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Episode 83 Mario Donovan on Building Expedition Vehicles and the Joys of International Cuisine

Show Notes for Podcast #83
Mario Donovan on Building Expedition Vehicles and the Joys of International Cuisine

Matt Scott and Scott Brady interview Mario Donovan of AT Overland about the challenges of building light and durable expedition vehicles, along with the joys of surviving tanks in Ethiopia and eating with our hands.

Guest Bio:

Mario Donovan was born and grew up in rural California before moving to Ethiopia in the 70’s. There he acquired the bug for adventure travel either on foot with a pack, by motorcycle or 4×4. Extensive travel throughout East Africa and other parts of the globe led to many great experiences, and whetted his appetite for more. Upon returning to the US in the 80’s, he was involved in commercial printing operations and executive management. His printing career spanned 25 years with various companies such as the Los Angeles Times to daily magazine production management for the Hollywood Reporter. Every free moment away from printing was spent exploring remote areas of the western US, Canada and Mexico. In 2000, he exited the printing and publishing industry specifically to create the start-up now known as AT Overland Equipment.

Mario’s inspiration for AT Overland came from several experiences rescuing ill-prepared remote travelers. He realized that the lost or broken-down travelers needed access to better resources. The original business concept was to offer travelers a well-equipped guide service. Upon discovering the lack of quality overland gear in the USA, an import company bringing South African trailers to the USA was formed. Not satisfied with the conventional suspensions of the South African trailers, AT Overland developed its own trailers, and the first trailing arm air suspension for off road trailers in the USA. Mario has continued to lead the way for product excellence from AT’s line of expanding truck topper campers to the latest cutting-edge Aterra composite camper.

When not found in the AT manufacturing facility in Prescott, Arizona, Mario is in pursuit the best remote happy hours spots on the planet by motorcycle or 4×4. @donovanmario


Host Bios:

Scott Brady

Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady

Matthew Scott

Matthew is a leading expert in automotive adventure. He has extensively explored the world’s most remote places by 4WD and is considered an industry authority on overland travel. He is the only American to ever become an editor of a major Australian 4WD publication and has over 15 years of competitive auto racing experience. @mattexplore




For more about AT Overland and building out your vehicle or questions, check out the links below:

AT Overland Website : https://atoverland.com/
Instagram : @atoverland


Full Transcript

Mario Donovan

Matt Scott: [00:01:00] Hello.

Scott Brady: And we have a very special guest today. In fact, I would say one of the individuals within the overland community that was formative to its beginning and his name is Mario Donovan. He is the CEO of AT Overland, formally Adventure Trailers who know that business name. And Mario, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Mario Donovan: It’s great to be here, guys.

Matt Scott: You had to come dozens of feet to get here.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, it was a whole 12 minutes.

Scott Brady: Well, that’s kind of, that’s kind of a funny part of the story too, is, I mean, let’s go back to the beginning. Um, we were at SEMA, I think it was 2005.

Mario Donovan: I think you’re right.

Scott Brady: Maybe 2004. I think it was 2005. I had my white Tacoma with a roof tent on it, and about 8 billion, other things bolted to it. And, uh, you guys were at AT, you know, [00:02:00] Adventure Trailers was at the show and you guys reached out and you said, Hey, we would love to just have lunch. I can’t remember if we had lunch or maybe we had a late, early dinner. We, we got together at, in a hotel lobby, um, of one of the hotels, right by the convention center. And you guys said, first of all, like, who are like, where did you come from?

Mario Donovan: Why are you stalking our website?

Scott Brady: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And, and then basically, how do we work together? And that was the start of us doing projects together, traveling together and, you know, having again, many more meals together, talking about the world and culture and, and our joy of travel. And it has been such a pleasure to watch you and your business grow over that period of time. So it started, you know, a long time ago, we’re coming up on 20 years of knowing each other, which is pretty amazing.

Mario Donovan: That is pretty amazing. And you guys have grown too and has been fun to watch.

Scott Brady: Yeah, we have. We’ve all kinda been along for holding on, I guess, for this, for this ride.

Mario Donovan: I think we’ve all been [00:03:00] paddling the same canoe together.

Scott Brady: No doubt. Well, and so when we look at some of the big innovations from Adventure Trailers and AT Overland, you guys were one of the first to have a light weight, long travel, independent suspension trailer manufactured in the United States. That was being done in other countries, but you guys were certainly the first to really bring, dial that in for the North American market. Um, and I actually pulled your Adventure Trailers, Chaser Number One, all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, uh, one of my first trips. So that was a big help for us.

Mario Donovan: That was epic. And it really was a game changer for you to do a solo vehicle, a trip like that.

Scott Brady: Yeah. That’s what made it a little different and that trailer was awesome. And you guys sold squillions of those. And then of course the market responded and everybody starts making trailers. But the good thing is you’ve always been a couple steps ahead. So..

Matt Scott: That’s the recurring theme I think of Mario is kind of that, that [00:04:00] skunkworks of, of, of overlanding, you know, there’s been so many trends that you’ve kinda helped to establish. I think so many within the industry really look to what you’re doing. I mean, you know, with the wedge campers being such a huge thing now, I mean, with the AT Habitat and AT Summit, like that was, that was kind of genesis for that. And now it’s like everybody and their brothers copied it and you know, now you’re doing Aterra, which is like super cool. Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, exactly.

Scott Brady: Well, and it, yeah, the, the thing that you guys did really well with the wedge camper, I mean, there was a flip pack before that, but they didn’t take full advantage of the concept by having it flip out to the back, which you guys did and actually Earth Roamer did that as well. But just for, I think they had 13 units or something like..

Mario Donovan: 10 or 13, it wasn’t..

Scott Brady: Very, very few units. It’s kind of funny that the X, XB, JP, or whatever X V J P ended with unit number 13, I think. But, uh, [00:05:00] yeah, it was yours came off the back and created an awning. So it was just, and it was also much lighter and much more structurally rigid and it didn’t have a lot of the cracking and torsion bar failures that the early flip flip packs had.

Mario Donovan: Don’t forget, we originally started with the JK Habitat, which flipped forward was pretty groundbreaking at the time. There was nothing like that. But the timing was wrong and the market didn’t take off. And I think we only made 30 of those. And then that’s when we realized, like..

Matt Scott: These are the products that I want now, like, I want a JK Habitat..

Mario Donovan: There is actually a Facebook group now for JK Habitats.

Scott Brady: Oh, interesting.

Mario Donovan: So it could only be 30 members..

Matt Scott: But it does exist.

Scott Brady: So how many of your wedge campers have you guys produced so far?

Mario Donovan: That’s a good question because it’s three different models and they kind of been tracking differently.

Scott Brady: Hundreds of them. I would [00:06:00] suspect.

Matt Scott: I see them around quite a bit.

Mario Donovan: Definitely over a thousand.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: Since 2016 was the very first, uh, pickup truck, uh, Habitat that went on the X Overland and they’re still running that truck.

Scott Brady: Yeah. That’s amazing.

Mario Donovan: But yeah, there’s, well over a thousand are out there.

Scott Brady: Yeah. And I think the fact that it’s structural aluminum, that’s extremely lightweight, you can paint it to match the vehicle. I mean, it’s just..

Matt Scott: It looks really, really good painted if I do say so.

Scott Brady: Matt, you’ve got one on your Gladiator.

Matt Scott: Yeah. The five, the first one made for the Gladiator.

Mario Donovan: Yeah.

Matt Scott: And I mean, I really like it. I mean..

Mario Donovan: Knowing about your vehicle a.d.d. and how you go through vehicles..

Matt Scott: I’m about to register this car for the third time. I know every time I think about selling it, it’s like I just get this Mario image in my head, just like, yay. I have beat the car. I don’t, I don’t drive. [00:07:00] I don’t daily drive that Gladiator. Right. I mean that Gladiator has almost 30,000 miles on it and that is just trips. Um, and I mean, nothing. It’s been airborne accidentally, and it just like, it’s so solid that camper on the back. Um, and, and it’s really warm and quiet inside. Like that was the thing that I noticed maybe the first time that we were in some campground in Mexico and there was like yapping dogs outside and I opened the door and like, wow, it’s a lot louder outside. Cause we have the insulation. Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Plus the honeycomb composite in the loss makes a huge difference.

