With a category 4 hurricane churning off the southern coast and the probability of 3 days of non stop rain, I did what anyone with any common sense would do. I loaded my truck, put on a pair of boots, and headed down to North Carolina for the 2015 Overland Expo East.
This year, Expo East was once again held at the Taylor Ranch right outside of Asheville in Fletcher, North Carolina and featured over 140 different classes and round table discussions along with over 50 different vendors.
After driving through the rain for 7 hours I finally arrived in camp and I could already tell it was going to be a long week. It had already been raining for the past 36 hours and the the soft fields were quickly being turned into mud pits by each passing vehicle. You know it’s muddy when you have to throw your JK on 35’s into low range to crawl up a hill.
The next morning I woke up, threw on my rain gear, put on a set of waterproof boots, and headed down towards the main classroom and vendor area. By now it had been raining for 48 hours but everyone was clearly still in high spirits (except the people who didn’t bring rain gear or boots). The Land Rover driving experience was in full swing (much to everyone’s surprise) and all of the instructors carried on with their classes without missing a beat.
My first stop this year was the BFGoodrich off-road driving course, because who can pass up the chance to drive a right hand drive Defender 110 with a 300 TDI. I may make a Land Rover joke or two, but I’m a sucker like anyone else for a 110. The course gave me the opportunity to try out BFG’s new All Terrain KO2 tire and during my short driving experience they performed flawlessly. I tried to get some wheel time behind the newer rovers, but Land Rover turned me away because their trucks were having difficulties on their own course from all the rain, go figure.
Next I stopped by “Packing a Go Bag” with Mark Farage. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read his series, you can find it here. If you haven’t had the opportunity to sit in on any of Mark’s classes, all I’m going to say is there is a reason they’re always packed. Not only is his presentation and knowledge top notch, but he brings a practical perspective to the classroom and he brings plenty of equipment for you to get a true hands on experience.
I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out a few of the recovery classes, talking to vendors, catching up with old friends, and meeting plenty of new ones. One of the great things about events such as Expo, is that you get the opportunity to meet so many people that share the same passion for “Overlanding” as yourself. Whether they’re just starting to do their research or they’ve been living out of a camper for the past 20 years, everyone is always willing to share their story and take the time to talk to you. I always like to tell people that I’ve yet to find someone I couldn’t get along with in the community and so far it’s proven to be mostly true.
Finally I made it back to camp and fired up the buddy heater to warm up and dry out my OzTent. Since I had cell service on site I had been following the current weather patterns and the forecasters were calling for up to 10″ of rain and high winds. At this point I sat down with the rest of the team and we started hashing out our options. As we were doing this, we watched numerous vehicles struggle and fail to make it up a muddy incline, while numerous attendees around us started to pack up their gear and head home.
Pretty much how everyone felt after 48 hours of rain.
After some intense discussion, we narrowed it down to two options, we could stay
and build Noah’s Ark, or we could leave and get a hotel. Now I know you’re yelling in your best Tom Hanks impression: “GET A HOTEL? THIS IS OVERLANDING, THERE’RE NO HOTEL’S IN OVERLANDING!” Well all I have to say is “There’s no crying in baseball” is probably the best scene from A League of Their Own, and yes there are hotel’s in Overlanding just ask Scott Brady.
Fast forward 2 hours and we’re dropping off our trucks at the valet at the Omni Grove Park Inn thanks to our own Jason Grogg. So why did we bail? Because the staff at the Omni gave us a bottle of champagne and a cheese board. Seriously though, we took off because we wanted to avoid the inevitable crap shoot that would come from the unavoidable exodus from the event. We knew Moses wouldn’t be showing up to perform recovery operations, and the roads had deteriorated to a point that I didn’t know if I was at a Overlanding event or a mud bog.
So we spent the night in Asheville, had a great dinner, sat by a warm fire, enjoyed some bourbon, and smoked some fine cigars. The only reason I wouldn’t consider this “Overlanding” is because we didn’t have a Snow Peak mug, and our flatware wasn’t titanium.
The next morning we headed back to the event where the staff were now turning vehicles away. The ground had become so saturated that the Darien Gap started to look like a better place to host next year’s Expo. Rather than argue with the staff about getting back on site, I used the opportunity to go make a long overdue visit and see some of my family in the Franklin area.
Later that afternoon I linked up with the team and we decided to go check out the new Sierra Nevada Brewery and Tap Room before our long drive home. The brewery didn’t seem to mind all of the rain because it had some of the most impressive rain water collection systems, rain gardens, and permeable paved surfaces that I had ever seen. There wasn’t even a puddle in the parking lot, a far cry from the conditions back at the ranch.
We ended the trip with a great dinner and a tasty beverage before the long haul home. Hopefully we’ll get some better weather next time around, see you all next year!