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WINTER 2019 $12

OVERLAND J O URNA L

GRAN DESIERTO DE ALTAR | WEDGE CAMPERS | ALASKA | THAILAND


CONTENTS WINTER 2019

Feature
s
32 Discovering the Limits: Sonora’s Gran Desierto de Altar, Scott Brady
49 Wedge Campers: One Size Does Not Fit All, Chris Cordes
74 Glaciers and Ice: The Power of Nature is Revealed in Alaska, Lisa Morris
88 Overland and Expedition Cutlery, Bryon Bass
90 Wanderlust In Namibia: Sossusvlei’s Dunes and Etosha National Park, Shirli Jade Carswell
102 Late Nights and Long Roads: Northern Thailand, Kyra Sacdalan
119 Dakar Rally Retrospective: One of the Most Dangerous Races, S.K. Davis

Dep
artments
12 The Feed
19 Field Tested
25 Overland News: 2020 Land Rover Defender
67 Latitude, Réhahn
111 Modern Explorers: Shannon O’Donnell, Åsa Björklund
127 Overland Conservation: A Solution to Plastic Pollution, Åsa Björklund
128 Overland Chef: Banana Pancakes, Karolin Wülfing
131 Classic Kit: Coffee, Beyond the Bean, Åsa Björklund
136 Tail Lamp: Photo-ops on the Wrong Side of the Law, Karin-Marijke Vis

On the cover: The Chevrolet Bison proved to be a perfect fit for the dunes of the Sonoran Desert,
allowing for generous payload and excellent capability. Photo by Scott Brady
This photo: Lisa Morris encounters a living landscape in Alaska and finds herself melting into its
essence. Photo by Jason Spafford
Back cover: Feel the experience from the depths of your belly to the tips of your fingertips; Alaska
will inspire you to be a human doing, instead of just a human being. Photo by Jason Spafford
OVERLAND
J O U R N A L

WE ARE ADVENTURERS Constantly traveling.


Testing and using gear in real-world situations.
Gaining experience, which we readily share.

OUR RESUME
7 continents | 161 countries | 496 years combined experience

EXPERIENCE MATTERS
WE ONLY KNOW THINGS WHEN WE LIVE THEM

WINTER 2019
PUBLISHER AND CHAIRMAN Scott Brady
PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF DESIGN Stephanie Brady
CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER Christian Pelletier
CHIEF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT OFFICER Brian McVickers
CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER Andre Racine
DIRECTOR OF EUROPEAN OPERATIONS Michael Brailey
SENIOR EDITOR Chris Cordes
EDITOR Tena Overacker
CONSERVATION EDITOR Åsa Björklund
MEDICAL EDITOR Dr. Jon Solberg, MD, FAWM
ARCHAEOLOGY SENIOR EDITOR Bryon Bass, PhD
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Graeme Bell, Shirli Jade Carswell,
S.K. Davis, Lisa Morris, Kyra Sacdalan, Karin-Marijke Vis,
Philipp and Karolin Wülfing
SENIOR PHOTOGRAPHER Bruce Dorn
CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Justin W. Coffey, Desmo
Adventure Rides of Thailand, Réhahn, Jason Spafford,
Coen Wubbels
COPY EDITORS Arden Kysely, Jacques Laliberté
TECHNICAL EDITOR Chris Ramm
CARTOGRAPHER David Medeiros
CUSTOMER SERVICE COORDINATOR Alexandra Christenson

CONTACT
Overland Journal, 3035 N Tarra Ave, #1, Prescott, AZ 86301
service@overlandjournal.com, editor@overlandjournal.com,
advertising@overlandjournal.com, 928-777-8567

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NO COMPROMISE
We carefully screen all contributors to ensure they are
independent and impartial. We never have and never
will accept advertorial, and we do not allow advertising
to influence our product or destination reviews.
THE FEED

ROW 1
@wirsinddannmalweg
After a few days and a lot of delicious food in Lima, it
is time to continue. Here we are, exploring the Paracas
National Reserve. #Paracas#Desert#Peru

@danielm4wd
The sand dunes of Peru make a great background
to read the Winter 2018 edition of Overland Journal.
#OverlandJournal#EncuentroOverland#4x4Life

@greg.mills
[After] being back on the road for over a month now,
I’m beginning to realize there are a few things which
still need addressing with the van.

ROW 2
@thedangerz
It took over an hour of rough off-pavement driving,
but the view and sunset from being over 6,000 feet
up overlooking Sedona and the red rocks was so
worth it. #Sprinter4x4#OverlandExpoWest#ZenVanz

@twoifoverland, @codystravelphotography
Jump for joy, it’s #FriYay!

@pikipiki_overland_blog
What happens to your brain after 30 minutes of
adventure riding? Unadulterated happiness and
intoxicating poetic ecstasy. Apparently, it can improve
your cognitive functions by as much as 50 percent.

ROW 3
@adventurecurated
Water crossing season is here! Where have you
been getting out?

@womenoverlandingtheworld
Love this: “After I went through the first road blockade
I thought that would be it, but after that came about 20
more. They used stones, trees, trucks—luckily, I was
allowed to go past all of them. At every blockade, lots
of people gathered, and at one of them, I got to talk to
these beautiful women.” –@siennaocean

@jerrycan_overland
A long canyon trail in Moab, Utah. This truck has seen
most of the States in the Lower 48 and has driven the
Alaska–Canadian Highway three times. #Expedition
Overland#MountainStateOverland

KUDOS
Your magazine rocks. I really enjoy the ar- innovator, I have also been the victim of this SHARE
ticles on overland vehicle builds. Thank you type of theft more than once. Use #overlandjournal on
Instagram or Facebook.
for quality photos, writing, and publishing. I
first came across your publication at Sports- My first experience was designing and build- WHERE HAS YOUR
OVERLAND JOURNAL BEEN?
mobile in Fresno, California, while visiting ing cutting-edge bows. Three years into my
Send us a photo, along with your
the factory. I [had] seen the advertisement business, the biggest archery retailer in the US name, the location, make/year of
in your magazine. Let me tell you, they were bought one of my bows, reverse-engineered it, your vehicle, and a brief description.
editor@overlandjournal.com
the friendliest group of folks—from the of- and began building copies. They also paid one
fice staff to the installers/technicians to a guy of my key suppliers to sell components to them
from Seattle who dreams of a Sportsmobile and not to me. I was one guy, working out of
every day. an 800 square-foot shop, going up against a
huge, well-funded adversary.The financial and
12 Overland Journal reminds me of National emotional strain of that fight eventually led me
Geographic with fun toys for folks to enjoy life. to sell my business.

John Lynn The buying public is perhaps the biggest vil-


2017 Toyota Tundra lain. They knowingly buy stolen property and
hide behind the narrative that such behavior
by manufacturers is “competition” and “good
THEFT IS THEFT for the market.”Theft is theft.
I saw your [Letter from the Publisher] in the
Summer 2019 issue about knock-offs, and it David Soza, CEO Tern Overland LLC
really hit home for me. Having been a life-long 2007 Toyota Tacoma
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
CONTRIBUTORS WINTER 2019

PHILIPP AND KAROLIN WÜLFING KYRA SACDALAN LISA MORRIS


Karo and Phil have always been passionate Kyra Sacdalan is an author, photographer, AND JASON SPAFFORD
about traveling. But they stepped it up in and cultural bloodhound in search of the next
British born and location independent, Four
2015 when they bought a Mitsubishi Pajero amazing moment. As the co-creator of WEST Wheeled Nomad is Lisa Morris and Jason Spafford,
in Australia and converted it into a campervan. x1000, a multimedia company which creates self-proclaimed wilderness-seekers. Remote ex-
The freedom to explore the country on their unique content for the motorcycle, travel, and ploration is the couple’s driving force, enabling their
own and to drive in the Outback in relative outdoor communities, she scours the world skill set as content creators. Previously, they co-ran
solitude made them want more. They found with an open mind and a fresh notepad. To scuba diving trips. Having hung up the fins, they
an old Land Rover Defender in Germany, and her, motorcycles are a tool—a catalyst for motorcycled the Americas—an almost five-year,
within a year, the vehicle was rebuilt into a adventure. And she’s been lucky enough to 80,000-mile jaunt taking in Antarctica to the Arctic.
go-anywhere motorhome. Since March 2017, share her journeys with many like-minded Jason is a photographer who dabbles in filmmaking.
Karo and Phil have been traveling through individuals. Recently, she has realigned her His internationally published portfolio is layered in
North America and are loving every minute of trajectory toward the stars, so to speak, with two decades of adventure travel, landscape and
it. They are heading to Patagonia next and are a video series and other film projects in the commercial, and his beautiful captures can be
eager for this next adventure. Much of their works which highlight the many incredible found on Instagram. Lisa freelances for publica-
travels, nature explorations, and experimental people, places, and experiences she has had tions worldwide in the hopes of inspiring people to
culinary delights are chronicled on YouTube. the good fortune of encountering. consider their relationship with nature. Currently, a
Cape-to-Cape expedition sees the duo in a Toyota
HiLux, roaming Nordic and African countries.

S.K. DAVIS SHIRLI JADE CARSWELL RÉHAHN


Steven is a Utah native who, aside from Born in South Africa, Shirli’s career and pas- Réhahn has been referred to as someone
riding motorbikes, runs a small business and sion revolve around the African continent and who “captures the souls of his models”
raises a family just north of Salt Lake City. its wildlife and cultures. She cut her teeth on (Wanderlust 2018). His first book Vietnam,
After living in the Middle East, Europe, Cana- advertising after art school and eventually Mosaic of Contrasts, has been a bestseller
da, and Colorado, he returned to Utah to put moved into photography. She periodically since 2014. Its success was followed with
down roots. Both his fiction and nonfiction packs her 2004 Defender, known affectiona- two subsequent books: Vietnam, Mosaic of
14
have been published in magazines as well as tely as Tintin, and heads out to some remote Contrasts Vol ll, in 2015, and The Collection,
online, and he is currently finishing an ad- locale to capture a library of images for her 10 Years of Photography, in 2017. One highlight
venture/crime novel. When asked about his fine art portfolio. Recognized for her wildlife of his career was the honor of having Vietnam’s
magnetic sense of humor, he replied, “I want and landscape photography, Shirli is a pas- Secretary of the Party Nguyễn Phú Trọng, now
to become the eccentric billionaire without all sionate conservationist and steward of Africa. the president of Vietnam, present Réhahn’s
the money.” Currently, Steven rides a 2017 She co-authored the book Africa’s Ultimate portrait “Madam Xong” to French President
BMW R 1200 GS Rallye and spends most of Safaris, an extraordinary photo journey Emmanuel Macron. His work is represented at
his time exploring the West, including Baja through the continent showcasing some of its his four Couleurs by Réhahn galleries in Hội An
California, Mexico. most beautiful and wild destinations. She is and Saigon, and the Precious Heritage Museum
currently working on a series of books which in Hội An, featuring the stunning diversity of
will take her into Africa once again, as well as Vietnam’s ethnic groups.
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019 destinations in Europe and the United States.
CONTRIBUTORS WINTER 2019

KARIN-MARIJKE VIS GRAEME BELL


AND COEN WUBBELS Graeme Bell is a full-time overlander and
author. He was born in Johannesburg, South
Freelance writer Karin-Marijke Vis, along
Africa, but considers Europe home when not
with her partner, photographer Coen Wubbels,
traveling the planet with his wife, Luisa, and
combine their love for adventure with work
two children, Keelan and Jessica, in a Land
they enjoy. Sometimes described as being the
Rover Defender 130 (affectionately known as
“slowest overlanders in the world,” they believe
Mafuta). To date, the Bell family and Mafuta
in making connections and staying in a place
have over a period of seven years toured
long enough to do so. In 2003, the couple
Southern and East Africa, circumnavigated
purchased an antique BJ45 Land Cruiser and
South America, and driven from Argentina to
began a three-year trip from their home in the
Alaska before traversing the US from coast to
Netherlands to Asia. Terminally infected by the
coast. In December 2016, Graeme personally
overland bug, they traveled in South America
transformed their Defender from a standard
for nine years, and in Japan and South Korea
double cab into a camper with through access,
for two years. They are currently making their
a pop-top, and sleeping for four in anticipation
way through Russia and Central Asia. They’ve
of their current adventure: driving from Europe
been published in magazines around the world.
to Southern Africa.

16
OVERLAND
J O U R N A L

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Portal
E X P E D I T I O N P O R TA L . C O M

THE WORLDʼS LARGEST OVERLAND COMMUNITY


FIELD TESTED GRAEME BELL

General Grabber X3 Mud-terrain Tire


A2A Expedition put the X3 through its paces and found it came out on top.

N igeria is a volatile country, and her


neighbour Cameroon is suffering a
civil war. There are a few small border cross-
ings, but due to the threat of banditry and
guerrillas, the most direct route is closed and
not worth attempting even if the border is
open. The only viable route (as found on our
journey across West Africa) is through the
rolling hills and mountains of the central high-
lands.There are no paved roads for a hundred
miles, and rainy season thunderstorms pound
the red African soil into thick, slippery mud.
I can think of no greater test of a mud-terrain
tire in an overland application.
We have been running mud-terrain
tires for 10 years because we enjoy driving
off-pavement routes in our Defender, and
have driven through East and West Africa on our previous and current experience with edges are incorporated for multi-directional
and the Amazon jungle, all in the wet sea- one stubborn vehicle. grip. In specific sizes, the tire is available
son. And yes, we do love the look of a mud- The X3 moniker refers to the three ex- with red lettering which may appeal greatly
terrain tire, which we have found works well tremes under which the tire is purported to to some, less to others.
in deep sand as well as mud. However, there perform best: mud, dirt, and rock. First re- In terms of tire construction, the X3 is
are trade-offs, such as on-road performance leased in late 2016 after three years of de- offered with three-ply construction and ultra-
and road noise. It seems you can’t have it all, velopment, the X3 is labeled as an “extreme” high-strength steel belts across the size range.
or can you? mud tire. But given the tire’s all-round ap- The DuraGen Technology rubber compound
We took delivery of a set of 285/75R16 peal and performance, I would not put it in seems considerably more pliant than tires we
General Grabber X3s in southern Europe, the same category as true extreme mud tires have used in the past and is engineered with
replacing the 33/12.5R15 Falken Wildpeak such as the Super Swamper or the Maxxis durability in mind.
mud-terrain tires which we had installed in Mudzilla.
California. The Falkens had replaced equal Our first impression of the General ON THE ROAD Please bear in mind that we
dimension BFGoodrich KM2s which we Grabber X3 was positive; it is a good-look- drive a Land Rover Defender, which has its
had installed in Colombia before crossing ing tire with ample sidewall lugs, deflection own handling limitations when compared to
through Venezuela to the Guianas. No, I ribs, and an open tread design which is not modern vehicles; its on-road performance is
am not bragging; we have used an array of too aggressive or chunky—rather propor- best described as utilitarian. Surprisingly, for
rubber across an incredible variety of terrain tional and symmetric. The tire features an a mud-terrain tire, the X3 is not so loud on a
over a decade, and credentials are impor- open pattern lug design to achieve high paved road as to be annoying (except on
tant. It is also worth noting that we used all- traction in mud, dirt, sand, and gravel. Evac- concrete roads, but that is true for most 19
terrain tires for almost a year in Mexico and uation channels are incorporated to ensure tires). The tire is well behaved, steering is
suffered a set of those skinny 7.50/16 tires efficient self-cleaning, while block cham- relatively light, and direct and hard braking
(which the old vehicle overlanders swear fers and traction notches aim to provide in the rain on a paved road is a calm and
by) in Patagonia and the Andes. While we additional biting edges while opening the
have extensive experience with tires in many pattern. Stone bumpers protect the groove
applications, we have yet to test brands in bottom and minimize stone drilling while Our Land Rover Defender, high and alone in the
Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Driving with X3s on
head-to-head competition in a controlled improving tread life (stone drilling refers
unpaved roads is a pleasure as cornering is pre-
environment. This review is an overall im- to the cause and effect of a stone lodged be- dictable and steady—important when there is a
pression of the General Grabber X3 based tween the tread lugs). Multi-angle gripping 300-foot drop-off around every corner.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


predictable experience. The Defender’s fuel
consumption has improved, but whether
this improvement is solely due to the
10-percent reduction in tire width over the
Falkens is open to debate. Any long-term
overlander will tell you that low fuel
consumption is almost as critical as grip or
wear. Speaking of wear, we have driven
nearly 10,000 miles on the X3s from
Portugal to South Africa. Perhaps because
of the “softness” of the rubber compound,

OUR TEST SET OF X3S HAS NOT SUFFERED

EVEN ONE PUNCTURE AND HAS MAINTAINED

CONSISTENT AIR PRESSURE DESPITE HAVING

BEEN DRIVEN ON SOME OF THE WORST

ROADS AND TRAILS IN AFRICA.

wear has been minimal. Our test set of X3s grip while never suffering excessive damage. we powered to the top, set up camp, made a
has not suffered even one puncture and has Driving with the X3 on unpaved, main- fire, and enjoyed a well-deserved cold drink.
maintained consistent air pressure despite tained roads at a comfortable speed is a And so it seems you can have it all, a mud
having been driven on some of the worst pleasure and cornering is again predictable tire which behaves well on hardtop and is also
roads and trails in Africa. and steady. But, the ultimate test of a mud- second to none when the going gets tough. We
The DuraGen rubber technology was terrain tire should be the Nigerian highlands have yet to find fault with the X3s.
tested again and again as we soldiered and their notorious red mud. It’s the mud
through endless hard-edged potholes across of legends, thick and nasty and as slippery For the record and the benefit of European readers,
West Africa, swerving and braking, often as a Cuban politician coated in Venezuelan the 285/75R16 General Grabber X3s that we
choosing the wrong “line,” hitting the ex- oil. Because we were driving through the sourced in Europe are a load range C, as opposed to
posed edge of a tar or concrete hole—bang, mountains, the mud not only represented a the load range E which we expected. General Tire
bang, bang! Yet, there were no chunks of challenge in the valleys where water puddles responded to my query regarding the load rating,
rubber gouged, no cracking or damage of and mud are born, the ascents and descents stating that the tire is structurally different from
the sidewall, and the tires remained rela- were an equal challenge. To lose grip while those distributed in the USA, as European Union
tively cool when compared to those of the descending or climbing can have disastrous vehicles are generally lighter than American ones.
other vehicles in our convoy. That would be results, especially in a remote area with steep Our Defender camper weighs in well below 8,800
the siping doing its job, even on the longest, drop-offs and a two-week drive to a decent pounds (the maximum load on C-rated tires), so
scorching-hot days of constant driving. It hospital. As soon as we turned off the main we do not expect and have not experienced any
must be noted that we inflate our tires to route onto the 100-mile track, the heavens issues regarding the load rating.
40 psi at the rear and 35 psi in the front for opened and soaked an already saturated GENERALTIRE.COM
general use. track. The Defender and X3s are the per-
fect combination, performing flawlessly as
OFF THE ROAD In Morocco, we aired down we drove for two days in low range, sleep-
marginally and drove the red sand dunes of ing high in the pristine mountains while the
the Sahara. It was our first real test of the tire rain continued through the night. The X3’s
in deep sand, and the X3 performed superb- lug design worked as it should, and even
ly. The grip was steady and predictable, and when the tires seemed absolutely caked in Clockwise from top right: The Falken Wildpeak 21
the engine did not labor excessively as we mud, they churned on, expelling mud and MT (left) and General Grabber X3 (right). Both
crested dune after dune looking for a camp. providing traction. The last major obstacle are excellent tires, similar in appearance but sig-
nificantly different in construction. The X3s after
Later that month, we drove down the side of after crossing into Cameroon was a long hill our Nigeria/Cameroon crossing. The Grabbers
a mountain in a dry riverbed for eight hours, climb with ruts so deep that steering was al- performed faultlessly across the slippery, muddy
climbing over endless rocks, the tread blocks most impossible.We simply had to allow the terrain. The lug design performed as expected,
interlocking with the terrain’s irregularities vehicle to steer itself while controlling gear- expelling mud and providing excellent traction.
After 10,000 miles of Africa’s worst roads, the X3s
as intended. At a lowered pressure of 20 psi ing and power. At times, I thought we would are in superb condition with minimal wear. Remote
for off-pavement driving, the deformation not make it to the top without winching (as travel demands exceptional gear and the X3s offer
of both lug and sidewall provided excellent the truck which followed after had to). But us complete peace of mind.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


FIELD TESTED SCOTT BRADY

T he Australian Outback is one of the most abusive environments


for overlanding on the planet, with soaring temperatures and
endless corrugations.The deserts of the island continent will find the
weak link in almost any product. These conditions, combined with
the way that Aussies typically camp (i.e., weeks in the bush, off-grid)

RedArc BCDC Charger prompted RedArc to design and manufacture electronic solutions highly
suitable to the overland traveler—in particular, their in-vehicle dual
battery chargers.
A durable and feature-rich solution for solar The 40-amp BCDC is quite different than typical dual-battery
systems in the North American market, including the extensive lineup
and alternator charging of house batteries. we tested in Summer 2017.The traditional approach is to use a robust
solenoid to connect the starting and house batteries once the starting
battery has achieved float voltage.This does have advantages like high
amperage capacity (80-400 amps), and the capability to manually com-
bine the batteries for winching and jump-starting, but the downsides
are also notable. In particular, the primary goal of a dual-battery system
should be to charge the house batteries while driving, and while in camp.
This requires the ability to input alternator current and solar power.
The secondary goal of the dual-battery system should be to ensure
managed charging of the auxiliary battery to ensure long life, while also
protecting the battery from spikes and reverse polarity conditions.The
BCDC system performs all of these functions with charging logic built
into the unit, including the rare feature of monitoring battery float to
ensure that the house battery is charged to 100 percent.This all occurs
automatically while the vehicle is underway. The system will allocate
a charging profile of “boost”to provide maximum current, or “absorp-
tion” to provide constant voltage, or “float” to top off the battery and
keep it at an optimal voltage of 13.3 volts (13.6 for lithium) while not
overcharging. The system then monitors the battery state every 100
seconds to adapt as required.
With the growing trend of using solar
PROS charging while in camp, it is convenient
Fully sealed for under-
hood applications
that the BCDC switches between alter-
Works with most popular nator and solar modes without operator
battery chemistries and intervention. The unit’s logic prioritizes
12/24 volt systems green power, pulling from the panels first,
Integrates MPPT solar
charging
prior to drawing from the alternator. To-
Simultaneous solar and tal solar power capacity is technically un-
alternator charging of limited, but the unit can only fully utilize
aux batteries 375 watts. This allows larger solar arrays
CONS
to be fitted and optimized in lower light
22 Winching or jump-starting or conditional reductions in solar power
current requires separate such as a cloudy day. The installation is
combiner solenoid straightforward and requires a few configu-
rations for maximum voltage and battery
chemistry, then a trigger wire and lines to the charging sources and
house batteries. The unit is potted and sealed and can operate to full
output at temperatures up to 130°F (55°C) with good airflow. It is made
in Australia and carries a two-year warranty.
$430 | REDARCELECTRONICS.COM

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


FIELD TESTED BRYON BASS

Trail-Gear Creeper Breather


Just breathe—a solution for venting 4WD axle housings,
and preventing water, sand, and other debris from entering.