Scott Brady: Well, and from my perspective, the thing that made it a game changer was the fact that up until that point, if you wanted to put a camper in a Tacoma, maybe you were lucky enough to get a flip pack. They were hard to get a lot of people didn’t know about them. They were fairly obscure product long lead time. Um, so what most people would do is they’d either go with just a basic fiberglass shell and they’d sleep in it on, uh, [00:08:00] on plywood, or they would try to find a four wheel camper. For a Tacoma owner with a four wheel camper is you slide in the camper. You now have no more payload. It can be you and your Chihuahua and that’s it like..

Matt Scott: Or, or Chuwhipit.

Scott Brady: Yeah, exactly.

Mario Donovan: It’s got this very small Chihuahua.

Scott Brady: Exactly. Yeah. There’s just no payload in those trucks.

Mario Donovan: Right.

Scott Brady: So when you guys started producing campers that are 350 to 500 pounds, approximately..

Mario Donovan: We never hit 500 pounds. Our heaviest is 420 pounds.

Scott Brady: Okay. So in that range, it is very light, significantly less than, than a slide in camper would be. And so for people who want to modify their trucks and add additional components and add additional water and additional fuel and bumpers, you’ve pretty much got to go with a wedge style camper on it Tacoma.

Mario Donovan: Or if you go with the Habitat, which is flip over, it’s a complete game changer because you’re going from a five foot bed Tacoma to now you have a 15 and a half foot long tent.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: I [00:09:00] tripled that space.

Matt Scott: If I was to do it again, I would do the Habitat. I mean, I don’t know..

Mario Donovan: It’s different..

Matt Scott: It’s different, but now we have the dog, we have the large Greyhound that could have his own bed.

Scott Brady: Yeah. It’s and you’re right. And that’s why you guys offer three of them. So you have the wedge style, you have the Habitat that flips all the way up and over, and then you have your newest model, which is..

Mario Donovan: The Atlas.

Scott Brady: The Atlas.

Mario Donovan: The god.

Scott Brady: Yep. The God of the holding up the earth. So it’s it lifts straight up.

Mario Donovan: Straight up.

Scott Brady: Yeah. Which is, I think another very, very interesting solution. And it’s most appropriate for certain vehicles. You know, if you’ve got a little bit like a quad cab truck there’s they seem to work really well for that.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Yeah.

Scott Brady: And what, what have you found in, so you guys have always had an emphasis on lightweight and performance. What ha what else have you found now, or what changes in your perspective has occurred since you’ve been making all of these campers? What’s been the, the [00:10:00] takeaway from that?

Mario Donovan: That’s an interesting question. And there could be a volume of answers for that. Um, what we have noticed is that it’s been this nice bridge for people between the rooftop tent and a sliding camper. Like you pointed out and hitting that sweet spot for weight to where you can still have enough, GVW left to carry some gear has also been part of that sweet spot. But what we’ve also noticed, because when we started out, we thought the price point, we want to keep this in a price point that is accessible to the every man. And what we witnessed was that people want every assessory available.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: That we, that we make to go on them. So having just a base model go through the shop is a rarity.

Scott Brady: Interesting, and was that a surprise for you in a way you were [00:11:00] thinking that people would do more base models?

Mario Donovan: We thought that people would do more base models.

Scott Brady: Interesting.

Matt Scott: I think people in general are spending more. I mean, I don’t know really what has changed if it’s that people have been, you know, doing the overland thing for longer, but, you know, I remember when, you know, there was a handful of people who would have a new vehicle to go off road, and now it’s a handful of people that don’t, you know, I think there’s just more, a lot of money in the space. Like, I don’t know if people just are happy to allocate more money cause it’s more of a, it’s more of a thing or..

Mario Donovan: I think it’s also an awareness of, of the activity, right? Uh, vehicle based, remote travel. It, people are veering away from the standard RV model or the just go to the national forest and camp. You know, standard campground. People want to be away from other people. It’s not that they don’t like people, but they want to have more of a remote experience and you can’t do that with the more conventional options. So I think [00:12:00] that’s why we’re seeing more people embrace that activity, and it’s quite honestly hats off to you. It has a lot to do with the internet, the forums, like the Expedition Portal that have created that virtual community where people can learn about this and then once they learn about it, they’re hooked.

Scott Brady: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. And I would suspect that if you go to look at the cost of a sliding camper, you know, you’re a sliding camper for a Tacoma you’re mid to high twenties. So, and that, you know, that’s what the goodies on it. Um, your.

Mario Donovan: For, for a decent one.

Scott Brady: Yeah. Not a, it wouldn’t be a tray model. It would just be kind of a standard slide in, you know, it’s got, it’s still got the sink and stuff, but it’s standard slide in. Whereas a Habitat for example, would be, you know..

Mario Donovan: At 12 grand.

Scott Brady: Yeah. So about half of that price.

Matt Scott: It is that perfect bridge between the roof tent [00:13:00] and something bigger.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Yeah. Key differences though, are that we’re very purpose-built.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: I mean, we’re, we are building for the remote traveler. We expect you to drive into a tree.

Scott Brady: Yeah, sure.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. And so the product has been designed and manufactured that way.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: Whereas that’s not where you would go with the standard slide in.

Scott Brady: Yeah, that’s true.

Matt Scott: I think a slide indefinitely limits you quite a bit more. Um, like I’ve never felt limited really by my, by my Summit. Like you, you do notice, you know, a little bit of, you know, There’s more weight up top. You notice that, you know, that’s just a fact of life, but it’s not limiting, like it’s tucked in. It’s the width of the cab of the vehicle. It’s I dunno. I mean, it’s, it’s been an interesting thing for me.

Mario Donovan: Well, I think, I think the difference between the slide in and the topper is the topper is in some respects a little bit like how our trailers used to be where [00:14:00] you live around them. Not necessarily in them, you’re really only in them to sleep or for shelter in extreme conditions.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Whereas the sliding camper tries to replicate more the mini apartment and..

Matt Scott: Mini sailboat inside kind of thing.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. So you’re more inclined to live inside of one of those then around.

Scott Brady: Yeah, for sure. All right. So then the next evolution you guys, you worked with Dave Soza from Turn Overland to help create the Aterra. So what, what inspired you guys to decide that you wanted to create your own expedition camper fully contained expedition camper?

Mario Donovan: Um, that was driven by what we had seen being the deficiencies in other products that were in the market. Um, there’s a lot of storage shortcomings and our market, [00:15:00] like the pure overlander the, the aspirational trip as I quit my job and I’m living in my truck and I’m driving around the world. Right?

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: That’s the aspirational thing. The typical sliding camper really is not suitable for that. And the typical sliding camper is not using the best available technologies to manage that home on wheels infrastructure. And they’re typically pretty heavy, so focuses were on weight, the quality of the technology that’s inside of that, and the amount of storage that you have practical storage, like can I pack clothes for four seasons?

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: So is there enough storage to do that? Have my recovery gear for when I am doing fun, dangerous stuff, and all the other things that you need to get through life. Some of the people that we have built [00:16:00] trucks like this for, uh, run the gamut. Um, we have one client he’s a remote doctor. So he’s out in the field. He needs tons of water, but he needs a safe place regardless of the weather. It has all of his gear, but he can still, you know, run his practice.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: And you can’t do that in a sliding camper.

Scott Brady: Right.

Mario Donovan: And you can’t even do that in a topper. You need more complete system. So if you look at how we designed the Aterra and how we created the technology on the inside, there are very few option boxes for you to check off because we just included everything that we know you’re going to need for that true full-time environment.

Scott Brady: Well, again, coming back to that takeaway that you had with the, with the toppers is that people tend to buy them fairly well modified, I mean, fairly complete. So you kind of knew that going into Aterra, that was an advantage [00:17:00] for you, for sure.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. We had what six years experience selling another brand and seeing how people were purchasing and what they wanted from us. And since we also offer, you know, all the upfit meant for the vehicles on site, they can come to us and it’s, it’s turnkey.

Scott Brady: Turnkey.

Mario Donovan: You don’t have to go to four different shops to get stuff done.

Scott Brady: Well, congratulations on all the products that you have brought to market and their success in the market as well. They’ve, I’ve just never heard anyone say, you know, I just don’t like this AT product. There may be that they’ve got small issues here and there, like any product would, but I’ve just never heard anybody have some catastrophic failure with it. So no. Yeah. Which that’s how you build them, right?

Mario Donovan: Yeah. We’re all everybody under our roof, is an efficinato, so all that thought process comes from the entire team and how do we get to this product? How do we solve these problems and make something that we don’t have to [00:18:00] apologize for.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: And, uh, it’s been a successful method.

