There is something that draws me to the Overland Expo West year after year. The three-day event, now held annually near Flagstaff, Arizona, is a showcase of the most rugged and extreme overland machines and gear in the world. But it’s more than a metallic meat market—it is a place to learn, watch and be inspired to literally step outside the box. This year’s event was met with torrential rain, but that did little to dampen the spirits of the thousands who attended the soiree.
While I am a sucker for anything mechanical (the expo features trucks, campers, ATVs and the like), the lion’s share of my attention goes to the motorcycle portions of the event. Like any red-blooded moto-maniac, the high-tech shiny things are, in the words of Shakespeare, “metal more attractive” to me. BMW GSs, KTM Adventures, Ducati Multistradas and smaller incarnations like Kawasaki KLRs and Honda XRs are everywhere around the Overland Expo compound. Most of them are adorned with every farkle you can imagine—ornate engine protection, cavernous fuel capacity and retina-frying lighting.
However, as much of a gearhead as I may be, it is the people that I invariably meet there that inspire my annual pilgrimage. Rugged, crusty, nomadic, wanderlusty folks flock to the expo like moths to the proverbial flame.
This year, I watched the expert riders from RawHyde Adventures instruct, demonstrate and cajole less-accomplished riders through the wet and muddy motorcycle course. It was, at the same time, inspiring and comical. The greenhorns were willing to throw their pride to the wind and their 500-pound adventure bikes into the mud in hopes of garnering the requisite skills to become true two-wheeled adventurers.
In the vendor area, I met a pair of motorcyclists who were in the midst of converting KTM Adventures to full electric for a grand trek from the northernmost region of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. The two men, along with two other riders of Expedition Electric, will cover more than 25,000 miles through 15 countries during the 8-month adventure.
Maybe even more intriguing than the higher-profile attendees, are the eclectic, slightly off-center individuals that migrate to the expo. These are the folks who live the adventure lifestyle in their own unique way. There are the sidecar pilots carrying everything including the kitchen sink and a goggled dog in their Urals. There are the women who throw caution, comfort and safety to the wind and ride single-cylinder motorcycles across China.
Then there are the hundreds of attendees whose next adventure will be their first. Perhaps these are the people who will be most profoundly affected by the Overland Expo. Maybe, just maybe, the event will be the impetus to abandon the sedan for a foray through the Sudan on two wheels. If nothing else, the Overland Expo is a great reminder that there is a big, wild and fascinating world out there for those who dare to explore.
The 2016 Overland Expo West will be held in May at the Mormon Lake Lodge in Flagstaff, Arizona. For more info, visit overlandexpo.com.