W e troubleshot for at least 10,000


miles to address oil spewing from
the rear axle housing vent on our 2010 Ford
filters on the hose. There wasn’t an obvious
solution, and all attempts to mitigate brought
no joy. Finally, while discussing the issue at a
into the stock axle tube vent or affixes to a
hose routed from the same location. Adapters
or clamps can be used if stock threads don’t
E350 4WD. This oil really smells when dis- diesel performance shop, I heard a shout from work. Besides eliminating oil egress from the
persed, and can permeate the vehicle’s interior. deep under a weathered farm truck’s hood, axle housing, it also prevents water and debris
When splattered all over the undercarriage, “Just get a Creeper Breather.” A what? from entering—essential for water crossings
including the rear brakes, it also attracts dirt Trail-Gear’s Creeper Breather attaches to and harsh operating environments. A stout
and is a cleaning nightmare. the axle housing vent. Essentially an extremely part that addresses various issues, the Creeper
Sources suggested tapping a new vent hole, robust rubber bellows, it expands and con- Breather is an affordable upgrade for most
rerouting the axle breather vent hose, chang- tracts with fluctuating axle housing pressures. overland or expedition vehicles.
ing the axle oil weight, type, and volume, or Shipped with a common threaded BSPT on a $29 | TRAIL-GEAR.COM
installing different jiggle caps and breather 1/4-inch barbed brass fitting, it screws directly

23
OVERLAND NEWS SCOTT BRADY

The New Defender


25
The latest Land Rover delivers the
ultimate luxury—freedom.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


ings do not matter to me as a traveler and
enthusiast of the brand. If Land Rover as a
company can be faulted for anything with
the Defender, it is that they waited far too
long to update it. The 2016 model looks the
same as a 1986 model, which looks nearly
the same as a 1966 109. The vehicle became
a modern classic, a dinosaur that could still
be purchased just a few years ago with solid
axles, a steel ladder frame, and a spartan
interior. As a result, any new iteration of a
Defender will feel revolutionary, not evolu-
tionary. The outgoing Defender ended, not
because of a lack of demand, but as a re-
sult of rapidly changing regulations for both
economy and safety. However, this does not
give Land Rover a free pass on the redesign,

T he Defender, at least for me, has al-


ways been about emotion, freedom,
and heritage. In a world of facts and figures,
as Jeep sells hundreds of thousands of solid
axle vehicles around the world, and the new
Jimny is a runaway success in foreign mar-
specifications, and awards, the Defender has kets as well. The vehicle needs to be good,
THE COMPANY INTENDS TO LAUNCH somehow transcended all of it, and for over and honest in its latest skin, which is why I
THE VEHICLE WITH A LONG LIST OF 35 years. The shape of the Series Land Rov- traveled to England in early July to preview
ers has continued essentially uninterrupted the 2020 Defender.
OVERLAND ACCESSORIES, INCLUDING
since 1948, which represents generations of
A HIDDEN WINCH MOUNT, SNORKEL,
explorers, farmers, and royalty behind the DESIGN
ROOF RACK (AND TENT), FRONT BRUSH wheel. I can still remember the moment I When I arrived at the Land Rover head-
BAR, LADDER, PROTECTIVE SLIDERS, saw my first NAS 110 in Colorado. And I quarters in Coventry, I was most curious
AND EVEN STEEL WHEELS. recall every feeling that came when I drove about one thing: would the new Defender
a Defender over the Andes Mountains in suit the needs of the overlander? Certainly,
Chile, or around Iceland in the depths of it is an important question for all of us that
winter. Admittedly, emotions can be de- love vehicle-based adventure travel. But it is
ceiving and may not reflect reality, but I am also important for the industry as a whole,
grateful for them. And the emotional com- as genuine SUV options for remote back-
ponent is precisely why the 2020 Defender country travel are surprisingly limited. Did
will be one of the most contentious new ve- Land Rover return to its roots and design a
hicle launches in recent memory. competitor to the Land Cruiser, 4Runner,
and Wrangler? I stood against a plate glass
RESPECTING THE PAST, looking out on an unusually sunny morn-
ACKNOWLEDGING THE FUTURE ing as two attendants pulled away the black 27
The imagery of the new Defender depicts the I drive a diesel 1986 Defender 110 sever- cloth covers. Within moments I was staring
vehicle in use on technical terrain and in remote
environments. This mud bog is a particularly chal-
al days a week, and have driven the platform at the replacement for a 70-year-old design,
lenging obstacle, one that requires aggressive on adventures around the world. A Defend- a thoroughly modern interpretation of a
tires and locking differentials, both of which will er 110 5-door with a 300 Tdi is my favor- Defender.
be available on the 2020 model. Opening page: ite vehicle of all time—period. Please note The wheel wells were larger than any
The new profile is reminiscent of the Discovery 4
in the front and the original Defender at the rear.
that I said favorite, not ultimate, and not the Land Rover imported to North America in
There is clearly a shift toward Land Rover’s current best.This is because the original Defender is the last two decades, and one of the models
demographic and style approach. flawed in many ways. But those shortcom- was fitted with 18-inch wheels and a (nearly)

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


THE HISTORY OF THE DEFENDER 33-inch tire. The spare was also on the rear Other particularly useful items include a
The legacy of this much-loved model ex- door and the back of the vehicle terminated water rinse kit (i.e., shower) and an inte-
tends further back into the annals of Land in a squared-off, space-efficient box. The grated air compressor. Goodyear DuraTrac
Rover lore than most realize, with a lineage front of the vehicle was less convincing, with tires will be available too.
that started with the Series launch in Am- fenders and a front bumper that needed to I believe it is important to set aside the
sterdam, April of 1948. In post-war Britain, be more angular to match the rear and allow initial distraction of a new body shape and
optimism and industrialism were prime, for the fitment of a proper winch bumper. I IFS/IRS and dig into the raw numbers. To
but resources and materials were scarce. have always been a fan of the MKIII Range start with is an impressive payload rating
As a result, the frame was produced from
Rover, and the Defender looked reminiscent of 1,763 pounds, a roof load rating of 370
thin steel plate, and the body sculpted from
of a utilitarian MKIII. I loved the white roof pounds, and a tow rating of 8,200 pounds.
aluminum. It was the first mass-produced
civilian 4WD with doors on it.
and Alpine windows. The beltline is tall and The numbers continue in a positive direc-
allows for nearly flat doors with a stepped tion from there, including a fording depth
From those humble beginnings, the model profile toward the windows. I would have of almost 3 feet, front suspension travel of
became a resounding success, with ap- liked to have seen slightly larger wheel 10.5 inches, and rear suspension travel of
proximately one million units produced openings and a design intent geared for the 12.4 inches. The smallest wheel from the
before releasing the Land Rover 110 in aftermarket, particularly for the front bum- factory is 18 inches, but I looked closely
1983 and then the 90 in 1984. It was not per. Fortunately, the tread plate on the hood at the caliper clearance and believe a 17
until 1990 that the model was called a De- appears to be an option. might be possible with the correct casting.
fender, and that coincided with the release The wheel wells appear to take a full 33-
of the 200 Tdi diesel and a corresponding
AS AN OVERLAND VEHICLE inch tire, but it will be difficult beyond that,
increase in sales to the UK and Europe.
Land Rover defines their Defender line- with tight clearance at the back of the front
For North America, the Defender was first
imported as the NAS 110, and only 525
up with the moniker of “Durability,” and it wheel arch. The approach angle is slightly
were brought in (with 25 for Canada). From certainly looks that way when compared to less than the Wrangler at 38 degrees but
1994-1997, only the NAS 90 was sold, and most modern SUVs. They fashioned it from beats it with a departure angle of 40 degrees.
28 it faded away due to mounting regulations the start to support overland travel, and the In typical Land Rover fashion, their
for fitting airbags for both front passengers. team at Land Rover specifically mentioned electronic terrain systems are extensive, in-
From that time, we have waited 23 years that goal. A factory-available rooftop tent cluding multi-mode terrain response, multi-
for the release of this new model, the L663. and an industry-leading, 370-pound roof height air suspension, and electronically
load rating (dynamic) support that inten- controlled center and rear differential locks.
tion. The company intends to launch the ve- The engineers alluded to a custom terrain
hicle with a long list of overland accessories, mode screen that would allow for driver
including a hidden winch mount, snorkel, intervention of the differentials, and while
roof rack (and tent), front brush bar, lad- the front lacks a locker, the factory traction
der, protective sliders, and even steel wheels. control is extremely responsive. Four-corner
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
Clockwise from top right: The driving position is comfortable
and commanding, with a narrower A-pillar compared to most
modern vehicles. The rear is squared off, and the tire is mounted
to the swing gate. Note the 18-inch, white steel wheels and
larger diameter tires. In an unexpected twist, the Defender will be
available with a center seat in the front row; the shifter moves up
toward the dash, leaving the floor clear. For a modern vehicle, the
interior is both attractive and functional. It is one of the highlights
of the new model. Note the rubber floormats and simple center
29
console option. This will open up for lockable and secure storage
offerings by Tuffy and others. Opposite: Available in both a 90
and 110 variant, the side profile is the most attractive view and
shows the squared-off rear and larger wheel opening. The color-
matched panel looks good but does block the passenger view in
the 90. The Alpine glass is a nice touch.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


I really like the center LCD display, which
looks like a perfectly placed navigation tab-
let. The shifter position and HVAC controls
are also unique and ideal. The location of
this console allows for an unobstructed floor
and even a center seating position. When
combined with the optional third row, the
Defender becomes an eight-passenger fam-
ily mobile. The interior was a notable sur-
prise and included other thoughtful details
throughout, including charging ports for
USB and USB-C, along with 12-volt and
120-volt outlets. Even the passenger grab
handle tray has a 12-volt socket. The second
and third row benefit from stadium seating
and massive windows, including the much-
loved Alpine glass on the side of the roof.
Large sunroofs are available, as is a retract-
able roof panel.

CONCLUSION
It is admittedly difficult to accept any-
thing being a “new” Defender, as many of
ClearSight view cameras and a heads-up us are so vested in the lore and legacy of the
THE INSIDE OF THE NEW DEFENDER IS display to improve visibility are available. original. But from my perspective, this no-
WORTH MENTIONING. IN FACT, I WOULD
Additional accessories are options with the tion is mostly romantic. So few people in
Explorer package. North America have actually driven a De-
SAY IT IS ONE OF THE BEST INTERIORS
For the international traveler, driving a fender, let alone driven one on an extended
OF ANY OVERLAND VEHICLE CURRENTLY
new Defender is more compelling than one overland journey. The inconvenient truth
FOR SALE IN NORTH AMERICA. might initially consider. Land Rover cur- is that the original Defender is an abys-
rently has dealerships in 128 countries, pro- mal vehicle to drive any distance, and they
viding a wide service network. The vehicle are not particularly effective on the trail in
will be sold as a global platform, which will stock form either. Believe me, I love driv-
ensure those countries are familiar with the ing our Defender around Prescott, Arizona,
model. or on the occasional road trip, but vehicle
performance has evolved a lot since 1982.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
THE CABIN Land Rover also remembers how poorly the
The floor of the new Defender is available
in both rubber and carpet, with a proper
It is not typical for Overland Journal to NAS Defenders sold in the US, sitting on
dead pedal. Both the brake and gas inputs dedicate much editorial space to the inte- dealer lots for months. This vehicle needs
are placed correctly in the footwell and are rior of vehicles. Does it have a few comfort- to appeal to a 21st-century consumer, while
at the same height for ease of transitioning able seats? Check. Shift levers for a manual also delivering on a promise of durability
and left foot braking. The throttle has a long transmission and transfer case, plus a few and capability. I look at this 2020 Defender
travel, just like Land Rovers of the past, locker buttons? Bonus. However, the inside with a lot of optimism, particularly because
which should provide good modulation and of the new Defender is worth mentioning. of what it says about the intentions of the
control. Unfortunately, the parking brake is In fact, I would say it is one of the best in- brand. Who would have imagined a Land
electronically controlled. teriors of any overland vehicle currently Rover product with factory available lock-
30 for sale in North America. It is made from ers, steel wheels, a snorkel, and a roof tent?
durable materials, with thick rubber floor- And while some Land Rovers are opulent,
ing, and robustly finished. The entire dash the only genuine luxury is freedom. I believe
is supported by a massive (and partially ex- the Defender will facilitate exactly that.
posed) magnesium framework. I sat in the
driver’s seat for quite some time and took it
all in. The steering wheel is perfectly aligned
As a first from an OEM, Land Rover will be offer-
(the one in the outgoing model wasn’t), and ing a hard-shell roof tent as a factory option. This
the seats feel supportive and ideal for long necessitated a class-leading roof capacity for
drives. While not a fan of the LCD gauges, both static and dynamic loads.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Discovering the Limits
What crossing Sonora’s Gran Desierto de Altar
reveals about the foundational elements of an
exceptional team and exceptional vehicles.

By Scott Brady
Clockwise from left: Just before crossing the bor-
der into Sonora, we encountered a curious coyote,
seemingly unafraid of our presence. It is important
to have team members that are willing to jump in
and help when needed, including performing criti-
cal tasks like daily vehicle inspections. Camping
in Mexico is a joy; even being a few minutes off
the highway yields solitude. Dave was in his ele-
ment while crossing the challenging dunes, testing
himself and his vehicle against the shifting sands.
The Outpost II is already legendary, and it per-
formed admirably in the desert. Opening spread:
34 Even from an aerial view, the erg region extends
to the limits of the horizon. In these situations, a
drone can help recce the safest path forward.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


T he Hemi barked to life, squatting the rear of the Wrangler, accelerating us up
the face of the dune. Dave did his best to navigate the aggressive camber of the
slip face and the large bush that blocked the cleanest line to the top. The transmission
hesitated, downshifting too late and causing the tires to break free from the available
flotation. Instead of accelerating more, Dave backed off the throttle and came to a con-
trolled stop. Even with 37-inch tires and a 400 horsepower V8, the soft silica was too
much, and a different tack was required. Backing down would have been difficult, and
the Jeep was already listing heavily to the driver’s side. It is moments like this where
someone’s true experience shows through, the 10,000 hours that come to a practitioner of
their craft. Gently, Dave rolled the vehicle rearward ever so slightly, bringing the tires
to the rear lip of the small hole dug when the tires spun. He used that position to restart
the climb, and we progressed another foot higher. Again, he backed off before the vehicle
was grounded to the frame, and another attempt was made—the perfect balance of mo- 35
mentum and acceleration moving us forward a few feet. With one rock of the throttle,
the Wrangler hooked up, and we started building momentum to the top, to the cheers of
our teammates on the crest.

Nobody wants to read about what I ate for lunch—unless of course, it is


tacos. The elements of a good story require far more than what a traveler had
for breakfast, but the travelogue remains the most common means of sharing an
adventure with a reader. As a result, there are times when an experience goes so

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


(near) flawlessly that there is little to talk about. That is how our in Iceland, the Arctic Trucks HiLux with 44-inch tires, dual lockers,
recent crossing of the Altar Desert in Mexico went: not a single and dual transfer cases slowly fighting gravity at 2.5 psi. With the
breakdown, never lost, never stuck, and no one got hurt, sick, or right equipment, the impossible becomes probable.
even upset. Instead of describing how beautiful the sunset was
(stunning), or how good the lobster burrito tasted in El Golfo A SUITABLE TOOL FOR THE JOB
de Santa Clara (amazing), I decided to share the story of what One of the other elements of a successful journey is select-
made everything go so well—the ingredients of a safe, memo- ing the right vehicle and equipment for the adventure. This is
rable, and successful journey. not to say that most overland trips require some highly special-
ized machine and a dozen Pelican cases filled with exotic gear,
It was about -30° as we drove away from Tuktoyaktuk, Dave but some environments do necessitate a level of capability and
Harriton and I piloting his Ram tray back on 41-inch tires. We had reliability. In the case of the Altar,
It is easy to follow the
just made it to the northernmost vehicle-accessible village in Can- the dunes are big, easily taxing the
latest idea en vogue, or
ada and were grinning from the euphoria of having accomplished available flotation and performance
the most common route
the goal and experiencing some of the most breathtaking scenery in of the average SUV or pickup. Even hashtagged on Instagram,
North America. Yet, as one does once an objective has been met, we when we crossed the ergs in 2012, though it is the path less
started planning the next one. This is how the idea of crossing the the Land Rovers were often stuck, traveled where the real
Gran Desierto de Altar was born. and the learning curve was steep for gems can be found.
the less-experienced drivers. How-
IT ALL STARTS WITH AN IDEA ever, for this trip, we used vehicles with extensive modifica-
Almost any adventure is worthwhile, but what makes a par- tions, larger tires, and higher horsepower motors. The results
ticular trip so special? For me, it begins with a unique idea or a were night and day, without a single vehicle requiring a winch
location with some rare or unusual attribute. In the case of the or strap. This allowed for more time in camp and a more relaxed
Altar Desert, it is the largest dune system and the only active pace, although it did remove some of the fun of testing the lim-
erg region in all of North America, a feature that spans north its of smaller tires and underpowered Rover V8s.
and east of the Colorado River Delta. All of the sand in the In contrast, the Jeeps and Chevrolets for this trip were
dunes and sediment in the delta has come from the Colorado equipped with significantly taller and wider tires, the smallest
River, and the Grand Canyon it carved over eons. This area is being a 35-inch Interco on the Colorado Bison. The Wranglers
significant to the overland traveler for many reasons, including sported tires as large as 37 inches and benefited from higher
the remoteness, technical challenge, research and skills required horsepower V6s and 8-speed transmissions. The Wrangler JK
for route finding, and ultimately, its international location. This Outpost enjoyed the bark of a Hemi V8. As a result, the drivers
is not a place to drive into without a plan. were able to attack taller dune faces with shorter runups, and
Having crossed the Altar for the first time in 2012, I was even correct for a poor line choice or loss of momentum with a
aware of the general route and limitations. One of the most press of the accelerator. The suspensions were also significantly
critical considerations is the boundary of the biosphere reserve, modified, complete with taller springs and custom-tuned shock
which cannot be crossed legally. It is a vital protection area just absorbers.
east of 114° longitude. It is only possible to drive west of that Each of these vehicles was particularly well suited to the
border, and additional care is needed to avoid private lands challenges of the sand, and the modifications were either pre-
used for agriculture in the north. This is where Google Earth mium OEM offerings (like the suspension on the Bison), or
is magic; it allowed me to find a road into the sand, and to plot thoroughly engineered aftermarket enhancements from Ameri-
a generalized path through the largest of the dunes, while also can Expedition Vehicles (AEV). It was also impressive to travel
staying out of closed or restricted areas. Connect with locals on such technical terrain with a flatbed pickup loaded with over
what spots require additional permissions. 100 gallons of extra fuel and water, along with a massive Yeti
It is easy to follow the latest idea en vogue, or the most com- cooler and a pile of personal effects. The perfectly flat load floor
mon route hashtagged on Instagram, though it is the path less was essentially a square and allowed for quick access to every-
traveled where the real gems can be found. Searching out new thing on the platform. Tie-downs were everywhere, and the
routes also lessens impact to those popular tracks, and reduces sides would fold down, making the entire process even easier. 37
the likelihood of sharing a campsite with a half dozen others. The downside to this type of configuration is reduced security,
but we were so remote that it didn’t matter. Overall, the Bison
I still remember the first time that I drove a Jeep on 37-inch was a workhorse and sipped fuel with the small-displacement
tires in technical terrain. It was a 5.7-liter Hemi Wrangler with 3.5 turbo-diesel.
inches of lift and a catalog of accessories. It can best be described as ef-
fortless, as I traversed terrain with ease that my Land Rover would
struggle greatly to cross. Massive ledges and rocks became a point- This image shows just how unpredictable the flotation of sand can be,
and-shoot affair. The same was true the first time I ascended a glacier with any leeward face giving way under the weight of the heavy vehicles.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Clockwise from top left: Driving in the dunes is a chess match,
and even the best vehicles and drivers sometimes need to choose
38 a different strategy. The Bison was heavily loaded with both fuel
and food, easily carrying the full-rated payload. Every adventure
is made better with a pup along for the ride, and taking dogs into
Mexico is easier than expected—just bring their vet records and
a certificate of health. Traveling in sand dunes is best done in
the morning when the sand is cool, and the sun casts shadows
across the surface. There were two JL Wranglers in the group,
and even with stock V6 engines, they were dune buggies. A thor-
ough inspection of the vehicles is par for the course and provides
the opportunity to find issues before they become problems.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


The other surprise from the trip was taking a self-
contained camper along for the crossing, the Outpost II.
This machine is the brainchild of Dave Harriton, CEO
and head designer for AEV. Dave is a longtime friend,
and he wanted to see if a “house”on wheels could make the
crossing. In the end, what made the Outpost work was the
attention to detail, from the use of lightweight composites
and minimalist design to the fitment of a 5.7-liter Hemi
and 37-inch tires to help
propel the camper through The most powerful takeaway
the dunes. Dave slept in to- I have experienced from my
more ambitious overland
tal comfort, sealed off from
adventures is the deep
the blowing sands.
gratitude and respect for
For the rest of us, vari- the individuals I have
ous degrees of success were traveled with. Of any of
experienced when sleeping the trips that went awry,
in tents on the ergs. On it has always been
the second night, the wind attributed to the weakness
blew hard and pulled at the in someone’s character.
stakes in the soft ground.
The stakes were better than the typical bent rods, a cross
shape of extruded aluminum with more surface area, but
not enough. Tent pegs pulled free, and one tent tumbled
for several meters before being stopped by the side of
a truck. We improvised and used the vehicles as wind-
breaks against the silica still pummeling the thin walls
and mesh. Being three-season tents, the designs were
all intended for increased airflow, which also allowed a
steady cascade of sand to fall inside and collect on the
sleeping bags and us. It was no fault of the tents we used,
but this was a lesson learned for next time: either sleep
inside the vehicles or bring four-season tents that can be 39
fully sealed on the windward side (still allowing for some
airflow on the leeward side).
There were a few other pieces of kit that worked like
a charm, including the mess kitchen that Dave brought
along. It is designed for whitewater rafting trips, so it was
extremely robust and also collapsible. The entire unit was
constructed primarily from aluminum and is well sealed

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
from both water and dust. This made for a perfect gathering place
at the end of the night and early morning to prepare meals and
clean dishes. Dave would set it up next to the Outpost, which had
a National Luna fridge on an exterior slideout—ice cream for ev-
eryone. He also used a semi-porous drop cloth to keep the entire
area relatively clean and organized. I still remember how good the
pancakes and bacon tasted deep in the Sonoran Desert.

