Upcoming events and why I go [MAOF, VOR, OE:E]

Sprinkled throughout the year are a number of shows and events that I plan on attending.  This year alone I’ve already attended Overland Expo West (May), the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival (June), and the PA Jeeps All Breeds Jeep show (July).  Coming up this weekend is the Carlisle All Truck Nationals Show followed by the Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival here in PA (August).  Next month is the Vermont Overland Rally (September) up north followed by Overland Expo East down in NC (October – that makes six months in a row).

A shot vendor row at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival
Looking forward to this year’s event next weekend!

In this article I’ll take an introspective look at why I go to these shows, what they have to offer, and why I think you too should consider going to shows like these.  Read on for more…

First, a look back

Summer has meant “show season” for me for a number of years.  Ever since I got my first car in 1999 and my first Jeep in 2001 I’ve enjoyed switching from a spectator to attending car shows as a participant.  There’s a lot about the scene that I enjoy.  I enjoy the people.  It’s nice being surrounded by like minded enthusiasts who share the same passion for cars as I do.  I also enjoy the “stuff.” So many parts, so little money.  So many cool toys to check out.  Also so many inspiring builds.  Shows are just a great way to enjoy spending a weekend immersed in car culture surrounded by a bunch of cool people.

So many Jeep enthusiasts.
2016 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival “Jeep Invasion” of downtown Butler, PA.

Since starting 4Low Digital Labs in 2008 I’ve regularly attended the local shows as media.  Going to a show in a professional capacity is a bit different than going as a spectator or participant.  When I would go as a spectator it was pretty easy to roam, see what I wanted to see, and then head home.  As a participant I was usually locked into showing my car or Jeep.  Being media it meant a blend of the two.  If I was on a formal assignment I usually had to scope out the entire show to get a feel for the event as a whole (as was the case with the Bantam show earlier this year).  If I was just there for my own sake I could focus on a smaller subset of the shows (like when I covered the rock crawl demos during the Carlisle Ford/GM/Chrysler and Truck shows).  Either way, there was usually an obligation guiding my actions beyond just simple enjoyment of the scene.  The plus side was the access being media gave me, so rarely did I ever feel put out by having to cover a show.

Helping out JKS Manufacturing at their booth
2016 PA Jeeps “All Breeds Jeep Show” in York, PA

I’ve also worked on show staff in one capacity or another.  From my days as sound crew and being a roadie there’s just something about working a large event that gives me a sense of pride.  Sure the band gets all the glamour and glory (and the chicks and the money) but for someone who doesn’t enjoy the spotlight and enjoys working with their hands crew is a great way to be a part of an event and being able to stand back and say, “I helped make that happen.”  Truth be told thought I usually worked shows as a way to avoid paying ticket costs, meet some cool people in the process, and maybe make a few bucks in the process.

A look at why I go to events as ECOA

Most recently I’ve added instructing to the mix of reasons why I go to shows.  Over the years I’ve amassed a sizable wealth of knowledge and experience.  After ten years in the outdoor education field i got used to teaching.  For a long time it was something I missed.  When my last job in the education field ended, and I was unable to get my foot back in the door, I was presented with an opportunity to reinvent myself.  Being able to combine my passion for photography (the media side), with my love of travel (the 4×4/Jeep side), and my desire to teach (the skills side) was something I didn’t want to take for granted.  That’s why the mission statement for ECOA is what it is.  I wanted to make sure I was going to give as much back to others as I had been given.

A few from the instructor’s side of the table.
2016 Overland Expo West

Now when I go to shows like Overland Expo, MAOF, and VOR I’m going there with a purpose beyond personal recreation or even as professional media.  That said, I still go for both of those reasons. I still go simply because I enjoy the scene.  I also go as media both for material for this blog as well as on assignment for magazines.  It’s a great way to nail two birds with one stone; or rather three in this case, four if you include working the show as well.

A shot of the vendor area at this year’s Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, AZ

Travel for travel’s sake vs. travel to a show

Overlanding is all about the journey.  Which is kind of ironic given most overland events are static.  You take a day to get there (usually via the quickest route possible which means highways) and then spend the weekend camping in a large field.  Not very “overlandery” if you ask me.

Westbound and down toward Butler for the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival
Sometimes you’re stuck on the highways…

When I’m in “travel mode” I’m out to explore. I’m always willing to take alternate routes, switch up the plan, and “go where the wind blows.”   Even with something big like the No Highways Tour there is room to deviate.  Honestly, most times the NHT doesn’t have a daily route planned anyway.  Just more of a “wake up here; drive there” plan.

…sometimes you get to take the scenic route.
Hit a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia on my way to the AA:AR in NC last year

When things shift to “show mode” that really changes my approach to travel.  Usually there are deadlines for arrival and departure.  When shows are back-to-back (like last year’s “Three Week Swing”) sometimes it’s a hurry up and wait game getting from one show to the next.  This again reinforces the ironic nature of an overland event.

If overland events aren’t very overlandery, why go?

Although the trip to and from an overland event, and the event itself, doesn’t embody the overland ideal 100%, I think it’s still worth attending.  Let’s look at the above mentioned points.

  • The People: Where else can you connect with 100’s if not 1,000’s of like minded people who enjoy exploration, camping, and 4wd vehicles all at the same time all in the same location?  Lots of opportunities to share stories around the campfire, drool over each other’s rigs, and sit together in classes and make fun of the goofy bearded ginger instructor.

A gathering of attendees at the 2015 American Adventurist Appalachian Rendezvous
This followed an amazing group pot-luck meal and Dutch Oven cooking contest
  • The Stuff: Industry events like Overland Expo are a great way to check out the latest and greatest gear since the bigger events draw in lots of corporate vendors and industry manufactures.  I know this commercial aspect turns some people off, but with brick-and-motor stores few and far between it is nice to stop by a vendor or manufacture’s booth and be able to lay hands on a product before buying it.

A shot of the vendor area at the 2016 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival
This was one isle of a half dozen or so isles full of industry manufactures and retailers.
  • The classes:  Let’s be honest, most of us already know a thing or two.  That said, there’s probably a thing or two we don’t know, or at least can improve upon.  What I love about the overland shows as opposed to generic car shows is the variety of topics.  I might be biased as an instructor saying how awesome the classes are, but I also end up attending classes myself.  Just because I sit here behind a computer authoring an overland lifestyle blog doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about overlanding.  The classes are a great way to get some hands-on experience on a wide range of topics along the spectrum of skill level.  There are great classes for novices and veterans alike.

Put my student hat on at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival

  • Recreation:  I’ll be honest, at least for me it’s nice to just setup camp ONCE and chill for a while.  Long trips take a lot out of you.  When I do a No Highways Tour I’m often beat by the end of the trip and sleep for like two days straight.  At least with the overland shows I’m not making/breaking camp every day and can actually get some “R-and-R” in.

Social hour at Overland Expo West this year
Always nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy the company of new friends
Those are all reasons I go and all reasons I think you should go to.  The shows are a great way to network with people.  You can learn new skills and hone old ones.  You can talk to people in the industry as well as lay eyes on new products.