Scott Brady: Yeah, no question. It’s been amazing to watch any other questions that you’ve got on..

Matt Scott: What’s the weight on the Aterra? Like what what’s like that the published weight?

Mario Donovan: The published weight is 1,250 pounds. Um, we have made some generational changes and we managed to shave another 70 out.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: Yeah.

Scott Brady: Yeah. That, that alone is exceptional.

Mario Donovan: It is. Yeah, it truly is.

Scott Brady: Yeah. That’s amazing. So you, I mean, it puts it on a 2,500 Ram, easily.

Mario Donovan: Easily. Yeah.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: With a coil sprung rear suspension.

Scott Brady: That’s the benefit.

Matt Scott: Don’t tempt me.

Scott Brady: You just, haven’t had one of those hanging around Matt.

Mario Donovan: Kind of like an apartment on a buggy.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Scott Brady: Could you imagine Prospector with one of those on top? That’d be pretty amazing.

Matt Scott: I’ll have to suffice with the Earth Roamer for now.

Scott Brady: Exactly. Oh, darn.

Matt Scott: Oh, darn.

Mario Donovan: Stay tuned. We’re kind of [00:19:00] working on something like that.

Matt Scott: Cool. Um, man, I don’t know. That sounds pretty rad.

Scott Brady: So I think it would be fun Mario, because those that are listening, Mario has had an extremely colorful life. And I think that that’s part of the joy of knowing you Mario. And it, I think it explains a lot of why you are the way you are and why you build things the way that you do. I just remember one of the first stories that you told me was that you left Ethiopia as a young man, um, very quickly because a tank ran into your apartment.

Mario Donovan: Yeah.

Scott Brady: So I think we start with the tank story and then let’s go, let’s like, how did you end up in Ethiopia let’s after that let’s get into, how did you end up in Ethiopia to begin with?

Mario Donovan: Okay. Well, the tank story is kind of interesting. I already graduated from high school and I was still hanging around in Addis Ababa. Uh, during that time we had martial law, uh, [00:20:00] there was a revolution going on and there was infighting between the various groups in military to grasp the power from what, 3000 years of monarchy or..

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: And so curfew ran from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM and that means nobody out on the streets, you know? And, uh, I was living in a, it was a three story apartment building on Churchill road in Addison. And the bottom floor had, uh, two shops, one was a tailor shop and one was a coffee shop. And as you know, in the third world, not uncommon for the store owner to actually be living in the store.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: Um, so I think, I don’t know, maybe it was 5:00 AM issue was definitely still curfew hours and just the whole building, just shutters. And, uh, there’ve been a lot of gunfire in the city and, you know, rounds coming through apartment windows and stuff like that, stray rounds. So I, [00:21:00] uh, went out to the balcony and crawled across the balcony and I looked out onto the street and, uh, there was the, uh, the rear end of a, I guess, was a tank or an armored personnel carrier sticking out of the coffee shop downstairs. And, uh, so what we surmised happened that day, who has. That the owners of the coffee shop, uh, were either from Tigray or Eritrea. And, uh, there have been a long standing fight for freedom by that province from Ethiopia. So they probably were viewed as maybe instigators or part of, you know, the other side. And so they basically annihilated whoever was in there. And that, that probably was like a Sunday or a Monday. And, uh, by Wednesday, uh, I had a flight out of, Addis Ababa and that was not easy to do because it was hard to get a [00:22:00] flight. There was, you know, it was risky to get across town and things like that. And that was in, uh, that was February of 1977.

Scott Brady: Wow. Amazing.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. So I left there and, uh, flew from there to Aiden, and then to, Bombay at the time and then to Bangkok and, and to Manila. And then finally back to the U S and I visited friends all along the route.

Scott Brady: Oh, cool.

Mario Donovan: School chums.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Yeah.

Scott Brady: So how, how did you end up in Ethiopia to begin with?

Mario Donovan: You don’t get to pick your parents. Um, my, my mother worked as a consultant for the United Nations and she would be on loan as a publication specialist. Uh, to different organizations that were doing scientific research. So in one case it was, uh, insect physiology. So they were studying insects that and [00:23:00] encephalitis, uh, malaria and other diseases. So primarily they were studying locust, mosquitoes and Sensi flies. And then in another case, it was, um, an organization that’s that was doing crossbreeding of cattle. So there’s a cattle strain in Africa called the Zebu and it’s very diseased resistant, but it doesn’t produce a lot of milk, a lot of meat. And so they were trying to crossbreed some European breeds to produce a higher yield, but more disease resistant cattle. So they have all these different types of development programs. Um, she did a stint with the Ethiopian Ministry of Tourism for awhile, and this was during the Haile Selassie days before the revolution, uh, helping them develop, uh, their, uh, publication programs for advertising tourism around the world. Um, so just a lot of interesting organizations like that, but because she was so busy, she just plunked me in a boarding school. And, uh, so she thought it would be cool to put me in a boarding school where I didn’t speak the language. [00:24:00] She put me into a French Lycee. So from day one, it was a better learning how to speak French kid, or you’re going to go hungry.

Scott Brady: Wow. Did you learn how to speak French?

Mario Donovan: Oh yeah. I’m fluent in French.

Scott Brady: Amazing.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, but it was interesting because up to that point in my life, and that was when I was 10 years old, when that occurred. Um, we had moved 14 times by the time I was 10.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: So I had become very used to this nomadic lifestyle of just having a couple of suitcases and moving from one place to the other. So moving to Africa was like, all right, here we go again. We’re moving again. Um, but it was interesting dropping into Ethiopia. Because keep in mind, I grew up in a small town that when I was there was about 250 residents, uh, it’s small town called Bolinas, California and the latest [00:25:00] census at 1600. Okay. So, so it’s grown a bit, right. But I went from 250 people to a city Addis Ababa who at that time had about 700,000 in population. So not only was it, oh my God, there’s a lot of people here, but they all speak languages. I don’t understand.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: And eat food I’ve never seen before.

Scott Brady: And they eat it in ways you’ve never seen before.

Mario Donovan: Exactly, right? And yeah, you eat with your hands. And so I had my own culture shock. It would almost be like someone coming from Ethiopia, coming to the U S like going into New York City and going, holy smokes. This place is huge. So I had like the reverse experience. Uh, and then when I left Ethiopia, Um, I moved to Los Angeles and that was yet again, another cultural experience. I remember being picked up at the airport and being taken to where, where I lived for awhile in Pasadena, California, [00:26:00] and just thinking my first thought I was like, oh my God, it’s so far from one place to another. And literally day two on the ground in Los Angeles, I went out and I bought a motorcycle. That was the first thing I did.

Scott Brady: Well, and if I remember you learn to ride a motorcycle in Africa, is that right?

Mario Donovan: Oh yeah.

Scott Brady: So you got to tell that story didn’t you like steal them something happened, you stole a motorcycle?

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, at the time I was living in Nairobi and, uh, uh, we lived in a, I think it was a three unit flat and, uh, one of our neighbors was, uh, uh, German and he was part of a German aid organization and he was actually teaching auto mechanics. Uh, at some Polytechnic school in Nairobi. And he had a Honda, 175 twin in his garage that he barely rode, but he was always gone. And I wasn’t even thinking about girls at the age of 15 or 16. All I could think about was motorcycles. I just thought [00:27:00] they were the best.

Matt Scott: Cheaper..

Mario Donovan: Cheaper? Yeah, cheaper than girls. And, uh, I figured out how to Hotwire, it. Yeah. The key was simple. It was underneath the tank. You just put a little wire across it and then I would, I would unscrew the odometer. I’d look, check, see how much fuel was in the tank. And I ride it around the neighborhoods in Nairobi, and then fill it back up with gas, put it back in the garage, take my little wire off, and then screw the odometer cable back in.

And, uh, when I came of age to drive about a year later, um, My mom said, so, you know, what do you want to drive? And I said, I’d really like a motorcycle, like that guy. Sorry, I forget what his name was, Hans or something. And she said, oh, I talked to him, he’s got it for sale. So I actually bought it. So I absolved myself of that.

Scott Brady: For sure.

Mario Donovan: Do you need to [00:28:00] test ride it? Oh no..

Scott Brady: No, it looks great.

Mario Donovan: So, yeah, that was my first motorcycle.

Scott Brady: I don’t know why it needs new tires. He’s like, I have only put 300 miles on it.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. I’ve been in love with motorcycles ever since. Best way you can travel.

