Attendees came early to the 2011 Overland Expo each day and stayed late to share tales with like-minded travelers.
“While expedition is defined as a journey with a purpose, in overlanding the journey is the purpose.”
This was the first sentence that caught my attention in the 2011 Overland Expo “TOUR GUIDE TO ADVENTURE” program that was handed to me as I entered the Expo grounds at the Amado Territory Ranch south of Tucson, Arizona. The quote was pretty heady stuff and it took a while to twist it to incorporate motorcycle adventure touring.
I had known of the Overland Expo for several years, but knew it to be for four-wheel to 18- wheel off-road vehicles. However, in the last few years adventure motorcycles had been creeping into the overlanding definition and Expo content.
The gathering was held in a wind-blown desert resort, ideal for what “overlanders” might expect to find in parts of Africa, Australia and South America. For attendees there was the option of camping or commuting from local motels in the area.
Display offerings and seminars were wide ranging: Vehicles, Campers, Trailers, Conversions/Customs, Vehicle Protection, Roof Racks/Add-Ons, Recovery/Running/Lights Gear, Fuel Storage, Security Organizing, Water Storage/Systems, Tents/Awnings, Sleeping Gear, Power/Lighting, Fridges/Cooking/Furniture, Hygene/Safety/Luggage, Outdoor Apparel, and Maps/Navigation.
Motorcycle specific offerings were: Motorcycle Protection, Luggage/Racks, Running Gear, Security, Rider Protection, Demo Rides and Off-road Training.
A favorite stop for motorcyclists was the Books and Films Tent where readers could meet the writers and film producers.
What I found was an interesting mix of experienced travelers, vendors, and newbies sharing their lust for adventure, whether they were in the middle of journeys around the world or dreaming of making one. The four-wheel and larger vehicles dominated the event, but tucked away in a corner there was a contingent of dedicated motorcycle enthusiasts showing they too had the experience and equipment to qualify as serious overlanders.
The contributions of the motorcycle adventurists to the Overland Expo ranged from offering seminars, film presentations and trading information whether in the form of books or DVDs for sale. Several vendors were present offering products or demonstrations. They ranged from adventure motorcycle specialty companies like Happy Trails Products, Wolfman to Touratech USA.
BMW commanded a considerable portion of the Motorcycle Adventure Village with highly modified adventure models on display as well as some available for test riding. Their adventure riding seminars and sessions offered by RawHyde Adventures included individual training on how to pick up a heavyweight downed motorcycle to a free course on how to drive an adventure motorcycle.
For those wanting to get off into the surrounding desert for some riding there were several sessions led by experienced leaders through the sand and trails in the local area. One seminar offered individualized instruction on the ergonomics of their personal adventure motorcycles.
Throughout the days there were multimedia show presentations indoors. Well-known motorcycle adventure writer Carla King shared with a captive audience her experiences riding “alone and broken down in China.” Another lady adventurist, Lois Pryce entertained a packed house with
her presentation about riding solo in Africa.
Crossover two-wheel and four wheel author and African Sahara guru Chris Scott was present introducing his new book, Overlander’s Handbook. Scott is well-known in motorcycling circles for his Adventure Motorbiking Handbook.
Austin Vince, known for his role in the adventure DVDs Mondo Enduro and Terra Circa, was splitting time between seminars and keeping adventure films running in the media center.
Two motorcycle film producers, Sterling Noren and Ben Slavin, were floating around offering their wide ranging DVDs for sale about travels in Mexico to as far around the globe as Indochina.
I spent an hour with Ted Simon trading tales and tips during a break between Simon’s multimedia show presentation and his selling books. Simon and I have crossed paths numerous times over the last 15 years and enjoy each other’s company not only as authors and travelers, but also as he described us: “well-worn men of the world.”
Shortly after Simon and I parted, a film producer asked me what we had talked about, recording my response for a documentary on the Overland Expo. When the interviewer asked, “So what did you and Ted Simon talk about while you were sitting there for over an hour? Was it roads, border crossings, destinations or dangers?”
Ted Simon and I traded tales and exchanged tips, not having seen each other for three years while we wandered the globe.
“Secrets,” I replied.
Not to be put off by such a glib response, the interviewer probed a bit further by asking, “Secrets about what, like the best motorcycle, or where to stay away from?”
I laughed, then said, “No, we were talking about what two older well-worn men of the world talk about when they get together after two or three years: women. But what we said is secret.”
The motorcycle part of Overland Expo was not a rally, nor a vendor show. For an adventurist it was a chance to see what other travelers had done or were doing with their motorcycles and dreams. One of the busiest booths was that of Horizons Unlimited. It was here motorcycle writers, travelers, vendors and dreamers often made a point of stopping. Grant and Susan Johnson, founders of the website for motorcycle travelers, were manning the booth. Throughout the three days adventurists could be found at this booth trading stories and gleaning information from others doing likewise.
I met Ken and Carol Duval at the Horizons Unlimited booth. For each of us it was a surprise and reunion. I had first met the wandering Australians in Kathmandu over 10 years before as we were each circling the globe. Several years later I met them again in Bangkok, Thailand while making a dental pit stop in the middle of another of my global adventures.
When I had met the Duvals in Bangkok I had just come from a lengthy experience in a dental chair where I had major work done. The dentist had given me Valium for my trepidation and then several nerve-deadening shots before hogging out an old decay. As I was walking back to my hotel room 100 feet from the dental chair, the Duvals saw me pass the bar where they were having Australian High Tea (beer) and yelled at me to join them. After ordering my own cup we drank and caught up on road news.
Friends Carol and Ken Duval from Australia and I had not seen each other in nearly six years, last meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, half a world away from the Overland Expo.
While we were recounting that tale under the Horizons Unlimited tent at the Overland Expo, the Duvals reminded me that while I was pouring my Australian High Tea in one side of my mouth at that Bangkok meeting, it was running out the other deadened side and down my front. Those travelers listening to the tale had a good laugh at my expense, as did I.
One of the busiest booths for motorcyclists was the Books and Films booth. At this tent shaded area motorcycle specific authors and film producers schmoozed with attendees while selling their books and films. In between autographing and sharing travel information, the authors and film producers themselves traded tips and tricks for self-promotion and travel destinations.
One of the best parts of the Overland Expo for motorcycle adventurists was free, looking at the numerous models and accessory modifications seen in the general parking area or camping site. Here could be found some of the most advanced adventure travel models or some of the most inexpensive and practical modifications, just for the price of walking around.
While the Overland Expo has not been known as a motorcycle traveler gathering or adventure vendor exposition, it was clearly a zone on the earth where adventure travelers were meeting. If the motorcycle section keeps growing at the rate it has in the past, adventure travelers will find this a destination that justifies the journey.