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Last year we had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Overland Expo just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. Other than hearing Bryan talk about it, this was my first exposure to overlanding in general and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Not only did I get a wealth of information on several different preparedness-based subjects, but I was also able to test skills I’d been practicing when it came to camping and living outside of my comfort zone.
This month we’ll be headed back to Arizona for Overland Expo West 2014, so I thought this would be a great time to revisit my thoughts from last year’s trip.
My 2013 Overland Experience
When we registered for the 2013 Expo, we also signed up for what was referred to as the Overland Experience. This allowed us to take a variety of classes all geared around overlanding, which ranged anywhere from women only topics to classes for couples. The classes had a limited of spots and experience package attendees got to pick and choose from a schedule that’s quite extensive. While our schedule was pretty full, we still managed to squeeze in time to see all the vendors which was nice.
The location of the event last year (and again this year) is at Mormon Lake, part of the Coconino National Forest in Arizona. It’s a mostly dry lake bed surrounded by gorgeous mountainous terrain. When the area isn’t experiencing a drought, the actual lake covers more territory. During our visit last year a drought was definitely in effect which allowed lots of space to camp, but coupled with consistent high winds eliminated the option for open camp fires. We’re expecting the same prohibition of camp fires this year, too.
The elevation at Mormon Lake is around 7,000 feet above sea level and hosts much cooler temperatures than what we’re used to in Texas this time of year. Being in the mountains surrounded by huge evergreen trees was wonderful to wake up to each day. The event ran from Friday through Sunday and the classes we registered for took up a large portion of each day. My class picks were Daily Vehicle Maintenance for Women, Overland Driving Skills, Chic Chick Travel for Women, Basic Winching, Learning to Share the Adventure (For Couples), Recovery Techniques Without A Winch, Vehicle Marshaling Skills (CoEd) and a few other classes that ended up either being canceled or we didn’t end up making it to.
Knowing Vehicular Maintenance
A huge theme throughout all the Overland Expo class instruction was being prepared. I learned that a large part of that preparation has to be made for whatever vehicle you’re taking on he road, which makes perfect sense when you consider that your car or truck is your primary tool to travel with on any type of on-road or off-road excursion.
Bryan had taught me how to change my tire last summer when I got a flat (and made me actually do it) one night after picking him up from the airport. That was honestly the best way for me to really get a grip on what I needed to know in case the next flat tire happened when I was alone. Other than that, I hadn’t had any real exposure up to that point on how to maintain my car. Sure, I take it to the shop when it needs an oil change and I have my tires rotated regularly, I watch the gauges on the dashboard, but other than that I just get in it and go.
One of the first classes I attended last year was Women’s Vehicle Maintenance. There were two instructors, Daphne and Sean, who came from Land Rover, one of the major sponsors of the entire event. Both of these instructors dove right in and began sharing with the class what we needed to know and check when it came to taking care of a vehicle.
What was great about this class is that it didn’t only apply to vehicles you may drive on an adventurous excursion, but the knowledge they were sharing was relative to any and all vehicles that we may drive on a regular basis.
One of the first things that was mentioned was to make a vehicle maintenance checklist in order to keep the important things fresh in our minds. This not only serves as a regular reminder, but it also helps out when planning for a road trip, letting you look back to notes made previously and helping you see if a problem may be developing.
The checklist should start with the tires (the bottom of the vehicle) and work up from there. We reviewed how to properly understand the pressure in your tires and know how much pressure is needed. One thing I didn’t know was that the outside wall of the tire isn’t the only place I need to look at when finding out what my tire pressure should be.
Most vehicles have a chart with more information located inside the driver’s side door on that strip of information where the vehicle information number (VIN) can be found. The PSI on the sidewall of the tire is for referencing the maximum amount of tire pressure when the tire is cold, not the recommended pressure to keep in the vehicle at all times. There are other numbers on the sidewall of the tire, including what the size of the stock tires are. Once I confirm the size of my tire I can reference the chart inside the driver’s door to determine what the PSI should be for my tires when they’re cool.
Something else I need to regularly look for is anything that’s leaking under the hood. Fortunately, I park my car in the garage at home so it’s typically pretty obvious if anything is leaking from my car. By knowing the colors of the different fluids, I can more easily detect what might be leaking if I see anything. Every fluid in my car most likely is a different color.
The instructors continued to go over the parts of the engine we needed to be familiar with, as well as provided tips on what types of oil could be used if we were running low and had limited options while traveling. We also reviewed important information on brake fluid, checking the battery, understanding fluid levels and how to get to the right parts of the car in order to check them.
The main thing that kept going through my mind was why hasn’t anyone told me all of this stuff before? This information isn’t just for guys. I drive everyday and need to know this stuff! Needless to say, I highly recommend any driver taking the time to find someone or somewhere that can help you learn as much as possible about your vehicle.
Learning to Share in the Adventure
Another class Bryan and I both signed up for was a couple’s class on learning to enjoy outdoor adventuring together. Some hobbies, like camping and overlanding, can seem intimidating to women and I can totally relate. This class provided a panel of husbands and wives who had learned to enjoy their spouses’ love of adventure and figured out ways to make it work for both of them so they could share the experiences as a couple.