Scott Brady: That’s awesome.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. I was fortunate enough to be able to ride around Ethiopia and Kenya on a motorcycle solo. It was a great way to get out into the back country and with fuel being as, as expensive as it was and hard to get, it was a really good way to get around.

Scott Brady: Yeah, I suspect what question you got next?

Matt Scott: Man, I don’t know.

Scott Brady: The stories are so good..

Matt Scott: The stories are super great. I mean, so I guess we’ve never really talked much about, you know, your adventures in Ethiopia, you know, outside of Addis Ababa. Like what are the, what are the, some of the places that you would recommend that travelers go?

Mario Donovan: In Ethiopia?

Matt Scott: Yeah..

Mario Donovan: [00:29:00] Man, you can’t go wrong. Um, it is such an interesting country, geographically and culturally keep in mind it was never colonized. So it has its unique personality with a little bit of an Italian influence because the Italians made a short attempt at colonizing and..

Matt Scott: Yeah, didn’t they get it during World War II. It was like one of Mussolini’s big things.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Mussolini kind of was like, come on, everybody else’s doing it and I should get piece of the action on that. He got, got his butt kicked by the Ethiopians, but, um..

Scott Brady: Just going to do a quick, a restart of theirs they’re time limited the cameras. So we’re just doing a quick restart here. Okay, we’re we’re good. So we’re talking about Mussolini everybody.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, Mussolini getting his chance. Right. But, um, so consequently there’s good wine and good pasta in Ethiopia. Uh, but it might be spicy.

Matt Scott: Okay. I’ve only had Ethiopian food once and [00:30:00] that was with you. Yeah, no, no. Wait, I’ve been to Ethiopia. The airport.

Mario Donovan: Oh, you went to, you were at the Bole airport.

Matt Scott: Yeah. Yeah, it was in Addis, so it was very, um, well they’re building a new airport, so you could tell it was at the, the last of it’s legs.

Mario Donovan: I have learned that every airport in the world is perpetually under construction.

Scott Brady: It’s true.

Matt Scott: Yeah. Pretty much. I cannot recommend eating Ethiopian food on an airplane. It is quite messy.

Scott Brady: Well, and why is, why is Ethiopian food messy? I remember I was going to go out to Ethiopia. I asked you about European food in Las Vegas and you, or it was maybe in Denver and you said, here’s the place you got to go here. And you’re like, but here’s the deal. And you talk about why it’s messy. And then you told me about Tej. So you gotta, you gotta let everybody know why is it messy to eat Ethiopian food? And what is Tej?

Matt Scott: Talk food to me. [00:31:00]

Mario Donovan: So well, Ethiopian food is messy if you don’t have practice.

Scott Brady: Yeah. So, yeah. So if an American’s trying to eat Ethiopian food, sure..

Matt Scott: Hi, I’m from Chicago..

Scott Brady: Exactly, this is going to be a disaster.

Mario Donovan: So Ethiopian food that the, uh, the, the core bread is called Injera and Injera is made from a fermented Teff flour. And so it has a kind of a moist spongy texture to it. Um, but you tear it off with, with your right hand, not your left hand. And, uh, and you use a piece of that to grab a piece of meat from the stew or a potato or color greens or whatever it is. And then you plunk that in your mouth and they serve all those dishes on top of the Injera. So the best part of the meal is actually the base layer of Injera that soaked up all those yummy sauces.

Scott Brady: Yeah, sure.

Mario Donovan: Um, Tej is a mead that Ethiopia is, [00:32:00] as I knew, it for a long time was one of the largest producers of honey in the world.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: And as an export, a drop of it, cause they make Tej with it. And so Tej is this beer level and alcohol a little less than wine. It’s usually, you know, 8% somewhere..

Matt Scott: Is that the stuff that we had that was like homemade?

Mario Donovan: Yes. Yeah, exactly. And it’s always going to be homemade. Because if you’re buying it out of a bottle from a big brewery, it’s not any good. Yeah. So in Ethiopia you would go to someplace called a Tej Bet and a Tej Bet, bet means house. So it’s a Tej house. And so basically that’s nomenclature for a bar, but they also serve food. And every single one of those places has their own unique Tej flavor. And it’s because the yeasts come out of the air and the yeast comes from a little, uh, branch, which is a relative of the Bitterroot [00:33:00] Bush. It’s called Gasha. And if you go into an Ethereum or Ethiopian market in the U S usually it’d just be like a bag and I’ll say sticks on it because you don’t know, but they know.

Scott Brady: They know what it is.

Mario Donovan: But they just call it sticks. If you’re lucky they might call it Gesha. But that’s how they make Tej. It’s really simple, but it’s, it’s so complimentary to the meal because it has sweetness and it helps offset that spiciness and, and, you know, drinking and eating together..

Matt Scott: And the bread is almost a little sour. So you kind of get that sweet, sour, spicy..

Mario Donovan: Fermented aspect of it, of the, of the Injera.

Scott Brady: Okay. So since Tej is so easy to make, you got to let the listener know how do you make the Tej? Like what’s the process.

Mario Donovan: You get some really good honey.

Scott Brady: Okay, honey.

Mario Donovan: Get a bag of sticks.

Scott Brady: Bag of sticks. Got it.

Mario Donovan: Uh..

Scott Brady: Water, maybe?

Mario Donovan: Water, patience.

Matt Scott: Oh, that’s it!

Scott Brady: And then you let the sugar in the honey ferment?

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Hmm. Yeah.

Scott Brady: That’s [00:34:00] awesome.

Matt Scott: I’ve recently learned that honey never expires.

Mario Donovan: This is true. And they have found honey in the pyramids.

Matt Scott: Hmm. You can still eat it.

Mario Donovan: Perfectly edible.

Scott Brady: Wow. Bees are amazing. don’t kill the bees please. Yeah. So yeah, well, that’s, that is so amazing. And I have noticed that’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed in our conversations is that you, you light up about things in cultures that not a lot of people think about. Like everybody wants to have good coffee. You know, if you go to Turkey, you’re going to have a Turkish coffee and it’s going to taste a certain way. But, what I have found with you is that I’ll ask you about Ethiopian coffee and you’ll go down to like telling me how they pick the beans and like what the roasting process is like over the fire in this. And you even knew the name of the pan and everything. Where did this curiosity come for, for like, for food and drink and like those [00:35:00] nuances of culture that maybe not a lot of people think about?

Mario Donovan: Um, Well, first of all, I like to eat and I like him, he stuff, ??? But also food and breaking bread, having a meal together. Um, sitting here drinking fizzy beverages together, uh..

Scott Brady: As overlanders do.

Mario Donovan: Yes, as overlanders do.

Matt Scott: My water comes from Italy.

Mario Donovan: But breaking bread is a very social thing, right? If you eat together as a family, if you eat with friends and it is the, the basest form of true brotherly love.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: If I’m willing to share my bounty from my farm or from my hearth with you as the traveler or the visitor, I’m expressing love to you sharing that with you and we’ve taken everything else out of the equation. Our religions, our [00:36:00] political, you know, thoughts or if you think it’s about the meal.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: And so there’s that base thing about food that I love so much. And then food becomes the conversation point and food is so interesting all over the world, but then you also find similarities. I find that part of it interesting, like almost every culture has their form of a sandwich. It’s some sort of a grain with a filling.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Whether it’s Injera and the what that you would use and, and having it, or the pita bread falafel, or, you know, the deep dish pizza in Chicago.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: There’s some form of a sandwich. And I find that interesting that we have these commonalities, even though we are so different from each other.

Scott Brady: I even found a sandwich in Mexico. Well, they just use that. You just use well, that’s different. Yeah. That’s, that’s a good example of a sandwich. I didn’t think of that one, but they actually have, they actually have [00:37:00] like bread sandwiches in Mexico with like way too much Mayo on it. So it’s like, I guess when you’ve perfected food with a taco..

Matt Scott: In America, we have Le Big Mac.

Scott Brady: I said, well, yeah, we do. Okay.

Matt Scott: Actually I think we invented the Reuben sandwich, not, I think ,we invented the Reuben sandwich.

The Ruben’s a pretty good sandwich. Yeah. That is a pretty..

Mario Donovan: We invented that?

Matt Scott: Yeah, look it up.

Mario Donovan: Like who’s we?

Matt Scott: I did. Oh, in the 1920s, I’m actually..

Mario Donovan: Your wife is a Jewish deli owner?

Matt Scott: I’m actually a time traveler. I just decide to, you know, decided to come to the..

