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2016 Overlanders of the Year: Richard and Ashley of Desk to Glory

Every winter our team closely examines the travel exploits of a select few to determine who is worthy of our most coveted honor––Overlanders of the Year. It’s a difficult task considering how many adventurers are out plying the remote tracks of the world. I would be fibbing to suggest we have a strict criteria for which these honors are qualified, but we don’t. To us the consummate overlander demonstrates unbridled passion for travel. They have made a significant commitment to pursue their overlanding dreams, and most of all they possess a willingness to share those experiences with as many people as possible. It’s not a matter of how far, long, or difficult their journey, but perhaps how well they travel.

In years past this accolade has fallen to Coen and Karin-Marijke of landcruisingadventure.com and Brad and Sheena of drivenachodrive.com. Adding another dynamic duo to the list, our top pick for 2016’s Overlanders of the Year belongs to Richard and Ashley of desktoglory.com.

In 2013 Richard and Ashley sold everything they could, rented out their condo, and hit the road. Their destination was as yet decided at the time, but over the course of three years, they would eventually work their way to Costa Rica, then on to the southernmost tip of South America at Ushuaia. Along the way they documented their life on the road with beautiful images and captivating words published to their blog.

As we have done in years past with our other award-winners, we cornered Richard and Ashley just long enough to pester them with a quick interview. Without further ado, please meet our 2016 Overlanders of the Year:

ExPo: Every full time traveler we have interviewed has sited a catalyst that compelled them to hit the road and not look back. Your big trip began in 2013 which begs the question, what was it leading up to that day that motivated you to embark on such a different change of lifestyle?

We were living in the middle of downtown Vancouver, Canada working in office towers diligently doing our professional jobs. After years of the grind we decided to do something else, but being responsible adults “something else” first meant going to school at night while also working full time. I (Richard) took a photography program and started a wedding photography business and Ashley became a Holistic Nutritionist and started a practice… all while still working our normal office jobs. After a year or two of working days, nights and weekends it just became too much to handle. We met at a coffee shop and laid out a budget and schedule on the back of a napkin. It took five months to build our truck, tie up the loose ends of our city life, quit our jobs, and hit the road. We weren’t ready, didn’t know what we were doing, but we left anyway. We often recommend to others that they should do a shakedown run to see if they like living out of a vehicle, but in all honesty our first night on the road was the first time we had ever set up our rooftop tent.

ExPo: Your first big adventure was from Vancouver to Costa Rica. When you arrived at the distant end of that trip did you know then you would eventually continue further, all the way to the bottom tip of South America?

Our original plan when we left Vancouver was to make it to the end of the road in Panama, turn around, and head home (all while being enlightened to the ways of the world and realizing our new life goals, no less!). By the time we made it to Mexico we were already dreaming of South America and the Andes. After getting a taste of overland travel, meeting locals, eating the street food, and realizing how inexpensive it was to travel compared to living in an expensive city, there was no way we were going to stop our journey in Panama. The only problem was that we hadn’t budgeted for an extra year on the road, so we stored the truck in Costa Rica, flew home, and lived in an inexpensive 400sq ft apartment while counting our pennies for a year before heading back down south.

ExPo: It wasn’t by design, but our two previous recipients of this award traveled in a 30 year old Land Cruiser and an equally aged VW van. What made you decide to travel so far in a 26 year old Toyota pickup? If you had a choice to do it again in a different vehicle, would you? What’s your best bit of vehicle advice for the would-be full time overlander?

There were a few reasons for choosing an older vehicle. First and foremost we wanted something we could easily find parts for throughout Latin America. We wanted something that was going to be reliable, but also easy to work on when it was time for maintenance or if there was a mechanical breakdown. I (Richard) really wanted to spend time travelling instead of fixing our vehicle, so the truck is modern enough to have the reliability of electronic fuel injection, but at the same time antiquated enough to have manual windows, locks, a t-case shifter, hubs, etc. Almost everything on the truck can be fixed, or at least “temporarily-permanently” fixed by myself or a mechanic and keep us on the road.

We also wanted to spend as little capital as possible so we would have A) more money to spend on the trip and B) wouldn’t be destitute if the truck was stolen, burned to the ground, or was totalled in an accident (knock on wood!).

Lastly, there just happened to be a beat up 1990 Toyota Pickup sitting in my Dad’s backyard just itching to be given a second life. Decision made! We always talk about how a newer vehicle with more power (more than 116hp?!), more comfort (air conditioning?!), and indoor living space would be nice, but our budget left us squarely in the 26 year old truck and rooftop tent level of reliability and comfort. Sometimes we think motorcycles are the vehicles of choice. Other times a Unimog and comfy camper seems like a great plan. It doesn’t take long to circle back and realize that our truck was the best vehicle option for us.

ExPo: For thousands of armchair travelers your website and Instagram accounts have allowed us to follow along in your adventures. Your images and stories are captivating. What made you decide you wanted to share so much of your travels with the world?

