The hustle and bustle of our prior life is a fading memory, our only planned destination reached. The journey to arrive at our muddied Mecca took far more than a few tanks of fuel and a weekend off. Rather a complete change in lifestyle is what allowed us to make this a possibility. Beth, myself and our dog Alfredo stand damp, cold, and exhausted in the high desert of Arizona at Overland Expo West. We’ve made it. We are The Traveling Trio; we’re happy, but as overland amateurs, we’re unsure how we fit in.
In the beginning of our pilgrimage, we had no sense of direction. We cared not where our land yacht made port, we only wished for a richer life, thick with experience. Working long hours as over-educated and under-paid service industry employees was no longer justified; we craved more from our lives than barely staying afloat, seemingly existing only to pay bills. Surely no one lies dying groaning out with their last breath, “ I wish I had worked more.”
The Trio attended the first incarnation of Overland Expo East in our hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. We had no idea what overlanding was, but figured we should see what this whole craze was about. Only months prior we had purchased the truck and camper we now affectionately call home and figured this expo would be a great opportunity to glean insight and inspiration in preparing ourselves for the open road. Friday and Saturday events were missed due to a wedding, but we were able to attend Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately we had no idea that by this point most of the vendors would be packing up, exhausted from constant human contact, something we too would feel many months and miles later at Overland Expo West.
While we generally enjoyed Overland Expo East, we left with feelings of ambivalence in regards to if it had helped us. We had attended in high hopes of promoting ourselves and networking with fellow travelers but neither seemed accomplished. We wanted to be taken seriously but it’s hard when you show up on the last day and don’t have much to say or show – it was our own fault for placing high expectations on the event and not on ourselves. So on the eve of our departure in March of 2015 when Four Wheel Campers invited us to attend the Western expo, we were at first hesitant.
But hey, what was there to lose?
Arriving at Mormon Lake anxious for the begging to Overland Expo West, we pop the top alone in a field – we are some of the first to arrive. The wind carries dust from the dry lakebed and blankets everything with a fine layer, bringing with it a cold that chills us to the bone for the next two days until we wake to grey skies threatening precipitation of some sort. We agree it was a great idea to keep our muck boots as we head out into the festivities.
“What does that do?” Beth asks me.
“I have no idea, but we probably need it, don’t we?”
The first day of the actual event we are unsure of our footing among the half-million dollar vehicles and accessories carrying hefty price tags, many of which we have no inkling of their purpose. We question ourselves with doubt: should we have come, are we too poor, will people take us seriously? As a young couple in their late twenties on a shoestring budget and only a few months on the road under our belt, we are overwhelmed by all the fun toys and folks who had proven themselves capable of extended travel. Surely others must think we’re chasing a pipe dream, incapable of this lifestyle. Maybe we aren’t ready for this. Maybe we should have saved more, chosen a different route.
Thick dark mud clings to our boots, serving as metaphorical anchors to our mental worries as we shuffle down the wet aisles of the Expo. Our white dog has turned brown from his belly down and we stand in awe at all around us. We shake the muck from our boots and minds and trudge on, determined to learn, connect and stay positive.
The rain turns to snow, back to rain and eventually sleet as we network with fellow travelers, attentively listening to the stories of others, eager to learn. We spend a large portion of the event damp and cold, but are warmed by joy as our original feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt dissipate. Intending to be students only, we attend courses and surprisingly find ourselves encouraged to impart our own knowledge to our classmates and lecturers alike. We have been accepted here; this community desires new growth, something we unknowingly represent. Folks who have traveled the country and planet for seasons at a time listen intently with passion to our story of selling nearly all our possessions to follow our dreams of a nomadic lifestyle. We see the fire of inspiration spark in the eyes of folks as we give tours of our home on wheels, emphatically encouraging them, “Nothing is out of reach, you too can accomplish what you desire. Follow your dreams!”
Faces are placed to the social media accounts we have followed since before we owned our truck, Darlene and our camper, Grandpy. Handshakes and hugs are given to those who inspired our journey, who unknowingly made our story possible by believing in us and helped shape our path: Bryon of Explore Elements; Cris of American Adventurist; Frank of OutdoorX4; Ginamarie of TwoWheelsTwoFeet.com; Stan, Tom, Terry and Denny of Four Wheel Campers; and several members of TW200 Forum, Wander the West, and Expedition Portal. New friends are made who, unknown at the time, will continue to check in with us, desiring to see us succeed: Kyle, Terry, Lynn, Bill, Mike, Scot and Katy.
Interacting with those around us, we learn that even with only a few months of experience on the road, we are on similar levels and can easily relate to the adventurers who have been doing this for years. There is no “Selling All You Own and Living in Your Vehicle for Dummies” on sale at the local bookstore to get ahead with; we all have arrived at this point through hard work, experience, and by helping one another. I come to realize this is exactly what Overland Expo is about – not the flashy Earthroamers or seemingly bottomless-budgeted expeditions, but about the people behind the vehicles, behind the ideas. We are all in this together to help each other succeed. This is about community.
If we had perused the vendors as removed guests instead of becoming part of the conversation and event, we would have left feeling defeated, in need of a deeper budget. We would have felt inadequate for the type of adventures we wished to pursue and allowed fear to put our dreams off for another day telling ourselves, “let’s wait to go until we’re ready.”
Without genuine human interaction, Overland Expo would be a locker-room muscle flexing contest, each group attempting to usurp another, expedition vehicles growing larger and flashier until it would seemingly be cheaper to transport a brick-and-mortar house across national boundaries than fuel one of the behemoths for a week.
Instead we found Overland Expo West to be a very personable event with just the right amount of humanity and humility mixed with gadgets and gear. Attendants and attendees following their dreams, simultaneously supporting each other’s. No dirty sideways glances or laughs, no question too small or silly, curiosity encouraged. We are in this together. We are glad we chose to not only attend, but be a vital part.
Darlene’s diesel engine roars to life, the camper top is dropped and we are ready to hit the road. Reaching to shift into drive, my phone buzzes. Perkymog, a couple and their massive orange Unimog that’s larger than the apartment we left behind, is now following us on Instagram. This may seem trivial but it gives us a sense of validation – we have met some truly amazing and inspiring people and it seems we have left an impact on others as well. Happily we rumble South, destination unknown, adventures awaiting. Maybe we aren’t as amateur as we thought.