What do fortitude, courage, adversity, and perseverance have to do with overlanding?

Growing up I played a lot of Scrabble.   Kind of ironic given I’m dyslexic and a terrible speller (thank you inventor of spell check).  Despite that I really enjoy the game.  I think without the hours upon hours of playing the game I would be a much worse speller than I am now.  Not to mention all the countless hours I spent writing academic papers over the years.  Anyway one house rule we always played by was in order to play a word in Scrabble you had to be able to use it in a sentence.  So even if you had to look up a word in the Scrabble dictionary (as I often did), it was an opportunity not to cheat but rather to increase ones vocabulary.  Needless to say, if the time ever comes that I have offspring, Scrabble will be a household game… with a few dictionaries on hand of course.
With that in mind I’ll start things off with a few definitions.  If I’m going to use the words, I want to be clear on how and why I’m using them.  So, crack open your dictionary, dust off your thesaurus, and blow the cobwebs out from between your ears.  I’m about to get academic…

[Author’s note: I originally penned this draft sometime last year but for one reason or another never published it.  Given recent events it seemed like a good place to start.]

Best laid plans

Lately I’ve begun embracing the mantra, “The trip you experience is always better than the trip you plan.” The implication is that more often than naught things won’t go according to plan but none-the-less that trip will still be a great one.  Case in point, in 2015 as part of that year’s No Highways Tour I planned to do the Mount Washington Auto Road.  I almost didn’t get a chance to because the weather was so bad they almost closed the road (in fact they closed it the day after I did my assent).  Sadly my assent of Mount Washington was done with zero visibility the entire way.  It was, if I’m honest, a bit of a letdown.  However, the unplanned things such as the Precision Machining Museum, Eastman House, and a few other places I stopped far exceeded expectations.  They weren’t part of the plan and, compared to many things that were part of the plan, are some of the more memorable moments of the trip.

My view of New Hampshire from the top of Mount Washington
Certainly not part of the plan.

A look back

During my three week swing of fall events in 2015 I mentioned in Part 2a about some of the issues I ran into while attending Overland Expo East that year.  As you recall I prided myself on my perseverance in the face of a record amount of rainfall due to Hurricane Joaquin.  My tent leaked as did my rain jacket and my boots.   The grounds themselves turned the expo into a mud-pit.  Even just walking too and from camp meant sloshing through ankle puddles of water, mud, or a mix of both.

Overland Expo East 2015 – aka “Underwater Expo”
Are you prepared to take the bad days with the good?
Picking up from there I’d like to flesh out a list of traits I think all overland adventurers should have:
  • perseverance | ˌpərsəˈvi(ə)rəns | noun: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success
  • fortitude | ˈfôrtəˌto͞od | noun: courage in pain or adversity
  • courage | ˈkərij, ˈkə-rij | noun: the ability to do something that frightens one
Those three traits I think are what define the adventurous spirit.  If you think overlanding is all about pretty vistas, scenic drives, and blue skies then you are surely mistaken.  Yes, those things are what many of us hope for.  We’re in it for the beauty of nature.  Nature can also be pretty mean.
When it’s not all sunshine and scenery, the things we deal with can take a few forms:
  • adversity | adˈvərsitē | noun: difficulties; misfortune 
  • setback | ˈset-ˌbak | noun: a checking of progress; defeat, reverse
  • delay | di-ˈlā, dē- | noun: the act of postponing, hindering, or causing something to occur more slowly than normal
  • distraction | di-ˈstrak-shən | noun: mental confusion or disorientation; an object that directs one’s attention away from something else
What can complicate things even further is adversities, setbacks, delays, and distractions can be either external or internal, and they can either be self-inflicted or inflicted upon us. There are also times when one minor thing can trip a long trail of dominoes turning a rather small minor problem into a much larger one.

Case in point #1: the 2016 No Highways Tour

In many ways the 2016 NHT was plagued with adversity from the start.  I fully admit my ambition got the best of me and I bit off more than I could chew in planning a cross-country adventure for my sophomore overland book trip.  On top of that there were many new variables added to the mix such as the trailer, new gears, and larger tires.  As I found out the hard way the increased demands of towing a trailer exasperated problems with the fuel system and the transmission.

Luckily most of these issues were external and my ability to adapt and overcome, as a result of my perseverance.  I added a trans cooler and a transmission temp gauge, as well as a new fuel pump, and the Jeep seemed to do much better.  An unexpected setback occurred when on the trip when both rear shocks blew out.  Luckily JKS was able to bring me a pair of new ones to Overland Expo West and the drive home was much better than the last bit of the drive there.

The route itself was a lesson in humility.  The self-inflicted setbacks and delays due to biting off more than I could chew were easily remedied by shortening the trip.  The 2015 trip I think had been successful because it was just long enough to be interesting but short enough to be easily managed.  I have since, for 2017, adopted a month long formula for my trips.  Seems to be the magic size.