The most powerful takeaway I have experienced from my more am-


bitious overland adventures is the deep gratitude and respect for the in-
dividuals I have traveled with. Of any of the trips that went awry, it
has always been attributed to the weakness in someone’s character. Just
like any organization, we all require a healthy, motivated, competent,
and optimistic team. This was never more apparent than during the
Expeditions 7 crossing of Greenland, where I had the pleasure of crossing
the world’s largest island with some of the most exceptional individuals
of character I have experienced in my travels. Picking the right vehicle is
easy. Coming up with a great idea for an adventure is even easier. But it
is the company we keep during the trip that will make all the difference.

CHOOSING TEAMMATES
Certainly, inspired ideas and innovative equipment add to the
success and pleasure of an overland excursion, but what matters
most is the experience. That can even mean going it alone, and the
care we show ourselves on a solo journey. For me, any adventure is
made sweeter by having others to share it with—the laughs and
memories that come from the challenges and wonders along the
way. Because of this, it is important to be deliberate about who
we have along. The positive attributes of someone will likely shine
on an adventure, while the negative traits will be amplified by the
uncertainties and difficulties of life on the road. Some people thrive 41
in harsh conditions, while others wither and retreat. I have seen
both happen in the field, and it can have a significant impact on the

Left: Performance in the sand is all about light weight, high horsepower,
and tire flotation. The Hemi V8 in the Outpost II made all the difference in
several situations. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of driving the Bison
through the dunes, as it was the heaviest vehicle with the lowest horse-
power. But it never faltered.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


enjoyment of everyone involved. One of the best ways to ensure been checked at the border, and we all worked to make the trip
a good team is to understand everyone’s goals and expectations, a success for everyone.
a clear insight into what they hope to experience during the During our travels, we often discover limits. We encounter
trip. If left undetermined, it can quickly lead to frustration and the fringes of our character and the capability of our equipment.
disappointment. For example, if one person loves to drive every The assumption is that buying more things will make it better,
day, and the other prefers to spend a few days in each location, that going from 33-inch tires to 35-inch tires will somehow
a compromise needs to be identified early on. The secret is in enhance the experience. It won’t, and neither will another elec-
the planning. tronic gadget or pair of synthetic underwear. Overland travel
For this trip, I knew all but one of the travelers, and they has foundational principles for genuine adventure, and that
were vouched for. In the case of Brian McVickers, Dave Har- comes down to visiting a place we are excited to see, bringing
riton, and Chris Wood, I have known each of them well over a a vehicle and equipment suitable to the task, and being very,
decade and have traveled extensively with them, too. They are very intentional about the company we keep. After that, it is all
all levelheaded and respectful, in addition to being game for about the journey.
42 nearly any challenge. Some are better at planning, and some
at execution, but all are as dependable as the day is long. Frus-
trations will invariably arise on any trip, so the company we
keep will make all the difference when things go sideways. I
remember the night when the sand blew so hard that our staked
tents buckled and our sleeping bags filled with silica. There was The end of every adventure deserves a reward. For our group, it was
not a single grumble from the group, and the hardship was ad- driving along the Sea of Cortez and making camp on the beach, our
dressed with self-deprecating humor and optimism. Egos had bellies still full from the tacos and burritos in El Golfo.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


44
Cartography by David Medeiros (mapbliss.com)

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Wedge Campers—
One Size Does Not Fit All
We test five of the market’s most popular shell
campers and address lifestyle components that
may factor into your deliberations. 49

By Chris Cordes

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


The origin of a camper can play
a lot to its strengths and weak-
nesses as you see with the Snap
Treehouse from the East Coast.
It excels in the rain but falls
short on keeping out dust.

bandwagon. But before you place an


order, be sure to think about the fol-
lowing factors carefully.

INTENDED USE
One of the most difficult aspects
of purchasing a product is being hon-
est with ourselves about the way we

O ver the last decade, we’ve had the pleasure of watch-


ing the overland market grow from an isolated
khaki-clad niche into the thriving industry it is today. For the
intend to use it; it’s also the most important. It might be
tempting to buy the specialized expedition camper designed
for living full time on the road, but if we’re only going to
most part, its trends have gained popularity over time, rising be taking weekend trips with the occasional weeklong jaunt
in a slow and steady ascent from obscurity into acceptance at thrown in, it might not be the best option. A lighter and
places like REI and Outdoor Retailer. Yet, one category of less complex camper might save you money while providing
products surpassed the usual arc of success, soaring to acclaim greater flexibility to use your vehicle for other tasks. However,
like a Saturn V rocket on full burn. I’m talking about wedge if you plan to travel around the world, you’re going to want to
campers. Over the past few years, the popularity of these purchase the product designed for it.
lightweight camper shells has surged to such an extent that
while new manufacturers seem to be appearing every month, REGION AND SEASON
supply still cannot keep up with demand. This shortage has The region of the world and seasons you plan to use the
only fueled the craze further, leading buyers to create a sec- camper in should factor into your decision as well. Some
ondary market offering up to $2,000 just for someone else’s products, like the AT Overland Summit, are equipped with
spot in line. With so much interest, we knew it was only a arctic insulation packs, making them ideal for winter camp-
matter of time before people began to wonder which of these ing at the base of the ski slope, while others simply use stan-
campers was the best, so we pitted five of the most popular dard tent fabrics and rely on your sleeping bag for warmth.
wedge campers on the market against one another in a test of There are advantages to each style, but you must decide which
quality, durability, and comfort. is right for you.

WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASE DURABILITY


Wedge-style camper shells offer consumers an ideal mid- Another factor to consider is the durability required by
dle ground between the price and comfort of a hard-shell your driving style. I feel confident in saying that every camper
rooftop tent and those of a full-blown slide-in camper. They we tested can stand up to the basic rigors of overland travel, 51
keep the contents of your bed dry, (mostly) dust-free, and se- yet some are designed to withstand far more than that. The
cure, while also providing a comfortable living space in which Go Fast Camper, for example, is engineered to withstand the
to relax away from the elements. They circumvent the chal- abuse of an off-pavement race truck and has emerged un-
lenges posed by towing a trailer, while still providing owners scathed from impacts so large they shifted both the axle and
the convenience of leaving their camp gear loaded and ready the bed on a Ford Raptor. The Snap Outfitters camper, on the
to go at a moment’s notice. With so many advantages, it’s easy other hand, is strong enough for normal dirt road travel, but
to understand why people are jumping on the wedge camper would not likely endure bigger impact events.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


SAFETY AND QUALITY
More critical than durability are safety and quality. Fre-
quently, when a category like wedge campers explodes in
popularity, fringe manufacturers and homebuilders hop on
the train to start producing products without putting forth
the research or effort required to create a high-quality prod-
uct. This attitude might lead to one or two good campers,
but more often than not, you end up with a slew of let-down
customers with broken or unsafe purchases. With the trailer
boom, we saw suspension failures and tongues that snapped
due to metal fatigue. In roof tents, there were plenty of leaks,
broken ladders, and cracked bases. The same issues will al-
most certainly be present in the wedge market soon. We al-
ways do our best to ask the hard questions on product safety,
but it’s vital that readers inspect any camper they’re consider-
ing carefully.

WEIGHT
Although some people like to treat their truck’s gross ve-
hicle weight rating (GVWR) like an irrelevant theoretical
number, it does matter. A vehicle exceeding its weight restric-
tions will break components more often, handle poorly, and
have a higher risk of getting into an accident when compared
to an identical vehicle with less weight. It’s in your best inter-
est to choose a camper well matched to your vehicle’s capac-
ity. You’ll find that some products in this test weigh as little
as 275 pounds, while others top 450. That may not sound
like a sizable difference, but when you’re driving a third-gen
Tacoma, 450 pounds is more than 40 percent of your payload,
while 275 pounds is only 25 percent.

BUDGET
The reality is most of us are working on a budget, and any
of these campers will be a big spend. With that in mind, you’ll
want to balance your budget with all of the factors above to
ensure you’re not just getting a camper you can afford, but one
that you’ll also love. Be sure to pay close attention not only
to the base price but the cost when equipped with various
options. Sometimes the camper that looks affordable to start
can end up being more expensive in the end.

TENT MATERIALS AND FIRE-RETARDANT STANDARDS


Every time we do one of these extensive tests, I find my-
self wandering down the rabbit hole of some theory, regula-
52 tion, or production method. For wedge campers, it ended up
Bailing is for boats, not tents, so we evaluated the camper being fire-retardant (FR) fabrics, and there are some things
shell seals to ensure the rain stays where it belongs— you should know.
outside. Length by width by height may equal the volume of
your camper, but also equates to the comfort of your life on When it comes to FR ratings, the fabrics themselves are
the road. The last thing anyone wants to do with their precious generally not flame retardant, but rather the chemicals that
time outdoors is waste it; every second counts when pack- they are soaked or coated in are.These chemicals and the burn
ing up and breaking down these campers. Opening page: rates are governed by CPAI-84, which was a standard set in
Individually, many wedge campers appear similar but pit
them head to head and their differences become apparent. place 43 years ago and intended to regulate the fire resistance
of circus tents. As you may have guessed, the tents we use

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


today are a far cry from those developed in the ’70s, which is liner. It meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No.
why a recent joint study by Duke University, REI, and several 302 for flammability: CPAI-84, California State Fire Mar-
leading tent manufacturers decided to take a closer look at the shall Title 19; NFPA 701, test method II; FAA 25.853; and
impact of FR chemicals and fabrics used today and their cor- UFAC Upholstered Furniture Class 1.
relation to this aging standard. What they found were chemi-
cals such as tris(1,3-dichloropropyl-2) phosphate (TDCPP), GO FAST CAMPERS (GFC) The fabric is 600D polyester with
decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209), triphenyl phosphate, PU coating. GFC notes that they intentionally chose a non-
and tetrabromobisphenol-A were being used, organophos- FR one for the health of their employees and their customers.
phates which can be found in a range of products from flame
retardants to pesticides, plasticizers, and nerve gases. This SNAP OUTFITTERS TREEHOUSE This tent utilizes a Harbor-
raised some concerns, especially when it became clear that Time Edge coated polyester marine fabric. Snap notes it is
many of these chemicals were not flame retardant.
GROSS VEHICLE applied in unstandardized and
WEIGHT RATING varying amounts, with concen- VAGABOND OUTDOORS DRIFTER AND NOMAD These tents
A vehicle exceeding its trations reaching levels as high feature 18-ounce, vinyl-coated polyester which meets ASTM
weight restrictions will as 37.5 milligram/gram or 3.8 E 84 flame-spread requirements as outlined in NFPA 1192
break components more percent by weight of the fabric (National Fire Protection Association, Standards for Recre-
often, handle poorly, and sampled. ational Vehicles) as well as NFPA 701 and CPAI-84.
have a higher risk of getting Further tests revealed that
into an accident when
these chemicals didn’t stay in TESTING PROCEDURES
compared to an identical
the tents either. After people Overland International’s testing procedures are standard-
vehicle with less weight.
It’s in your best interest
handled the fabric, analyses of ized, with specific conditions and repeatable criteria. Unfor-
to choose a camper well their hands showed a strong tunately, this wasn’t possible to the same degree with wedge
matched to your vehicle’s residual level of TDCPP indi- campers. Due to their limited availability and high demand,
capacity. cating it transferred from the we were limited to using campers already installed on cus-
tent. This could also correlate to tomer or manufacturer vehicles, which ranged from Tacomas
a possible risk of inhalation and dermal sorption from the to Rams to Ford Raptors. They were located in different parts
air; however, these subjects weren’t covered in the initial test. of the country in all sorts of weather conditions, which elimi-
Since the release of these results, many companies like REI nated our control of environmental and test platform vari-
have made efforts to change or limit the use of these chemi- ables. With this in mind, we removed many of the objective
cals in their tents, while others like Mountain Hardware and criteria from the test and focused on real-world use, customer
Fjällräven have eliminated them. feedback, and a range of other factors.
Some of the campers we evaluated use flame-retardant Each test began by collecting feedback from the owner
fabrics, while others avoid them altogether, citing the Duke of each camper, through which we would inquire about their
University test. Each varies on their reasoning, with some experiences with the product and determine what they would
focused purely on keeping occupants safe from fires, while change or keep the same. We then took each camper on an
others are attempting to keep chemicals away from their off-pavement trip, running it down dirt roads to test for dust
employees and customers. With so many variables involved, incursion, rattles, and components which might come loose.
we decided to let customers make their own judgments as to If it didn’t rain during our trip, we would spray the camper
where they stand on this matter, but have included the FR with water to test the seals and shake the tent extensively
information below for each camper. Remember that while to search for rattles and fabric flapping. We slept in them,
trends may be favoring the removal of FR in ground tents, worked in them, and on occasion, even prepared meals in
those ground tents do not have fuel tanks beneath them or them to escape the wind and rain outside. After noting all
propane heaters inside of them. of the features we liked and those we loathed, the test was 53
wrapped up with a timed opening and closing of the camper
ALU-CAB CANOPY CAMPER The fabric is 400-gram, UV- to see which was the fastest and easiest to use.
resistant, rib-lock canvas treated with fireproofing that meets
the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) stan-
dards and is “harmless to humans and the environment.”

AT OVERLAND SUMMIT A durable, fire-retardant canvas tent


with an optional fire-retardant, light-blocking, Thinsulate

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


ALU-CAB | CANOPY CAMPER

A lu-Cab is one of the more established brands in this


evaluation and has made a reputation for itself build-
ing products like the Expedition tent and the Shadow Awn,
easier targets for branches and obstacles. Still, that’s a down-
side I’d be willing to accept for the space it affords.
I liked the dual-layer tent, which is constructed from a
which recently won our Editor’s Choice award in a 270-de- 400-gram, UV-resistant, rib-locked waterproof canvas, but I
gree awning test (Summer 2019). Due to prior experience would have appreciated clear windows in addition to the bug
with their equipment combined with the Canopy camper’s screen to enjoy natural light and views during rainy or cold
base price of $9,495, the most expensive in the review, our weather. An optional tent insulation package for a camper
expectations were set rather high. shell of this caliber would be helpful, as it is certainly one of
The first thing you should know about this camper is that the most “full-time-able” options in our test. OK4WD states
it’s different. Unlike its competitors, the Canopy replaces the that a mild insulation package will be available by the end of
tailgate entirely with a full-size rear door and aluminum sur- 2019 though, and the roof already includes 25 millimeters of
round which allows customers to fully seal the cap against closed-cell foam between the headliner and frame.
the truck bed, eliminating the gaps which occur between the Water and dust resistance was excellent. However, the
tailgate and truck bed with every other camper. This reduces fabric flapped in the wind at night and I didn’t like that you
dust incursion, but also makes entering or exiting the camper had to deploy spring steel bars each time you popped the tent;
much easier, because you don’t have to pull a tailgate up from this just added additional time and complexity to a product
the inside. Another distinguishing factor on the Alu-Cab is which didn’t need it.
its exterior, which isn’t smooth aluminum, but rather a dia- The bed is the largest in the test, measuring in at 100 x
mond or checker plate pattern the South Africans like to call 54 inches when fully deployed, but it certainly wasn’t my fa-
checkah. I think it looks like you’re hauling an enormous tool- vorite. That’s because it is split into two sections at 78 inches
box around, but whatever floats your boat. Fortunately, that to allow occupants to climb between the lower camper and
checkered pattern is offset by the overall look, fit, and finish, the upper bed. This might seem okay on the surface, but if
which are all fantastic. you wake up to use the restroom in the middle of the night,
The Canopy isn’t short on innovative features either. Look you’ll need to move whoever is sleeping next to you, ask them
underneath the cab-over and you’ll find an aluminum camp to scrunch down to the bottom of the bed so you can open
table tucked away on one side, with a slide-out shower stall the panel, and then when you come back, have them do it all
on the other. Besides provid- over again. It’s possible to sleep on the 78-inch side alone,
PROS
Expansive interior
ing easier access and a better but you’ll need to remember that the angle of the wedge can
Impressive fit and finish seal, the rear door serves as a make that space too tight for your feet or head, so it’s not re-
Unique options spare tire carrier so you won’t ally 78 inches of usable bed space. The mattress was much too
Well sealed need a swing-out rear bumper firm, and I would need to substitute it or add cushioning if I
CONS
getting in the way. were to own one.
Hard mattress Step inside, and you’ll find Finally, while the price of the Canopy camper is the high-
Tent can flap in the wind even more fun additions, like est of the group, it comes standard with side-access doors,
Split bed design convenient storage pouches lift struts for the bed, and a National Luna interior light-
Only available for mid-size
trucks
mounted on the ceiling and ing system wired right in, which would quickly boost some
doors, reading lights and power competing campers past the $10,000 mark. In other words,
ports tucked into the aluminum space frame by the bed, and it’s still a good bang for your buck. Just don’t get your hopes
white/red LED lights to illuminate the interior during the up if you own a 1/2-ton or larger truck because the Canopy
54 evening. is only made for mid-size options like the Ranger, Colorado,
Living space is bountiful, with up to 116 cubic feet in and Tacoma.
which to stand, move about, or relax. I found that it actu- STARTING AT $9,495 | OK4WD.COM, ALU-CAB.COM
ally felt more spacious than one of the full-size shells we re-
viewed, thanks to the vertical walls which maximize space
efficiency. The downside is that the walls stick out past the
cab of the truck, increasing wind resistance and making them

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


5.

2. 6.

3.

55
1. 4. 7.
1. Reading lights tuck neatly inside the camper frame. 2. The profile of the Alu-Cab is unique, with an abundance of features and substantial engineering
incorporated into it. 3. The mattress was hard, and the split bed made it difficult to get up in the middle of the night. 4. A split-folding bed provides loads
of living space, while a Goose Gear interior makes it homey. 5. The Canopy is the only shell to replace the tailgate with a rear door, which also adds the
function of a spare tire carrier. 6. Despite its large interior space, the actual profile is not much larger than the competition. 7. There is storage just about
everywhere you look inside the Canopy, from the rear door to the ceiling.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


AT OVERLAND | SUMMIT
EDITORʼS CHOICE, MID-SIZE

T his four-season wedge camper can be used in the


heat of summer or the dead of winter and boasts an
interior you’ll love. Its creature comforts will make even the
low—and we do mean living quarters. The interior can be
equipped with so many options that it will practically feel
like home. There are lighting and electronics packages, inte-
most demanding glampers happy, and there are many clever rior storage systems, kitchen systems, and even an optional
features that stand out amidst the crowd of competitors. But toilet. You can add a skylight panel that opens up to give
the biggest reason to buy a Summit isn’t the niceties, it’s the you a view of the stars, includes a bug screen, and features
tent and insulation package, which was without a doubt the integrated lighting for the cabin, or a forced-air heating
best in our test. system which pairs with the insulation package to deliver
At first glance, you’ll notice the Summit’s apparent ad- year-round comfort. The shell can be left in raw aluminum
vantages: the stitching is impeccable, the windows are lined or painted to match the truck, and the walls can be carpeted
up perfectly, and the fabric feels smooth with no rough or for a soft touch and additional insulation. Skip the carpet if
frayed edges. The more time you spend inside of it, the more you own a dog though, as I can only imagine what it must be
you appreciate the details. You’ll notice how quiet it is because like to clean it after a German shepherd or malamute runs
the material is just taut enough to not flap in the wind, while through it.
remaining loose enough to be easy to zip. The bug screens are Setting up and breaking down the Summit is a quick
made from a material designed for the military so they won’t task, with times near the lower end of our results. With one
snag or tear, and there’s an integrated peek hole so you can person, setup took just 18 seconds, while breakdown from
easily roll over and see what’s going on outside the tent with- start to finish took 37 seconds.
out unzipping a huge window every time. Opt for the addi- The Summit fell short in two ways. First, some of the
tional insulating liner, and you’ll find yourself tucked away in interior edges on the raw aluminum shell were sharp. I felt
a warm and peaceful escape from the outside world. It packs that more trim coverings or grinding were needed. My big-
an R-value of 1.4, which provides 34° to 36° of heat reten- ger concern, and the reason why this is only my Editor’s
tion over a standard tent. Don’t think it will be dark or dreary Choice for mid-size trucks, is the slant in the walls on full-
inside though, because the liner’s interior is white to reflect size models. Because the Summit shares a single bed size be-
light, which provides a sense of spaciousness while reducing tween mid-size and full-size trucks, the full-size shell must
the number of lumens needed slope in from the edges of the truck bed to the actual bed up
PROS to keep the interior bright. top. This creates a notable angle, which becomes an issue if
High-quality tent and
insulation
With all of the excitement you plan to install an interior system with any seating, as it
Loads of options around the tent, you might forces you to lean forward instead of sitting upright against
Comfortable mattress think they slacked off on the the wall. It isn’t a huge deal for short periods of time, but try
Good use of living space rest of the camper, but you’d working in the camper or hanging out for a few hours and it
CONS
be wrong. The shell is made will become fatiguing.
Some sharp edges and f rom .060-inch 5052 CNC STARTING AT $8,900 | ADVENTURETRAILERS.COM
corners formed aluminum with insu-
Single-size bed means walls lated aluminum composite pan-
are too slanted on full-size
model
els and stainless steel hardware
throughout. It is reinforced in
stress points like the top rear corners, and designed to hold a
56 100-pound dynamic load on the roof or up to 600 pounds of
people walking on it. Buyers can add side access doors, sliding
windows, or a roof rack system.
Inside you’ll find a 48 x 80-inch bed with one of the most
comfortable mattresses of the test; it easily lifts thanks to two
gas struts, clearing the way for a spacious living quarters be-

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


6.

