Overlanding: A Beginner’s View Part 1

Sand Creek in the snow

Back in the good ole days when I was just a kid who loved riding the beat up Yamaha Timberwolf, we’d often venture to a well known area of Greene County, AR called Sand Creek. There were many discussions about who actually owned the property, but nevertheless it was a popular hangout spot on the weekends for anyone who wanted to get away from the highway and do some off-roading in the sand. There was a main trail that has some high bank turns that were fun to get a little sideways on, some shallow yet fun creek crossings and swimming holes to get a little wet during the summer, a few trails that explored the top of a landslide where you could see over the main meetup spot, and places for 4 wheel drive trucks to show off their capability in hill climbs. Everyone respected this way-out-of-the-way-hideaway and did their part to keep it enjoyable for everyone, even the littlest of us. Sand Creek has apparently been popular for several decades. Around the time I was 12 it was began to be found by weekenders out for a good time. What was once a nice secluded destination was soon overflowing with beer cans and trash and brand new vehicles with loud vulgar music blaring so loud you could hear it a mile away down the creek. We didn’t go back much after all this started happening, and not long after that, the sheriff department declared it closed, and anyone caught down there would be fined.

You hate to see it, but more and more of our public (and private) land is being overran by those who don’t think, or can’t think due to being under the influence of alcohol. Places that once held sentimental value become vandalized or trashed, and eventually closed.

Even as a kid, riding the 4 wheeler down trails was my absolute favorite thing to do. I was always begging to go. To sand creek I went. I always knew that being off of the pavement would be my favorite past time, but I had no idea that Overlanding existed, and never thought I would join groups that had been all over the country exploring and eventually become an amateur Overlander myself.


Go outside and do something.

Dad

“So where do I start?”

Well, that’s a tricky question. You see, recently the term “overlanding” has been washed and dried to become something different. It seems that today overlanding has different levels, rather than an overall theme. You will have those who say that overlanding is simply getting in your vehicle and go drive somewhere for a few days, maybe get a hotel, drive up to a scenic view, and come home. Some think finding some mud holes and drive your Jeep with 40″ tires around and then sit around the fire drinking beer is overlanding. Then there are the full-time overlanders who have $100,000 rigs with showers and $4000 tents, refrigerators, 20 gallons of gas, camp kitchens, winches, shovels, traction boards, silverware for 8 people, awnings, annexes, heaters/AC, etc. that can live on the road for weeks, months, even a whole year. And that’s where we get the question, “Where do I start?”

As I’ve stated, there are many definitions, which in turn means there are different starting places for each definition. My best option it seems is to share my personal viewpoint on how I got started, what I have done wrong, and what I have learned to do right. (NOTE: My experiences only take me to places within Arkansas)

Friends. No not the TV show. I mean real life, down to earth, reliable friends. Ask pretty much any overlander, and they will tell you that without friends, overlanding doesn’t much more than just travelling. Travelling is great, but overlanding with true friends is where its at. Before you buy a Jeep or a truck, before you start watching YouTube videos on how to figure out Instagram, before you even buy a vehicle, try to find like-minded friends. Those people that are always willing to lend a spare pillow or chair. The ones that always have more than enough food or socks if you didn’t bring enough. They’re never going to turn down the chance to air up or down your tires for you, even its just so they can show off their cool new tools. Good friends will have you back and encourage you to make good choices when it comes to your overland build and lifestyle. Good friends are a must have.

Social Media. Be sure to checkout the plethora of content on YouTube and other social platforms as well. They’ll give a glimpse of what its like to be an overlander, whatever that really means. This option allows a sneak peak of what goes on during overland trips, without leaving your home. While the camera truly never captures what its really like, at least you know a bit of what you are getting into.

Vehicles. Now let’s slow down before we go any further and talk about your vehicle choice for overlanding. “Why are talking about vehicles before camping gear, recovery gear, food choices, destinations, maps, or patches?” you may or may not ask. Well, all of those things really don’t do you any good if you don’t have something to drive to your destination. A good base for your overland build is essential. So what do I think?

A few key points to remember when looking for a vehicle for overland use: Off-road Capability, Storage Capacity, and Mechanical Reliability. These three components should be top of the list when considering which vehicle you want to buy. Each comes with their own questions. Do I want to do more rock crawling or low land mud bogging (or somewhere in between)? Do I want to take everything plus the kitchen sink, or go with a minimal approach? Do I plan on trading and upgrading often or keeping this vehicle for the long run? All great questions and important ones to research. There are so many options available and an abundance of overland forums and people willing to help that there’s no reason to jump in without doing a bit of asking around before dropping cash on something that doesn’t fit your needs.

I chose to purchase a 2017 Colorado ZR2 in Silver Ice Metallic. Front and rear selectable locking differentials, DSSV off roading racing shocks for a smooth, enjoyable ride, and 2″ of lift over a standard Colorado were a few of the components that helped this decision along. I wanted something different that everyone else, something new that wouldn’t require much work to get it ready for overlanding, and lots of great technology to back it up. The ZR2 checks those boxes and much, much more.

Ride-Along. Another option to get your feet wet is simply going along for a ride on weekend trip. This is essentially just you going camping with some friends. If you like camping and already have the gear (we’ll talk about gear in another post) then just go camping! You can easily determine whether you enjoy spending hours on a bumpy trail, or you’d rather be doing something else with your time. Sure, being a passenger isn’t quite as thrilling as pushing the pedals and turning the wheel yourself, however you might be surprised how much fun it is getting to know the hobby by learning from those who do it regularly.

So, to recap, some great places to start your journey into overlanding are finding good friends to share the lifestyle of overlanding with, watch Youtube videos, go for a ride along overland trip, and then begin to research vehicles.

All that said, I still consider myself a beginner. I have many things to learn and many places to see. Having only explored the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests, I’ve only seen a glimpse even of what Arkansas has to offer. I have plans next year for Colorado, Moab, and other places outside the Natural State. Please be sure and let me know your thoughts!

Life is meant for good friends and great adventures.
-Nathan

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