Thanks so much for the compliment! We loved sharing images from our previous (albeit much shorter) trips. It was an easy way to share with our parents and friends that we are alive and having a good time from the other side of the world. It didn’t take long before we started making lifelong friends through our blog, Instagram, and Facebook and that’s where social media really shined for us. Because of this, we have continued to share our journey for almost four years since April 2013.

Additionally, we were inspired by reading the blogs of Lost World Expedition, The Dangerz, Ruined Adventures, Drive Nacho Drive, and Home On The Highway. It felt right to pay it forward and share our story with others like they did with us.

ExPo: Anyone who has lived out of a small vehicle knows space is precious and personal items have to be thoughtfully selected. What’s the one thing each of you couldn’t travel without?

Richard: Each other! (Awww…). Seriously though, a decent camera is pretty important to me. My Canon 5D Mark III has seen a lot of use the last few years.

Ashley: I’m going to get really girly here and say my travel-sized hair dryer (Richard says that’s why we invested in a 1000 watt inverter…). Nobody likes going to bed with frozen/wet hair, amiright? The ARB fridge was something that also made our lives a lot easier.

ExPo: While researching my own trip to Peru last year to Lago 69 in the Cordillera Blanca, I stumbled across images taken of that lake––by you! I’m always excited to see travelers venture away from their vehicles. How important is it to you to get off the road and into the wilderness? What are some of your favorite trips beyond the truck?

For us, this was the most important part of the trip. Our truck is now like a part of our family, but its main job was for transport and to act as a home/basecamp and take us to trailheads that the local busses and collectivos don’t go to. You can see a lot through the windshield, but there were some pretty epic nature scapes that made several days of hiking worth leaving the truck behind. As you mentioned, the Cordillera Blanca was a favourite for us. This mountain range has enough day hikes and multi-day treks to keep a hiker busy for months. We spent two weeks exploring the area and just scratched the surface.

You can see a lot through the windshield, but there were some pretty epic nature scapes that made several days of hiking worth leaving the truck behind.

The Santa Cruz trek in Peru was great and hiking into Cochamo in Northern Chile was like stepping into Yosemite National Park during the 70s (or what we could imagine it was like). We had the trails to ourselves in El Cocuy National Park in Colombia and our legs were destroyed after hiking Nahuel Huapi in Argentina. Beyond those, Mount Fitz Roy had a special feeling to it we couldn’t put our finger on and seeing the Fitz Roy range for the first time up close definitely took our breath away.

We also knew that we’d have to get out of the truck when it came to exploring cities. We rented apartments in Guanajuato, Mexico and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, stayed with a local family in Nicaragua, as well as enjoyed our housesitting gig on the wild Chilean coast. This gave us a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture, live amongst the locals for short periods of time, and build relationships with people in those communities (even if it was just the daily conversation with the men and women at the market or coffee shop).

ExPo: Over the course of the last three years you’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there one place you would like to return to?

Baja is high on the list. This place was magic for us. It may have been because it was the first taste of the journey (or the first taste of tacos for that matter), maybe it was the beach camping, or maybe it was standing ten feet away from full-tilt 800hp trophy trucks during the Baja 1000. Google Maps says the Baja Peninsula is only a 22 hour drive from where we’re writing this, so perhaps it’s also that Baja a realistic place for us to return to. Beyond that we’d love to explore the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru just a little more.

ExPo: It’s hard for anyone who has not traveled full time to understand the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle. What is the most difficult aspect of living out of a pickup for months on end?

The almost daily camp teardown in the morning and setup in the evening takes effort, but as far as we’re concerned is well worth it for an ever-changing backyard. There really is no privacy between the two of us, but we have always lived in tight quarters so that wasn’t new. Being away from the people we’re closest to could have been hard, but Skype makes communication easy and we always seemed to make friends wherever we stopped. Plus, this forced our moms to come to South America for a couple of visits… somewhere neither of them would have visited if it wasn’t for us being there. Getting out of a warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night to climb down a tent ladder for some bladder relief wasn’t the most convenient and enjoyable experience (that is, unless the Milky Way was especially bright and glittery that night!). We loved our time on the road, but that was because we learned to roll with the punches and accept the negatives that came with the huge list of positives. Oh, but doing the dishes with limited water, in the dark, in freezing temps really, really sucks.

ExPo: And for my last and most predictable question, where to next?

Although it’s a predictable question, it’s one that we really don’t have an answer for. Currently we’re setting down some semi-permanent roots in Victoria, BC while Ashley goes to school. We don’t even have any short term travelling plans on the horizon (other than doing a bit of exploring on Vancouver Island), but are certain that we’ll start itching to explore again soon enough. Nepal has been on the bucket list for quite awhile, but right now we’re appreciating the roof over our heads, potable water, hot showers, and the close proximity to friends and family.

To read about their amazing epic, the miles driven and those yet to come, visit their beautiful website by clicking on the banner below:

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.