The Overland Expo Experience

I started a chronological story of what happened at Overland Expo but found it was way too long when I was only halfway through it. So I’ll split it up into a bunch of smaller posts. We’ll start with the overall experience.

It was great! Although I don’t consider myself an overlander, there’s a huge overlap between overlanding and van life. Plus, dual-sport and adventure motorcycles are absolutely included, and I enjoy that as well. So while I’m not about to go jack up my rusty old van with an off-road suspension to go rock crawling, there was plenty of interest to me there. I had a great time, and it really took me the full three days to experience it all.

After work on Thursday, I packed up camp in Sisters, Oregon, and made the half-hour drive to Redmond. It literally took me longer to break camp than to drive to my next stop. They parked us in a grass field, in marked 20 by 20-foot campsites right next to each other. I had to unload the KLR, back my trailer in, detach, then back my van in next to it. It was fine. I had enough space to park the bike in front of the trailer and to use the back door of the trailer as a deck. Then I checked in and got my wristband for the weekend.

The show didn’t officially begin until Friday, so there wasn’t much to do except hang out at camp and check out all the other rigs pulling in. I folded and strung up my shade cloth between the van and trailer to give myself a small but shady area in between. I also took my Black Widow trailer hitch motorcycle carrier out of the trailer, put it in front of my van, and put a “for sale” sign on it. I figured this would be a target-rich environment for potential buyers, and I might finally get it out of my way.

From Friday on, when I wasn’t attending classes and presentations (more about that in another post), I wandered around the show, seeing what there is to see, and talking with some of the vendors showing off their goods. I had wonderful conversations with everyone. Most of them even had nothing to do with selling their products. For example, I had a nice chat with a guy at the SW Motech tent who spent time riding and racing in New England. He helped start the non-sportbike track days I’ve attended a few times, including last August on my KLR, and we know a lot of the same people. While I didn’t connect with anyone else from back east like this, there were a lot of great discussions.

I returned to camp regularly throughout the day to check on Lister and give him some outside time. He did extremely well. I put him on the shorter retractable leash that I usually use to walk him around, just to keep him from wandering into other camps. He absolutely loved the attention he got from passers-by. Road tripping with dogs is common, but cats aren’t nearly as common. I made a few new friends because they stopped to pet Lister. He’s a great ice breaker, which is especially wonderful because I am not.

Back to wandering the show… I checked out a couple of inflatable kayaks. They were far more rigid than I was expecting. I remember how the inflatable rubber raft I used to paddle around Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire used to flex when I paddled, wasting a great deal of energy. Not these kayaks. I took some info and will keep these in mind as an option after I try out a few more rental kayaks. I have space along the side wall of the trailer for a rigid kayak, but these might be an option as well. They’re certainly lighter than the one kayak I’ve rented so far.

I chatted with Inverters R Us about the problems I’ve been having with my Amazon power inverter shutting off midday while running Starlink. They answered my questions about their inverters, but they were far more interested in helping me troubleshoot the problem with the one I already have. They are 95% sure that what I’m experiencing is really a heat problem. The inverter has a built-in fan, but it shuts down in the middle of the day, which is the hottest time of day. It works fine in the morning and again in the evening and at night, so that might be all it is. I’ll work on temperature management and see what I can do with it. I really appreciate their time and zero-pressure approach. They could’ve easily sold me a replacement inverter of better quality than the one I have, but they were more interested in helping. It makes me that much more inclined to buy from them in the future.

I also talked with Rugged Radios about their “race radios,” as people have been calling them. They’re actually GMRS radios, built tough to handle the rigors of off-road travel. They have mounting kits that let you install their radios seamlessly into many popular off-road vehicles, like Jeeps, Toyotas, and Broncos. They also showed off a motorcycle setup that wasn’t actually for sale yet but was about to be. It uses a standard Bluetooth headset inside your helmet. It connects with your phone, GPS, and whatever else, just like a Sena or Cardo. You can use that for your everyday commute. But when you hit the trail, you plug in a handheld GMRS radio, with a push-to-talk switch on your handlebars. This way there’s no hassle with pairing Bluetooth intercoms together. It can be hard enough pairing intercoms of the same type, and when it comes to a mix of Sena and Cardo, it just doesn’t work. But radio is radio, and everyone can talk to everyone without that hassle. The range is also much better than Bluetooth, a mile or two on these smaller radios. It’s an excellent idea, perhaps the ultimate evolution of the bicycle mobile ham radio setups I wired together as a kid. As I’m seeing how popular GMRS is becoming, I’m glad I got my license for that radio service as well.

I had a great chat with Anna of Tread Lightly! I’m completely on board with their message and goals, and as with so many other tents, our conversation soon went to other topics — van life, my KLR, her KTM parked in the tent… I think ham radio even came up at some point.

There were many, many more conversations with vendors, none of whom were actively trying to sell me anything, only demonstrating their products. Yet those demonstrations did lead me to consider buying some in the future and to actually buy one at the show. More on that another time.

I also attended the Moto Party on Saturday night, an optional extra that I splurged for. It included dinner, drinks, and a raffle of fabulous prizes specifically for adventure motorcyclists. I didn’t win anything, but I enjoyed a few more conversations, the food, and the chance to sample a couple of local beers. More on the motorcycle aspect of Overland Expo in a future post.

There’s a lot more to tell. I attended a bunch of presentations and classes, where I met even more interesting people, including one or two who I’ve crossed paths with before. Once again, more on those in a future post. Nobody at Overland Expo bought my motorcycle carrier, but someone answered my ad on Facebook Marketplace, showed up Monday morning, took one look, and handed me cash for it. I helped him load it into his truck, and now I have a lot more room inside the trailer for the next stage of the “build.”

The overall Overland Expo experience was quite fun. It was definitely worth going. I’m not sure whether I’d spend the full price of a weekend pass with camping to do it regularly, but I’d certainly go back for more — especially if I had something of my own to bring to the table…

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