When I first started upgrading my 2017 JKU Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, my coworkers and friends just seemed to understand why I wanted to upgrade my Jeep’s suspension with a 3-inch lift kit, 35-inch mud-terrain tires, re-gearing the drive-train to a 4.88 gear ratio, a stronger Dana 144 front axle, and new front and back bumpers. I mean…it’s just what guys with Jeeps do. No need to explain to this group of civil engineering and construction specialists that shorter gearing is needed for large tires and aids in rock crawling by increasing low-end torque. They were probably wondering why I hadn’t done all that work before.
That understanding seemed to break down pretty quickly the day I showed up at work with a roof-top tent on my Jeep. They collectively asked, “What is that on your Jeep?” When I responded that it’s a roof-top tent so that I can get into 4WD touring and overlanding, they just stared back at me asking, “Overlanding? What on earth is overlanding?”
What on Earth Is Overlanding?
Overlanding is becoming really popular these days with adventure enthusiasts. Just as I explained to my coworkers, overlanding combines off-roading and backcountry camping. An overlander might head out into the backcountry for a long weekend or long distances, extending beyond international borders. Everything needed to sustain oneself for several days is carried either in or on your vehicle. It’s like backpacking with your vehicle. You can overland in a car, truck, SUV, motorcycle, mountain bike, or whatever.
According to Overland Journal, “Overlanding describes self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal. Typically, but not exclusively, accommodated by mechanized off-highway capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and often spanning international boundaries. While expedition is defined as a journey with a purpose, overlanding sees the journey as the purpose.”
Historically, “overlanding” is an Australian term for the “droving” of livestock over long distances to take it to market far from grazing grounds. Droving stock to market—usually on foot and often with the aid of dogs—has a very long history in the Old World. There has been droving since people in cities found it necessary to source food from distant supplies.
Overlanding was originally done with horses but eventually turned to mechanized vehicles. The term was later used by workers who traveled long distances to build routes across the Australian Outback and has since turned into its own class of outdoor recreation. Overlanding eventually became all about the adventure itself, getting into the backcountry, exploring new places, and relying solely on your own preparation and resources.
My Connection to Overlanding
So, what is my connection to overlanding? My connection to overlanding is the adventure of going on long journeys to explore parts unknown—the Alaskan wilderness, journeys to the Arctic, driving to the tip of Baja California, and an overlanding expedition in Africa. But my connection to overlanding goes beyond exploration. I like to combine overlanding with my favorite endurance adventures like mountain biking, hiking/backpacking, or trail running for a full off-the-beaten-path adventure. You can go for overlanding for just a weekend, a few months, or more than a year. I enjoy skipping out on work on Friday at 3 pm, packing the Jeep with overland gear, driving off to the backcountry to hike, trail run, or mountain bike, and returning late Sunday, tired, happy, and fully recharged.
I became familiar with backcountry travel during my childhood. Some of my earliest memories include riding shotgun in my dad’s 1962 Chevy Impala while crisscrossing the U.S. on family summer trips to Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons. These family camping trips gave me a passion for wilderness exploration in remote destinations.
When I later joined the Boy Scouts (Troop 19, Prairielands Council, Boy Scouts of America, Danville, IL), we soon went on a long Memorial Day weekend road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains for some camping and hiking. During that trip, I heard stories of one of my troop’s camping trips on the Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN Highway) several years before. I just thought…someday, I will drive up the ALCAN Highway to the Arctic, just like they did. I loved the idea of driving up the remote highway to explore the rough, challenging drive, backcountry camping, in parts unknown, in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness.
Incidentally, one of the boys who went on the historic Troop 19 ALCAN Highway trip, Joe Tanner, later became a Mechanical Engineer and a U.S. Navy pilot. In 1992, Joe was accepted in the 1992 NASA Group 14 as an Astronaut. He went in space 4 times, including more than 50 hours of walking in space. His missions included the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station. He is an Eagle Scout, too. Joe’s twin brother, David (Eagle Scout), who was also on the ALCAN trip, told me several years ago that Joe was able to use the skills he learned as a Boy Scout in his U.S. Navy and NASA survival training for cases where he might be shot down or stranded in a remote location.
After graduate school, I worked as a geologist at a well-known geotechnical engineering firm in Seattle. In April 1993, I had an assignment that involved geological explorations for a feasibility study involving a marine loading facility in Baja California Sur, Mexico. A local salt mining company was considering building this facility to support its expanding salt production in the area. The largest salt-making facility on the planet is near Guerrero Negro on the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It produces about 9 million metric tons of salt each year.
A group of us rented vehicles in San Diego, then drove 600 miles south to Punta Abreojos, a small fishing town in Baja California Sur, Mexico. It is located at the entrance to Laguna San Ignacio, a Biosphere Reserve frequently visited by pods of gray whales. We camped out on the beach as we drilled geotechnical borings into the ocean floor along the alignment of the proposed marine loading facility. I loved the opportunity to explore Baja and camp out on the beach during our month-long expedition.
My dreams of epic adventures during childhood continue to inspire me to make investments in my Jeep and take these great trips. I find it amazing how powerful those things that inspire us during childhood can influence the things we do later in life. My memories of my childhood inspirations remind me of what fuels my fire most—an adventurous life that inspires me to create and share, striving to capture the beauty of the natural world.
If you also grew up dreaming about epic adventures, such as remote 4WD overlanding expeditions to high-elevation hikes and trail runs, mountain bike tours, and backpacking trips, perhaps you are reminded of your own childhood inspirations and want to get out there and experience some great overlanding adventures. I encourage you to give overlanding a try and head out into the backcountry. Perhaps you will want to take your kids on an epic overland adventure. You never know where those childhood inspirations are going to lead!
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