Let’s face it, traveling across the country or around the globe can be a time consuming hobby. I’m the type of wife who wants to share some of the adventures with my husband instead of having separate hobbies all the time. Most of the things that Bryan enjoys doing I want to at least give a shot (except skydiving.) Please understand I’m not saying that couples need to physically be together for every adventure, but adventure travel can be a time consuming thing which could lead to a lot of time apart. As we grow old together, I’d like to think that we’ll share a variety of experiences as much as possible.
One of the first points that all of the couples talked about was how important it is for the wives to open up about what made them uncomfortable about participating with their spouse. For some wives it was a need to feel safe while they traveled, for some it was wanting to be organized since they were traveling with minimal supplies. Being cross-trained in their husband’s skills also played an important role in the wives feeling confident about the excursions.
Both the husbands and wives also noted that it was equally important for the husband to actively listen and see what accommodations could be made to help the wife feel more at ease before traveling. Once these realizations were shared and the couples worked together to get ready for a trip, the more both of them were able to enjoy the experiences together. These couples on the panel had been sharing adventurous excursions for several years and the wives now enjoy it as much as their husbands.
A Realization About Safety
My least favorite class ended up being one that taught me one of the most valuable lessons of all during the 2013 Expo. Safety while traveling. That’s not exactly what the course was supposed to cover, but that was one of my main take-aways.
This class was Chic Chick Travel for women only and was hosted by a panel of well-traveled women. Some of these women had been meandering around the globe for many years and through many foreign territories. My hope was to learn how to pack well and remain hygienic while still looking somewhat presentable during camping trips, or while being without shower facilities for long stretches of time.
That’s basically the information that was covered at the beginning of the hour; what garments were versatile and light to pack, a scarf can be the perfect hair accessory for dirty locks and that cleansing wipes can help you feel pretty darn clean when a shower is nowhere in sight for days.
As much as I wanted the women to share more specific instructions, like how to wrap a scarf around your head in a way that looks good or what types of face cream seemed to work best at keeping that youthful glow, the topic evolved to how women could be safe as they traveled.
This is a sensitive subject for me. I’ve grown used to carrying a gun most of the time and I hadn’t actually thought about traveling to foreign countries or states where I may not be able to carry. One woman asked if pepper spray or mace was recommended to take along during trips and the response that came next floored me.
There were two women on this panel of five who actually recommended that we “leave our Western fear of being attacked at the border.” The discussion included examples of situations where women have been able to talk themselves out of being raped, that some women who travel alone in foreign counties would lie and say they were married even if they weren’t so that would garner more respect from men of different cultures.
I’m truly glad that those two women have traveled abroad and have never been attacked or been threatened during their excursions, but to recommend that we can prevent or divert an attack with our choice of words left me bewildered. Many times women simply aren’t that lucky. Fortunately the class was drawing to a close by the time the discussion headed south. Men began to arrive for the next class, which was our cue to leave.
After I got past being mad at those two women for being so naive, I realized a new area where I need more training. I need to practice how to defend myself better when I can’t carry my pistol or my knife and I need to make sure I’m fit enough to save my own life, as has been said on ITS too many times to count.
Vehicle Marshaling Skills
This was another fun class hosted by the Range Rover Team, class participants were paired up so that one person would drive a vehicle through a rough terrain obstacle course and the other person would communicate by hand and arm signals to guide the driver and the vehicle safely along the course.
It was hilarious to see fellow class members who went in thinking they were excellent communicators completely confuse the driver when trying to direct them through mud, ditches and over obstacles the driver couldn’t adequately see. Marshaling is certainly something to practice before you try and traverse difficult terrain. Fortunately, everyone in the class had a chance to play the role of driver and guide to truly get a feel for what a difficult undertaking marshaling can be.
A Thrilling Adventure
There were a few other classes we attended that were my first exposure to the subject matter like winching and getting a vehicle unstuck without a winch. Since I was just learning the basics of these topics I observed more than actively participated. In a nutshell, the entire Overland Experience was a positive one for me and gave me enough exposure to know that I’d like to go on more outdoor excursions in the future. We met some great people with welcoming personalities and truly enjoyed the laid back atmosphere that we found there.
This year’s trek to OX14 will be different since we’ll be participating as a Vendor, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the mountains at Mormon Lake and the outdoor immersion that comes with that. We hope to see you there!
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Great article! Being from AZ and not knowing about OX was humbling, but I love the Mormon Lake/Flagstaff area.
Did they really teach you to stand in front of the truck when marshalling? I was taught to stand to one side where the hood wasn't obscuring the drivers view of me in the situation pictured. And having spent a lot of time around the world, I'd listen to your teachers who have been there and done it. When you're abroad, the world works differently, unfortunately I saw many instances of westerners complaining because it wasn't like home. In many countries being even impolite to a woman is a no-no, I've seen a man attacked in Saudi Arabia for criticising what a western woman was wearing. It was a group of Saudi women who attacked him!
If you haven't already, you should check out www.overlandguild.org We are a local overlanding club. We are always looking for like minded people to come on our outings.
@Simon This particular obstacle course had lots of twists and turns, deep ridges to go over as well as steep inclines to traverse. We only stood in front of the vehicle for a very brief period of time in order to provide direction while being able to see the driver and communicate clearly. If we had been on either side of the hill, which had very steep sides, we wouldn't have been able to see the driver and the wheels of the vehicle. We moved quickly to get out of the way of the vehicle, which isn't captured in the still photo. Thanks for your feedback and for checking out the article!