Overland Expo East 2018: Mud. Adventure.
Some folks say weathering the elements is fun, while others say it’s a challenge. When traveling to unfamiliar destinations via plane, motorcycle or especially in a 4x4, you should be prepared for anything, right? However, even the most prepared travelers can be caught off-guard sometimes.
Overland Expo East just finished up at North Carolina’s Oskar Blues REEB Ranch. Reeb Ranch is a beautiful tree-lined property that traditionally boasts green grassy fields and heavenly hillsides. This year it was that plus mud. Lots and lots of mud.
Autumn can present precarious weather in North Carolina, and Overland Expo East has historically had its fair share of it. This year was no exception. The Friday forecast called for .25” of precipitation, but in actuality, it must have rained four times that. Cold torrential rain plummeted from dark and stormy skies. Rivers formed at show-goers’ feet and ponds rose up from nowhere. The local Walmart had a run on mud boots; people who brought their dogs ended up with mud-covered pooches—dirty paws aplenty.
Expo East vendors were fighting Mother Nature’s fury by offering up smiles, friendly conversation and plenty of hand warmers and heaters for attendees. Don Grissett, from Expedition Joe Coffee Company, was handing out hot tasters of his Rubicon and Wrangler coffee blends. This was the brand’s first Overland Expo East, and despite the rainy and cold weather, it was reported they had a great experience.
Saturday and Sunday offered hope in the form of bluebird skies, but the mud that formed Friday never went away. The sludge-like consistency lapped at people's ankles and ate up sandals. Dozens of folks ran to nearby retailers to buy knee-high boots as their hiking boots and running shoes screamed, “I’ve had enough!” It wasn’t just people and their dogs having problems in the mud. There were scads of stuck vehicles, even some with 4WD and mud-terrain tires. Getting around was a challenge.
Although the weather was miserable and folks tried their best to camp, walk and navigate through the muck—it was still a great show. Vendors did their best to keep products dry and clean. Their booths strewn with straw for people to stand on, they happily answered any question that was asked. A good smattering of East Coast companies, along with others from around the world, peddled their wares at the show.
Overland Expo East saw an interesting mix of products. Some were long-standing favorites, some were new and some were cross-overs from other markets (such as the hunting, kayaking or hiking industries). One such cross-over is from North Carolina’s Watershed Drybags. Since its inception in 1995, Watershed has developed, manufactured and sold waterproof bags in the U.S. Originally used by kayakers, fisherman, raft guides and hunters, Watershed has since then developed military-specific bags for every branch of Special Operations, and is now branching into the overlanding market. Their products are durable (as seen in the step and squish test of their Ocoee bag), well-designed and have a lifetime warranty. Prices vary.
Hailing from the small city of Anderson, South Carolina, Kinsmen Hardware recently launched their shower room. Also made in the U.S., this outdoor shower enclosure boasts a setup time of 25 seconds, is made of durable materials and is a cinch to put away. This is the second major showing for this product. Material is sourced and sewn by Blue Ridge Overland Gear, and the unit is priced at $399. Roof rack mounting brackets are sold separately if you want to attach it that way.
Kovea, a prominent outdoor company in Korea, showcased several products at Expo East, including their All-In-One BBQ stove. The All-In-One boasts a semi-Dutch oven fry pan, pot support and stainless steel grill attachment for various cooking methods. Kovea, an established entity overseas, started in 1982 and is starting to branch out in the outdoor market in the U.S. This unit retails for $279.
A diverse selection of vehicles, from Land Cruisers and Land Rovers to Jeeps and just about everything in between tested their muddy wits by traversing through the off-road course. Dozers where there to help those who got completely stuck, whereas recovery straps and Maxtrax where there to assist those “less stuck.”
One driver who got our attention was Wyatt Evans, from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Wyatt drove around the course with an instructor in a 2008 Land Rover LR3. He went forward, backward, a bit sideways and occasionally up on three wheels. Determined and patient, he listened to his teacher. He learned the ins and outs of successfully driving through thick mud. And, when he finished the course, I learned he was just 16 years old. He’s been riding in off-road vehicles since he was a small child, but this was one of the few times he was actually driving off-road. Hats off to Wyatt for conquering a challenging course. While it took him some time, he completed it with a smile on his face.
In addition to vehicles driving through thick brown sludge, many were perfectly parked atop of it. From right-hand-drive Land Cruisers to fully-kitted out Sprinter vans, there was a plethora of rigs to see.
Some 4x4s even got a chance to shine with capability. Conquering several inches of mud, their combination of good tires, ground clearance and driver expertise made them successful mud mitigators.
The back part of Overland Expo East featured training and driving courses, recovery classes of all sorts and seasoned off-road professionals that were happy to answer questions you had. So many folks were happy to share their expertise, tell you a story and even listen to yours.
Last Day Wrap-Up
If you were one of the lucky or determined attendees and stayed through Sunday, you were treated to vendor breakfasts. This is a time where vendors can cook, serve, hand out or even brew up various early morning delights. Although I was running around taking photographs Sunday morning, I had a chance to stop in and grab an awesome egg and cheese biscuit.
If you find yourself in North Carolina or the East Coast next autumn, or are actively seeking out a late fall adventure, be sure to check out Overland Expo East. Even if the weather is foul, the vendors, products, classes, vehicles—and especially the people—will make up for it.