False start of the 2016 No Highways Tour.
Mother Nature won this round.
30″ of snow in eight hours coupled with 50mph winds.

Case in point #2: Vol 1 of the 2017 No Highways Tour

I don’t know if I’m jinxed every time I try to go out west, or it’s just karma for planning a second NHT trip out west.  Either way the 2017 trip seemed just as doomed as the 2016 trip.  Luckily I was able to iron out most of the mechanical issues out before I left.  However the most unexpected thing happened on the way out. On I-40 in New Mexico just west of Albuquerque, of all things, I cracked a tooth.  Stupid, I know.  Sadly this one little thing would serve as the catalyst for an entire series of dominoes that would ultimately lead me to ending the trip early and heading home so my dentist could pull not only the broken tooth but my other wisdom teeth that were compromised and in jeopardy of cracking (kids, when mom tells you not to chew ice, brush and floss daily, and all that jazz — listen to her). I’ll give a more thorough after-action-report on the first 2017 NHT later this week.

Yup… lower left.  See that chunk missing?

The Vol 1 of the 2017 NHT wasn’t without it’s mechanical issues.  It seems the rear springs on the LJ aren’t up to the task any more.  I have some serious “butt sag” going on.  It’s no fault of JKS since unlaiden and when not towing the dual-rate springs are epic smooth and do great on pavement and off.  I just don’t think they have the spring rate to handle towing the trailer as well as the increased weight from the 31.5 gallon GenRight tank.  Not 100% sure how I’ll address it, but more on that when I do the AAR.

A look ahead

As I said, my new mantra is “The trip you experience is always better than the trip you plan.”  That’s not going to change (broken tooth withstanding).  One observation I make is people put a great deal of effort into planning their trips.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  However there is a danger is letting the plan overshadow the experiences.  Rather than taking the time to enjoy each moment the focus is on the next scheduled thing.  I hate deadlines.  I hate rushing.  I hate feeling like I have to compromise the here-and-now for the later.  I know that’s a luxury I often take for granted and not everyone has that privilege.  However I would encourage people that have limited time and want to make the most of it is to do less with less.

Having a plan is a good idea.
Just don’t become a slave to the plan at the expense of the moment.
Also make sure you have time to enjoy your plan rather than rush from thing to thing.

Most people try to do more with less.  That’s one of my guiding principles behind my DIY projects.  I have limited money so I want to do more with what little I have so I invest in tools rather than top of the line or name-brand pre-built stuff.  If I can buy something used I’ll do so.  I want to maximize every dollar.  That’s not a bad thing.  However time is different.  So are experiences.  The quality and authenticity of the experience matters more than the quantity.  No one wants to spend the majority of their time on a trip in the vehicle rushing from location to location just to check items off a list.  Society portrays that.  The infamous “bucket list.”  Try to cross off as much as you can without any real attention given to the individual experiences themselves.  It’s the whole “loosing site of the trees for the sake of the forest” thing.  Focus too much on the big picture and you loose site of the details.

When I planned the 2015 No Highways Tour I crammed a lot into a month long trip.  Over 28 days I visited 14 states, covered 5,000 miles, and took about just as many photos.  I did a lot.  However it was rushed.  I was, at most, in any given location for no more than a day.  When I would stop and see something it was for hours if I was lucky but usually mere minutes.  Looking back I feel like all I did was rush for four weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted by the time I got to Florida.  I don’t talk about it much but reaching Key West was kind of a let down.  I was so emotionally and physically drained that I really didn’t get to enjoy the moment.  As such I’ve done my best to scale back my trips.  Slow things down.  Allow myself more time to enjoy each individual moment along the way without feeling pressured to rush to the next destination.

Not every instance of adversity is metaphorical.
Sometimes it literally a bounder in the road that serves as a set back.
This is where taking your time, not rushing, and doing it right makes the difference.

What does that mean for you?  Well my words of wisdom are echoed from above: do less with less.  If time is precious don’t try and cram 10 pounds of crap into a 8 pound sack.  You might be able to say you did a lot if all goes according to plan, but we know things rarely do.  My suggestion is to relax the plan.  It’s still a good idea to have some idea of a plan but instead of listing 10 “must do” activities leave room to pick and choose five or so from such and list and enjoy those 5 things twice as much.

Lastly, if you make a plan and something happens (either mechanical or let’s say a broken tooth) don’t despair.  This is where fortitude, courage, and perseverance come into play.  Don’t give up.  Make the best out of a bad situation and keep going.  That’s one thing I have found very common in overland adventurers. They never give up.  They keep keep pushing on.  That’s where preparation, carrying tools, having backup plans, and those sorts of things come into play.

This is why we do it, right?


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