[Event Report] A three week swing of fall events: Appalachian Rendezvous, Expo East, VT Rally [Part 2a]

If you recall when I attended the Mid-Atlantic Overland Fest earlier this year I did so as a presenter.  I did one workshop on Photography 101 and co-faciliated a workshop on Visual Storytelling.  Originally that was my plan for Overland Expo East as well… sadly I missed the deadline while on the “No Highways Tour” and wasn’t able to present.  I figured a little bit of karma might go a long way if I showed my willingness to still help and I opted to volunteer.  The two tasks I as assigned were setup and teardown (before and after the event) as well as “on call” A/V tech-support (during the event).  Given my past as a roadie and my experiences as a presenter it made sense.

A damp welcome to the Taylor Ranch, the site of Overland Expo East 2015.

Picking up at the end of Part 1, after leaving Uwharrie Monday morning I arrived at the Taylor Ranch mid-afternoon willing and eager to help.  Only one drawback, I was one day too early and even as a volunteer there was no way for me to get onsite and camp for the night.  Forced to choose between setting up camp in the woods in the rain (again), sleeping in my Jeep for the night (been there done that too), or shacking up in a hotel I opted for the later (ssshhh, don’t tell).  While a hotel was not part of the plan the impending hurricane made me weigh my last chance at a warm shower and a dry bed.  Also, since I was between events, I didn’t feel like I was compromising my overlanding integrity too much.  Right?

Disclaimer: This is a rather introspective piece about my personal experiences, observations, and opinions about my time volunteering at Overland Expo East.  For a specific look at the expo event itself check out Part 2b.


Part 2a: Overland Expo East, 2015 – A personal tale of tent camping during a hurricane

I woke up Tuesday morning refreshed and ready to go.  My back was thankful for the night on an actual mattress compared to my failing cot.  It was also nice to get dressed standing up for once.  After stopping off at the hotel’s breakfast bar for a quick meal I hit the road and bounced back over to the ranch to begin my duties as a volunteer.

Prowling the camping area looking for some prime real estate for “Camp Taj-Ma-Humble”

Over the years I have been part of countless events in one capacity or another.  Whether I am staff, volunteer, or presenter I can’t just go to an event and passively attend any more.  It honestly weirds me out to not be a part of the event in some way shape or form.  I’ve found even when attending as media I’m still on the outside looking in.  Sure connections can be made, experiences can be had, and networks can be expanded, but I think I am able to get a whole different perspective on an event when I’m actually a part of it.  That and I just like helping.  Free admission doesn’t hurt either.

After a long wet day of hanging flagging, putting up signs, and setting up the “Overland Theater” I was ready for bed.  With my site selected I went about making camp and tucking in for the night.

This time I put the ez-up in place first.

There’s an old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight.”  Setting up a tent for a weekend of camping during a hurricane is like taking a butterknife to the O.K. Corral.  However, I survived the first night of wind and rain and was ready for another day of volunteering.

One of the few respites from the rain.

While setting up I was able to connect with the Overland Expo Staff and through the “shared hell” of setting the event up in the ceaseless rain provided by Joaquin we went from a small group of strangers to quick friends in just a few hours.

Was able to jump off site and get some new rain gear.
Not the best or the flashiest, but it did keep me dry…
… at least from the ankles up.

An interesting phrase emerged during the weekend which I think also sums up the overland expo experience for many people.  “There is no such thing has bad weather, only inappropriate gear.” I took this to heart because over the course of a week I found out my tent leaked, my rain jacket was no longer waterproof, nor were my boots.  It also brought to mind two often overlooked skills I think are essential for overlanding: adaptability and perseverance.

Adaptability | əˌdaptəˈbilitē | noun: the ability to adjust to new conditions

As overlanders the only thing that is for certain is uncertainty.   While weather can be forecasted it is rarely predicted with any measure of certainty.  With this in mind we need to be prepared for weather of all types.  Heavy rain is not ideal but it is something easily mitigated with the right gear.  In my case my arability shined by putting the ez-up, adding a second layer of protection over my tent.  I later adapted this even further by lowering it to better handle the wind-load generated by the hurricane off the coast of North Carolina.  Even as far inland as we were at the Expo the winds were tearing through the mountains with measurable force.

Perseverance | ,pərsəˈvi(ə)rəns | noun: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success

There were many times during the expo I wanted to quit.  I’ll be honest. I was wet, cold, hungry, and downright miserable.  Even after making a quick trip to a local sporting goods store for a cheap rain jacket and rain pants I was still battling wet feet.  I did my best to take care of them by changing socks and shoes as often as I could, drying them out whenever possible, and preemptively treating them with powder and spray to stem infection.  I actually did reasonably well up until the last three days of my time at expo.  With a classic case of “immersion foot” I was actually having trouble walking in my boots.

This wasn’t even the worst of the terrain.  Being “dry” at this point was a fleeting thought.

Luckily by the time tear down rolled around it had stopped raining, the ground was starting to dry out, and the boots I had set aside were in fact mostly, kinda-sorta, almost dry.  With a liberal amount of antiseptic cream, clean dry socks, and mostly dry boots I was able to finish my commitments as a volunteer with a new appreciation for my own ability to adapt and overcome adversity.  Something I am honestly proud of.

Even the rain couldn’t hold back a little late night socializing.

This also brings up an interesting observation. While lamenting the weekend as a whole, one of the expo staff coined the phrase, “Bad weather brings together good people.”  While it seemed like a fitting phrase to sum up our new found camaraderie, it also described the differences between those that stayed onsite to “tough it out” on the ranch and those that bailed to either spend the night in a hotel or bail completely and head home.

“Bad weather brings together good people.”
Good beer doesn’t hurt either.
I do my best to not judge people in a negative manner.  I am sure everyone single person who packed up and pulled out early had a good reason in their mind to do so.  I’m doing my best to not talk about them.  I am going to talk about the ones that stayed behind.  The ones that stayed and persevered are the ones I would gladly have on a future adventure.  I saw lots of people banded together in small groups sharing resources like tents, trailers, rigs, and other gear.  I also saw lots of ingenious people using tarps and ez-ups to supplement their tents just like I had done.

Slight modification to “Camp Taj-Ma-Humble”
Lower profile helped mitigate the wind from the storm.
Should have thought of that earlier.

That said, I have not, nor will I ever, claim my adaptability and perseverance are unique traits, but they are rare.  It was nice to stand on a rain soaked hill surrounded by a group of people toughing it out.  The sights I saw seemed to embody the very best of what we as an overlanding community are all about.  Not packing up and fleeing to a hotel just because of a little rain – or even a lot of rain.  Those of us that stayed behind earned the chance to tell their stories about camping in a hurricane that dumped ten inches of rain on a small ranch in western North Carolina.

The sky is always a little bit bluer after a bad storm.

While I’ve talked at length about my experiences at Overland Expo East, I haven’t talked much about the expo itself.  That’s where Part 2b comes into play.