Overland Expo: A Different Point of View

I enjoyed Overland Expo PNW so much that when I had the opportunity to actually teach some classes and be on some roundtable discussions at Overland Expo Mountain West, I jumped on it. I’d already planned to explore Colorado with Jenn (that exploration didn’t really happen, but anyway) so it was a good reason to hang around the state a bit and see what it has to offer.

The drive there on Thursday was tricky. Not only did I set a new “high score” of 11,600 feet over a mountain pass, it was raining with a thunderstorm while I did it. Jenn stopped to wait it out, but I pressed on and made it safely to The Ranch in Loveland. After numerous delays for traffic, weather, or both, I had just enough time to check in, get parked, and attend the presenters’ meeting. I was one of the lucky few to win a gift pack of a t-shirt, hat, sticker, and patch. Yay me. Jenn arrived after the meeting (she’d go to hers the following morning), and I spent the rest of the night avoiding work on my Moto-Glamping presentation at 9:00 am the next day. Instead I went to the nightly happy hour, where I met a few people and enjoyed my nightly free drink. There’s such a thing as overpreparing. I felt prepared enough.

Friday was pretty much taken over by presentations, either my own or panel discussions I’d been yoinked onto. Moto-Glamping was first, and somewhere between 10-15 people showed up. That’s pretty good for the first time slot on Friday, before most people have arrived. The talk itself took less time than I expected, and I answered questions for the rest of it. The only technology problem I had was not figuring out how to turn the large monitor on for my Powerpoint presentation, which a helpful IT type fixed for me before I began.

At 1:00 pm Jenn did her presentation on why nomad life and ADHD are such a great fit together. Then I immediately slid into “Vanlife: More Than Just a Hashtag,” my first panel discussion. The good news was I didn’t have to do any preparation, just answer questions from the moderator and audience about my experiences. That was fun.

Finally, at 4:00 pm, was the discussion that brought me into this behind-the-scenes world in the first place: “What’s It Really Like To Live Full-Time On the Road?” I had a co-presenter, Debbie, who was far more experienced at both life on the road and doing these presentations and discussions than I was, so I was happy to let her take the lead at times. Just like in Oregon, this discussion was popular and went well. I got to do a little bit of wandering around in between all these presentations, but not much. There wasn’t as much time for schmoozing as when I paid to go, but that was okay.

Driving Things

With most of my work out of the way, I got to have a little fun on Saturday. We started by taking Jenn to the Ride With Us area, where she got to try riding a motorcycle for the first time ever. I’ve written about this program extensively for other websites, but basically, rather than a formal rider training course over multiple days, this program gets you geared up, your butt on a bike, and the experience of what it’s like to ride a motorcycle in under an hour. I’ll be writing about Jenn’s experience for ADVRider, so I’ll save the details for that. Since Jenn isn’t trained in the ways of the manual transmission, she had a bit of trouble figuring out how the clutch works as well as the different experience of a bike all at the same time. She did get half a clean lap around the equestrian track, before passing a second motorcycle milestone: her first crash.

She did drop the bike in the end, but walked away laughing and happy about her experience, which is the entire point of Ride With Us. They want to get you hooked, then get you into the proper MSF course to actually learn to ride.

Right next to Ride With Us was the Ram pickup truck off-road track. They invited anyone to take a lap and see what a Ram could do off-road. Despite my KLR experience, I’d never done any four-wheeled off-roading before, so I gave it a try. It was fun! My co-driver explained all the bells and whistles of Ram’s off-road systems as we went over several obstacles. Mostly, though, we ended up talking about travel in general, since it turns out we’re both full-time travelers. And if I just happen to win the $100,000 prize toward a new Fiat-Chrysler product, I’m buying a Promaster for my next home on wheels.

My Ram co-driver told me I should also go try the Jeep off-road course behind Kenda’s booth. I’d never tried off-roading a Jeep before, despite learning to drive in my mom’s Cherokee and briefly owning a Comanche pickup before the engine died. I knew the Kenda brand from the cheap bicycle tires I used to use as a kid — not exactly a confidence inspiring start. Kenda knows that, and has made a great effort to get taken seriously in the off-road tire scene. This driving course was part of it. First they sent me out in a Jeep equipped with their all-terrain tire. It worked quite well. Then they switched me to another one with the General Grabber ATX, one of the benchmarks of the category. It also did well, but it slipped slightly in places where the Kenda didn’t. Of course, that’s exactly what Kenda wanted me to experience, but that couldn’t have happened if the Kenda tires weren’t capable, and they are. Good times. Between the Ram and the Jeep experiences, I could see myself taking up off-roading on four wheels if I settle down someday and am ready to give it up on motorcycles.