3. 7.

1. 4.

2. 5. 8. 57
1. The crown jewel of the Summit is its tent, which is leaps and bounds ahead of many competitors, especially with the optional insulation package.
2. The AT Summit’s mattress is comfortable and long enough to sleep in without additional bed inserts. 3. The Summit boasts one of the widest ranges of
upgrades in the group. 4. The Summit’s tent has a small lookout hole, enabling campers to quickly determine if the noise they heard is a raccoon, or maybe
a hungry bear. 5. A Goose Gear interior, optional toilet, and National Luna fridge make this camper feel like home. 6. A rear door which can be opened and
closed from the inside is a nice touch. 7. Although the Summit bed is plenty big for two occupants, it is more narrow than the truck bed on full-size models,
making an inconvenient slant in the camper’s walls. 8. Recessed electronics and an abundance of power outlets and lights will never leave you in the dark.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


GO FAST | CAMPER

I f the AT Overland Summit were a symphony, the Go


Fast Camper is a rock concert. It’s a raw and honest
take on a wedge that ditches the frills and conventions of
ber to piping.
Setup and breakdown were a breeze, achieving the fastest
times of any camper in the test: just 15 seconds for setup, and
the industry in a stunning display of function and design. 35 seconds for breakdown—though the owner topped our
You see everything, from the billet aluminum tent frame to breakdown time with a blistering 21 seconds.
the CNC-machined corners and welded DOM tube space Inside there’s more to love, such as the way the composite
frame. There’s no carpet covering the walls or recessed panel- roof lets a dull white light through in the mornings or the
ing to hide the wiring, no fantastic fans or fancy skylights. convenient welded pockets for your phone and keys on the
What you see is what you get, and that’s a whole lot more tent. The new tent, the one tested here, features an optional
than you might think. large zipper window which doubles as an external entrance,
It’s well known that GFCs are priced more affordably than carabiners that secure the rolled-up windows when open, and
other wedge campers, but most people don’t realize just how zippers that were burly and oversized to handle the stress of
much more affordable they are. For $6,450, you receive a fully extended use outdoors. Combine that with a look and feel
painted and assembled camper with operable side panels and that stole my heart, and GFC’s camper was well on its way to
your choice of several standardized powder coat colors.To spec becoming my favorite—yet other factors fell short.
a competing camper with those same options, you’re looking at The first was the mattress. Although I’ve been told the
roughly $10,000 to $12,000, or nearly double the cost. 3-inch version was more comfortable, GFC recently switched
Despite the reasonable cost, the company doesn’t skimp to a 2-inch variant to make closing the top with bedding in-
on materials or construction methods, and each camper is side easier, and it was much too firm.
made in Bozeman, Montana. The tubular space frames are Instead of using a keder track or similar method to pre-
built to be as light and strong as possible, the roof and floor vent water and dust incursion, GFC used a rain gutter system
are made from a honeycomb composite, and the majority of and buttons to snap the tent into place. This has advantages
the remaining components are machined from billet alumi- like improved ventilation and easier removal or installation,
num. Even the tents are heat-pressed and sewn together by and we found no signs of water ingress until we flooded the
GFC employees using a 600D polyester fabric coated with gutters with a hose. But I didn’t love that there was still a
polyurethane. This begs the chance for water or dust to seep in, regardless of how slim
PROS question of how the product that chance might be.
Strong and lightweight frame
Versatile design for storage, can still be so reasonable in My biggest gripe was that the Go Fast does not have
bed access, and mounting price if these tents aren’t built an open section in which to move between the bed and the
accessories “cheaply.” camper while the bed is deployed. This means you have to do
Utilitarian design is easily It turns out GFC has a the same late-night song and dance as in the Alu-Cab, but
serviceable and cleanable
Sleek modern looks secret weapon, one you might the Go Fast doesn’t even put the panel on gas struts, forcing
not expect such a small busi- you to lift it out of the way each time.This ordeal is only com-
CONS ness to possess: robots. Cue the pounded by the fact that the rear door of the camper can only
2-inch mattress is too firm sci-fi music. By using automat- be latched from the outside, so you have to unzip the tent,
Accessing the bed is
cumbersome ed production systems to work reach down, and press the latches to open the rear gate and
Tent seal could be better through the night, GFC has then move the panel to crawl down. Fortunately, the problem
been able to take advantage of can be solved relatively easily by adding an optional ladder to
58 economies of scale by producing more campers to lower the the GFC, which would allow you to enter or exit the camper
overall price, a savings which they pass on to the consumer. like a roof tent at night, instead of trying to mess with moving
But GFCs are more than just durable and affordable, panels or opening hatches.
they’re also practical thanks to full-length opening side pan- STARTING AT $6,450 | GOFASTCAMPERS.COM
els which provide unequaled access to the bed with the secu-
rity of a truck cap. The tent frame also includes T-slots down
the side for mounting a roof rack which can support up to
500 pounds of whatever cargo your heart desires, from lum-

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


6.

3. 7.

1. 4.

59
2. 5. 8.

1. The buttoned base seems to keep water out. However, I still feel a keder rope and track system would have been preferable. 2. Billet parts are carved
out for GFC using robotics. 3. The GFC is low profile, has plenty of options for mounting accessories on the aluminum extrusion, and certainly looks
unique in comparison to the other campers. 4. When fully opened, the lightweight shell has extensive internal space. 5. Out of all the campers in our
test, the GFC’s mounting hardware was the most impressive. 6. Standard side and rear hatches turn the camper into Cabana mode, giving you immense
access points to your truck bed. The frame is built like a race truck for tremendous strength. 7. The tent portion of this camper is very slim, reducing
overall height and completing the aggressive look. 8. To enter or exit the bed from inside the camper, a panel must be removed.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


SNAP OUTFITTERS | TREEHOUSE

S nap Outfitters is a small East Coast company that was


born out of a need for a better truck camper. The own-
er, Richard Dennis, wanted a more comfortable way to camp
With all of this included as standard on the $8,000 mod-
el, you might be wondering why it didn’t receive the Value
Award, but several issues were too significant to ignore.
while kayaking in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and The least of these issues are the setup and breakdown
West Virginia. Wedge-style shells seemed like the ultimate times, which were the longest in the test. Setup took 41 sec-
answer, but at the time he couldn’t find any designed for full- onds, while breakdown consumed a whopping 74 seconds.
size trucks. His solution was to utilize the tools and equip- This isn’t the end of the world, but the bulk of this time is
ment at his existing company (Die-Tech) to build the camper consumed by having to walk out and around the door on each
he wanted. The result was the Treehouse, and it wasn’t long side of the vehicle to unlatch or latch the doors. It’s not dif-
before orders from friends started rolling in. ficult, but it’s annoying and unnecessary.
The Treehouse has a lot going for it. At $6,500 for their Then there are the windows, which have no straps to se-
bare-bones model, it is the second most affordable option in cure them and feel like they’re installed in the wrong order.
the test. Spring for the Standard model evaluated here and Typically, a camper would have a bug screen on the exterior,
that price jumps to about $8,000, but you’ll be receiving quite then a clear vinyl window, and then the actual tent mate-
a few upgrades for your money. The all-aluminum structure rial as the last piece on the inside, allowing you to open up
is welded and riveted together for strength and corrosion re- the camper in steps. In the Snap, the tent material is on the
sistance and powder coated black for a clean look. Enormous outside, the clear vinyl is on the inside, and the bug screen
side access doors come standard on both sides and include is sandwiched in between. So if you want to open up the
stainless hinges and locking cam latches to secure them. window to look outside during a rainstorm, you have to fully
These doors can open up for easy bed access, or drop down open the camper to the rain by dropping all three layers, leav-
for secondary use as a table. In the rear of the camper, you ing the external tent layer and bug screen to hang outside,
can choose between a single or double barn door. As I men- and then refastening the vinyl window. If you want just a bug
tioned with the Go Fast Camper, this sort of setup would screen for ventilation, you must once again drop all three lay-
cost $10,000 to $12,000 from some competing manufactur- ers and open up the tent to bugs, then rezip only the bug
ers, making the Snap Treehouse a good value. But with all of screen, leaving the tent fabric to hang outside and the clear
the other upgrades included in vinyl to hang inside.
PROS the package, the value seems Then there are the rear seals on the doors and tailgate,
Affordable exceptional upon initial ex- which allowed dust to pour in through numerous gaps during
Tons of features for price
Side access hatches amination. testing, and could easily allow water to leak in as well. It was
Ladder makes for easier bed The camper also comes surprising, really, as the rest of the doors and tent seem well
access with T-slot channels on the sealed.
roof which can accept a rack The worst offender though was the bed. To its credit, the
CONS
Poor seals system capable of supporting mattress was pretty good, and it didn’t force you to remove
Windows are poorly designed 350 pounds when closed or panels like the Alu-Cab or Go Fast campers, but none of that
Bed not long enough 100 pounds when the roof is matters because it’s just way too short. At 74 inches, it’s the
open. Inside, you’ll find an in- shortest in the test, but that includes the space shoved down
sulated and carpeted roof above a 3-inch-thick memory foam toward the end of the wedge, which means the last few inches
mattress which lifts easily via gas-assist struts. Two red/white are unusable anyway. I was able to sleep by laying completely
60 LED interior lights are wired in, allowing for easy visibility diagonal, but even then, I barely fit.
at night above the bed, with two more below to illuminate STARTING AT $6,500 | SNAPOUTFITTERS.COM
the rest of the camper. These are controlled through a wiring
harness which also runs a 12-volt power port and two USB
charging ports for your phone. There’s even a drop-down lad-
der which makes it easy to climb in and out of bed at night.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


6.

3. 7.

1. 4.

61
2. 5. 8.

1. The rear latches to hold the doors open are clever, but often require you to walk around the camper doors to open or close them. 2. The standard power
outlet and lighting system was executed cleanly and effectively. 3. The Snap’s black powder coat and brown fabric give it a clean look while accenting
the rugged design. 4. The Treehouse has plenty of interior space and a decent mattress, but is too short for many occupants. 5. The side doors can open
up or down depending on your preferences, and its drop-down doors can be used as tables. 6. With the massive side doors open, the Treehouse only
falls short of the Go Fast Camper for bed accessibility. 7. Accessories like awnings and solar panels can be easily bolted on. However, some rear door
options may interfere with 270 awnings. 8. The Treehouse’s built-in ladder makes it easy to climb up to the bed if you haven’t installed a camper interior.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


VAGABOND OUTDOORS | DRIFTER AND NOMAD
EDITORʼS CHOICE, FULL-SIZE

V agabond Outdoors began prototyping their first camper


back in 2016, and over the next year and a half, torture
tested it on trails and washboard roads spanning most of the
trim guards the Summit lacked. Add in the optional industrial-
grade powder coat, and you have a smooth, scratch-resistant, and
durable shell you’ll love for years.
Western US. By March of 2018, they were ready and unveiled The living space is ample in both the Drifter and the Nomad,
the Drifter and Nomad to the world.While they may be a young with enough room to move around and relax in without feeling like
company, their staff ’s experience in the industry and passion for you’re sitting in a truck bed. I love that Vagabond gave the Nomad
their product line show clearly through their campers, which were a larger bed and top to match the full-size vehicles it is intended
some of my favorites in this test. for instead of using a single universal size; this solved the slanted
The fit and finish on their shells is exceptional.They are made wall problems we encountered with the Summit. Instead of having
from laser-cut and CNC bent 1/8-inch 5052 aluminum sheeting, to hunch over or waste cargo space above truck bed height, every
and then welded and bolted together using stainless steel hardware square inch of the Drifter and Nomad is usable space.
and MIL-SPEC aluminum rivets.The resulting lines are almost The 3-inch, high-density foam mattress is comfortable and
unbelievably clean, uninterrupted by struts or brackets thanks to measures a full 48 x 80 inches on mid-size trucks or 54 x 80 inches
a cleverly designed lid which conceals these components when on full-size trucks.You can then add optional extension panels for
closed.The roof is made from a single piece of aluminum to pre- more length if you’re on the taller side. Even when the bed is fully
vent any chance of leaks and bent slightly into four sections for deployed, there is room to stand and move around, which allows
additional rigidity and strength. This creates a ridge which also occupants to get dressed or make coffee while their partner is still
helps prevent water from pooling, as it serves as a natural high asleep. Once everyone is up and about, the bed can be broken into
point in the center. two sections and slid back toward the front of the camper.Truth-
Pop the top, which takes just 17 seconds and hardly any effort, fully, I didn’t like this split bed sliding setup as much as the gas
and you’ll reveal an 18-ounce, vinyl-coated polyester tent seated strut system in the AT Summit. However, the ability to shorten
with a keder rope channel seal that provides an excellent seal or lengthen the bed to your needs by swapping for different panel
against water and dust.This tent packs three massive windows with sizes seems like a fair tradeoff for the inconvenience.
clear vinyl on the two side views and mosquito mesh and black Both the Drifter and Nomad come with an impressive array
curtains on all three. Vagabond’s window package was my favorite of standard features for the price, like a concealed wiring tray
of any camper in the test, as it which makes it easy to run your own accessories after the fact,
PROS
provides massive views, fantastic and a switched interior LED light to illuminate the cabin in the
Excellent fit and finish
Big windows airflow, and abundant natural evening. You also get an LED third brake light, insulated ceiling,
Comfortable interior with light whenever you need it. I also a glass window against the cab with a drop-down for cleaning, and
extendable bed appreciated that they included a rear glass window with keyed locks and adjustable latches.There
Larger bed dimensions for
straps to tie down the rolled layers are also plenty of ways to upgrade the Vagabond campers, from
full-size model means no
slanted walls of fabric while the windows were electrical and fan systems to side access hatches, paint matching
open, a nicety that only one other your vehicle, and what I can honestly say was the best interior
CONS manufacturer added. lighting system in the evaluation. Recessed LED strips don’t blind
Tent looks and feels a little less
The zippers were good-sized, you and give the interior a warm glow instead of a harsh white
refined due to vinyl coating
Bed panels slide instead of the stitching was solid, and the light. Each accessory has been carefully tested and considered to
lifting on struts trim was carefully finished, leav- ensure that it’s safe for automotive use. According to Vagabond,
ing me with a positive impression “Oftentimes, we found lighter or more affordable materials, but
62 of the tent overall. Therefore, by any logical measure of sealing, they didn’t meet the NFPA 1192 standards, so we went with what
breathability, or design the Drifter and Nomad tents check out, we’ve been using since Zero [their prototype].We haven’t changed
yet I didn’t feel they were up to par with the Summit, their clos- any of the materials since then due to the fact that we evaluated
est competitor.This was due in part to the minute improvements all this before going into production. Safety was a core concern
added to the Summit, but if I’m honest, it also shows my personal from the beginning.”
preference of softer fabrics over the heavier duty vinyl used on STARTING AT $7,250 | VAGABONDOUTDOORS.COM
the Vagabond tents.
The interior of the Vagabond campers helped to make up for
this though, with carefully rounded edges and the much-needed

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


5.

2. 6.

3.

63

1. 4. 7.
1. Electronics and wiring are hidden for a clean look, but accessible for easy additions and modifications by customers. 2. The one-piece roof on the
Drifter and Nomad means no seams for leaks and impressive strength. 3. Enormous windows with bug screens and clear vinyl let light pour into the
camper’s living space. 4. Easy-to-use straps secure the rolled windows. 5. Struts are mounted internally to keep the design as clean as possible. 6. The
Vagabond looks right at home on any truck, drawing little more attention than a standard camper shell. 7. The Vagabond’s interior is spacious, livable,
and boasts the best fit and finish of any product tested.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


CONCLUSIONS

rior edges and paneling were finished out


better, but the Summit’s carpeted walls
and ceiling gave it a very cozy vibe. The
gas struts which lift the Summit’s bed
are convenient, but the longer bed panel
options in the Drifter would be invalu-
able for taller occupants, and so it goes,
on and on.
The decision came down to the tents.
While both the Drifter’s and Nomad’s
are good, the Summit’s tent is superb,
especially with the insulation package.
That combo transforms the Summit into
a true four-season camper where you can
kick off your shoes and relax in a T-shirt
during a snowstorm as long as you have
a heater. Sure, you could do the same
in the Vagabond campers, but you’ll be
burning considerably more fuel to do so.
The Summit has a catch though, one

I found myself stuck in a precarious position while select-


ing the Editor’s Choice Award. This award has always
been bestowed upon the product which we would choose for
which cost it the title for Editor’s Choice, Full-size: it only
comes with a single bed size for both mid- and full-size trucks.
As I noted earlier, that means that the camper’s walls must slant
our personal vehicle regardless of price—in other words, the in from the truck bed to meet the camper’s roofline. This slant
best of the best. Yet it is also meant to convey which product we made the seating angle against the wall uncomfortable for ex-
would recommend to our readers, and therein lies the difficulty. tended periods of time, making it difficult to work or relax on
Because I live full time on the road, I weigh various fac- the road. Vagabond, on the other hand, increases the Nomad’s
tors in this test differently than I would if I owned a home and bed size from 48 inches to a full 54 inches, widening the roof-
was using these products on shorter trips. Some of the qualities line and allowing it to retain mostly vertical walls. This also pro-
that are advantageous for life on the road are a hindrance in a vides an additional 6 inches of sleeping width up top, which is
daily driver; and some features I would adore when using my nothing to scoff at. After a lot of deliberation, I concluded that
truck for errands I would hate when using it to travel around if I owned a mid-size truck, I would choose the AT Overland
the world. Adding to that complexity, I found my choice would Summit; if I owned a full-size truck, I would be purchasing a
change based on whether I owned a full-size truck or a mid-size Vagabond Outdoors Nomad.
truck. In other words, one size doesn’t fit all, so to best serve our Thankfully, the Value Award was more clear-cut and went to
readers, we decided to award three titles in this test: Editor’s the Go Fast Camper. No other camper comes close to the base
Choice, Full-size; Editor’s Choice, Mid-size; and finally, our price of $6,450 with similar options. That price buys you a GFC
Value Award for both. equipped with a lightweight painted shell, a pop-top tent and
The Editor’s Choice was a close battle between the AT mattress, lockable, hard-side access panels, and T-slot rails on
Overland Summit and the Vagabond Outdoors Drifter/No- which to mount accessories or a rack. For another $200 you can
64 mad. I felt that they were all ideal for full-time travel, with ex- add a window to the front or rear of your shell, and for $500 per
cellent protection against the elements, highly livable interiors, component group (frame, panels, etcetera) you can customize
and a list of features that support the needs of daily life. Each the colors. Most importantly though, for $350 you get a side
holds distinct advantages over the other, yet somehow they access door and window on the tent, which can be paired with
manage to balance out so closely that it was practically impos- a ladder to solve the difficult problem of moving interior panels
sible to choose. In the end, we were splitting hairs. The Sum- in and out in the middle of the night. This puts you at $7,700
mit, for example, has more options, but the Drifter is cheaper. for a camper customized to match your vehicle and your needs,
I like the huge windows in the Drifter, but the additional peek handily winning the GFC the award. I found myself loving the
holes in the Summit are also fantastic. I felt the Drifter’s inte- GFC for more than just value, though.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


While I don’t think I would select one for full-time living on powerwash the interior back to perfection once you’re done.
the road, I have to admit that if I owned a home and were buy- In Cabana mode, the camper turns into an instant gathering
ing one of these campers for weekend trips with the occasional point, enabling people to hang out and grab what they need
month-long escape, I would prob- easily, whether you’re at the beach or in the woods. It can do
CHOOSING THE ably choose a Go Fast. Don’t get me all of this while costing less than any competing camper, so
RIGHT CAMPER wrong, the new mattress we tested is you can take that leftover cash and go on a trip, which is the
Like so many decisions still a rock, I don’t love the rain gutter whole point in the first place.
in life, this one comes system, and the interior panel design Thankfully, there are no wrong choices here. Beyond the
down to your lifestyle is infuriating at times, but I could branding and past the marketing, you’ll find that each of
and the needs that are look past all of that for what you get these campers carries strengths and weaknesses which would
intertwined with it. in return. It is lighter than the com- make them ideal for some situations and inappropriate for
petition, which means better payload others. There is no best answer. Like so many decisions in life,
and handling. The tube frame and billet components are de- this one comes down to your lifestyle and the needs that are
signed to take more of a beating than you can dish out, so you intertwined with it. Stay true to those, and you’ll find that
won’t have to worry about things breaking on the trail. A high choosing the right camper is practically second nature.
dynamic roof-load rating and plenty of access to the bed via side
hatches means you can still use your truck for hauling lumber, Opposite: At the end of the day,
mulch, or shop supplies, when needed, and the lack of a gap it’s not about the gear but the
for accessing the bed, as much as it bothers me, means you can journey—just get out there.

65
Portfolio by Réhahn 15°N
Glaciers and Ice
The power of nature is revealed full force in Alaska.

By Lisa Morris
Photography by Jason Spafford
WITH NO AURA OF SELF-SATISFACTION, ALASKA IS A Then, an iceberg the size of a three-storey apartment broke off
BEHEMOTH OF POWER and wildly beautiful. Months spent the shelf and without warning, exploded to the surface. Dread
amid the icy vistas of Patagonia and Antarctica notwithstand- and adrenaline took over. Fathoms deep from the idyllic sce-
ing, my mind’s eye had always perceived this territory in the nario on arrival, the apartment block charged steadily in our di-
Americas as pure frontier. A tidy 100,000 glaciers in the state rection, decimating everything in its way. Scrambling out of its
cover 29,000 square miles, enough to drown us in choice and trajectory, we remained trapped in the eddy, pushed towards
swallow West Virginia whole. the calving glacier and tumbling rocks.

Our shelter for two nights was a flyspeck point in Denali Na- It was time to rally. Oars made redundant, my gloved fingertips
tional Park situated in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater, named scrabbled over the floes as I employed the wheelchair tech-
after the late glacier pilot. In 1966, scores of ski-plane flights nique, using my arms to scrape the cumbersome craft over
from Talkeetna, a historic town with a name meaning “river the ice when gaps in between closed. Jason and I endured
of plenty,” permitted Sheldon to utilize the only means avail- more staccato, stuck moments than continuous movement,
able to access the glacial haven and erect a mountain hut for while our friend Josh made painless progress in his stubby
adventurers. red river kayak.

The third day of waiting on standby for the weather to abate Serendipity struck when the marine vessel Snow Goose arrived
saw a new dawn, and a new mood set the skies to bluebird. A on the scene. An authority on the locale, Captain Paul took
1957 Otter aircraft took us skyward toward Juneau, revealing measure of our predicament before we spotted him. Although
a meringue-coated icescape panning out in every direction— his pleasure cruiser was no icebreaker, he radioed forthcoming
sweet and unfettered. assistance.

Nearly 900 miles southeast of Denali on the panhandle, we Eventually, we made it to Snow Goose’s safety. A shower of
reached our destination and dipped a big toe in to fulfill our applause later, a strange ta-dah moment ensued. Emotion got
next aspiration in the Tongass National Forest. Namely, pad- the better of me, and one guest handed me a tissue. Over-
dling to and overnighting on Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier, ex- come, I blew my nose with a noise like a strangled goose.
ploring its ice cave below.
Mooring up for the evening, we were dropped not at our
“Fancy taking it up a notch at Tracy Arm?” Jason inquired, planned destination but in William Cove, one of the area’s
hungry for a bigger bite of the frosted cherry. Kitted in dry suits heaviest concentrations for bears. Sure enough, one padded
and equipped with a .45 caliber pistol, radios, and provisions, along the coastline sniffing for food, as the rain beat down. It
three of us took our kayaks and water-taxied to a deep and can be grim here, even if it is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Still
narrow fjord, over 30 miles long. Uninhabited, it was home to unfed, four big paws departed into densely overgrown vegeta-
our next port of call: South Sawyer Glacier, 42 miles south of tion a stone’s throw from the shoreline.
Juneau.
As the light faded fast, we encountered more bears. Each
As I nestled into position, the kayak rocked gently, the water cold more emboldened than the one before and coming in proxim-
enough to siphon all feeling from the fingers. Pulling anchor, the ity to us. The fact that we were no longer top of the food chain
captain deposited us at the glacier. We were on our own. wasn’t lost on me.

Within minutes, a massive piece of ice smashed down from Our captain soon had us back onboard. The buzz of conversa-
Sawyer’s face. A tidal wave rolled alarmingly in our direction. tion clicked and whirred as we dined out on the soul-anchor-
The sensation was a torrent of alien sound. With knocking kay- ing joy of making each other laugh, sailing on a silver lining of
aks together for stability and facing the music head-on, I sat lively times. Skins saved twice in one day, I’m not sure we’d
in silent awe at the prospect of orchestrating a lean 12-foot ever be able to pay it forward, but we would try.
76 vessel over a 6-foot wave.
Rocking at ease on the cradle of the deep, our struggle with the
After the waves undulated without incident, it took a moment environment’s demands hung in the cold air. Flexing our sense
to refill my lungs. Entirely at its mercy, the glacier made no of glacial adventure in Alaska had been a nerve-stretching
bones about the power of ice. Unbeknown to us, high tide had escapade. We decided to recalibrate our wilderness-seeking
started to come in. As the water pushed the pack ice together, compass, setting the needle to elementally rugged but on a
the more jammed cheek-by-jowl we became. One minute we less dicey edge for future escapades.
were lapping up the splendour of a peaceful paddling explora-
tion, the next we were on a glacial version of the Teacups ride.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


THE GLEAMING RED 1957 OTTER SETTLED
INTO A STEADY RHYTHM AS SHE CRUISED
ABOVE DENSELY PACKED MOUNTAINS,
SAPPHIRE BLUE GLACIAL LAKES,
UNBROKEN FORESTS, AND SERPENTINE
RIVERS. ALASKA MELTED HER WAY INTO
MY HEART LONG BEFORE TOUCHDOWN.

(OPENING SPREAD)
THE ICE-CAVE BELOW MENDENHALL 77
GLACIER IS HAUNTINGLY SPECTACULAR
AND OTHERWORLDLY.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


THE ICEBERG-LITTERED WATERS WERE CHOKED DON SHELDON MOUNTAIN HOUSE IN DENALI NATIONAL
WITH PACK ICE, FLANKED BY STAGGERINGLY HIGH PARK IS PERCHED ON A 4.9-ACRE NUNATAK ABOVE AN
CLIFFS—JAGGED AND FORMED BY THE SUBMERGENCE ICE-CAPPED OUTCROP AT 5,800 FEET. THIS MEANT
OF A GLACIATED VALLEY. NATURE’S MAJESTY SOON IN THE EVENT OF SAY, AN APOCALYPSE, WE WOULD
GOT TO WORK: SHE HAD ALREADY BEGUN CARVING, CATEGORICALLY BE UNABLE TO WALK OUT OF THERE.
78 DISPENSING MASSIVE CHUNKS OF ICE THAT CRASHED JASON PRAYED TO MOTHER NATURE FOR BIBLICAL
SPECTACULARLY INTO THE WATER. BAD WEATHER TO DESCEND ON US AND THUS
ELONGATE OUR STAY.
WE PUNCHED PRINTS A FOOT DEEP THE MOMENT WE
STEPPED OUT OF THE SKI PLANE ON RUTH GLACIER ONLY 12 MILES FROM THE SEAPORT OF JUNEAU,
AND WERE SOMETIMES THIGH-HIGH IN THE SNOW. MENDENHALL GLACIER IS LONGER THAN THE DISTANCE
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A QUICK THIRD-OF-A-MILE TO GET THERE. YET IT’S AN ICE CUBE COMPARED TO
YOMP UP TO OUR MOUNTAIN SNUGGERY TOOK US THE 5.7 MILLION SURROUNDING ACRES OF THE
A STULTIFYINGLY 50 MINUTES TO SCALE. EXPECT UNTAMED TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST. PARTIALLY
NOTHING LESS; DENALI NATIONAL PARK WILL HOLLOW, THE GLACIER’S MELTING CONCEALS AN ICE
MAKE YOU EARN IT. CAVE BELOW WHERE SURREAL LAVA LAMP-LIKE
DOMES POP OUT EVERYWHERE, FLASH-FROZEN.
CHUBBY SEALS BASKED IN THE SUN, RESTING
ON THE SHIMMERING ICE FLOES, VYING FOR OUR
ATTENTION AS MUCH AS THE GLACIER’S CRYSTAL
BLUE FACE. AT A RESPECTFUL DISTANCE FROM
THE ACTIVE GLACIER, THE DAY WAS TRANQUIL.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


80

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


TIME TOOK ON A PACE AT THE ICE FIELD THAT
WOULD BARELY REGISTER WITH A TORTOISE, LET
ALONE A GLACIER. SILVERY BLUE, IT SPARKLED IN
THE SUN; THE SPIKY HINTERLAND MAGNIFIED BY
THE RUMBLING SOUNDS OF CALVING ICE.

81

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


82

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


ALASKA’S GLACIERS SEEM INCOMPREHENSIVELY LARGE. IN MY MIND’S
EYE, THE REGION IS A PORCELAIN PLACE THAT ILLUMINATES THE SOUL
FROM THE INSIDE OUT. BLUSHING SUNSETS IN PINK OFTEN GAVE WAY
TO GOLDEN SUNRISES ON THE LUMINOUS WHITE, WHERE THE JUNE
LIGHT NEVER REALLY FIZZLED OUT.

AMASSING IN IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS, THE BALD EAGLES OF TONGASS


NATIONAL FOREST ARE MORE LIKE PIGEONS IN JUNEAU. OCCASIONALLY
VICIOUS, THEY MAKE NO BONES ABOUT TEARING STRIPS OFF EACH
OTHER FOR A PRIZED MORSEL.

CAMPING ATOP MENDENHALL GLACIER, THERE WAS A SENSE OF PEACE.


IT WAS A PURE PART OF THE WORLD, UNTOUCHED BY MASS URBANIZATION
AND CRUISE-LINER LOADS OF PEOPLE. A CHILLY NIGHT LAY IN STORE AS
OUR TOES BECAME BLOCKS OF ICE, THE COLD SEEPING THROUGH CLOTHES
TOWARDS BONE.

ALASKA’S ICE CAVES ARE AMONG THE WORLD’S MOST STUNNING WITH
THEIR EERIE, BALLOONED INTERIORS. THE ONE WE LOCATED WAS ROUGHLY
100 FEET LONG, 30 FEET WIDE, AND 12 FEET AT ITS HIGHEST POINT, SITUATED
IN THE TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST. IT WAS UTTERLY SUBLIME, AND ONE
OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES I HAVE EVER SEEN.

ORIGINALLY, MENDENHALL GLACIER HAD TWO TLINGIT NAMES: SITAANTA-


AGU, MEANING “GLACIER BEHIND THE TOWN,” AND AAK’WTAAKSIT OR 83
“GLACIER BEHIND THE LITTLE LAKE.” IT BEGAN FORMING ABOUT 3,000 YEARS
AGO BUT STOPPED ADVANCING BY THE MID-1700S. CAMERA IN HAND POISED
FOR ACTION, THE FIRST THING I NOTICED WAS A GLINT IN JASON’S EYE AND
THE GRIN THAT WENT WITH IT. I SHRIEKED IN EXCITEMENT AND LEAPT
ONTO THE ICE WITH UNBRIDLED HUBRIS.

TRACY ARM IS A PLACE WHERE SEA, AN ENDLESSLY EVOLVING ICESCAPE,


AND SKY INTERMINGLE AT A KNIFE-EDGE. ZERO RANGERS WERE IN ATTEN-
DANCE, AND THE INLET LIES DEEP IN THE WILDS OF ALASKA.

AS THE WORLD’S LARGEST ROAD-ACCESSIBLE GLACIER, SALMON GLACIER


IS A MUST-SEE IF YOU’RE INTO SCENES WITH HORIZON-SPANNING
EXPANSES OF IRIDESCENT BLUE. MY SOUL WAS PERMEATED WITH
EXHILARATION, A HEIGHTENED EXPECTANCY CLOTHED IN CONTENTMENT.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


AN OPTIMAL BALANCE OF RAIN AND SUN YIELDS TELLINGLY, THE SKY SPOKE OF SOMETHING
ALASKA’S CROP OF WILD BERRIES, WHICH FOREBODING AND OMINOUS THAT DAY, EVENING-
CONTRIBUTES TO WHETHER MORE OR LESS FOOD COLOURED BELOW A THICK BAND OF CHARCOAL
IS AVAILABLE FOR THE PREGNANT BLACK BEARS. GREY AT ONE IN THE AFTERNOON. IT SENT THE
THE AVERAGE CONSUMPTION OF AN ADULT BEAR MOST SPECTACULAR CHILLS DOWN MY SPINE.
84 IS ABOUT 30,000 BERRIES PER DAY.
UNDENIABLY, ALASKA IS IRREPRESSIBLY COOL BUT
AWAKING TO AN AMPHITHEATRE OF MOTORCYCLE IN A GRACIOUS, MODEST WAY. I DON’T THINK SHE
ENGINE NOISE AND PUFFBALLS OF LICHEN GREEN KNOWS HOW STUNNING SHE IS—ESPECIALLY HER
MIST, THE FOREST AT TOK WAS ENCHANTING, ITS GLACIAL REGIONS WHEN CAST IN THE HONEYED
SORCERY HOLDING ME RAPT. THE NECK-STRAINING LATE AFTERNOON LIGHT.
SPRUCE TREES WIELDED A SHIMMERING
KALEIDOSCOPE OF DAPPLED LIGHT.

I ROSE ONE MORNING PIGGY-EYED, HAVING


BURNT THE PLAY-HARD, RIDE-HARD ALASKAN
SUMMERTIME CANDLE DOWN TO A NUB. WENDING
OUR WAY OUT OF TOK AND LEAVING BEHIND THE
STORYTELLING TREES, WE RODE INTO A PEEVISH
WIND TOWARDS FAIRBANKS.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


SPENDING THE SUMMER IN JUNEAU POSED SURROUNDED BY ENDLESS BEAUTY, ALASKA
TOO PRECIOUS AN OPPORTUNITY TO FOREGO LEFT ME LIGHT-HEADED—GIDDY EVEN.
A DAY AT PACK CREEK ON ADMIRALTY ISLAND.
OVERGROWN WITH MOUNTAIN-STUDDED GRADUALLY, THE COASTLINES, VIVID GREEN
86 FOREST, COURTESY OF THE TONGASS NATIONAL COLOURS, GLACIATED TOPAZ CRYSTAL,
FOREST, IT’S ALSO ONE OF THE BEST PLACES GENTLE RAIN, THE WAY THE LIGHT FELL ON
FOR COASTAL BEARS IN THE AREA. WILD AND THE MOUNTAINS, AND ABOVE ALL, THE SWEEP
EXPOSED, IT’S A PHOTOGRAPHER’S UTOPIA. OF THE SKY WITH CLOUDS GUARDING THE
FOREST HAD AN EFFECT ON US. ALASKA
WE WERE FOREWARNED BY A LEARNED FRIEND WILL DO ANYTHING BUT DISAPPOINT.
(LONG DIALED INTO THE DALTON HIGHWAY), THAT
WHEN THE CALCIUM CHLORIDE ROAD MAKES
CONTACT WITH WATER, IT’S LIKE NEGOTIATING
SNOT ON MARBLES. BUT THE FORECAST TO
PRUDHOE BAY—ON THE NORTHERNMOST
NAVIGABLE ROAD IN ALASKA—WAS SET TO
BE SPLENDID. I DECLARED THE WEATHER
WINDOW LEGENDARY: A UNICORN.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Dinner is Served By Bryon Bass

Overland and Expedition Cutlery

T here are plenty of methods to get food into our mouths when
afield. Fingers, for example, are not always clean but usually avail-
able. In camp, we are frequently concerned with the minimal amount of
implements necessary to prepare, cook, and eat food. Weight, size, mate-
rials, cost, and one’s flexibility with cutlery that mimics domestic wares
influence our selection. Here, we examine some diverse designs for typi-
cal outdoor and expedition gastronomic activities. Appreciating fellow
expeditionary personnel, soloists, and low-drag overlanders opting for a
mere spork, we also recognize those who want culinary familiarity on the
tailgate and aren’t so concerned by weight or space. Remember, compos-
ite materials can melt near heat sources, sporks don’t replace soupspoons
and will need an edged utensil to accompany it for many foods, and sharp
forks can puncture food pouches.The sacrifice is obvious when compared
to cooking at home with your favorite wares.
EDITORʼS NOTE When traveling über-light, chopsticks frequent my campsite. When
weight and space are not pertinent, I like old military and airline silverware. Stainless,
heavy, and in mismatched sets, they promote excellent mealtime conversation.

SPORKS

HUMANGEAR TOAKS SEA TO SUMMIT SNOW PEAK


GOBITES UNO SPORK ULTRALIGHT TITANIUM SPORK ALPHALIGHT SPORK TITANIUM SPORK

High-temperature nylon Titanium Hard-anodized aluminum alloy Titanium


88
PROS PROS PROS PROS
Stout, withstands surface heat, Robust, tetherable, lightweight, Lightweight, tetherable, tactile, Lightweight, tetherable, fork
excellent for nooks, affordable, tactile handle, polished eating optimal food packet angle tines extend beyond spoon
toddler friendly, fork good with surface, easily cleaned circumference, enduring design
noodles CONS
CONS Prone to bending where shaft CONS
CONS
Challenged by some noodles/ meets spork head, challenged Challenged by some noodles/
Not tetherable
pasta by some noodles/pasta pasta
$3 | HUMANGEAR.COM
$9 | TOAKSOUTDOOR.COM $8 | SEATOSUMMIT.COM $10 | SNOWPEAK.COM

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


FULL SETS

TOAKS GSI OUTDOORS SEA TO SUMMIT


TITANIUM 3-PIECE CUTLERY SET GLACIER STAINLESS 3-PIECE CUTLERY SET ALPHA SET

Titanium Stainless steel Hard-anodized aluminum alloy

PROS PROS PROS


Lightweight, nearly full-size, ergonomic, Ergonomic, rigid, aggressive knife Lightweight, utensils nest well,
tactile grip, polished eating surfaces, edge, polished heads, skeletonized optimal spoon and fork angled for
optimal spoon angle for food packets, handles, tetherable, deep spoon food packets, tetherable, tactile
tetherable head
CONS
CONS CONS Short knife, dull serrations, short
Knife-cutting edge short and dull, Short overall knife length, heavy fork, utensils prone to bending
pieces can unintentionally bend
$14 | GSIOUTDOORS.COM $22 | SEATOSUMMIT.COM
$20 | TOAKSOUTDOOR.COM

GSI OUTDOORS GERBER SEA TO SUMMIT


KNIFE, FORK, SPOON COMPLEAT TOOL DELTA CUTLERY SET

BPA-free acetal Fork and spoon/anodized aluminum, spatula/ Glass-reinforced polypropylene


high-temperature nylon with silicone overmold 89
PROS PROS
Lightweight, tactile, full-size ergonomic PROS Lightweight, great spoon for soups/
familiarity, tetherable, affordable, sold Lightweight, food packet friendly fork/spoon stews/rice, tetherable, aggressive
individually, versatile spoon design length, spatula handle couples to spoon/ serrations on knife
fork as tongs, versatile multi-tool
CONS CONS
Excessive fork flex with harder/heavier CONS Dull fork tines, short for some food
food items, dull knife, can melt around No tether, spatula challenged by hard foods, packets, indented logo retains food,
open flame utensils secure only when nested together can snap

$1 (SOLD SEPARATELY) | GSIOUTDOORS.COM $28 | GERBERGEAR.COM $10 | SEATOSUMMIT.COM

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Wanderlust In Namibia
A trip through a canvas of color and contrasts, from the red
of Sossusvlei’s dunes to the white of Etosha National Park.

By Shirli Jade Carswell


M y travel companions Monty and Kaa—two fairly
realistic-looking rubber snakes who have protected
my camps from mischievous monkeys and other would-be in-
As tired as I was, I understood why other cars seemed to
float seamlessly through every border without all the fuss. In
African culture, women have clear-cut roles to fulfill, and trav-
truders for years—hung unceremoniously from a hook on the eling on your own without a family or a man at your side cer-
roof rack. My Land Rover’s contents lay strewn around, save the tainly does not fall into the part. Most of the time, I’ve been met
mostly empty fridge still connected inside to the inverter. It was with curiosity and nothing more at various borders in Africa—
the third time I’d had to unpack everything, and irritation was this was an exception.
slowly seeping into my consciousness. To the official and his colleague who joined us, I had “sus-
This aggravation was at the border crossing of Buitepos. I pect” written over my forehead as a potential “mule” carrying
had spent five delightful weeks traveling the length of Namibia something illegal for someone illegal. After satisfying them that
and was on my way home via the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, a I was aboveboard, I told them that I had been traveling their
long stretch through Botswana back to South Africa. I still had beautiful country for weeks taking photographs. Their suspicion
quite a distance to get to the halfway point of Kang before it changed to somewhat baffled pride.
92 got dark. With all my gear packed up, I was delayed again as the of-
The uniformed official seemed more composed then he had ficial used Monty and Kaa for entertainment, gleefully running
been after his initial encounter with Monty and Kaa. When I around, frightening his colleagues amidst shrieks of laughter.
first opened the door for inspection, an awkward leap backward For my part, his scaring the other border patrol guys was a bo-
had resulted when he saw them resting on top of my gear. I nus and delightful payback.
showed him they were not real and explained their value at my Once known as South West Africa, a perfect moniker given
camps. He smiled for the first time and took off his glasses, the country’s location with its arm reaching into Africa to the
peering into my face as he said, “A lady, on your own and driving west, Namibia is one of those unforgettable places that end up
this vehicle—what else are you carrying?” Border crossing 101 as a nirvana for photographers worldwide. It had by no means
in Africa: be polite and patient regardless of the circumstance. been my first visit, but this trip had been a special photographic
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
project, with time on my side and a mix of camping and lodge and clay pan. The plant life died, but the skeletons of the trees
accommodations planned. remain without decomposing due to the dry climate.
The journey began in the capital of Windhoek in the central The Namib Desert is home to some
Before long, the track
area, followed by a slow drive down to the southern part to Sos- of the highest dunes in the world. Big
had turned into rapids
susvlei. Then back up through the Namib-Naukluft National Daddy is one of the tallest in Sossusvlei;
of dune sand, and my
Park and across to the coastal town of Swakopmund, and sub- a bit north is the smaller Big Mama. heart was in my mouth
sequently farther north into Erongo and Damaraland in search Dune 7 reaches the most elevated with my 4WD course
of the desert elephants. From there, Etosha, the highlight of my position at approximately 388 meters. instructor’s voice ringing
trip—and as part of the final cherry on top, a new wildlife lens To put that into perspective, New York in my ears, “Let the
to try out. City’s Empire State Building is around Land Rover do the work;
A red sea of dunes came into view. It was out of peak sea- 381 meters tall. that is what it is for.”
son and my first visit to Sossusvlei, and I was keen to do my A guide sat lazily on his vehicle at
rendition of the Deadvlei trees in an area called Death Valley, the track launch of the valley, and he enquired if I needed a lift.
where what are probably the most photographed skeleton trees Not wanting to leave my truck and equipment in the desolate 93
in Southern Africa reside. At the desert camp, they told me that area, I declined. How hard could it be? Before long, the track
it had been raining and that there might be water in Deadvlei, had turned into rapids of dune sand, and my heart was in my
an exciting prospect as I had read that this occurrence only hap- mouth with my 4WD course instructor’s voice ringing in my
pened approximately every 10 years. ears, “Let the Land Rover do the work; that is what it is for.”
Even without water, the area was sure to be impressive.
Around 900 years ago, the trees had been frozen in time after
Namibia is a vast country; make sure to pause and take in its char-
the Tsauchab River flooded the valley. Camelthorn trees and acter and ambience.Opposite: Enormous dunes stand guard over the
various other plants were prolific, and the immense Sossusvlei shrined skeleton trees of Death Valley. Opening spread: The aged foot
dunes encroached, blocking off the river which resulted in a salt of a camelthorn tree fills the lens in the stillness of Sossusvlei.