Scott Brady: That’s, how you pick all these cars, so well, you knew. Uh, he came back from the future with an NADA, you know, future cars, value handbook. That’s how he picks and buys cars. So you end up, you ended up in Los Angeles and you’ve had all of these incredible experiences in boarding schools and traveling around the world. Um, a [00:38:00] very, uh, very dynamic mother that was intellectual and deeply engaged with the UN, a worldly organization. How do you think that that changed you? I mean, with even when I first met you, you’re, you’re not a typical person. So like you’ve had, you’ve had a lot of, lot of very..

Matt Scott: That’s a really nice way of saying he’s a weirdo..

Scott Brady: But like somehow not weird, but somehow not weird. Right? So like to have all those really unusual experiences and upbringings and not be weird, that’s kind of hard to do. How did you do that?

Matt Scott: Yeah, I mean, I think like some could perceive it as being weird, but it’s, it’s, I’ve always looked at Mario as being very international, very international, very cultured, very open to different ideas. Um, you know, when you see that in all kinds of, you know, ways in Mario’s life, I think whether that’s business, personally or, um, you know?

Scott Brady: But how did that bring about that openness, that open-mindedness, that curiosity, help us understand that process that, that happened for [00:39:00] you?

Mario Donovan: My mother had a big role in forming that thought process for me, she used to drill this thing into me, it’s a French saying noblesse oblige. And it basically, it means no matter what your station is in life, you never look down on someone. There is always something to learn from everyone. And in order to do that, in order to learn, you have to have an open mind. You have to be willing to have your beliefs turned on their head. Um, if you think about our standard American culture, as we, as we know it, and you were to go overseas, you would think things are weird.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Guess what? They think things are weird about you too.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: And so when you go into situations around the world like that, you are going to have a much richer experience. If you just let things happen. Um, I know we talked about your Silk Road [00:40:00] experiences and armpit cheese and things like that. Hello? That’s what the world is like.

Scott Brady: Yeah. It’s amazing.

Mario Donovan: And that experience for you was a reflection of incredible generosity by those people.

Scott Brady: No question. Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Right? Regardless of borders and beliefs that happened and you don’t experience that unless you’re open-minded. And so I think if you aren’t, you’re going to miss a lot of stuff. I think also having those experiences helps develop tolerance for you and with tolerance comes patience and..

Scott Brady: Compassion.

Mario Donovan: Compassion, and all those things that make you a better human being, in my opinion.

Scott Brady: Yeah. Maybe dampens our ego a bit?

Matt Scott: It’s so easy to isolate yourself these days when you travel. I mean..

Mario Donovan: Absolutely.

Matt Scott: You can, you can get off of your bed on the plane, to your car, to your hotel, to your Uber, to your, this, and miss the entire experience [00:41:00] and the point of why you went there, you know?

Scott Brady: That’s why you’re way better off hotwiring the motorcycle.

Mario Donovan: Better adventures.

Matt Scott: That’s one of the things that, you know, attracts me to traveling by motorcycle, particularly in Africa. Um, you know, cause you’re just more in it, you know?

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Motorcycling is, I mean, you’re totally in it, right? You’re you’re feeling every temperature change. You’re tasting every bug, you know, you know, and you’re more physically involved when you’re riding a motorcycle. You know, if you’re, if you’re weaving a motorcycle through a local market, you know, in east Africa you’re actively involved. You’re you’re, you’re not texting on your phone. You know what I’m saying? You gotta be paying attention.

Scott Brady: And I think that is a nice upside of motorcycles. You disconnect a little bit.

Mario Donovan: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Matt Scott: Motorcycles interest me so much for the cultural aspect of travel. To be honest, I [00:42:00] riding motorcycles in the U S it’s fun for sport. That’s why we do like the trials and the Enduro kind of stuff. But, um, you know, like blasting down I-70 on a, on a 1200 GS, just..

Mario Donovan: Barca Lounger on wheels.

Matt Scott: This might as well be in a car. But, um, yeah, I, I dunno, I, as the world emerges from COVID, you know, this idea of motorcycle travel just really, really kinda inspires me.

Scott Brady: Absolutely. There’s a purity to it.

Mario Donovan: Half the world gets around on 125 cc.

Scott Brady: No question. So you, you have to talk about motorcycles just a little bit longer. You have had, you have had some wild motorcycles. If I remember you had something that was already fast, and then you, like, you put a turbo on it. What happened with that?

Mario Donovan: So there were two years, I think it was 84 and 85. Yamaha made a 650 turbo and it had, because it would suck through fuel so fast when it opened up on boost, the [00:43:00] carburetors were pressurized and there was a fuel pump to fill them up. And almost every motorcycle prior to that had been gravity flow tank. Right. And, uh, it had a little Hitachi blower on it and, uh, that was fun. Uh, but it’s even more fun if you put two of them on there and you put in a manual waste gate. So, so yeah, and, and it was an unfortunate time. Cause I think we had a 55 mile, an hour speed limit in the U S.

Scott Brady: Right. And that does bring up. It does bring up another story. You told me about something about hon. I don’t know some excessive speed.

Mario Donovan: Oh yeah.

Scott Brady: Yeah. I don’t know if you want to tell that story to the listeners?

Mario Donovan: Sure. It was an interesting ticket. So I used to work at a printing plant and, uh, I was working. Starting at 6:00 AM or something like that. And, uh, it was on the road. It wasn’t, I think it was February, ’cause I remember it was cold. It was really cold. I had a [00:44:00] neoprene face mask on underneath the helmet and everything and uh, I’m going down the highway and there’s nobody on the highway, like at 4:00 AM. So I’m cruising along. It was like 70 above, you know, above, above the speed limit.

Scott Brady: 70 above the speed limit?

Mario Donovan: Not 70 above at that moment. But, uh, uh, I looked in the rear view mirror and I could see this one light slowly coming up on me, maybe making about 10 miles an hour, one more than that. It was gone. And as it’s getting closer, I look in the rear view mirror and was like, I’m trying to make out the, you know, the, the front lights on it. Yeah. And I’m thinking, man, I wonder is that one of those new Suzuki Katana’s I can’t quite tell. And, uh, right when it got into my blind spot blind spot, I shifted down two gears, click the waste gate, opened up the throttle and took off. And then the next time I looked in the mirror way back. It was this red and blue flashing. Damn. So through my, through my thought process is like, do I just keep going? No, there’s a highway [00:45:00] patrol station coming up, you know, like two exits down. Now this is not going to end well, so I just killed it, pulled off to the side and the officer pulled up and he was riding a Harley. Well, back in those days, they were all in Kawasakis and the why I didn’t recognize the light pattern. Right. So, uh, he walked up to me and, you know, the usual stupid question, you know, why I pulled you over?

Scott Brady: May have had something to do with the fact..

Mario Donovan: So, uh, anyway, uh, it was kind of funny. He, uh, he said, so, uh, uh, like, you know how fast you’re going and I’m like, the speedometer only goes to 85 and I know you’re going well over that. It’s like, yeah, I’m pretty sure I was. He said, okay, well, 85 we’ll call it. Good. And then the additional note was, uh, something like, uh, engagement in speed with the police officers, speed contest with the police officer that was on. But [00:46:00] fortunately back, back then they didn’t have like, you know, these computer systems that spoke county to county and all of that. So you could rack up a couple of tickets in Los Angeles county in the morning, and then it got a couple of tickets down in Orange County or San Diego, and they’d be none the wiser, even though you had like a three ticket limit for the year. So it took a while to catch up with you.

Scott Brady: Yeah. You’ve definitely had some fun motorcycle. And what, what motorcycles do you have right now?

Mario Donovan: Right now I’ve got a, an XL 650, the, the one that ExPo had for awhile and I know still loving that bike, still riding it and throwing it down every now and then. And then, uh, my, my mistress is my 94, uh, Ducati Monster.

Matt Scott: That is the first year for the Monster, right?

Mario Donovan: 93 was, but, um, it is a fun bike. It’s it’s had a lot of work done to it. It’s really fast.

Scott Brady: It’s cool.

Mario Donovan: It’s so raw. I like it because there’s, there’s nothing, but you [00:47:00] controlling it. There’s no abs there’s no mapping. There’s no selectable modes, none of that. And, uh, I liked the rawness of coming into a corner, a hard and fast, and just knowing that this might work or it might not.

Matt Scott: And if it doesn’t, I probably won’t know anyways.

Scott Brady: Yeah. It won’t matter anyway..

Mario Donovan: It forces you to ride and the XL is like that too.

