Overland Expo West 2016 - All Things Adventure
When Bill and I go camping, we’re usually focused on getting away from the crowds. The solitude of a remote spot in a pine forest near a gurgling mountain stream is Nirvana, and having the peace disrupted by blaring music or screaming kids can ruin an otherwise perfect experience.
Yet in May of every year, we head west from our home in Oklahoma to Flagstaff, Arizona to camp with thousands of other people in a spot where the noise starts at dawn and continues way past dusk. And we love it. It’s the total immersion experience of the Overland Expo (OX) and it’s our chance to eat, sleep, talk and breathe adventure travel with friends old and new. The thought of missing the event triggers a physical response akin to missing a family reunion (when you really like your family). At the Expo, we get to see, in the flesh, the overlanding friends we correspond with year-round, embracing and shaking hands, sharing a meal, and having face-to-face conversations without the aid of electronic devices.
But Overland Expo is much more than a 21st Century Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. Now in its 10th year, the three-day event for adventure travel enthusiasts is packed with training on endless aspects of motorcycle and four-wheeled travel, insights from world travelers and advice for those who would be, and entertainment in the form of slide shows and adventure films. Oh, and the vendors. All things adventure for gearheads of the outdoor persuasion. And the social events. Tons of fun and new this year, a Gear and Beer Night in downtown Flagstaff to get the party going.
Does it sound like we enjoy OX? We do, but clearly we’re not alone. Word has spread and the 2016 Overland Expo West, which took place May 20–22, saw records set for both attendance (close to 10,000 this year, a 40% increase over 2015) and number of exhibitors (reaching maximum capacity at 250, also up 40%), encouraged by pleasant weather at Mormon Lake Campground, southeast of Flagstaff. For veterans of 2015’s “Snowverland Expo,” when a cold rain and a dusting of snow put a damper on the festivities, the weather was even more significant. This year, though rain a few days before the event gave organizers some concern, the weekend was sunny and mild, albeit the wind was a tad brisk. You can’t have everything.
For two-wheeled adventurers, hanging out in the Motorcycle Village was an entertaining and, literally, colorful way to pass the time. There they were in bright reds, yellows, oranges and greens: the OEMs and accessory manufacturers plus the RawHyde crowd, with a wide range of training classes and, new this year, a meal package for purchase by event-goers, a convenient way to address the challenge of staying fed at the Expo. And of course the ubiquitous Ural salesman Mark Tetreau, owner of Prescott, Arizona’s Scooter and Auto Source and an OX staple. Test rides were popular as always and the question of how many women one can squeeze on to a moving Ural was resolved... well, for this year, anyway (at least 11).
The adventure motorcycle community was well represented by luminaries such as Sam Manicom, Simon and Lisa Thomas, Danell Lynn, Tiffany Coates, and Carla King and there was even an opportunity to have a drink and hang out at happy hour with round-the-world motorcycling icon Ted Simon.
The festival atmosphere was most evident walking down the tree-lined row of exhibitor booths on the southern edge of the campground: Overlanders of all ages with kids and dogs (lots of dogs) in tow, browsing, talking, enjoying the beautiful day. Like a carnival midway but better. Far better.
Roseanne and Jonathan Hanson and their team really hit it out of the ballpark this year.
It’s worth it, crowds and all.