Trail riding, Jeeping, cross country drives, taking the unbeaten path, off-roading. All of these interchangeable names for a favorite pastime for adventure. Overlanding has become the more commercial and universal term for this fun, adventure-seeking, extracurricular activity. What does “Overlanding” really mean though?
Off-roading came through necessity and innovation. Primarily, it came from the change between classical warfare and modern mechanized warfare starting in World War I. With new weapons such as tanks, trucks, and armored vehicles, came the need to move these vehicles over unimproved roads or cross country during war times. During a time of horse drawn carriages, trucks started to be the primary means of transportation. These new vehicles needed a drivetrain to help them cross the muddy, unpaved trails of the countryside. Hence, four wheel drive became the savior.
Mankind has always had a thirst for adventure. From the times of Babylonia and the journey across the Fertile Crescent, to the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, heading westward, to the astronauts who journeyed into the final frontier. As a species, there has always been a drive to journey into the unknown, and to see what’s around the next turn. Overlanding is this sense of adventure.
Overlanding is also one of the great conflicts we face in being human; Man vs. Nature. The driver is pitting a man-made machine against the earth and landscape. Driving over rugged roads, through creeks, up mountains; all to conquer nature and to quench the thirst of adventure. It’s a feeling of taking on something greater than yourself when you cross the terrain without getting stuck or breaking down. The rewards of your labor come from beautiful views, remote locations that the majority of people will never see, and the sense of self-accomplishment that only you and your vehicle could have done it. It’s a test of personal mettle to journey out and apply your abilities against the terrain.
Overlanding is also about the journey, not the destination. Planning an offroad trip isn’t making your destination the epitome of your trip or vacation. It's making the most out of the journey to your final destination. Otherwise, why not just take the interstates and highways to get to your campground or mountain resort.
In comparison to other off-roading ‘sports’ such as rock crawling and mudding, trail rides bring back a purity in the off-road world. If you go to a rock crawl event, it’s built around competition, where one person’s home built rig will go up the same path as another and try not to topple over. This changes the dynamic to Man vs. Nature vs. Man. I can see merit in people who love to do this. Turning something they love into the spirited competition is fun. The same goes for mudding. How far can I get my home built truck through the mud before getting stuck? All of these are just different flavors of a similar activity. But the purity of just you, your truck and the trail in front of you is almost zen like. It's peaceful, yet exhilarating (especially when you have a sheer drop off to one side of your vehicle).
The greatest thing about overlanding is that you don’t have to be an expert to go on an adventure. It’s all just knowing your limits, understanding trail ratings, and the capabilities of your machine. A gravel road off into the mountains along a logging trail could be a beautiful trip for a nice AWD Subaru, or just going up the paved mountain road that takes you through a pass that is out of your way on your trip. It’s all about feeding your sense of adventure and curiosity for the outdoors.
A youtube search result for overlanding usually brings up a very common persona on the scene of overlanding. That guy is the ‘geardo.’ A geardo is the dude who has every eccentric piece of camping equipment you could ever think of that he stuffs into his off road trailer and prepares to be stuck in the wilderness for weeks, even though he is just going on a day trip up in the mountains. It’s easy to get carried away with gadgets and things to make bearing the wilderness easier, especially if you're are planning on spending an overnight in the woods, but overlanding isn’t about that. The idea is to place yourself and your vehicle against the outdoors; there is no need to have a electric kettle that acts as a wi-fi hotspot, that cheapens your experience with nature. Plus, any offroad guru, hiker, or camper will tell you more gear equals one of the worst enemies to an adventurer: weight. To those who drive into the wilderness, weight can be one of, if not the most, dangerous thing about your trip. A roof rack is cool, but even loaded with 40lbs can increase your rollover chances greatly. It is all about being expeditionary, choosing the to go with only the necessities. A vehicle affords you more creature comforts than backpacking, but it also adds more needs, such as recovery equipment, spare fuel, repair kits, etc.
Another important note as an overlander is the relationship we share with nature. Stay the trail. As we drive through the mountains, or across the deserts, it’s important to not go off the trail unless necessary. To leave the wildlife alone, as it allows those that come after you to enjoy the same scenery and nature that you enjoyed. True overlanders are the biggest supporters of nature conservation, because that is really the point of the journey, to enjoy our beautiful countryside. Respect the rules of the trail.
There are great adventures awaiting those who thirst for them. You would be surprised, regardless where you live, at the off-roading adventures that are within the grasp of your fingertips. Even on your next road trip, when you see one of those interesting brown signs along the highway that says “point of interest.” Why not try to seek it out, because remember, it’s not always about the destination, it’s about the journey.