Just like you, I daydream and oogle over the overland images I see online. I lust over the trip reports I read on the websites and magazines such as Expedition Portal and Rovers North. I see Toyota Land Cruisers in Caracas, Land Rover Defenders is New Delhi, Mercedes Geländewagens in Guinea, Toyota Tacomas in the Tundra and just wait next to my phone for a phone call from Land Rover or Expedition Overland to call and tell me to “pack your bags!”
I will be waiting a long time for that to happen so in the meantime I get my overlanding fix by getting out and doing day trips. Living here in the San Francisco Bay Area I am very spoiled by the plethora of different terrains and variety of possible overlanding trips. I have the Sierra Nevada mountain range to my right, the Pacific Ocean on my left, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to my north, and deserts to my south. Each of these places could have a full feature article in National Geographic. Eventually I will do a full multi-day expedition style trip to each of these places, but right now I am having fun and gaining valuable experience from doing day trips with fellow overland friends and my wife and two-year old son.
I have a good core of Land Rover buddies who have a ton of overlanding and off-roading experience in which to learn from and gain important skills.
Recently I have been organizing and leading trips to some interesting places including forest service trails that contained a mix of dirt and snow, as well as a more popular trail in the Sierras called Corral Hollow. Each time I go on these trips, I learn something new. Sometimes it is just how to plan a trip more efficiently or how to use my navigation more effectively, while other times it is something monumental like the skills of proper winching or that in deep snow I should be in Land Rover’s famous “Rock Crawl Mode” rather than “Snow Mode”. This all seems like common sense to the veteran overlander, but all of this training for the real expedition is paying off. Training for a long overland journey is no different than a runner training for a marathon or spring training in baseball, it requires putting in the time to learn and fine tune your skills.
If you are like me and dream of going on an expedition to some far away land, do not just wait for that phone to ring with some guy in a khaki safari shirt on the other end telling you to pack your bags, but rather get out there now and just do a trip closer to home and explore what makes your own location interesting. You can have a great time exploring some of the many basic forest service roads. Do not let the weather deter your sense of exploration, you would be amazed how a rain storm can turn a basic dirt road into a challenge that makes you think and use some skills. When a simple terrain becomes affected by nature, it also changes your psyche and makes you think you are in more technical terra firma than you really are, and that certainly adds to the excitement. I recently led a trip into the Santa Cruz Mountains that started on simple paved roads, but severe flooding and rock slides, in conjunction with exploring a new place, turned that paved road into something more exciting. We eventually made it into the forest on some dirt roads, but the storm turned an otherwise beautiful Pacific coast forest into a scene from Jurassic Park. I think I even saw the ripples in the puddles.
One resource that has helped me tremendously has been joining the local Land Rover club. The knowledge and expertise that people have, not only on the trails, but on the vehicles themselves, is impressive to say the least. Having this network of fellow enthusiasts, and the knowledge they convey, has allowed me to get out and do these trips with confidence and amazing support. After all, the last place you want to be worrying about how you are going to fix something that breaks is when you are trying to navigate up a switch back on a sheer cliff with an inch gap between your tire and the edge.
My advice for people who are like me and dream of going on country-spanning overland adventures, but think that is the only way they are going to enjoy the adventure of overlanding are wrong. There are so many day trips that you can do to fulfill the desire to get out and have an overland adventure, as well as gain valuable experience for when those once-in-a-lifetime trips finally come into your horizon. So, if you have not already, go out and find an overland or off-road club, and if that does not exist in your area, then help to create a club. Also, look into clubs that are specific to the make and model of your overland rig or one that you dream of owning. It is important to build a network of like-minded friends who share in your passion for adventure and exploration, and in turn, this will build your confidence and give you a place to learn new things and where to hit the trails. If you do not have any of these options available in your area or you just want to go at it alone, my last important piece of advice would be to not be afraid to turn around. If you find yourself in front of an obstacle that you are not sure about or uncomfortable tacking, get out and walk it, and most importantly do not be afraid to call it quits and turn around or find another route. Never do anything outside of your skill level or potentially dangerous.
Overlanding does not always have to be about multi-day expedition style explorations that cut across various state or country lines, but it too can also be done in a day’s work.