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94

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It was around 38°C, and a shiver went down my neck—the
skeleton trees had lifted their gnarled roots and were walking
across the water towards me. Being an over-imaginative visual-
izer has its pros and cons. In reality, over the next few days, I
found it enthralling as a photographer, how the light altered
the shadows and colors, from early morning to late afternoon.
In areas, a thin layer of water was slowly seeping into the clay,
creating surreal reflections. In every direction, a framed graphic
piece of art sprang into life, mesmerizing and melancholy at the
same time.
Back north, my route took me through the Namib-Naukluft
National Park. About 75 percent or more of the roads are gravel
in Namibia, and the traffic is very low density. After a couple
of hundred kilometres, I seemed to
After a couple of
be the only person in the panorama,
hundred kilometres, I
which made me exceedingly happy. seemed to be the only
The landscape was now stark person in the panorama,
with shining white sand along the which made me
horizon, the red of Sossusvlei forgot- exceedingly happy.
ten. Here and there were outcrops of
rock seemingly flung into a scene in which they didn’t belong.
Mount Vogelfederberg is one of these, a creature that has lost
its grip and fallen motionless with its rock carcass baking in
the sun. Amusingly, there was only one other structure, a lonely
looking outhouse in the middle of nowhere.
Like most countries in Africa, Namibia is multicultural with
11 ethnic groups, including a strong German influence.The Eu-
ropean scramble for Africa left a wake of footprints throughout
the continent and a tumultuous history to the road of indepen-
dence. Nevertheless, the German slant is alive and well, none
more so than in the coastal town of Swakopmund.
Many of the street names have changed, but various ho-
tels, restaurants, and bistros still have their distinctive Germanic
names (Schlachter, Fischreiherstrasse, etcetera) on proud dis-
play next to the Deutsche flagge, amongst others. Make sure to
take a pause in Swakopmund for the best German Black Forest
cake this side of Africa. On the rooftop deck at the Zum Kaiser,
I watched the sun going down. As the faint folk harmony of a
lost liebe drifted through the sea air, I felt as if I had stepped
through a forgotten portal of Europe and into a bygone era.
I am captivated by arid regions more so than the bush—they
hold so many secrets, and although we might not see it at first
glance, the desert and dunes carry a multitude of life. To explore
the coastal dune belt, in Swakopmund, I joined a Living Desert
Adventures excursion with its well-known and passionate tour
owner, Chris Nel. This belt of the dunes, which would usually 95
be dry, had fog coming off the sea, giving moisture to hundreds
Clockwise from top: My Defender [truck] appears as a dot in the Namib of small desert creatures and plant life.
Desert, which looks almost like the surface of a different planet. Rid- The scourge of these coastal dune areas have been quad bikes
ing the dune waves of Swakopmund is an honor not be to abused and and 4WDs not following specific routes. During peak season,
is only allowed in certain areas. The Ugab Terraces were sculptured by
water, with the grace of Vingerklip holding steadfast—for now. A Nam- tourists take these vehicles to the dunes and plains, leaving
aqua chameleon discovered during the Living Desert tour is the anal- tracks that can last for hundreds of years; the Germans crossed
ogy of its home with his changing colors. Middle top: The precious the desert in 1880, and their tracks are still visible. Thankfully,
and ancient chronicles of life in Erongo are depicted on rocks. through the instigation of Chris working with various orga-

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


The Himba is one
of many tribes in
Namibia to interact
with and photograph.
nizations, restrictions are now in place. His enthusiasm and sandwich when the unmistakable bellowing and high-pitched
knowledge were remarkable as he uncovered the likes of desert trumpeting announced the arrival of an elephant herd; my day
spiders, geckos, chameleons, scorpions, and a multitude of other was determined. To be able to watch a breeding herd of these
creepy-crawlies, absurdly while in his bare feet. pachyderms interact with each other—from the calves playing
Farther north, from dunes to the mountainous boulders of in the water to the matriarch, aunts, and sisters vocalizing—was
Erongo, my view suddenly choked up from the open road to a privilege. Hours later, after playing with my lens, my half-
mammoth rock walls, and I seemed to vanish deeper into the bitten sandwich looked forlorn and curled by the sun, carefully
recesses on a narrow track. being marched off in bits by some delighted ants.
The sentry rocks have been the custodians of beings through I had long romanticized the desert elephants of Namibia
the ages, some of their chronicles painted and etched on the and the white elephants of Etosha, but reading up a little burst
walls, reaching to us in the present. In the late afternoon, a that bubble to a degree. The desert elephants do exist but are
guide escorted me to the concealed storied art; he gave me an not a different species or subspecies of the African elephant.
intriguing narrative on the figures and their meanings. That They are migratory clans, and because their feeding is more
night, as I lay in bed listening to the jackals’ eerie wails echoing scarce as they travel, their appearance is different due to a lack
around the rocks, I wondered what we of bulk and weight. Still, I would like to see them one day. The
That night, as I lay in were going to leave as a legacy from this elephants in Etosha are indeed a pale grey due to the calcrete
bed listening to the age. The thought caused me to shudder, dust and soil on their skin; after a splash and spray in the water,
jackals’ eerie wails
and I instead pondered on my route for their true colors shine through.
echoing around the
the following day. Over the next two weeks, I explored the park and the other
rocks, I wondered
what we were going
When I planned my route through camps of Halali and Namutoni. With 25 percent of the area be-
to leave as a legacy Namibia, I discovered that the pleasure ing comprised of pans, many of them filled with rainwater, the
from this age. of seeing the Finger of God would not images filled my grateful lens, from the elevated giraffes moving
be mine, not now nor on any other trip. along to the gemsbok standing almost motionless with their
One split second on a day in December 1988, an astonishing reflections. One early morning, my eyes caught a flurry haze of
balancing act came to an end. The sculptured pendulum at the pink in the distance; I was elated to see flamingos there.
site that had hung in the sky for eons vanished. One day it stood Photographically, Namibia is an eclectic fusion of land-
proudly on its pedestal, guarding over the land near Asab, known scapes, townscapes, characters, and captivating travel oddities
to the Nama people as Mukurob, then suddenly the landscape you happen to cross on the road—an absorbing country to
was left with a decidedly empty spot as it collapsed. There were explore and photograph. I took three camera bodies with me,
no witnesses, no film recording, no announcement of its demise. including a tripod and panning plate attached to my vehicle
It was simply gone. Perhaps all the locals saw headlines about it window. A wide-angle lens is a must, as well as middle-range
at the time, but it never seeped through to South Africa on our and large lenses for wildlife to avoid changing lenses in dusty
news, or maybe I missed it way back when. locations.The challenge in many of the areas is the exposure: the
Vingerklip in Damaraland would be my consolation. Its white of the sand bounces the light and drowns everything else.
name means “rock finger,” and the handsome structure looks I found myself continually adjusting and hoping for cloud cover
over the landscape of the Ugab Valley with its plateaus and to diffuse the light; nature’s scrim, if you will.
tabletop mountains. Millions of years ago, the Ugab River en- Namibia has a lot on its plate to offer, and this was just one
graved its way into the land, causing the Ugab Terraces. sliver of pleasure to explore. Dark and rich on the one hand, soft
I walked to the site, stood on the base of the rock, and en- and luminous on the other, with a scattering of sprinkles on the
joyed the breathtaking vista. The afternoon golden hour would outside to arouse the senses. Take the time to dig into its lay-
hit the smooth face of the rock; I could at least document it in ers—you’ll find it worthwhile.
solace for the expired Finger of God and headed towards the
white elephants and Etosha National Park.
A canvas of mirages awaited me, muted colors layered to
the horizon line that changed to a luminous expanse when the
98 sky darkened with assured rain. At twilight, the landscape con-
tradicted itself with a sky lit by fire. Speak to any photographer
who has shot in Etosha, and they are more than likely to wax
lyrical about the light before anything else.
Okaukuejo, one of the three large camps, was sublimely qui- RESOURCES
et with some good spots for camping. This location has a virtual Maps, Tracks4Africa tracks4africa.co.za
stage, with a bustling water hole right in front of it—a safari Namibian Wildlife Resorts, for booking various destinations nwr.com.na
armchair where the comings and goings of wildlife play itself Living Desert Adventures in Swakopmund, worth a half-day tour
out if you don’t feel like driving around. I had just bitten into my livingdesertnamibia.com

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


99

Left column: The pan is like a watercolor painting coming to life, with
a dash of flamingo pink. Zebras are naturally skittish but are most
vulnerable to Etosha blondes (lions) when drinking. With the moisture
in the air and the heat, the visuals took on a liquid appearance in the
pans. Right column: Water holes are the lifeblood of this region in
the dry season. Elephants and their social bonds are enchanting to
watch—water provides opportunities to drink and play. There is a
wonderful sense of freedom and calm isolation on the quiet roads.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Late Nights and Long
Roads In Northern Thailand
A lesson in taking what comes and
finding the opportunities within.

By Kyra Sacdalan
Photography by Justin W. Coffey and Desmo
Adventure Rides of Thailand
104

Clockwise from top right: Scooters are the main mode of transportation in
Thailand and we took full advantage. At an elephant sanctuary in the jungle, the
animals were just as curious about us as we were about them. July is monsoon
season in Thailand, and we experienced it by the bucket load almost every day.
Thailand is known for its quiet, beautiful Buddhist temples; they can be found
dotted throughout the countryside. Opening Spread: Riding through small,
remote villages on loud, shiny Ducatis really caught the attention of the locals.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


T raversing any motorway system in a country which isn’t
your own can be a challenge in itself. Different driving
habits, foreign traffic laws (if they even exist), and treacherous
the opportunity as I likely would have earlier in my life, I went
to Thailand doing what I could to stretch my toes over the line
between wary and reckless. This was an opportunity to ride an
roadways mix into a precarious cocktail. I’ve explored Baja, the unfamiliar machine in a group I knew even less about. My es-
Philippines, Japanese Rindo roads, English motorways, and capade with Ducati’s most Gen Y motorbike line (Scrambler)
European byways, but it was Thailand which offered me both surprised me for the better. The power delivery is smooth and
the smoothest and most challenging motorcycle rides to date. manageable, the riding position comfortable, and the bike’s
My boyfriend, Justin, and I had wanted to go to Thailand for body is maneuverable. And it carried all my gear like a mule.
some time. And as if the gods of fortune poured down pinot noir Propped on a vastly lowered Scrambler Desert Sled, I was
and pad thai upon us—a decent pairing, by the way—a friend ready to explore the lush, densely peaked landscapes I’d seen in
recommended us as wordsmiths to a man in Southeast Asia. He photographs. Looping from Chiang Mai to the edge of Laos
embodied most stereotypical descriptors of a wealthy, retired and back, we snaked through steep, narrow passageways carved
professional expatriating to distant lands, but unlike many, he between rounded pinnacles and emerald jungles. Without the
had a plan. With the help of two friends, he plotted to launch wet, the byways were nothing short
a motorcycle tour company called Desmo Adventure Rides of of pristine, offering only an oc- The pace was fast, and
Thailand (DART), all aboard the industry’s most elegant brand, casional rough patch. Our group the route twisty. At its
driest, the pavement gave
Ducati. Lucky for us, they needed a little help with PR. There soared at speeds well past my skill
us everything we wanted
was a caveat: it was monsoon season, and the humidity level was set through a rollercoaster of eleva-
in a motorcycle ride. Here,
something past “sauna” on the hygrometer. My gear, clothes, and tions unlike any I’ve seen forged in rains envelop the world
skin would maintain a constant state of stickiness. And though asphalt—the silky smooth pathways around you. You see
these were mere discomforts, it was the sudden torrents of rain urged us to pick up tempo when we nothing and are drenched
that posed the biggest dangers. Yet we said “yes” immediately, shouldn’t have. immediately. The state of
inviting Jamie and Alex from MotoGeo to join us, because if The pace was fast, and the route the earth turned an easy
you’re about to do something sketchy, it’s a good idea to bring twisty. At its driest, which is still ride into a treacherous
some witnesses friends, right? quite wet, the pavement gave us ev- game of air hockey.
Before the expedition took place, we’d been lectured on erything we wanted in a motorcycle
ATGATT by one of the owners, who himself recently “learned ride. I’ve ridden in torrential downpours a handful of times be-
the hard way” during one of his countryside excursions. We fore, but here, rains envelop the world around you. You see noth-
came equipped. But by the morning after we landed, jet-lagged, ing and are drenched immediately. The state of the earth turned
our group embarked on DART’s first unofficial tour around the an easy ride into a treacherous game of air hockey. No amount
city. In short, we rode scooters with flip-flops on our feet and of swiping could clear the puddles from our windscreens. Flash
plastic buckets strapped to our heads to run errands in a hurry. floods shouldn’t have been surprising as everything was cov-
For a team which supposedly prided themselves on their riding ered in water, but when suddenly encountered around a sharp
etiquette, I’d never met anybody with such a general disregard bend, they can make your heart jump into your throat. At slow
of their safety off-duty. Or so it seemed. I spent my first-ever speeds, this would have been dangerous. But we weren’t travel-
jaunt on a scooter chasing 50- and 60-year-old locals, weaving ing at slow speeds. Tipped well past what I felt was perilous on
through dense traffic and barely dodging aimlessly wandering the meter, I rode faster than ever through the worst conditions
pedal bikers—all while trying to keep my dress in the appropri- I’ve experienced. After all, I was on a leisurely tour.
ate position. Who knew a scooter could do 80 mph? And this To the locals, this stuff is peanuts. They’re used to it all, ac-
was just the first time on the trip I thought I might die. Already, cepting the inevitable and getting on with their lives. Early on,
it was shaping up to be a pretty good experience. before we’d set out on the tour, Justin and I rubbernecked with
When we finally ventured north from Bangkok to Chiang a Washington businessman we called “Lob” the whole way up
Mai on our respective bikes, it became a different, albeit no less a mountain as we scooted by five serious accidents. There were
dangerous, adventure. Riding through the countryside had my trucks nose down in a ditch and scattered shrapnel from fallen
chest thumping and my eyes wide, waiting for the next obstacle mopeds, scooters, and dual-sports. Hordes of people stopped to 105
to run out in front of me or impede my path. Jamie suggested aid the victims as most others carried on. Eventually, Justin suc-
we test out road conditions with the soles of our boots, and I cumbed to the same fate, and his rented cherry red Vespa lost
often found mine gliding across the tarmac like skates on ice. traction in a corner. “Passing on the inside!” he yelled, as he and
Undeterred, or at least out of options, I pushed past every chal- it slid by our buddy, barely missing Lob’s front fender.
lenge, not wanting to get left behind. The streets were mayhem. As we strolled along late one
I’m typically a cautious sort of adventurer—pragmatic and night in search of a snack, a brigade of teens on small motor-
calculated with most risks I take. But I knew before we began bikes pulled up next to us at a red light. They peered curiously
that I’d have to keep up. Instead of slinking back or declining at us from behind their bright headlights, and we locked eyes.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Attention grasped, Jamie immediately instigated a drag race,
splitting the group of riders down the middle. Green—tires
screeched, wheelies ensued. The posse peeled out, dragging flip-
flops and throwing peace signs as we cheered like maniacs from
the sidelines.
We meandered back to our accommodations, and Jamie
somehow got his hands on a few eggs. Really, I still have no
idea from where they came. Feeling pretty sly, he snuck up on
us and slid an egg into Alex’s back pocket, hoping for a hilari-
ous outcome. Familiar with his tricks, Alex briskly retrieved the
ticking time bomb and tossed it haphazardly in Jamie’s direc-
tion—bullseye. Both unwitting, Alex
Exploring, taking
had pitched a grand slam, and Jamie
chances, putting
turned his cheek just in time to get
yourself out there—
yoked. Laughter erupted, and almost this is how you make
as a response to the occasion, a squall lasting memories and
abruptly unleashed its fury on us, wash- solid friendships.
ing away the moment. We ran for cover
under the awning of a homestead. It was nearing midnight, and
the plan was to wake up early, yet none of us were bothered. We
just waited it out, listening to the rain crash into the trees and
on the pavement.
Those are the moments that make traveling so substantial,
so important; learning and connecting, even if it’s with someone
you know from back home. As small a matter as it may seem, to
travel with a person is to trust them, if only a fraction. To know,
without a doubt, that you are about to experience something
together and make discoveries.
Northern Thailand was a holy and enlightening experi-
ence. If not literally, then the exquisite and intricately detailed
temples dotting every town and rural roadway or overlook-
ing the world from a steep mountaintop certainly contribute
to the feeling. These massive ancient artifacts, impeccably kept
up by dedicated Buddhists, tell stories of the religion, regions,
and myths which surround them. Gold flake and deep rich col-
ors, accompanied by elaborate murals, are hidden behind heavy
doors and equally elaborate stone exteriors pockmarked from
hundreds of years of weather and violence. Wisdom is carved
into the walls like wrinkles on an elder’s face. What you might
grasp by visiting all these temples and churches and other pi-
ous places is, if nothing else, an alternative point of view. Not
by finding differences, but by noticing similarities: ideals and
practices, perspectives on life and death, and love accompanied
106 by fear. And more unifying than anything is the devotion.
Even the storms offered life lessons: they taught us about
unpredictability, and with that, preparedness and flexibility, and
One of the few local coffee shops offered a stunning
how to struggle to reach our goals; risk assessment, learning
view, perched as it was on the edge of a cliff. Every bend how far you can, or should, push yourself; patience, taking it
offered something new: an epic vista, stray animals, or slow in the slow parts and fast in the fast parts. And finding
random storefronts selling coffee or wares. Thailand is joy in those moments, in the warm cup of coffee on a balcony
jam-packed with eclectic cafes and eateries like this one.
Opposite: Part of what made this trip memorable were
overlooking the valley below while you wait for the tarmac to
the stupendous roadways, in pristine condition, cut- dry—just enough. I left Asia a better motorcyclist. But I also
ting through lush jungles and steep mountainsides. realized something about myself. Like it or not, I was just like
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
every expat I’d poked fun at, voyaging to a country that isn’t my Or taking photos for Instagram of villagers sitting on a bike
own, feeling “at home,” and imagining myself moving here for they might have never seen before, let alone touched.
a simpler life. Thailand gave a lot and didn’t ask for anything in Over 15 days, I experienced some of the stupidest and most
return. Even now, this homage of sorts hardly does the land or exhilarating trials I’ve attempted. And I enjoyed it, most of it.
its people and their culture justice. But that’s not what Thailand, We met elephants face to face. And inhabitants of the jungle
nor traveling, is about. Exploring, taking chances, putting your- creating beautiful works of art to make a living. The scenery
self out there—this is how you make lasting memories and solid was breathtaking. Coffee shops and eateries rested at the edge
friendships. of startling cliffsides in the middle of nowhere. As to the food,
Justin, Alex, Jamie, and I are a sprightly bunch, loud and jo- I could die happy stuffing my face full of pad thai and sea crea-
vial. I can only imagine what the unsuspecting locals thought as tures with a Southeast Asian flare. If the culture, dishes, and
we’d rumble down the street, our bursting personalities preced- sights weren’t enough, the Thai people seemed to be some of
ing us. Another late night in another small town after another the happiest and most thoughtful I’ve met: generous when they
long ride, we’d said goodnight to the remaining tour group have nothing, cheerful when situations are harsh, considerate of 107
who’d opted to eat something familiar and counter-served. The strangers before themselves, and always courteous. Our culture
four of us, on the other hand, wanted to take advantage of our seems crude and impolite in comparison.
opportunity to dine as, if not with, the natives. The avenues were There’s something magical about Thailand. The warm, sud-
quiet. Food was at least a mile walk, and it wasn’t certain we den showers will send you searching for cover, unconcerned by
would see an Open sign. Or understand it if we did. But hungry, the delay. Time slows itself, not because the culture or manner-
and thirsty, we trotted toward the town center. We talked about isms of the people are relaxed or lazy. It’s not on “island time”
trivial things, moving onto our passions and our families, diving like many other places in paradise. The people here work hard
into each other’s histories. We reminisced about drinking road- to maintain what little (or lot) they have. But tasks that would
side Thai tea out of a tin coffee pot made on a makeshift stove. otherwise feel pressing become, without reason or apology, less
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
The landscape of Northern Thailand helped
set the stage for an immersive experience.
so. Maybe that is why those many hours I spent riding, twisting
through sharp turns over long distances, felt staggering—fast-
paced, blurry, and dangerous at times. While my senses were
lulled and casual on foot, they were
vigilant and keen aboard my bike. The Thai people seemed
to be some of the
Things could have ended badly
happiest and most
many times: chasing track-seasoned
thoughtful I’ve met:
expats down the wrong side of the generous when they have
road, blowing by busy villages and nothing, cheerful when
frazzled canines, all the while led by situations are harsh,
a new tour company who had no re- considerate of strangers
gard for their client’s safety—it was before themselves, and
madness. And then, serene. always courteous.
108 And despite it all, I survived. As
luck would have it, every gamble paid off. Sure, I could have
contracted a bug, ridden off a cliff, died gruesomely. The coun-
try could have killed me. But it didn’t. The roads could have
swallowed me whole. But I’m here. What I learned most about
my choices during these adventures was that, whichever side I
swayed, to the wary or the wild, my decisions had to be mine
alone. Because when you’re a motorcyclist or a traveler or any-
thing that requires risk, yours is the only scale to use for measur-
ing danger.
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
MODERN EXPLORERS INTERVIEW BY ÅSA BJÖRKLUND
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SHANNON Oʼ DONNELL

SHANNON Oʼ DONNELL
A world traveler with a passion for service shares her wisdom
from the road. It may change your life, too. 111

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


S hannon O’Donnell is not an overlander. But after 10 years of traveling
the world solo, she knows plenty about bumpy roads, terrible transpor-
tation, and above all, how to explore the world in the best possible way.
Her passion for service-minded, cultural immersion journeys has made
Shannon an authority on responsible tourism. As a result, National Geo-
graphic named her a 2013 Traveler of the Year. Her blog, A Little Adrift, has
flourished into a cornerstone resource for ethical tourism advice with fol-
lowers from every continent. Yes, even Antarctica. In addition, she launched
Grassroots Volunteering, a database that allows travelers to connect with lo-
cal projects vetted by either Shannon or her global network of “ambassadors,”
to keep you from falling into the hands of unscrupulous organizations and
middlemen.
The nature of independent journeys offers overlanders a better opportu-
nity than most other travelers to make a positive impact when abroad. As op-
Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp is a
posed to vacationing at a multinational resort chain, overlanders often interact
Kenyan social enterprise empowering directly with local people and spend money right where it is most needed. If
112 Maasai widows, women, and young done wisely, our actions on the road can improve conditions in poor commu-
girls. majimotomaasaicamp.com. nities off the beaten track.
Opposite: Greeting a baby camel at
Wadi Rum, Jordan. Women at the Ock
Anyone can adopt Shannon’s modus operandi while traveling. It does not
Pop Tock social enterprise in Luang require deeper pockets or less comfort. All it takes is being mindful of how our
Prabang, Laos, teaching Shannon’s choices affect other people, from picking the neighborhood taqueria rather
niece to weave. Hand-rolled sour plum than McDonald’s for dinner to striking up a conversation with the local fish-
candies are a tasty treat in Myanmar.
Opening page: Shannon O’Donnell,
ermen. With only a slight shift in mindset, it’s possible to take traveling to a
riding through the tiny canals in the whole new level, toward global compassion and meaningful connections that
Mekong Delta near Can Tho, Vietnam. will create memories that go far beyond a bunch of Instagram posts.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


You started traveling 10 years ago, and now you are an icon
of responsible tourism. At what point did service-minded trav-
eling begin to interest you and why?
It was an evolution. I have volunteered since high school, and
community service was always integrated into my life. So when
I decided to leave on a one-year, round-the-world trip, I wanted
to find a way to volunteer when I traveled. In 2008, it was very
hard to find direct connections to volunteer projects, and many
were incredibly expensive. I finally booked a project volunteer-
ing with monks in Nepal. A lot of things went wrong. I found
out that the project fee I paid didn’t include lodging, and that
the monastery that hosted and fed me every day received no
money. The middleman was taking the fee. I had gone out of
my way to help these impoverished monks, and now I felt like a
drain on the monastery. That’s when it started to click for me. I
realized that I could connect with service-minded projects just
like I had in the United States, by being on location and asking
great questions.
One year later I connected with another traveler, who helped
me start Grassroots Volunteering, a database of opportunities
that we, along with other travelers, had found on the ground
where you could reach out directly to local organizations.

