The Fully Immersive Adventure of Overlanding
July 25th 2022
A wonderful couple recently visited our bike shop on a mission, hundreds of miles from their home state. After years in the classroom as professional teachers, Sherry and Andy were finally trading in everything–commuting, routines, stuff, etc.–for a fulfilling life on the road and beyond.
What’s beyond roads? Seeing things first-hand that most people never get a chance to experience, and collecting those stories of exploration and discovery that are the currency of folks with a thirst for adventure.Even as a reasonably adventurous guy (with shark bite scars to prove it), I had never heard of overlanding, which has elements of off-roading in it, but also essential differences. It turns out there’s a lot more to going off-road than being off the road. The difference between off-roaders and overlanders is a chasm of mindset difference.
Three related but different outdoor audiences.
Off-roaders or four-wheelers (if they’re not on dirt bikes or three wheelers) often treat off-road areas like an amusement park. This recreational area has the jumps for catching air, that one has the loose dirt for spinning rooster tails, that one has hairpin turns for quick reactions, and they’re all connected by a well-worn network of tire tracks and dusty dirt paths. Sound familiar?
The best vehicles for recreational off-roading are powerful, fast and lightweight–and often get carted to interesting locations on a trailer.
At the other extreme, recreational vehicles, or RVs, are more turtle than rabbit. Speed isn’t nearly as important as the power to transport everything that’s important to you. And RVs can vary from simple camper vans to large, luxury dwellings that have nothing to do with camping.In-between is overlanding. Like an off-road vehicle, this goes everywhere, roads or not. but it is also your home. Keep what’s most important, and ditch the rest. Part of the adventure, as with camping, is the increased connection with nature and the world around you when you disconnect from civilization.
Whatever vehicle you choose, everything you pack needs to make a case that it’s an essential item, worthy of addition to the small list of things that go everywhere you do, on roads or not. Do we really need this? Why?
The secondary transportation challenge.
Overlanders and RVers may have radically different approaches to comfort management, but they also share one logistical challenge. Once your home is set up in the ideal spot, perfectly level for the fridge if you’re in an RV or with your overlanding tent finally the way you like it . . . moving around is annoying, especially if your tent is set up atop your vehicle.
How do you go exploring easily, or even just make a quick resupply trip?
Often, the answer is a bicycle. It’s reasonably lightweight in most cases, and has tremendously versatile utility, from carrying groceries to exploring hiking trails.
Sadly, it’s also quite bulky, taking up nearly 15 square feet of an already packed vehicle that can’t spare that much. And you’ll probably have two of them for social reasons. What do do? Strap the bikes onto the outside of the vehicle to get road grit, rust, or get stolen?
This is why Sherry and Andy had come so far to visit Flatbike. They were already customizing their own overlanding vehicle–another trait common to overlanders–and wanted to experience first-hand how they could have the best of both worlds. They could have no-compromise off-road biking, yet put their bikes away in a tidy cubbyhole at the end of the day.Why did Andy need a FOX Performance 32 air fork on his bike? This was his first ride, on wet rainy steps, after unboxing on the porch!
Now THAT’S adventurous!
Sherry, meanwhile, did a really thoughtful write-up of their decision-making process for Overlander secondary transportation on their Nomadic Midlife website. Much of it can apply to RV requirements too, if you need to fit a rugged, full-sized mountain bike someplace like this…
Final thoughts about going off-road.
There are good reasons to convert some popular routes to increasingly hardened landscape–first paths, then dirt roads, gravel roads, and eventually pavement. There are also good reasons to leave other areas pristine and untouched, for generations after us to enjoy and gain inspiration from.
Our national park system was created by sports enthusiasts and outdoorsmen who valued the natural world enough to not only preserve it but also to devote money and other resources to its ongoing protection. That level of commitment doesn’t happen without a community of passionate adventure-seekers who go off the beaten path, identify the hidden gems around us, and make sure they last.
Today, true overlanders play a critical role in the responsible care and use of outdoor resources. They step out of a purchasing-focused, latest fashion/gizmo mindset and carefully immerse themselves in nature, while sharing the wonder of nature with others. As Sherry and Andy of Nomadic Midlife say, “Less stuff. More stories.”
What dreams of adventure do you have? What do you need for portable adventure?
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike.