Expectations ran pretty high for this year’s OEW. There was our own stoke from last year, fueled by regular emails of photos, updates, videos by the overland expo organization. Jumping into the mix were the folks from Seaholm Watches with a scavenger hunt for the week before the expo. The classes looked interesting. The program for the kids seemed pretty exciting. More vendors and a bigger expo footprint at Ft Tuthill park this year.
Ft Tuthill, incidentally, was home to the 158th infantry (Arizona Bushmasters) starting in 1865. Over nearly a 150yrs of service the 158th infantry and Ft. Tuthill are now a County Park and Military Museum. A pretty interesting venue to hold the annual OEW event.
When I first rolled Gandalf into the Expo camp area on Thursday evening I was pretty shocked to see the number of folks who had already shown up. Much of the camping area was already full to capacity. We were directed to a recently opened area at the back of the property. It was dusty dry – like Tahoe, but usually not until August or September. Far from water, dumpsters, or toilets. But those are tertiary details. Found a good piece of territory to claim with enough space for Dan’s Excursion and eventually our other buddy Dave’s set up.
Dan had headed to the supermarket to pick up last supplies before pulling into the camp area. He arrived about 8:15, only to be told by security that he would not be granted permission to enter – because he had missed registration closing. Needless to say that after a 13hr driving day the unfortunate rent-a-guard received some pretty choice words. It seems this was the case at all of the entrances as attendees continued to stream in throughout the evening. Fortunately, I was able to come to the entrance and explain our way in before we ended up with a confrontation.
Tragedy averted, camp pitched, food and cold beers to soothe a long day on the road.
Breakfast turned out to be a big event for us on a daily basis. As the pattern developed so did the phrase ‘4 big guys on a high-protein diet’. It seemed that mountains of bacon, hash browns, and eggs were going to be the norm.
Dan had signed up for the overland experience. I planned to roam the expo and poach a class or two if I could. So with a quick check of the schedule, we mounted bikes (did I mention that our camp was at least a half-mile from the expo) and headed in.
On a side note – the line for attendees to enter the camp area had queued all the way back to the exit ramp on the interstate. Later word was that the time to enter had exceeded 2-hrs related to a lack of preparation/training of the volunteers. Check in at HQ wasn’t much better. We waited an hour in separate lines that were only 4-attendees deep.
So started the vendor by vendor tour through the exhibitors.
The scale and quality of exhibitors much greater than the previous year. I think this was enabled in part that the Ft Tuthill quad renovation had been completed since the previous OEW.
We dropped Bear and Rio off at the Kids adventure area to polish up on their map and compass skills. Dan went off to his first scheduled class.
I wandered around the central plaza and moto demo areas for a while armed with a cold-6 for good company.
Over the next day, a few great classes were attended. Electronic navigation, jacks, multimeter use, DIY vehicle build, all good. The boys attended overland explorer navigation, use of a metal detector, emergency communications, and bridge building.
After dropping the boys off at bridge building class in the afternoon at the Camel Trophy Skills area, I took a tour of the Showcase vehicles and the camp area to see what exotic and unusual rigs had shown up.
I’m pretty proud of Gandalf and its capability. The setup isn’t expensive or fancy, its simple and it works. The objective is about travel and getting ‘there’, right? (Wherever ‘there’ is) However, when comparing setups – Dan and I have no game. Zero. Zip. None. Nada. Our operation is bush-league at best. I saw a lot of investment in a lot of equipment. Some haven’t left pavement very often, others clearly have been used to take it to it. Regardless, there was what I consider some pretty amazing builds that were both show trucks from exhibitors as well as rigs by attendees.
Check out all of the cool rigs we found this year: The rigs of Overland Expo West 2018
Later in the afternoon, my good friend Dave showed up. He’s not much of an overland traveler (in the context of the OEW) and will probably be the only attendee ever to roll up in a challenger.
By the time we picked up the boys from building bridges under the tutelage of former Camel Trophy competitors, they were ready for a bit of downtime in camp. It gave the rest of us opportunity to start cooking and reorganize camp.
Heavy drinking commenced.
Day 2 at the expo promised to be pretty similar to Day 1. One of the nice things about Ft. Tuthill is that it’s a permanent home to a pretty rowdy pump track as well as a treetop adventure course. We roamed the expo for a while, checked out the vendors we didn’t get to talk to the first day. Took the boys on the pump track, which was pretty fun for us old guys too. Then set them loose on the ropes course.
That evening we rolled into Flagstaff proper to walk town with the boys and get some dinner that we didn’t have to cook and clean up.
Sunday morning seemed to come a little earlier. It was to be another departure day to our next adventure on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It didn’t take long to break camp and be on our way.
Pros and Con’s of this year’s OEW experience.
- Bigger Venue, Better layout.
- Food and Bev scenario a marked improvement.
- More exhibitors, who seemed to actually be excited to be there.
- Access to expertise – whether organized classes or being able to approach experts 1:1 I felt that the info sharing was pretty good.
- Kids programming – very very cool. I was happy to see how this aspect had grown.
- Entrance – need to be prepared for attendees to arrive 24hrs a day.
- Check-in – attend any industry trade show or convention and watch how they do it.
- Camping area – pretty clear that the camping attendees exceeded the expected numbers. Placement of toilets, water, trash, dust control, all opportunities for improvement.
- Evening events – not sure exactly where to go with this but it seems that Friday and Saturday should build to a main event each night. Maybe I’ve been to too many music festivals.
- Camaraderie building – another opportunity here that can be developed. Met more attendees on the trail after the expo than before or during the event. Guessing we’re not the only ones. How can we leverage social media, apps, and other communication channels for people who are using OEW as a springboard to their next adventure? Just a thought.
Overall, and I think Dan and I are in agreement, we didn’t leave with the same level of stoke that we did in 2017. The experience in some ways wasn’t as ‘grass-roots’ as it was the previous year. In other ways, the event needed to scale-up and it wasn’t well enough prepared. Bottom line, for OEW19 we’re both looking for something new and inspiring to draw us back.
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