More and more people are deciding to volunteer as part of


their journey, but unfortunately, some organizations engage
in unethical practices, such as where travelers are brought
on “poverty safari.” Impoverished people, including orphans,
are featured like animals in a zoo. How can travelers better
navigate the volunteering landscape?

You should approach travel with a mindset of how can you leave
more money behind on causes that you care about or that can
affect real change. Unless you have an absolute skill and the
time to commit, you should consider another option: traveling
with a social enterprise, i.e., a tourism company with a social
mission. Grassroots Volunteering has two separate databases:
independent volunteer projects that you can contact directly
(without paying a middleman), and a list of tours, hotels, and
experiences that have a social mission attached to their tourism
business.
That’s the best general rule of thumb because where the or-
phanage tourism industry flourished was in low-skilled volun-
teers who wanted the experience of volunteering abroad. That
being said, to be considered skilled, you don’t have to be a doc-
tor or lawyer. There are organizations that need, for instance,
marketing-minded people to launch a social media plan. Gen-
erally, a better volunteer fit is when there are skills you can leave
behind in a real capacity that will help benefit that organization. 113

Grassroots Volunteering focuses on locally founded organiza-


tions that address a social issue within the community. What
other aspects should be considered when contacting a social
enterprise?
Social enterprises are my passion; they can dramatically
change the way that money shifts hands through the tourism
industry between Western and developing countries. And bear

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


114
Clockwise from top left: Maji Moto uses funds from its tourist
cultural camp to stop early marriages and keep young girls in
school. Carmela, a baker from the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico, uses
tourism-funded microloans from En Vía to bulk-buy ingredients.
The busy streets of Kampala, Uganda. Meeting and greeting
women in Maji Moto’s Widows’ Village. Crushing annatto seeds
to naturally dye silk threads at an Ock Pop Tock weaving class.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


in mind that traveling through a social enterprise is not only for No matter where the politics or planet Earth may spin, we are
high-end or budget travelers. going to have to get along. People who have an intimate un-
The question you should be asking is, how does the organi- derstanding of another culture and who can interact with oth-
zation work with the local community? A practical example is a ers have a valuable skill. Companies now, and in 10 years and
café that trains former street children with skills such as cook- 50 years from now, are only going to continue to value that
ing and management. skill because history has shown that communication, from the
In addition, if it’s got an outside founder, how are they telegraph to the internet, is only getting more instant. We used
maintaining the dignity of the local population? For example, to work for one company for 50 years, but now your company
one of my Grassroots Volunteering ambassadors was in South- might be a multinational, and then you may freelance for a
ern India during a flood. A group of tourists had brought a lot company in Sydney, where your boss is from Bangkok, and you
of aid, including food from Germany that the local population are commuting from London. This is the reality of our world
was not accustomed to eating, and were tossing it to the people right now.
from the back of a pickup truck. They thought they were doing
good, but didn’t understand that it was degrading to catch a can Culture shock can be a very negative aspect of traveling. For
of tuna thrown at you because you’re hungry. instance, some practices that girls and women are exposed
Ask if the money is likely to stay in the local economy. If to in other countries are appalling to Westerners. Can you
prepare for culture shock, or should you avoid going to a
you’re using a multinational corporation, then your money is
country that seems alien to you?
probably going to go back to the United States when you stay at
that resort. Also, does the cause move the needle on something It’s a great question because it’s easy to say, “just push your
that you find important, and that is important to the locals? It’s boundaries and go.” I like to say that where you should be going
a mindset; you have to understand the issues before you know is just on the edge of what makes you nervous. For instance, I
what questions you should be asking. backpacked areas of Africa where I would have felt much more
comfortable traveling with somebody. There are also things that
Do people have an obligation to find out what those terrify me. I’m not going to do those—yet.
issues are? Having a connection can help us understand and overcome
I absolutely think so. It’s on you. You have chosen to represent some of the obstacles that keep us from sinking into the culture
your country, and you have an obligation to understand the cul- of a new place. The connection could be [seated in] any inter-
tural norms and issues at the destination. You’re also imposing est. Or maybe you read a book when you were a child about the
yourself on the locals. They want to welcome you, but they also country. I know a couple of travelers who tried an Ethiopian
expect you to have researched the correct dress code, the way to restaurant in their tiny hometown, and more than anything they
interact with their culture, and how they want to receive help. wanted to travel to Ethiopia for the food. They had a window
into that culture that was going to let them overcome some of
You say traveling has turned you into a “global citizen.” Today, the hurdles of culture shock.
though, there seems to be a worldwide tendency for national-
ism and even isolation. Do you think global citizenship has You write that traveling can be a transformative experience.
any relevance today? If so, what are your hopes in terms of How so?
take-home value for travelers?
Only in the most recent couple of years did I realize how trans-
I am from a smaller town, a suburb outside of St. Petersburg, formation had affected me—that I was a drastically different
Florida. More than anything, I wanted to travel the world. Af- human being. Age does that to you anyway, but it was also the
ter traveling, I realized that I could feel a part of communities result of intentionally traveling with a mind for new experi-
outside of the one I had been born into by way of being curi- ences, connections, and viewpoints. You can travel for 10 years,
ous, by entering these cultures and trying to learn everything spend them on beaches in Fiji or somewhere else, and not find
I could. I’m really big on staying for weeks, not days, in a new yourself transformed on the other side. But in the act of travel-
place to form connections. As global citizenship evolved for me, ing for transformation, you are trying to find the person you
I realized that it’s hard to have apathy for a culture that you feel were meant to be. The road offers you opportunities that are
connected to in some way. When you read a news story about harder to find when you go to work every day in your home
a tsunami, for instance, it doesn’t hurt you in the same way as community, and you have the same friend group. Whereas on 115
if your family gets hurt. Global citizenship is about feeling as the road, you are testing and reinventing yourself every day until
deeply for the people hit by the tsunami. It’s a different thing you have left your baggage behind.
once you have visited that place and made a connection. Maybe
we remember eating street food sitting across from an Indone- Is it possible to have such an experience if you do not travel
sian grandmother, and she was so kind. Traveling can open our for an extended time?
compassion. The length of the trip doesn’t matter, rather the intention be-
hind it. You have to form connections with people; their life
You contend in one of your blog posts that global citizenship experiences have given them a viewpoint completely different
can help you at your workplace. Can you expand on this? from yours. I realized over the years that somewhere in the mid-
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
dle is where the universal truth might lie. I remember visiting a
rural community in Laos where they had prepared a beautiful
river fish for us, their guests. The problem was that I had been
(and still am) a vegetarian since I was 14. Nevertheless, I picked
up my fork and ate the fish. I’d had enough conversations over
the years to understand how offensive it would have been not to
eat that meal.

Do you need to have a certain personality to travel for


10 years?
I think that’s the biggest myth I’d like to bust, that there is a
spreadsheet of qualities needed to be a world traveler. In 2008,
when I started out, I didn’t know if my personality type was go-
ing to be compatible. What I realized is that just as you can walk
into a restaurant and see every personality possible, the same
situation exists on the road too. There’s a person just like you
right now in India, sub-Saharan Africa, and Russia. The world is
an accommodating place, and you can define your style of travel-
ing. If you are an introvert like me, you slow down. If you’re an
extrovert, you go out every night. The road is just a microcosmic
sample of the life that you can lead anywhere.

Is there an economic value for the tourism industry in


being socially responsible?
There is a value. I don’t have the statistics, but millennial travelers
are the generation that is making an impact by way of investing.
In the 1980s, we didn’t talk about the impact of investing, and
yet millennials are willing to put their money where their values
are. They will be the baby boomers in another 30 years, so social
enterprises are only going to increase their share of the tourism
market. The trend seems to be that each generation is more will-
ing to put their money toward their values and experiences that
have a positive impact—be it positive impact on their health, the
community, or the social environment.

Is there something in particular that you think overlanders


should consider when traveling?
Overlanders have some of the biggest opportunities to infuse tour-
ism dollars into smaller communities if they are conscious of it. Stay
away from multinationals and use either social enterprises or mom
and pop businesses. You are impacting a real human being’s life and
a real city’s economy when you make a conscious decision to do so.
Many people believe that responsible travel costs more, or that
it’s more difficult. It’s just about making better choices. That’s all
Simon Says was a hit when teaching English at
it takes. I’m not telling you to change what you’re doing, just be
a monastery in Nepal. Children busking on the
116 streets of Cape Town, South Africa. A monastery mindful of the fact that you can have an exponentially increasing
in Petra, Jordan, serves as the perfect backdrop positive impact on places you visit.
for a joyous jump.

Written to demystify the multi-billion dollar


RESOURCES voluntourism industry, the Volunteer Traveler’s
A Little Adrift alittleadrift.com Handbook serves as a touchpoint for ethical
Grassroots Volunteering grassrootsvolunteering.org and sustainable international travel.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


I was very excited when I considered writing an article on
the Dakar Rally. I saw myself flying business class to South
America (where the event has been hosted since 2009), hanging
out in the bivouacs with legendary riders like Stéphane Peterhan- Dakar Rally
sel, Cyril Despres, and younger stars like Toby Price, Sam Sunder-
land, and Matthias Walkner. Even seeing the nine-time winner of
the World Rally Championships, Sébastian Loeb, would be a treat,
Retrospective
though his success at Dakar has yet to be seen.
Yet, none of that happened, no business class and no bivouac Testing the mettle—40 years of one of
interviews, no Stéphane Peterhansel. I did, however, get a chance the most dangerous races in the world.
to meet a true-to-life hero, a man from my hometown of Salt Lake
City named Nathan Rafferty. He entered the Dakar Rally in the
moto class as an amateur and actually finished the race. It’s no easy By S.K. Davis
task, Dakar, and if you’re anything like me (drawn to armchair crit- Photography courtesy of Nathan Rafferty
icisms), it’s difficult to understand just how hard it is. 119
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the rally is how closely
its inception—from the fires of failure to outright legendary suc-
cess—so closely match that of another famous French explorer Many believe the Dakar Rally began in 1978, but the idea was
named Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. forged two years earlier in that same refiner’s fire that heated the
Antoine flew planes for the French military during World War creation of The Little Prince. In 1976, Thierry Sabine, a French rac-
I and crashed in the Sahara in 1935 while trying to break the flight er, became lost in the Ténéré Desert (south-central area of the Sa-
speed record from Paris to Saigon. Later he would write a novella hara Desert) while participating in the Abidjan-Nice Rally. It was
about the accident called The Little Prince, now published in over there he roamed for three days and nights sucking on a small stone
300 languages. to keep his mouth from drying out.
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
Sabine found beauty in the desert, the glittering stars mix- know how to navigate a roadbook, your race will only end in
ing carelessly into the inky blackness of night. It was then—in frustration—and possibly injury.”
the middle of a life and death moment—when his idea to form For the uninitiated, roadbook navigation has three main
a rally race beginning in Paris, France, and finishing in Dakar, components which work together in unison, left to the rider to
Senegal, was solidified. reconcile as they go. First is a dual-distance odometer, usually an
A year after Sabine’s epiphany, in 1977, approximately 182 A and a B odometer which keep track of
vehicles queued at the starting line for the inaugural run of the overall distance and the more detailed Being navigation-
based, the delta
Paris–Dakar Rally. Only 74 would finish in the Senegal capi- stage segments. Second, a digital com-
between success and
tal on the western coast of Africa—a fitting place to end since pass which will show the degree head-
failure rests in the
Senegal was a French colony until they declared independence ing after each major turn. The last one is details and is rather
in 1959. the most important: the roadbook itself. reminiscent of the
The Dakar Rally, a modern-day gladiator competition with- If you’ve never seen one, it’s a rare treat. fable, “The Tortoise
out all the anger, is set up much like the Tour de France, with Rarer still are those who have partici- and the Hare.”
each day hosting a new stage of the event. These stages range pated in a roadbook-based race.
from 750 to 1,100 kilometers, and for racers to perform at these Before you get too comfortable in your armchair and say,
distances day after day is a test of both man and machine—both “Sure, Stevie, how many roadbook races have you participated
mettle and metal. in?”the answer, which might surprise you, is six. Yep, six. I’ve rid-
As brutal as the rally is, there is a component of the Dakar den motorbikes since college, but in the past 15 years with great
which makes it very different from other modern off-pavement regularity. I’m more comfortable on a big-bore adventure bike, 121
contests such as SCORE’s Baja 1000 or the Mint 400. Unlike but I do the occasional dirt bike race, and even more rarely, the
the usual point-to-point or loop-style race, the Dakar is road- roadbook-based race. I’m here to tell you, roadbook navigation is
book based, necessitating a quick-thinking mind. To me, this no easy task. It seems that most drivers on modern roads cannot
use of roadbook navigation is brilliant, and a downright elegant turn, use a signal, and chew gum at the same time. Try riding a
aspect to the affair. Being navigation-based, the delta between motorbike loaded with extra fuel while watching your odom-
success and failure rests in the details and is rather reminiscent
of the fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
“It is the great equalizer,” Nathan explained. “You may very Rafferty, exiting a dry river bed during the 2019 Dakar Rally in Peru.
well be the fastest rider among the competitors, but if you don’t Opening page: Nathan Rafferty, knee-deep in fesh-fesh.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


122
Left column: After cresting a dune, it is full-throttle in the spe-
cial stage of the Dakar Rally. BMW has a rich and storied his-
tory in motorsports, and with GS it is an impressive string of vic-
tories in the Paris Dakar. Right column: Nathan Rafferty, battle
proven, pleased with his first showing at the Dakar Rally. The
2019 Dakar Rally was raced entirely in Peru.In the 1980s, BMW
dominated the Paris Dakar, including a win by Hubert Auriol in
1981, and then top of the podium again with Gaston Rahier.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


eters, double-checking your cap-heading, and matching it up to was still used, including the now-famous head-wrapped African
the roadbook in front of you—which you have to manually scroll Bedouin logo, even though the rally no longer had segments in
for the next set of directions. the continent.
Alors, the first major running of the Dakar Rally was in 1978. Those first years in South America saw riders revving full-
Only a few manufacturers were participating at that point— tilt-boogie through three countries: Argentina, Peru, Chile. In
most notably Range Rover—who took top prize in the car cat- 2019, the Dakar took place exclusively in Peru where the never-
egory twice in the first three years. Porsche came on the scene in ending dunes and impossible fesh-fesh (ultra-fine sand that is
1984 and won their first attempt courtesy of René Metge, who even more refined than talcum powder) caused further trouble
had also won the Dakar in 1981 in the car class. In 1981, BMW for riders. It is this event that Nathan Rafferty participated in,
entered the rally in the moto class and took the title. This win giving me the closest glimpse of the bivouac.
would not be BMW’s first. However, the bike they used was a “So, the morning of the race,” he began, “I’m in the bivouac
first—and it’s this bike which ushered in a new era and altogeth- with some of the biggest names in racing—not motocross or
er new classification that now represents the fastest-growing
segment of the entire industry, the adventure bike.
BMW’s version was called the R 80 GS Paris Dakar. For “THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS IN THE WORLD CANNOT
those of you who follow motorbikes, the R 80 GSPD is the god- BE SEEN OR TOUCHED, THEY ARE FELT WITH THE HEART.”
father of adventure bikes—the first iteration and the last bike
–THE LITTLE PRINCE, BY ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY
you really need to know anything about. Without the success
of the R 80 GS, Ewan McGregor would not have gone around
the world on his R 1150 GS Adventure. As an aside, the “GS” in
the model name is a German acronym meaning gelände/straße X Games stuff—but real international roadbook nav rally racing.
or “terrain/street.”Though the bike raced by Hubert Auriol was Toby Price, Ricky Brabec, Sam Sunderland, Laia Sanz, not to
heavily modified, the production version of the R 80 GSPD was mention some real giants of the SUV class in the bivy next to us
well received and has become quite rare. I should know since I like Sébastian Loeb and Mr. Dakar himself, Stéphane Peterhan-
am lucky enough to own one. sel, who has won the Dakar a record 13 times.”
There are a lot of hurdles for a professional racer, let alone The stories from the modern iteration of the rally are not dif-
an amateur, to participate in a competition as big as the Dakar ferent from those early competitions: men and women racing in
Rally. One must have the right gear, training, state of mind, and spite of injuries. Rafferty and Price both ran several stages of the
most of all, money. The Dakar isn’t cheap. Just to register for the race with broken wrists—on their throttle hands no less. There
modern Dakar will cost the average rider €16,500 ($18,500) were navigation problems; Sébastian Loeb blamed organizers for
which includes medical assistance, food at the bivouacs, insur- the misdirection, even though he was one of the few who went off
ance, GPS live tracking, “technical advice,” and fuel assistance course. Mechanical issues wreaked havoc. Ricky Brabec was well
during the special stages. That fee does not include the price of on his way to being the first American to win the overall podium
your vehicle or getting to the race itself—all of this is the rider’s in the moto class when the engine of his Honda crapped out.
responsibility. You also have the option of bringing a team, but Human errors took their toll as well; consider the fate of Pablo
it’ll cost you. If you’re one of the lucky ones who ride profes- Quintanilla. He didn’t heed the triple exclamation “danger”symbol
sionally, most of these logistical items aren’t a worry. But for an in his book when, in the final stage, he failed to slow down and
amateur, the entire prospect of curating the gear, training, paying shot off a plateau-style dune like a consequences-be-damned Evel
the entry fee, and getting to location is hard to fathom. Knievel. After sailing over a 50-foot gap, then crashing his bike
The rally used the same basic layout (route and classifica- on the next dune, he was badly injured. But like any participant
tions) until 1992, when the organizers moved the finish line who’d come so far, he returned to his bike and finished the race.
to Cape Town, South Africa, to entice the dwindling number Rafferty himself finished under duress after a crash in Stage
of participants. (Thierry Sabine passed away in a helicopter ac- 7. “It was a rookie mistake, cresting a sand dune,” he explains.
cident during the 1985 running of the Rally, which took a toll “Those things just sneak up on you, and if you’re not paying at-
on the Dakar in various ways.) The rally also started using GPS tention all the time, they’ll ruin you.” The backside of the dune
technology in 1992. And in a long line of firsts, Hubert Auriol was a 20-foot drop—not a distance you want to take fast. This is
took the podium in the car class, becoming the only person until a cautionary tale which Pablo might’ve listened to if he wasn’t
then to win the rally in two different classes. If you’re thinking such a committed racer, taking calculated risks to edge out the 123
Auriol is a badass, you’d be right. competition.
In 1994 the competition returned to Paris for the starting The 2019 Dakar Rally marks the end of an era, though.
line, ending (again) in Dakar, Senegal. In 1997 the race took part Shortly after the race finished in Peru, the organizers announced
exclusively in Africa for the first time, eliminating the segments the 2020 Dakar Rally was moving to Saudi Arabia—evidently
from Paris to Northern Africa. Then, in 2008 the rally was can- for the next five years. There had been much rumor and gos-
celed due to terrorism fears—attacks in Mauritania to be specif- sip about this change, but to see it unveiled officially shocked
ic—and the race was moved to South America.The event main- people. It’s a fascinating play for an event that is always full of
tained the name Dakar Rally as it had become a trademarked, surprises.
registered name. As such, from 2008 to 2019 the Dakar label
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
126
OVERLAND CONSERVATION ÅSA BJÖRKLUND

A SOLUTION FOR
PLASTIC POLLUTION
ANYONE CAN VOLUNTEER TO CLEAN UP
COASTS AND WATERWAYS, WHETHER
AT HOME OR WHILE TRAVELING.

Oceans and lakes have always allured travelers from near and far,
but plastic pollution is turning some waterways into a soup of dis-
carded flip-flops and plastic bottles. Beyond the eyesore, the
junk is also having devastating effects on sea life. Most people
have seen the heart-wrenching images of dead seal pups and sea
turtles, their intestines snarled with ingested plastic bags. “Up to
13 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year—
the equivalent of a rubbish or garbage truck load’s worth every
minute,” relays the Pew Charitable Trusts. The good thing is that
we can solve this human-caused problem.

There are always opportunities for overlanders to volunteer with


beach cleanups during their travels. For instance, in Baja Califor-

Photography by NOAA
nia, a popular destination for many of our readers, you could join
Terra Peninsular, a nonprofit based in Ensenada. In addition to
cleanups, volunteers can help out with educational programs
aimed at preventing pollution from happening in the first place.
The team goes into communities to talk with school children,
fishermen, and business owners, among others, about proper
trash disposal and the perils of plastic pollution, especially on back your own trash from the beach. The new generation is much
sea birds. more environmentally conscious.”