My only commitment Saturday was my Starlink presentation at 2:00 pm. It was well attended. I brought all my equipment, plus my Jackery 240, and set it up right in front of everyone to show just how easy it is. They got to watch the dish aim itself (the coolest part, in my opinion). I’d changed my WiFi name and password beforehand to allow people to try it out for themselves. Some did, running speed tests and getting results within the range I told them to expect. Although I’d prepared a formal talk, it turned into more of a show and tell where people asked lots of questions. I was fine with that, and all of the information I wanted to convey got out there anyway. Even better, a few audience members already use Starlink, and were able to answer a few questions I didn’t know about, such as international use restrictions. It went well. I even managed to get it packed up and put away just before the sky opened up.

Riding Things

Sunday morning was for me. A few motorcycle demo fleets were there, so I took the opportunity to try a couple out. While Yamaha was all about the Tenere 700 and Super Tenere 1200, they had a single little bitty XT250 in the fleet. This is basically a street legal dirt bike. It’s also what Jenn rode (and crashed) the previous day. I’ve often said that if I was buying a bike specifically to take on the road with me, a little dual sport like this would be perfect. So I decided to try it out.

It was fun! Being only a 250, it’s a bike that you can wail on the throttle and feel like you’re going super fact without actually exceeding the speed limit. It’s slower than my KLR, of course, but not by as much as I expected. Even better, Yamaha’s demo ride team took us on a dirt trail as well as paved roads so we could get the full experience. It was just as capable as I’d hoped on the loose stuff. My only issue was that the bike is physically too small for my six-foot tall frame. This means not only is it even less capable than my KLR on fast paved roads, it’s also not as good for me off-road because I don’t fit. So while I still think the XT250 is a great bike, it’s not the right bike for me.

Then I went from one extreme to the other. I’d wanted to try the Ducati Multistrada, since that’s Shadetree Surgeon’s daily rider, but I got distracted by the DesertX, Ducati’s first purpose-built adventure bike. I had to try it out.

Despite what Ducati will tell you, the DesertX is not an adventure bike. It is a fully dirt capable sport bike. It was perfectly fine in the dirt parking lot (unlike Yamaha, they didn’t take us on a dirt track), but even on big block knobby tires, this bike was an absolute blast on pavement. The demo ride team took us through a whole bunch of empty roundabouts in an industrial area — empty on a Sunday morning — and the pace was brisk, to say the least. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much while riding a motorcycle. Suddenly, the DesertX has become my dream bike to take along in the trailer. It’s also way more bike than I need, with a more expensive price tag than everything I’ve invested in both the van and the trailer. Plus, I’d be so tempted to see what it can do that I’d probably get myself arrested in the process.

I rounded out my motorcycle experience by going to Sam Manicom‘s talk about writing travel articles for magazines. I’m already an accomplished online author, but there’s always been something about print that makes it feel so much more real. While anyone can throw out a website and publish themselves (that’s exactly what this site it), you have to go through a serious vetting process to get published in print. Succeeding and getting published is a sign that you’ve “made it” above and beyond getting picked up by even a prestigious website like ADVRider or RideApart, both of whom I’ve written for. He’s also written several books about his world travels. I have a few book ideas in mind, if only I can force myself to sit down and actually write them.

A lot of his advice was familiar to me, because it’s what I already do. His advice on getting into magazines made a great deal of sense and was quite helpful. I introduced myself to him after his talk, gave him my card, and bought one of his books. Connections are good, and I look forward to reading his example of a successfully published travel book.

My final public appearance was for the panel discussion “Making It Work: Earning a Living While Overlanding.” Azure, who coordinates all of the presenters and presentations, also moderated this one. I became fast friends with the other people on the panel as well. (One of them is from Massachusetts like me, and it was nice to hear towns like Worcester and Peabody pronounced properly for once.) It was full of great questions and information. Getting online from the road came up, and I got to recycle a little bit of my Starlink info without derailing the rest of the discussion.

And that was it. While I was allowed to camp onsite through Monday morning, I hitched up the trailer (with the help of some friendly passers-by) and made my way toward Chatfield State Park. Here I’d meet up with Honey Badger again, and get some work done on the van. More on that next time.

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