Chasing The Gear Whore

“He who desires more gear, knows not what he wants from his gear”- unknown source.

Whether you call it car camping, off-road adventures or overlanding, an off-road based adventure requires stuff and as a group, we overlanders do not travel light.  If you search the Interwebs, you would think that in order to start overlanding you must have a Land Rover, preferably a Defender 110 (Camel Trophy insignia optional), capable of carrying months of supplies, sand ladders, roof top tent (RTT), titanium cook sets,  wind sail canvas & teak lounge chairs with matching tables and an engine manifold hot water heater with power shower head.

I have a theory and it holds true for all major activities not just overlanding…  It goes like this:

  1. Looks interesting phase – This (insert activity name here) looks like something you would enjoy.  You have little to no experience but the activity seems interesting so you tag along with a friend or give it a try on a limited basis.
  2. Let me open my wallet phase – You tried it, you like it and you’re hooked.  You surf YouTube videos and hang out on the forums during work taking in everything you can about this life changing activity.  You imagine yourself living the dream that allows you to quit your job, take the kids out of school and spend all your days doing “this”.   If the “so called experts” tell you, you need a thing-a-ma-bob, you get a thing-a-ma-bob.  If you see a new whats-it’s that promises to take you to the next level you save up and order a whats-it’s.  You check out whats-you-ma-call-its that others have and compare detailed specs of each new piece of gear to hit the market.  You become a gear whore… and you’re proud of it.  In fact you show off your gear and tell everyone how it makes life much better…  and you are happy.
  3. Attaining Zen phase – If you stick with the activity long enough eventually you know what works for you.  Your gear is not so shinny anymore but it performs well and meets your personal needs. You’ve pared down your gear to the minimum you feel comfortable with.  You use all your equipment regularly and your favorite piece of gear is one of your oldest items.  You have repaired much of your gear yourself.  New guys (those wide eyed newbies entering phase 2) look at you and can’t imagine how you do without the newest most talked about piece of gear they just bought.  You are old school.  You are more interested in experiences than buying your way into the club… and you are at peace.

I have a friend who explores very remote locations in her Forester.  That’s right, a stock Subaru with nothing more than a good set of all terrains.  She sleeps in the back, keeps her creature comforts to a minimum and only brings along the essential gear.  Most of her equipment comes from the backpacking world so it is light and compact.  She eats granola trail mix, energy bars and PB&J sandwiches.  She is comfortable with her style and she has seen more remote North West destinations than just about anyone else I know.

There is nothing wrong with the gear whore.  In fact it is that willingness to purchase new stuff that fuels the overlanding community.   Gear purchases encourage manufactures to sponsor rallies and shows that bring us all together.  Profitable vendors contribute to the fight for open access to places less known for all of us to explore more.

Whatever phase you’re in…  don’t let anyone mislead you into feeling that you must have a truck with lockers, 33″ tires, armor or top-of-the-line suspension or other cool stuff before you can start enjoying off-road adventures.  They will of course allow you to go to more difficult locations but  all it takes to start is imagination and a desire to explore. The key to great off-road adventures is that you grab a map, pick a destination and explore the road less traveled.  Over time you will find your own way and discover what gear is right for you.

NW Overland Rally 2015

The NW Overland Rally (NWOR) is currently being crushed under the weight of its own success, but don’t let that stop you.

It’s hot. Death Valley, hurts to inhale, no shade to be found, zombie face  melting hot. At one point the temp read 106 Fahrenheit.  In the center of a hay field, hundreds of people are shoehorned into 20×20 sqft spaces to park their truck, erect their campsites, arrange their adventure trail and  attempt to manufacture shade. I’ve had more privacy camping in the Walmart parking lot.  The upper section has become tent city where all the dual sport guys are lined up tent to tent with motorcycles stacked one after another.

The NWOR’s premire sponsor is Touratech, a big deal in the dual sport motorcycle world and their marketing budget can be seen in the professionalism of the two wheeled events. There is an offroad course where PSS Off Road provides hands-on beginner and advanced rider training (for a fee).  Professional led moto sessions addressing everything from bike field repair to readiness inspections.