Scott Brady: Sure. It’s totally analog.

Mario Donovan: It’s totally analog.

Scott Brady: Still carborated yup.

Mario Donovan: And not having some computer monitor that for me. Uh, just completely detaches me from the rest of the world and forces me to focus on just the riding. And I love that. Yeah. Yeah. Good disconnect.

Scott Brady: Oh, those are two great, could not be more polar opposite motorcycles, but perfect. Totally perfect.

Mario Donovan: They look ridiculous next [00:48:00] to each other.

Scott Brady: That’s true. Well, so you talked about printing presses and we’ve got to bring this up in the podcast because everybody needs to know again how material Mario was in many things.

Matt Scott: Both of our businesses.

Scott Brady: Yeah, exactly. So we, we, uh, we decided in 2006, this crazy idea that we were going to start printing a magazine. So we had been running Expedition Portal for awhile and we decided we’re going to do this thing called Overland Journal. And, uh, fortunately we had Jonathan Hanson involved, incredible editor, and we had Stephanie who incredible designer. Me, I don’t know what I did. That was all that useful, but we needed to figure out how to print this thing. So, and I’m like, I think Mario was in printing or maybe you were still even in printing at the time. I can’t remember. You were maybe making a transition. And I said, we want to print this magazine. And what I loved about it, this is one of the things that stands out in my memory is that you didn’t tell [00:49:00] me that that was a bad idea. You didn’t, ’cause it probably wasn’t such a great idea. Like you were so enthusiastic and you actually just sat down and said, well, let’s figure out how we’re going to do it. Cause we knew what we wanted it to look like. And there’s a huge gap between having a vision of what a magazine is going to look like in your hands and printing it like the specification and the type of paper. And one of the outcomes from it that I think I’m most proud of. And it’s directly as a result of your recommendation is the whiteness of the paper that we use and the way that it makes the photographs look on the paper. So thank you Mario, for helping us to not only specify how we print it, but then you also helped us beat on the printer a whole bunch when they were doing stuff wrong.

Mario Donovan: It was a real pleasure. And I seem to recall that you may not have even known the level of my experience in the printing industry, but the magazine area was my specialty. [00:50:00]

Scott Brady: And it showed.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. And I remember at the time you said you wanted to emulate the Surfer’s Journal, that was sort of your. Yeah, that was your benchmark. And I remember looking at it and asking you, like, what would you think your publication numbers are going to be? And I told you like, yeah, it’s the wrong machine.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: And we, we repositioned a few things, change the size a little bit. And then that got you to fit on the right machine for what you were doing.

Scott Brady: Yep. And you recommended hunts, Hudson printing out of Utah, which we stick, which we still use. They’ve been an amazing partner. And now it runs on a much bigger machine, but because of your help, we were able to do all that. So thank you for that. Mario. Just wanted to put that out there to everybody that the reason why Overland Journal looks the way that it does and print is in large part because of Mario’s help. So..

Mario Donovan: You’re welcome. In case you need to know, I still scrutinize every issue that [00:51:00] comes to the office with my loop, printers doing the right thing.

Scott Brady: How are they doing?

Mario Donovan: They’re doing just fine.

Scott Brady: Oh, that’s good.

Mario Donovan: I think you got them trained.

Scott Brady: Yeah, we’ve been, we’ve been working on them for so long. Um, so now we’ve talked about motorcycles. I think let’s shift over to the four wheel drives.

Matt Scott: Yeah. I don’t know how many Prospectors do you have right now? Like eight?

Mario Donovan: No, no, I’m, I’m down to two.

Matt Scott: Just down to two?

Mario Donovan: Trying to control myself.

Matt Scott: So favorite vehicle?

Mario Donovan: My favorite vehicle I would have to say is a Prospector XL number one that I bought from Dave Harrington.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Scott Brady: That’s the regular cab manual transmission?

Mario Donovan: Regular cab, manual transmission, coil sprung in a bag. That is, it’s a Jeep on steroids. It’s what every Jeep wants to be when it grows up. [00:52:00]

Matt Scott: I agree. I now see what you mean.

Mario Donovan: That truck is so capable, unstoppable. It’s just so much fun to drive. There’s nothing like as, you know, rowing your own gears.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: And yeah, the motors detuned because of the manual. It doesn’t matter.

Scott Brady: No, it’s wonderful.

Mario Donovan: And we, that, we actually use that as our shop truck. It’s probably the nicest parts getter in town, but we still wheel it to, uh..

Scott Brady: Well, whenever you get ready to sell that one, I still regret not buying it from Dave when he called me up.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. That ain’t happening.

Scott Brady: Maybe you never know.

Matt Scott: Just give it six keeps and I’ll have a Prospector or for ya.

Scott Brady: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Yeah. Matt’s got a Prospector right now.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, but it won’t be a six speed manual and it won’t say prototype on the inside door jam.

Scott Brady: It was definitely the manual that won me out on that one, for sure.

Mario Donovan: I’ll have to give kudos to Dave. He really inspired us to take a good, [00:53:00] hard look at full-sized trucks. Um, when we realized the capabilities and had the opportunity to first drive them in technical terrain and go, oh yeah, this, this is it. And this is where we need to go for the, the overloaders of the world. And, uh, it made a shift for us at, AT to start driving people in that direction, particularly for, uh, the people who want to do global travel and, and weight is a concern, and power, and range, right? So, I mean..

Scott Brady: Yeah, the full-size trucks..

Matt Scott: It’s the closest thing, you know, and you hear this less and less, where everybody used to want 10 years ago, 70 series, 70 series, 70 series. When we actually got something better here.

Mario Donovan: Oh, yeah.

Matt Scott: Nobody really recognized it. Um, and I think the thing with overland travel too, is it’s not generally incredibly technical, but all vehicles have become so much more capable.

Mario Donovan: Yes.

Matt Scott: You know, um, you [00:54:00] know, uh, Gladiator verse verse Prospector XL, right? I mean, the Gladiator is still a little bit more capable, a little bit more nimble, but by nature of being able to fit a 40 inch tire on something, while it’s not a 40 inch tire is not needed to drive around the world. Like, let’s just get that out of the way.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, true.

Matt Scott: But it just changes the dynamic of the vehicle and everything on that truck can support it. You’re not talking about swapping axles and this and that and whatever..

Scott Brady: You don’t even really need to change the gears. I don’t think. You can get it from the factory with 410s or 456s or whatever.

Matt Scott: 373 is on the new ones. But, um..

Mario Donovan: 410 is still an option. We’re still doing that..

Matt Scott: On the 3,500? Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. Well, we, we mostly deal with it in the cab chassis, you know, order from the factory scenario.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: So you have a lot more options when you go that route.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: The thing that, that is a real game changer from a technical terrain perspective is the ratio of weight to square inches of contact patch of rubber. [00:55:00] That is significant.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Scott Brady: That is a huge tire.

Matt Scott: They just, they just don’t ever feel overloaded in a lot of scenarios, you know, I mean, I’ve, I’ve been on the trail with, you know, Tacoma’s that have like an XP Camper and they just struggled cause nothing on that truck is meant to ever do that.

Mario Donovan: Well, we see a lot of mid-sized trucks, you know, pushing, uh, 6,500, 7,000 pound range. Right?

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: And, uh, you know, my truck, I pulled up in here with an Aterra on it and it’s 3,500 weighs 10,800 pounds.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Scott Brady: And it’s on a 41 inch tall tire.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. So it’s 14 and a half inches wide. So there’s, you know, it’s tenacious, tenacious on the roads, tenacious on the trail. Yeah.

Scott Brady: So what was your favorite vehicle of all time? I mean, you had a Comanche for about 87 years. I think you had it for at least eight decades.

Mario Donovan: So yeah, almost eight decades. Uh, I had it for 20 [00:56:00] years. I bought it in 92, new, off the dealer’s lot and uh, I sold it 20 years later for $500 more than I paid for it, but I probably had like four times that much invested in over the period of time. But, um, I sold it with 472,000 miles on it and the original transmission.

Scott Brady: That’s incredible.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. And it, to answer your question, it’s, uh, living a happy life in Maryland.

Matt Scott: Oh, okay.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, but that vehicle, it was an interesting test bed for AT to test all of these different ideas in the mid-sized platform. And it was not a common truck.

Scott Brady: And so it always stood out.

