry-pick, for my own needs.
Although the term “Overlanding” is derived from the heroically long cattle drives across early Australia, there’ll be one booth at the Expo that will be fishing for membership signups by selling the idea that opening a pack of Ballpark Franks in the local county park campground on a Saturday night is Overlanding, because real-world overlanding (to them) is “elitist” and exclusionary in nature (being controlled by social prejudices rather than by appropriate equipment, skills and methods). The founder of this group presents his members-only website as a kind of revolutionary manifesto that literally redefines the accepted definition of “Overlanding” toward something “more inclusive” that smacks of the coming victory of the proletariat over the ill-fated bourgeoisie and it’s accursed reactionaries. He sells it not as a club or activity, but as a movement. True to such things, he cites that any questioning of his inclusive new definition of Overlanding will get you silenced as a counter-revolutionary in forums and groups. For a camping and travel club based on a contrived flim-flam solidly within the entitlement milieu, he’s doing commendably well! I’m keeping a variation of this little scheme in my back pocket, for when Social Security turns turtle.
Many people who do legitimately overland use the term “expeditions” for their various overlanding tours, which strikes me as a bit pretentious. That’s probably because I grew up in the days when real expeditions had pretty much all run their course. By definition today, an expedition is:
1. a journey or voyage made for a specific purpose, as exploration.
2. the group of persons or vehicles engaged in such an activity.
3. promptness or speed in accomplishing something.
The term is now appropriated more commonly for “new-to-me” explorations that use nothing but mapped, paved roads to get to a destination. By this standard, my greatly elongated commute to Illinois and back is an expedition. Of course, that’s just as preposterous as my claiming that I’m Overlanding while doing so. I’m just trying to see what I have not yet seen and, when needed, use my rig’s limited capabilities to locate campsites in out-of-the-way places. Admittedly, I may revel now and then in trails and campsites that only a limited number of campers will be able to get to, but that too is a chimera. I can pretend that there’s a status to it, but really, it’s nothing but an exchange of trade-offs and risks, one for another. As a result of the Intrepid truck camper’s strong emphasis on being well-suited to just one type of trail and campsite, it isn’t very good at anything else, comparatively speaking. That’s why I winter in the Defiant travel trailer, which has a wholly opposite set of priorities. They are simply choices toward opposite ends of the mobile scale, and they ignore the ton of choices that exist in the gulf between them. As for difficult trails, I’ve also always found pleasure in watching motive machinery do what it was designed to – or at least try to. Then I get to figure out why it worked, why it worked badly, or why it didn’t work at all. Geeks on parade.
But my supposed topic is Overlanding, isn’t it? Now, I’m a patient guy. Extraordinarily patient. Always have been. But for some reason, that trait has pretty much evaporated over time, so I now have to put that virtue in the past tense. Perhaps I burned through all I had. I’d rather take well over two or four times as long to drive to another state or two than to battle through remote parking and buses/trams and ticket counters and security inspections and waiting rooms and waiting onboard for delayed takeoff on a passenger plane. Then landing, waiting and/or praying for checked bags, and finding rental cars on the other end that are too small and have wonky controls too weird to figure out in the dark. Can’t stand the thought of it anymore.
In regard to crossing borders while overlanding, I would not be able to handle bureaucratic snafus and assembling paperwork and forms that need approval, and all of the lines and waiting that involves. Something in me dies now when even considering the prospect. I won’t even mention the language issue. That’s why I’m unlikely ever to venture to other lands at this stage of my life. This is a big country that’s packed with marvels, and there’s oodles of it that I’ll never see despite my annual travels. Somehow, in some way, the adventurous people who do real overlanding (say, from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego) can tolerate the eternal border crossings and crooked cops expecting payoffs. I thoroughly enjoy watching the superbly documented travels of groups like Expedition Overland despite the tight schedules they have to keep. I enjoy them in the same way that I’ve enjoyed driving vehicles that I’d never want to actually own because of the trials or expenses involved in keeping them running. Or, enjoying other people’s dogs on a visit because I’m not the one who has to walk, feed, take them to the vet, correct their misbehavior(s) or clean up their digestive issues.
Overlanders typically dwell on the good and ignore or play down the bad parts of such long journeys. They do that because they can. Setting aside those who are simply evangelizing for their pastime or hoping for more viewers or readers (for income), I think a lot of them are able to simply downplay the bad parts and dwell on the good parts in their own minds, such that things like waiting in line for 3-5 hours at a border becomes an inconvenience that is far overshadowed by the people that they meet and the vistas they go through. My hat’s off to them. For me, such things would highly color the whole trip and the later memories of it. Actually, reading or viewing the less polished accounts of some overlanders over time can lend both freshness and a strong sense of reality. Not everything goes well or ends happily. Things play out differently for each. But it’s real, which makes the good moments more meaningful.
To this end, one blog that I stumbled over, Landtrek.net, is as real as it gets. The trip ends very differently than it began, and is a moving story. Personally, I wouldn’t have the gall to tell this guy that he’s elitist and exclusionary, or that my eating a bag of Weenie Tots in the county park near home makes me just as much of an overlander as him. But he certainly is overlanding in the classical sense. If you have some time to browse through, I think you’ll find it a very interesting account of long distance vehicular travel.