The four wheeled side of the house is supported by volunteers (we helped with the advanced recovery session).  Outstanding support from the volunteers but hardly comparable to guys who are getting paid to be there and plan out the details.  For example: when 70ish trucks showed up for a morning scenic drive everyone did their best to divide up the convoy into more manageable groups but that is a lot of trucks at once.

The intermediate drive didn’t fair much better.  It took several hours too long when the large group had to be held back while a dozen trucks at a time were lead up and back down the last half mile.

The campfire MC worked the crowd like an MTV spring break party at Fort Lauderdale. Not the campfire experience we were looking for.

There were numerous interesting sessions packed into two days.  In fact with all the overlap of sessions, it felt like there was too much and no way to see all the sessions I was interested in because of the overlap.

If you came to wheel or if you came to spread out… you were sorely disappointed. But that is not what NWOR is really all about.

The overlanding world is filled with amazing, friendly, warm, welcoming people and this is why you come to NWOR! NWOR is about community and making connections with those who share a love for exploring the road less traveled.  We reunited with a few old friends we’d not seen in years.  We met several new folks who like us are always looking to see what is around the next bend in the road or over a distant mountain pass.  We shared stories.  We talked travels and exchanged ideas.

We did manage to sneak off on our own to get a little wheeling in.  We escaped the heat, temporarily, down at the river and enjoyed dining out in Levenworth’s air conditioned restaurants.

In just five years NWOR has gone from dozens of attendees to hundreds.  To say the least they are going through some growing pains and like a case of teenage acne they will get past it.  The event will continue to attract fabulous people who want to spend a long weekend sharing their stories with others who love the road and can’t wait to explore areas unknown.

We’re already planning to go back next year!

Driving While Blind – The Off-Road Spotter

Driving off-road can feel like you have your head on a swivel.  You need to see what’s in front of you, behind you and on both sides.  And when things get really though you wish you had an extra set of eyes.  It’s at this point a trail spotter becomes your best friend.

The job of a spotter is to driver the truck “remotely” through the obstacle.  By seeing what the driver cannot, the spotter instructs the driver which way to turn, how fast to go and when to stop in order to get the truck past a difficult obstacle in the trail.

In order to perform this feat, driver and spotter have to trust each other.  The driver will need to follow the instructions to a tee and the spotter needs to know how the truck will behave as she has the driver put a wheel on a rock or come down a ledge step.

Before the driver and spotter get to the driving part, they need to talk and agree on the line and signals as well as honestly discuss driving skills and concerns.  This is no time for ego.

When it comes to spotting signals, bigger is better.  It is incredibly hard to tell what the spotter is trying to communicate if they are simply pointing a finger.  The spotter needs to get into it.   She needs to use big gestures when directing the driver and hand signals should be accompanied with loud vocal commands.

Start with the basics:

  • Come Forward – The driver should drive forward with the wheels as they are.
  • Turn Driver – The driver should turn the wheel to their left.  The spotter’s left and the drivers left are different so get into the habit of using “driver”.
  • Turn Passenger -The driver should turn the wheel to their right.  The spotter’s right and the drivers right are different so get into the habit of using “passenger”.
  • Stop – The driver should stop the truck and maintain control.  “Wow”  can sound a lot like “go” so avoid it and stay away from ambiguous phases like “hold up”, “that’s good” or “wait”.  Let the driver know to “STOP”.
  • Backup – Drive the truck in reverse with the wheels as they are.

There is a common problem that can creep up, when there are several bystanders around the truck as it is being spotted.  A number of folks may start to give suggestions to the driver, distracting her with “turn left, your other left”, “watch out for the rock”, or a dozen of other misguided directions.  They are trying to help but it only makes things worse.  This is where the spotter needs to step in, take control and tell everyone to stop helping.  There can be only one spotter.

ADVANCED: The spotter may ask another observer to step in and perform one function for her.  That function is to yell “STOP”.  This is helpful when the spotter is backing the driver up or trying to have the driver make very minor adjustments.  The observer does not provide any directions or advise to the driver, she only shouts out the command “stop” based on what the spotter requested.  The spotter will relay the “stop” voice command with a stop hand signal when she hears the observer shout “stop”.

A good spotter can help a driver get through obstacles  unscathed  that they never could have driven on their own.  Like any valuable skill,  spotting takes practice in order for you to guide the blind down the trail.