[Event Report] A three week swing of fall events: Appalachian Rendezvous, Expo East, VT Overland Rally [Part 1]

On the morning of the last Thursday in September I loaded up my Jeep for a three-week-swing down and up the east coast.  I started off in central North Carolina at the American Adventurist Appalachian Rendezvous followed by the Overland Expo East show near Asheville.  I then headed north to New England for the Vermont Overland Rally.  Although both states were on this year’s “No Highways Tour” I had never been to Uwharrie National Forest which is where the Appalachian Rendezvous was going to happen and I had never made it to an Overland Expo.

Let’s get this show on the road.

Part one of this three part series will cover the Appalachian Rendezvous, in part two I’ll talk about my experiences at Overland Expo East, and lastly in part three I’ll reflect back on my time in Vermont at the rally.

Part 1: The Second Annual American Adventurist Appalachian Rendezvous

Early Thursday morning I awoke to the god awful sound of the alarm on my phone going off.  As someone who is not a morning person my first inclination was to hit the snooze button and rollover and go back to sleep.  Luckily the giddy schoolboy inside me snapped awake and reminded me it was time to start my fall trip!  I had spend much of the day before loading up the Jeep and prepping everything ahead of time.  All I needed to do was get dressed, load up the cooler, take the dog out to pee, and then hit the road.

I really need to upgrade my headlights.

My first stop was the local grocery store for some last minute provisions.  It was also the only place I was sure to find a 12-pack of Mountain Dew Throwback… and for those that know me they know how essential that stuff is since I cannot drink coffee.

F_OD for the weekend.
If you don’t get this caption look closer.

Once on the road I chased the sunrise down I-81 from PA, through slivers of MD and WV, and finally into VA.  My plan was to take I-81 south to I-64 and jump on the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Afton, Virginia.  It was a moment of Dejavu as I had been in that exact spot while on my “No Highways” trip just a few months prior.

One of the many tunnels along the winding BRP.

Being midday on a weekday the parkway was all but void of traffic.  Save for a work van, a pair of bikes, and one random tourist it seemed I was lucking out with most of the road to myself.  Once I was able to put some distance between me and the bikes I was leap-frogging, and get around the tourist who was probably a “leafer” I was able to settle into a groove.

Last time here I had a lot less stickers.

Having already been down this stretch of the parkway I wasn’t too worried about stopping at scenic overlooks.  I did stop once or twice for some poser shots as well as a few spots with good signal to check email and facebook (shameless, I know).

Shameless photo opp along the BRP. Also one of the few spots to get cell signal.

After logging about 120 miles on the parkway I got off east of Roanoke and headed southwest on 220 toward Greensboro.  I had gone through the edges of North Carolina many times but had never spent any time in the center part of the state.  I was excited to get to Uwharrie National Forest for the Appalachian Rendezvous.  What I was not excited about were the storm clouds looming on the horizon.

Once off the highways my level of anticipation was reaching a new level.  Either that or the caffeine in my system had reached critical mass. Regardless, when I saw the Uwharrie National Forest sign I knew I was in for a fun weekend with great people.

By the time I reached Uwharrie National Forest it was already starting to rain.

For those that don’t know American Adventurist is an online community of overland enthusiasts with a focus on North America and a focus on the adventures beyond just the vehicle side of overlanding.  The “Rendezvous” series of events (Mountain, Desert, and Appalachian) are more about action than talk.  Rather than big expensive admission fees a small amount of $40 is collected and then donated to the local community.  In this case the money goes to the community center.  With well over $4,000 raised each year it’s a nice “stimulus” shot for a community that could really use it.

Took my time, but I made it!

After getting checked in and paying my donation I took my Jeep up the hill to find a good camping spot.  Having been a member of the American Adventurist community since its inception back in 2013 I was eager to meet and hangout with many of the people I had been talking with online for the past few years.  With my campsite set up for the weekend I began the arduous task of socializing.  It’s a rough life, I know.

“Camp Humble” ~ My home for the next few days.

One of the many trailers to pull in, but one of the few that caught my eye.  I love the DIY approach.

Hands down the largest rig at the rendezvous.

I woke up the next morning in a leaky tent.  It seems after years of use and abuse my free Jeep tent I won at a raffle had finally given up the ghost.  I bounced a few ideas off my neighbors and opted to put my ez-up over my tent and use it as a secondary rain-fly.  With the upgrade complete I headed down the hill for the morning briefing.

After the upgrade “Camp Humble” was rebranded “Camp Taj-Ma-Humble” by my campsite neighbor.

There’s an old saying, “you can never teach an old dog a new trick.”  I tend to disagree.  I like to think of it as, “you can never teach an unwilling dog a new trick.”  As Plato said, “the beginning of wisdom is admitting you know nothing.”  With those thoughts in mind I decided to sit in on the “Off-road 101” workshop put on by the Uwharrie Off-Road Training Center Staff.  As you recall I mentioned how such classes are essential for overlanding.