“We have witnessed birds feeding plastic bits to their young, GET INVOLVED
thinking it’s food,” said Claudia Guzmán, community outreach Visit Terra Peninsular’s website, terrapeninsular.org, for more in-
coordinator at Terra Peninsular. As a result, many birds die of mal- formation and to contact them regarding volunteer opportunities.
nourishment because they mistakenly believe they have eaten If Ensenada is not on your route, travelers can contact other non-
enough when their stomachs are in fact full of plastic debris. Fish, profits such as ProNatura (pronatura.org.mx) and Wild Coast
sea turtles, and marine mammals are victims of the same fate. (wildcoast.org). Also, donations to any of these nonprofit organi-
Humans are not safe either. Plastic particles end up in the sea- zations will keep them cleaning up plastics from our oceans.
food we eat, posing potential health threats.
Spearheaded by the Ocean Conservancy, the International
One of Terra Peninsular’s most successful projects is “Bazaar Coastal Cleanup takes place every year in September. You don’t
Trash,” a drive where the organization involves the whole com- have to live near a beach to help out; lakes and rivers also need a
munity in coastal cleanups. First, the nonprofit collects donations hand. Check out volunteer options in your community or start a
of gently used clothes and other items. Then, as a reward for 127
project using the Ocean Conservancy’s resources, including the
gathering trash, people may pick out something from the donat- Clean Swell app, oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/
ed goods. international-coastal-cleanup/volunteer/.

What’s the strangest thing Claudia has ever found during a beach
cleanup? “Half a car—under a sand dune,” said Claudia with a
laugh. “Underneath it, we found beer cans and coke bottles from A volunteer carefully
the 1980s.” disentangles an
albatross. Nets pose
Claudia sees hope for a cleaner future. “There is a big movement a serious threat
now not to use disposable plastics or Styrofoam and to bring to marine life.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


OVERLAND CHEF KAROLIN WÜLFING

Banana Pancakes
This delectable dream requires
just two ingredients.
SERVES 2
PREP TIME 5 minutes
COOK TIME 10 minutes
EQUIPMENT Small bowl, pan, knife, fork, spatula, cooking oil

2 ripe bananas
2 eggs

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS
Honey
Maple syrup
Oranges
Strawberries
Blueberries

This recipe is very easy and quick to prepare. The first step is
to mash the bananas as best as you can. I always use a fork, but
you can place it in a portable food processor as well. Mix the

F or over a year and a half now, my husband, Philipp, and


I have been traveling through the Americas in our old
Land Rover Defender, starting in Halifax, Canada, making our
two eggs with the mashed banana and whisk until they become
a batter. Place a tablespoon of cooking oil (I prefer coconut oil)
in a pan, and heat over a fire or stove. Once the pan is warm
way down to Mexico. In the evenings, we can be found search- and around medium heat, add heaping spoonfuls of the pancake
ing for places to camp, preferably hidden and off the beaten mixture into the pan, using the spoon to shape it into circles.
path. One time in Canada, we found a great spot directly in the Leave the mixture to cook for 2 minutes until the bottom side
middle of nowhere. The campground was next to a river with a has cooked. Flip the pancakes over to the other side for around
view over snowy mountains. We planned to stay for one night, 1-2 minutes. Do not mess with the uncooked pancake; leave it
but the site was so beautiful we decided to hang around a little until it has firmed up and cooked on the underside and then
128 longer. After three days of hiking, relaxing, barbecuing, and en- flip it—otherwise, the pancakes will fall apart. Put the pancakes
joying nature, we were almost out of provisions. We love to have under a plate to keep them warm until serving. This recipe will
a good breakfast and were in the mood for pancakes, but our produce 7-8 small pancakes, depending on the size. Top them
flour had been used up the day before. I mixed up the only two with honey, maple syrup, or whatever you prefer. In the win-
ingredients we had left in the car: a very ripe banana and eggs. tertime, I like to use caramelized oranges. If you are a fan of
Voilà, what can I say? With a little bit of honey on top, this dish chocolate, add a bit of cacao powder or chocolate chunks to the
is now our favorite staple in the morning. uncooked mixture.

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129
CLASSIC KIT ÅSA BJÖRKLUND

Coffee
Beyond the bean.

lieved that coffee originated on the Arabic peninsula where cul-


tivation had deep roots (a belief made worse by the botanist Carl
Linnaeus misnaming the most popular coffee species as coffea
arabica), but scientists have proven that the actual birthplace was
the isolated highlands of Kaffa in Ethiopia. Coffee bushes still
grow wild in this region of deep valleys, mountains, and cloud
forests.
At first, the beans and leaves were probably chewed. Soon
the Ethiopians invented a variety of new ways to consume the
plant: They soaked the leaves and berries to create a weak tea,
and also mixed ground beans with animal fat for a questionably
tasty snack you may want to avoid these days. Another invention
that sounds slightly more palatable was wine made from the fer-
mented pulp. Finally, probably in Arabia, someone had a genius

C offee has an old, sordid past. Repeatedly banned


throughout history, the black beverage has been called
“Satan’s drink,”accused of making men impotent and sterile, and
stroke and roasted and ground the beans, infusing the powder
in hot water. Coffee, as we know it, had taken its first step for
society’s benefit.
of causing nothing less than society’s downfall. Its production
has marched hand in hand with colonialism, slavery, indepen- A WORLDWIDE ADDICTION SPREADS
dence battles, and stirred more political conflicts than any other As the Ethiopians traded with the Arab world, coffee spread
non-alcoholic drink. Yet, coffee is passionately loved all over the across the Red Sea and beyond. Coffee had medicinal and reli-
world. Some countries have developed such elaborate coffee gious uses, but it soon slipped into everyday life. When Ethio-
ceremonies that they are now considered engrained in human- pia conquered Yemen in 650 AD, coffee trees were planted, and
ity’s heritage. But no matter what part of the planet you are on, production took off. After the Ottoman Turks invaded Yemen in
drinking coffee goes beyond a simple caffeine fix—it fills a social 1536, coffee spread throughout their empire. In Turkey, the dark
need. Whether served at Starbucks, in a neighbor’s kitchen, or at liquid became so important that a lack of coffee provisions was 131
a chic café in Paris, coffee brings people together, by chance or reasonable grounds for a woman to seek a divorce.
deliberately. When traveling, trying the local coffee offers a win- From the Ottoman Empire, coffee spread to Europe where
dow into a new culture, and sharing a pot of brew with a stranger it was passionately embraced. The Pope’s priests wanted him to
may bridge a cultural gap and lead to a new friendship. Just don’t ban the so-called evil drink, a problem that the coffee-addicted
expect it to taste like at home. pontiff circumvented by “fooling Satan by baptizing it and mak-
ing it a truly Christian beverage.” Within a few hundred years,
BEANS WITH ANCIENT ROOTS coffee had wrapped its tentacles around the globe.
No one knows exactly when coffee consumption began, but Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug on earth,
it’s likely a 1,000-year-old habit. Up until recently, it was be- coffee being the preferred delivery system. This popularity has
OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019
made coffee the second most valuable exported legal commodity COFFEE’S DARK SIDE
in the world (after oil) and the livelihood of some 125 million Production requires a great deal of labor: planting, picking,
people. washing, and drying the beans. That, coupled with the fact that
the crop mostly grows in developing countries, has cast coffee
GOSSIP AND BUSINESS into the epicenter of child and forced labor scandals.
Coffee houses first popped up in Arabia, and as would hap- The Fair Trade movement grew out of a reaction to the de-
pen in the rest of the world, they were considered breeding plorable conditions of local workers. Plantation workers can
grounds for conspirators and other sinners. When the young now earn more money, and as a result, they can send their chil-
governor of Mecca discovered that satirical verses about him had dren to school and have access to credit for farm improvements
originated in cafés, he decided that coffee, like wine, must be and training. In most countries, it’s now easy to look for coffee
outlawed by the Quran. The ban lasted only until a coffee afi- marked Fair Trade.
cionado, the sultan of Cairo, came into power a few years later.
The pattern has been repeated worldwide by countless paranoid A LOOMING DISASTER
leaders with chips on their shoulders. As with grapes for wine, coffee cherries come from a plant
Even when banned, people continued to drink coffee in se- with several species and varieties. Although roughly 124 species
cret. Obviously, caffeine’s addictive nature was one reason people of the flowering coffea tree have been identified, there are two
couldn’t stay away from their fix. It perked energy levels without main types grown for commercial purposes: arabica and robusta,
any substantial side effects for most, yet there was more to it. In representing 99 percent of produc-
Turkey, for instance, coffee shops were called “schools of wis- tion worldwide. No self-respecting Caffeine is the most widely
used psychoactive drug on
dom” as many well-educated men would go there to enjoy coffee barista in the world would touch
earth, coffee being the
while discussing ideas, politics, gossip, and business. Live music anything but arabica, the aristo-
preferred delivery system.
and board games were often also available. Turkish enthusiasm cratic bean that demands the high- This popularity has made
for cafés gave birth to the two most famous coffee cultures in the est price. Robusta, the ugly cousin, coffee the second most
world: Parisian and Viennese—to Paris through inspiration and makes up for its lack of flavor by valuable exported legal
to Vienna by invasion as the Ottoman Empire put its hands on being more resistant to disease and commodity in the world
Austria. Still today, any decent kaffeehaus in Vienna serves a wide poor growing conditions. Despite (after oil) and the livelihood
range of cakes to go with the coffee, which may be spiced up its reputation, high-quality ro- of some 125 million people.
with sweet liquor. Newspapers are readily available along with busta is sometimes used in espresso
other amusements, and guests may stay as long as they like, mak- blends to enhance the crema, but it can be difficult to source the
ing the kaffeehaus a viable second home. good stuff. But both arabica and robusta face an impending nat-
This idea of the café as a home away from home was brought ural disaster: a fungus called coffee leaf rust that has spread like
to the US by Howard Schultz, who turned Starbucks into the measles across the coffee-producing world.
giant it is today. After traveling in Europe, Schultz decided Coffee junkies need not despair just yet. The solution may
Starbucks should expand into a café rather than focus on selling lie in the dense forests of Kaffa, Ethiopia, the mother source.
beans. Americans needed a new community place, “a comfort- Here, where the plants grow wild, the genetic diversity is enor-
able, sociable gathering spot away from home and work, like an mous. Scientists are now studying the wild arabica to find which
extension of the front porch,” Schultz believed. strands are more adaptable to a changing climate and more re-
sistant to plant diseases—the key to saving the commodity.

COFFEE TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD


Since its inception, coffee drinking has always had strong social
and cultural aspects. More inclusive than alcohol, coffee is
enjoyed by a wider group of people and in a safer environment.
The beverage has sprouted new cultural roots all over the world,
so when traveling, take a sip of local culinary tradition. Here is a
sampling of various coffee practices.
132
ETHIOPIA Coffee, called buna, is still served in a traditional table-
side ceremony that can take up to an hour to experience. Guests
sit around chatting as charcoal heats up the inside of a clay pot.
The host washes the green beans and then roasts them on a griddle
over the fire. Once golden brown, the beans will be ground into a
fine powder, which will be boiled in the clay pot along with some
cardamom and cinnamon. The coffee is then served in small
3-ounce cups with a teaspoon of sugar. The liquid is thick and

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


fragrant, with some sediment staying on the bottom. All guests
will sip and—last but not least—murmur their appreciation.

ITALY Serving instant coffee is probably considered a criminal


offense in Italy, the country that invented the espresso machine.
This ingenious little apparatus is the only method that brews
coffee using pump pressure. The water temperature is kept
below boiling point to avoid scalding the coffee.
When in Italy, do as the Italians; in searching for a caffeine
kick, look not for a café but a bar, which is the Italian equivalent.
Bars swamp the streets of Italy, and at first sight, you may think
the locals have a serious drinking problem, but they are only
coffee addicts. Italians believe dairy should only be consumed in
the morning to avoid indigestion, so cappuccinos and lattes are
strictly breakfast drinks, although they are served at any time in
the rest of the world. Finally, leave your laptop and magazines at
home. Italians don’t linger at a café.The same goes for Spain and
many other Mediterranean countries. They drink their espresso
fast, at the bar, while chatting with the barista, and will repeat
the ritual several times a day. We can assume that each drink
doesn’t cost $5 a pop. Expect to savor only the best coffee, even
at a dingy bar on the outskirts of nowhere.

USA The Americans’ preference for coffee dates back to the


famous Boston Tea Party of 1773 when tea shipments were
tossed into Boston’s harbor in protest of British taxation. It was to visitors as a welcoming gesture. In fact, Turkish coffee is part
a patriotic duty to avoid tea, and coffee quickly filled the of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity.
vacuum. Later, boiling coffee over the campfire became a
symbol of cowboy culture, freedom, and the expansion of the SWEDEN Scandinavian countries consume more coffee than
American West. anywhere else in the world in terms of cups per day, over 39
In the 1960s, specialty coffee surged in San Francisco (led gallons per person annually.Traditionally, Swedes would boil the
by the coffee importer and roaster Alfred Peet) and continued heck out of ground coffee in a kettle and then serve it in delicate
in Seattle in the 1970s with Starbucks, created by three friends porcelain cups. As the drink was scalding hot, people would pour
who had traveled through Europe during a year off of college. a small amount onto the saucer and sip coffee from there. A
Other specialty coffee roasters and houses popped up all over bowl of sugar cubes was always served on the side. My
the country in the 1970s, and the industry boomed in the 1980s grandparents, as was the custom, would place a cube between
with the arrival of the affluent and luxury-seeking yuppies. The their teeth and suck coffee through it. Called “drinking coffee on
additions of flavors and the range of dairy and dairy-free prod- the cube,” I can guarantee it is nothing you will witness at
ucts revolutionized the drink’s landscape, as did drive-in loca- Stockholm’s slick bars. Occasionally, I saw my granddad adding
tions by offering the vehicle-centric nation more convenience. dandelion moonshine to his coffee, another farmers’ tradition
Today, American coffee chains are spreading across the world your taste buds should be happy to thank you for being rid of.
like a bushfire. Today, Swedes drink much better quality coffee, but the big draw
is the social function of the fika, a welcome break from work that
TURKEY, GREECE, AND BEYOND Frankly, Greek and Turkish brings friends or coworkers together to enjoy coffee and
coffee are pretty much the same thing—thick, black liquid that cinnamon buns, and to dream about summer.
appears to belong in the insides of your truck more so than your
own. The flavor, though, is far more palatable than it looks. TO READ ABOUT DIFFERENT FIELD-GRADE COFFEE BREWING METHODS AND 133
Turkish coffee is enjoyed throughout the Middle East and is EQUIPMENT, PLEASE SEE BRYON BASS’ ARTICLE IN THE SPRING 2019 ISSUE.
made by bringing very finely ground coffee to a boil in a cezve, a
long-handled pot made of copper or brass.Turkish coffee ranges
from unsweetened black to a diabetes-inducing sugar load. If
sugar is used, it is added during brewing, rather than when
served, and spices like cardamom and cinnamon are sometimes
added to the pot. Turkish coffee takes center stage in a rich Drying the coffee beans is a time-consuming job. Ripe coffee berries on
communal culture, and is served at engagement ceremonies and the bush. Opposite: Palestinian women grinding coffee beans.

OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019


Continued from page 136

was familiar with the story about the sign; obviously, we were After an hour or so, Tatiana returned with a stack of
not the first to misinterpret it. However, the guidebook story printed papers for us to sign. The fine was 1,000 roubles
was new to her. (about $15), so that was not a big deal, and we were required
Tatiana admitted that the information on the sign along the to pay it within 60 days at a bank. All of the papers were
side of the road was wrong. It should state ID and permit, not in Russian, and so we asked Tatiana to translate them. She
ID or permit. For years they’d been at it with the department in did, explaining that by signing, we admitted to breaking the
charge, to no avail. “However, the fact remains that even when law. Our written explanations were missing, so we objected to
you don’t know the law, that doesn’t mean you can break it,” she that. One officer was clearly annoyed with the proposed delay,
concluded. While this may have been technically accurate, it but Tatiana understood our point. They printed our accounts,
didn’t seem fair. Apparently, reason and common sense didn’t signed them as having been read, and handed them over. If
have value here. “There will be a fine,” she added. ever other law-breaking issues would come up in Russia and
Tatiana was kind, and we felt she was on our side, but this this incident was to resurface, at least we had our side record-
was irrelevant. Her job was to translate and nothing else—later ed. We felt cornered, but as is often the case in bureaucratic
we understood that she even had to sign a document before- officialdom, the law is more important than reason.
hand that she was aware of her actions Coen, meanwhile, had something else on his mind. “Now
We felt cornered,
and that any wrong translations could that we are so close, can’t one of you escort us the last mile to
but as is often the
have “consequences.” the monument for that photo?” he asked. More deliberations
case in bureaucratic
officialdom, the law
She left the room and returned with followed, but the answer was no—such spoilsports.
is more important pieces of paper. “Please, both of you write After four hours in that room, we were back on the street,
than reason. your own version of the story,” she said, and a big sense of relief washed over us. To our amazement,
handing us the white A4s. I started laugh- there was no escort. We were left on our own to drive across
ing and looked at her incredulously. “Aren’t you making a big military terrain back to the barrier that
deal of something that isn’t? We didn’t deliberately break the the soldier opened once more, back
law,” I said. “You can just escort us back to that sign, and we’ll into the village we were not al-
be off.” But she was dead serious. “Include your personal data, lowed to be in, and onto the
name, place of birth, education, and job before you traveled,” she main road of the highly sensi-
instructed. She translated our stories, which were then entered tive border area. It was tempt-
into a computer in another room. Meanwhile, important men ing to go and take a picture at
walked in and out, not understanding why anyone would drive the monument as driving on
to this end-of-the-world place, which, looking at it from their our own in this forbidden terri-
point of view, we understood. I returned to the Land Cruiser, tory only added to the absurdity
retrieved the folder with our published photos and stories, and of the whole procedure. We didn’t,
at the request of Tatiana, the guidebook. though. Common sense took over, but
The said guidebook was written by the Primorsky Krai state we did feel defeated.
department to promote business and tourism in the region and Ever since we started our world journey in 2003, our dis-
was published in Russian as well as English. It had led us to like for borders has gradually increased. But after this non-
some gorgeous spots in the area, and we still wonder why no sensical episode, that feeling went up tenfold. One thing can
international guidebook writer has covered this region in detail be said in favor of borders though: it is often the place where
since there is so much to see and do. The officials deliberated on adventure starts—even if the beginning is rather bumpy.
the book and concluded that the monument was not marked as
a site.This was true, but the village of Hasan was marked, as well
as the road to the monument. “Where did it say we were only
allowed to drive directly to sites and not on roads around them?”
we argued. While they agreed, we began to comprehend that
this was serious business, even more so after one of the officers
134 stated he’d later want to check our camera for photos.
With that, a feeling of uneasiness crept upon us. I remem-
bered a vague story of a guidebook writer who was thrown
out of Russia for some reason at some point in time (yes, very
vague). We didn’t want to be kicked out of Russia before we
had even started our travels here. Coen deleted our last batch
of photos on the quiet, a regret because they never checked the
camera. It dawned on us that we were utterly dependent on
their mercy, a discomforting thought at best.

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135
TAIL LAMP KARIN-MARIJKE VIS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY COEN WUBBELS

Photo-ops on
the Wrong Side
of the Law
Russia’s Far East entraps
unwitting overlanders.

N orth Korea and China meet Russia in the far south


of the Primorsky Krai province, at the end of the
road on the Tumen River; this would be the perfect tripoint
utes later, another officer arrived on his motorcycle without a
headlamp or number plate. The second officer took our pass-
ports from the first one and instructed us to follow him for
to start our North Asia adventure. Upon leaving South Ko- registration. With our passports in his pocket, we didn’t have
rea and arriving in Vladivostok, Coen and I decided to drive a choice.
the few hundred miles south to have a photo moment at the We drove back for a bit, turned left, and entered Khasan, a
southernmost point of Russia’s Far East. village of some 1,200 inhabitants. A soldier opened a barrier,
Under a clear blue sky, the miles passed smoothly over and we entered into military terrain. Meanwhile, we shot a
asphalt, until the last 30 miles or so when gravel and corruga- few more photos through the front window. For a moment,
tion took over.The Land Cruiser shook and rattled, and when we wondered if the officer would be so kind as to take us to
we stopped to air down the tires, we saw a bullet-ridden blue the tripoint border monument, as we had mentioned that in
sign beside the road. In white letters, it stated in Russian and our conversation with the first officer.
surprisingly, in English as well, that we were entering border Alas, we were not that fortunate. Instead, we drove into
territory which required carrying an ID or permit. Since we a parking lot and were instructed to park the Land Cruiser
had our passports, I didn’t anticipate a problem but took a and enter a building. Here we walked up some stairs and into
picture of it just in case. a classroom, where we were greeted by an important-looking
Around us stretched a black and burned landscape; the official, looking down on us from a poster. Below it stood a
tall grass is annually scorched to kill ticks that infect humans television and a junction box. Soldiers walked in and out to
with Lyme disease and encephalitis. We stopped along the charge their phones, and we were told to sit down, which is
side of the road for a photo of the border with China. Pre- where we stayed for the next four hours.
cisely at that moment, a vehicle overtook us in a classic exam- A woman entered, and we met Tatiana, our translator. She
136 ple of bad timing. It stopped right in front of us, and a man was the wife of one of the soldiers and worked in the village
dressed in military garb got out, moved to Coen’s car window, as an English teacher. She asked us to explain ourselves. Why
and asked for our identification. He laboriously checked over were we in a border region where we were not allowed to be?
our passports before taking out his phone to make a call. Evi- In English, our story was much easier to explain than with
dently, we needed a permit as well, regardless of what the sign the sign language and few words of Russian we had tried out
had said. on the officers. We talked about our journey, our anticipated
The officer tucked our passports in his pocket, and we start at the southernmost point in Russia’s Far East, and that
wondered whether he was looking for a bribe. “No problem,” our guidebook had mentioned many beautiful places to visit
he said, and so we waited for the next move. Some 10 min- in Primorsky Krai. At the latter, she raised her eyebrow. She

Continued on page 134


OVERLAND JOURNAL WINTER 2019