Mario Donovan: So it always stood out and always attract attention. Um, and everything we did to, it seemed like we were always the first person to do something like that. And we were perfectly overweight with that truck. I think we were maybe 800 pounds over [00:57:00] GVW.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: And that truck got used in the Safaria triathlon races and all this other stuff. And it had a rough life. It had a lot of repair work done.

Scott Brady: Well, and you, and you, you just always did such a nice job with it. It was always such a cool vehicle. And I was, I was actually surprised when you sold it, but I can see in hindsight now that like these, these Rams really are just a much better choice for you in what you, how you currently travel.

Matt Scott: You had a beautiful pitstop with a JK.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, I did. We were watching the market move on the JK and we had already started the conceptual stuff on the JK Habitat. And, uh, we didn’t have the bandwidth to have all these vehicles in the stable. So it’s like, well, something’s got to go. And I didn’t advertise that the Comanche for sale, somebody approached me.

Scott Brady: Ah, gotcha.

Mario Donovan: And, uh, it was kind of an interesting story. The guy had two Comanches, and he was trying to [00:58:00] make one Comanche out of the two Comanches of parts to build something like what I had. And I said, well, I’ll sell you this one. How about that? And he’s like, you’re kidding. And I said, no. And he said, oh, he says, I’ll say yes, but I have to talk it over with my wife. I said, okay. And he says, well, we usually like to sleep on something before we make a major decision. I said, okay, fine. They came back about three hours later. This was at an expo in Mormon Lake, came back about three o’clock, three hours later and said, well, we’ll take it. I said, what’d you do take a nap? And he said exactly. So that was awesome. And, uh, they’re, they’re still loving that truck taking beautiful care of it. Uh, you know, it’s one of those things that you have that much travel invested in that vehicle and you have all these memories. So it almost takes on a life of its own and has a personality to it. And it was nice to know that it went to a couple that were really going to enjoy it. And. Yeah, what it was built for.

Scott Brady: That’s amazing. I’m going to [00:59:00] stop one second and do another restart here. All right. We got a couple more questions.

Matt Scott: I’ll take the next one.

Scott Brady: The favorite pieces of kit?

Matt Scott: I was going to actually start transition to the GVW conversation and building an overland vehicle like that.

Scott Brady: That’s great. Let’s do that.

Mario Donovan: Okay.

Matt Scott: Are we good to go?

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Matt Scott: So, I mean, I guess one of the, one of the themes that we’ve kind of been touching on with the full-size stuff and, and with your Comanche is, you know, the gross vehicle weight and people building stuff that it’s just way too heavy. I mean, so how do people avoid that? Like what, what’s your advice that to help people build stuff lighter?

Mario Donovan: My first piece of advice is make a list of everything that you take on a trip [01:00:00] and do that consistently, your, your list will change based on terrain or season right after those trips. And this is, this is when you’re starting out. After the end of each one of those trips, debrief that list. Go through it. Did I use this? Yes or no. If I didn’t have this with me, would it have been inconvenient or would it have been life-threatening?

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Some things think about, for example, a first aid kit, you want to make sure that you have it. You don’t want to use it, but if you didn’t have it, it would be a problem. So that’s always going to stay on the list, but that second corkscrew, maybe not. Right. Could you have made coffee another way without your espresso maker?

Matt Scott: It’s so easy to be over prepared.

Mario Donovan: Exactly. And so I think that paring back of stuff is really critical. I learned that doing [01:01:00] winter mountaineering, where you had to carry a lot of equipment. So you really had to think carefully about what other gear did you carry and decide that you really shouldn’t because at that point, announce on your back was like a pound on your feet, you know? So you want to make sure that you have just what you need and when you only carry just what you need, you are more likely to take better care of it. And you’re going to know exactly where it is. So that’s that that’s a critical thing to do, and that’s going to help you steer away from overloading your vehicle to begin with.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: I mean, I know like I used to carry a lot of parts with me down to Baja. Cause I had this concern that it might not be able to get the parts, so I would carry like an alternator or a water pump and all these other things that stuff adds up. And this is before synthetic ropes. I used to carry 50 feet at three eights chain.

Scott Brady: Sure.

Mario Donovan: You know? Cause that was the recovery thing.

Scott Brady: That was your winch line extension right there.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. [01:02:00] And a and a Danforth anchor, right? Uh, aluminum one, but still an anchor because the, the, the pole pile didn’t exist and bearing your spare tire was a big pain in the butt. But in retrospect, I learned a lot from that and learn how to pair back my gear. Um..

Scott Brady: That’s great advice.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. I think if you, if you do any motorcycle travel..

Matt Scott: Great training.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. And I don’t mean like with, you know, the pannier packs and all that. No, just like basic. I mean, when I was traveling by motorcycle in Africa, I did with a backpack. That was it. So whatever my mountain gear was, it was never more than my mountain gear.

Scott Brady: Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. So that’s where people should start, but there’s that temptation to see what’s out there and what’s on Instagram and all that looks cool. And it’s you affectionately call farkle. Uh, there’s a lot of that. That it’s completely unnecessary.

Matt Scott: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s [01:03:00] interesting to think of just the stuff that you’re bringing with you. Um, what about for people that, you know, like Scott’s first Tacoma and my first car and a lot of everybody’s first thing, you just, you get this, you know, you try and bolt too much stuff on your car right? And, I don’t know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a hard thing to avoid.

Mario Donovan: Well, I think it’s an evolution. I think we learned things from those experiences, right, Scott? We, we, we started off and we thought we needed stuff. And then we realized, oh, maybe I can eliminate some things either through just having a new skillset or realizing that there’s an alternative way to do things. And that’s how we learn how to pair back. And that’s why resources like the Expedition Portal kind of help guide people in that direction. Although that amount of information can be overwhelming. It’s like where to park in an empty parking lot. It’s like a, where do I go first?

Scott Brady: Decision fatigue. Yes.

Mario Donovan: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. [01:04:00]

Scott Brady: Well, and it, and it looks like because you’ve had so many different vehicles and now you’ve built so many different vehicles. Is there, is there some thread of consistency? Like if you were to give someone like the, the first three to five things that they can should consider, like they buy a new Dodge Ram 2,500 diesel off the lot. What’s the first three to five things that you would recommend that they do for remote travel?

Mario Donovan: Get better tires. That would be the first thing. I hear motorcycles.. That’s a happy background noise.

Matt Scott: Might be that landscaper.

Scott Brady: Could be..[01:05:00]

Mario Donovan: Was a neighbor in the back. Copy of that..

Scott Brady: Well, we’ll just go with it.

Mario Donovan: Okay. Yeah. That’s fine. No, I’m not hot wiring my neighbor’s motorcycle at the moment.

Scott Brady: Yeah. So first, first three to five things that you would recommend someone do with that 2,500 Ram?

Mario Donovan: Yeah, definitely tires. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go with the lift right away. I mean, if you’re going to say with a regular cab and in a shorter frame, um, those trucks will support 35 inch tires without a lift. And if you’re going with a lift, you’re only getting two inches anyway. Right?

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: So better tires. Definitely get [01:06:00] some recovery gear. Number one piece of recovery equipment is an air compressor. Period, because if you are properly airing down, you’re not getting stuck.

Scott Brady: Much less likely.

Mario Donovan: And less risk of flats, et cetera. And if you do get it flat, that’s probably the most common thing that’s going to happen to you.

Scott Brady: Yep.

Mario Donovan: Um, what else?

Scott Brady: Maybe that’s it good set of tires and an air compressor and some tools and recovery kit?

Mario Donovan: Well..

Matt Scott: Yeah, it’s just so easy to get caught up in the, you know, say caught up in the Instagram of just like, I have to have this and this and this and this. Like there’s some Tacoma I see running around town and I’m like, you must have 50 different items bolted to the exterior of your truck. Why?

Mario Donovan: Well, it’s the first evolution of my Comanche was pretty much, I went from the motorcycle to the Comanche. And so what did I do in the Comanche? I threw a full-size shovel in a, [01:07:00] and..

Matt Scott: Well, good shovel is like super handy. Good shovel gets you out of a lot of stuff.

Mario Donovan: It’s kind of like a towel in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There’s a towel in the back bathroom right? No, I think a good shovel is important for a lot of different reasons. Getting unstuck, um..

Scott Brady: Human waste all the..

Mario Donovan: Human waste, fire control. It’s a decent weapon, you know, all of those things. Um, but, um, I just threw my backpack in the back. Cause I already had that gear or we had a little stove and I already had a sleeping bag and a tarp, and a tent. And so you could go minimalist and I I’ve actually toyed with the idea, yeah, maybe a Samurai would be a fun truck again.