The class covered many familiar topics for me, which was to be expected, but one thing I really liked was how the instructor began the class.  He talked about the goal of the class being the preservation of three key things.  First, the class would be about preserving the self.  Second, it would be about preserving the vehicle.  Lastly, it would be about preserving the environment.  As he summarized the content of the class under those three categories I knew this was something I was going to steal and use for my next driver briefing.

Once the common sense personal safety stuff was out of the way the instructor transitioned to a series of walk-arounds showing course members the differences between IFS and solid-axle rigs and priming everyone on things like approach angle, break-over angle, and departure angle.

The final part, and most interesting thing for me, was discussing environmental preservation.  With a background in environmental education, and having written my thesis on teaching environmental ethics, I was particularly curious as to how he was going to integrate this into the class.  The basic “long of the short” of it is that traction is key.  By maintaining traction you keep control of the vehicle.  By keeping control of the vehicle not only do you keep it safe, you keep yourself safe, and you prevent the vehicle from doing damage to the ground.  Spinning tires dig up ground and this loose ground promotes erosion.  How many of us have been down a trail that was once flat but after years of heavy use it has eroded into a mess of washouts?  For me the perfect example of this is the lower portion of Trail 11 at Rausch Creek.  I remember when it was flat and now it’s pretty gnarly.  While not a huge issue for a private off-road park imagine if that same thing happened to fire roads and campsites on public land?  So yes, environmental preservation is just as important as self preservation and vehicle preservation.  (For more ways to protect the environment and enjoy the outdoors responsibly check out Tread Lightly, Leave No Trace, Blue Ribbon Coalition, and the United Four Wheel Drive Association).

UORTC staff conducting a walk-around.

After the vehicle walk-arounds were complete we did a walking lap of the UORTC’s obstacle course.  Their o-course is comprised of a series of positive and negative terrain elements as well as an off-camber curve, log bridge, and log elements to test driver skills in a localized and controlled environment.  During the walk through the instructor explained the purpose of each element and tips to drive through them safely and effectively.

A walk through of the UORTC o-course.

 With the walk through complete class members took turns taking their rigs through the o-course practicing skills like brake-throttle modulation, obstacle approach, and even some ground navigation and spotting skills.

Coming down the hill practicing a controlled decent.

A few pointers on airing down and how to tackle rock obstacles.
Another nice trailer and rig combo that pulled in during our lunch break.

Does this even need a caption?

After a brief lunch the 101 class members convoyed up and headed over to some of the trails owned and maintained by the UORTC.  On the neighboring property the instructor lead the group around some easy trails.  Although rainy it was still a good way to spend an afternoon.  I opted to ride shot-gun with someone rather than drive solo.

Quick stop for a briefing on the property and plan for the afternoon.

Just a small ditch he says…


Or is it 4×3?

Now ain’t that just a pretty sight.

Yup, that’s a Lexus.

All smiles now that all four are on solid ground.

“Do Velociraptors like soy?”
“I dunno, why do you ask.”
“Uh, just wondering.”

Luxury flex.

With the day drawn to a close it was back to socializing and swapping stories with new friends.

Bonfire and beers.  Great way to relax after a day on the trails.

Saturday was more of a low-key day for me.  Sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and relax.  The day concluded with a big bonfire, a dutch-over cooking contest, and a pot-luck dinner.  Oh, and there were raffle prizes!  I lucked out by winning a swag-pack of stickers and patches.  I consider that lucky because I doubt I had room in my Jeep for anything bigger.

I need to build a trailer.

Let the dutch oven contest commence!

Potluck dinner.  Bring a fork and an appetite!

Raffle time!

Sunday morning began with the out flux of people heading home.  Since I, and a few others, were sticking around for Overland Expo East I had nothing on my plate.  Realizing I had a friend in the area I opted for a warm shower, clean laundry, and some good food.  After visiting with my old college roommate for the afternoon I headed back to Uwharrie with a load of clean laundry.

Shameless attempt at an artsy photo.

That night I was able to chill around the campfire with some cool people in the shadow of some really cool expedition level Unimogs and talk about what brought us to the overland adventure lifestyle, the places we’ve gone, the places we want to go, and talk about all the cool people we’ve met along the way.  It was a fitting end to an epic weekend.

Small fire with the unimog crew after the majority of people had already rolled out.

I woke up Monday morning to a quiet tent.  There were no raindrops to be heard.  It was an odd feeling to be honest, but I wasn’t complaining.  I checked the radar confirming the lack of precipitation and decided to seize the opportunity and get my Jeep loaded while everything was dry.

Once loaded I pointed my Jeep west toward Asheville and started making my way to Overland Expo East…

Uwharrie was fun.  I hope to go back again sometime
…only without the hurricane…
and something to sleep in that doesn’t leak.

I’m thinking the ECOA motto should be:
“If everything goes according to plan then it’s not really an adventure.”

Stay tuned for Part 2.