Scott Brady: It would be, oh, I, I dream of tin top Samurai’s.

Mario Donovan: I know of a nice one..

Scott Brady: To find, to find like a, a Stalker tin top Samurai would love that.

Mario Donovan: I [01:08:00] know one in town that’s got a 1.9 VW diesel in it.

Scott Brady: Oh, wow. That’s cool.

Matt Scott: Is it like next year that we can get Jimnys?

Scott Brady: That’s? Uh, no, even earlier than that, it may be nine. Yeah. It could be 98. Yeah. It could be 98 maybe now, maybe later than 2000. Yeah. 98 or 2000. Something like that soon. Very soon. Yeah.

Mario Donovan: But I don’t know for me, like, if I were just to say the two essential pieces of kit that don’t necessarily have to stay in the vehicle can go with you anywhere. Swiss army knife and a golf umbrella.

Scott Brady: Golf umbrella? There you go.

Mario Donovan: Heck yeah. Everybody who’s ever done the epic overland trip, you know, I’m going to Central and South America for three years. I’ve given them a golf umbrella and they always inevitably somewhere throughout that, send me an email going, oh, you saved our bacon because it’s shade when you got to walk out when you’re stuck or broken down or protection from the rain, who’s changed a tire and a [01:09:00] sloppy wind, a rainstorm, right? They have a big umbrella. It’s a, you can collect water with. Um..

Matt Scott: You should have..

Scott Brady: Improvise spear.

Mario Donovan: It’s an improvised spear and is certainly a gentleman’s weapon. If you’re walking through a town, I mean, what’s more suave and debonair, then strutting with a long umbrella. As you walked down the street, you know, somebody slips out of a dark alleyway and confronts you, you poke them in the face with it.

Scott Brady: There you go. Umbrella versus machete.

Matt Scott: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: That would be an interesting podcast.

Scott Brady: It would be, exactly. So we’ve got some of our standard questions too. We’d love to, to get your insights on, cause I think it’s going to be, it’s going to be really fun to hear. And this is one of my favorite questions. So I’m going to ask this one. So what are some of your favorite books? What are some of the most formative volumes that you’ve enjoyed in your life? Um, that you’d like to share with the audience?

Mario Donovan: I [01:10:00] think one of my favorite books is a book that was written by an Italian P.O.W. in Kenya. And it’s called No Picnic on Mount Kenya. And I think at one point, you guys even had it on your top 10 readers list some years back. And it’s an account of Italian soldiers who were held in a P.O.W. camp. Uh, and this is autobiographical story. So it makes it very readable. Um, they were in a pow camp in Kenya, I think somewhere around Munuki near the the foothills of Mount Kenya. And Mount Kenya is a beautiful mountain. It’s 17,000, some people, um, and, uh, they knew that if they escape from camp, there was nowhere for white men to go run and hide.

Scott Brady: You stand out.

Mario Donovan: A little bit.

Scott Brady: Easy to find you.

Mario Donovan: But, uh, they were all reluctant, you know, Italian soldiers and they, they, they came from, you know, near the Italian Alps and, and one day this cloud bank cleared and they [01:11:00] saw this beautiful peak and there were some of them that had climbed in the, and oh my God, that’s so gorgeous. And they were bored out of their minds. And so they put together clandestinely, gear, you know, made from blankets and, you know, nails and stuff, and escaped from camp and climbed Mount Kenya, and then came back to the camp. And, uh, they were severely punished for it and all that. But the British were like pretty amused by the story at the same time. And then they also didn’t even believe it. And so the British actually sent out a party up the mountain to, to verify that they had actually been there and they found remnants of the things that they left behind. It’s a beautiful story. It’s really well written and it’s just a great adventure. Uh.

Scott Brady: Fantastic.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. And there’s another book that comes out of, um, also out of the same area in, in, in, uh, East Africa, Kenya, Somalia area. And there was a guy named [01:12:00] Dan Elden and the book is called, uh, the journey know The Destination is the Journey. The Journey is the Destination, something like that before it was a cliche thing to say. And, uh, he only lived 23 years. He, he, he was born in London. He, uh, grew up in Kenya and he was a Reuters Photojournalist, and he died tragically. He was stoned to death in Somalia. Um, but he left a journal behind and it was this series of photographs and collages and notes and things that, uh, he had written during that short life he had, uh, in East Africa and it kind of paralleled my east African experiences, albeit two decades later. And it was a book that my mother bought for me because she thought I would enjoy it. And it was, it was published I believe by his [01:13:00] mother.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: Because she discovered his journals after he had passed away. And it’s a, it’s a beautiful book to thumb through.

Scott Brady: Wow.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. I highly recommend that and..

Scott Brady: Great suggestions.

Mario Donovan: Yeah. And then I have to say, this is like, uh, a little private pleasure of mine, but because I was in a French Lycee, um, I ended up, uh, kind of growing up in French if you will, on the Asterix and Obelix, uh, comic book series. And if you don’t know that series, it’s a story about a small village in Gaul that resisted the Roman Empire. And there are all these different adventures that happen around them beating up Romans all the time. And, and they were the, they were the, the pebble in the Romans shoe as they were trying to overrun Europe. And they could never defeat [01:14:00] this little small village of, of the, the Gauls. And it’s great storyline and..

Scott Brady: Awesome.

Mario Donovan: I still have those comic books. I still pull them out and well, they tell history. So these Cleopatra Caesar and all of these different periods in time, and it’s, you know, it’s history and wars and things that shaped the world as it is that we know today. And so when you have some kind of understanding of how that’s happened over a course of time, it gives you a better picture of why the world is.

Scott Brady: Oh, that’s amazing.

Mario Donovan: Yeah.

Scott Brady: That’s amazing.

Mario Donovan: I still, I still read those.

Scott Brady: Oh, that’s good. That’s good. What, uh, what questions you got?

Matt Scott: So somebody walks into AT Overland or brand new overlander. What’s the most important piece of advice that you can give them?

Mario Donovan: Get a golf umbrella.

Matt Scott: Other than that.

Mario Donovan: Oh, other than that? Ah, don’t sweat the [01:15:00] small stuff. Get, just get out there. I think, I think there are people who overthink the process. We were talking about that earlier, and I think what’s more important than anything else is just instead of reading and watching other people’s adventures, get out there and have your own, and then figure out what it is that you need to enhance those adventures. We’re happy to give you advice and we want to know what your adventure expectations are, so that we have a better chance of crafting what it is that you need. And if you don’t need what we have or what we make, we’re going to tell. We’re going to tell you, you no, get out there in your, you know, your VW bug and travel a little bit, get stuck a few times and then you’ll know what you really need.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: Um, so that’s, that’s what happened if you walk in at the door at AT because we really care. We’re passionate about the, the lifestyle and the travel, obviously, you know, we’ve all done it and yeah, [01:16:00] we love it. We want to make sure that people don’t make mistakes.

Scott Brady: Yeah.

Mario Donovan: You know, if you spend so much time sweating the details and pouring a bunch of money into something, Jesus, that that could have been plane tickets, it could have been fuel, it could have been food, it could have been a visa, could have been a bribe at the border.

Scott Brady: Yeah. It could have been just going.

Mario Donovan: Just, just get out there. Yeah. And that’s what I did. Hotwire the neighbor’s motorcyclist go vamanos.

Scott Brady: That’s right.

Matt Scott: What crazy stories from Mario, as usual.

Scott Brady: Oh, I love it, Mario. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. When people want to find out more about you and Adventure Trailers, uh, how do they do that?

Mario Donovan: Well, if they want to find out about AT, um, atoverland.com, or you can find us at AT Overland on social media, if you want to find out about me, um, I’m on Instagram. That’s the only place you’re going to find non overlanding stuff about me. Uh, so Donovan Mario on Instagram.

Scott Brady: That’s great. [01:17:00] Any other questions come to mind for you, Matt?

Matt Scott: Oh man. Lots of lots. After the podcast is over. You see about food..

Mario Donovan: Food, we can go down that path.

Scott Brady: Well, Mario again, thank you so much for all that you have done for this industry, for your passion, for the overland traveler and for making great equipment and all of your support to me and our team throughout the years, it means so much Mario. And we just really are grateful that we had you on the podcast today.

Mario Donovan: Thanks for having me guys. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this community.

Scott Brady: Yeah, no doubt.

Mario Donovan: Let’s go break some bread.

Scott Brady: That sounds good. And we will talk to you next time.