Expo East 2018: The Field Report

North Carolina has a reputation for an almost unreal autumn beauty. Its rolling hills backed by rugged mountains come alive with the changing of the seasons, lighting up with the vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges that only a deciduous forest could provide. Yet the weather can be a bit mischievous this time of year, a lesson that we all learned firsthand at the 2018 Overland Expo East.

By the time we arrived at the Oskar Blues REEB Ranch on Thursday, it was obvious things were going to be interesting. A slow drizzle was falling, the ground was slick, and a recovery of an overland truck from the United Kingdom was already underway. We stopped to watch the attempted winching via JK, but it was clear they would need a lot more muscle to move this beast. Luckily for them, that muscle showed up in the form of an enormous 6WD shortly after, which made quick work of the situation.

Vendors and enthusiasts continued to roll in throughout the afternoon while the water levels rose and the temperatures dropped. By nightfall, the crowds had retreated into their vehicles or huddled around the few fire pits scattered throughout the grounds. The conversation mostly revolved around the forecast, which called for rain, night-time temps of 23 to 30 degrees, and high winds on Sunday. We prayed it would be wrong, but somehow knew it wouldn’t be.

The next morning we received our confirmation: rain now fell heavily on the event with a cold breeze that bit at every inch of exposed skin. The grass entry lot was already turning to mud, and things were getting sticky quickly. That didn’t stop everyone from checking out all of the amazing vehicles or products though. There were still smiling faces out there determined to enjoy the weekend.

Thankfully, the weather eventually broke, revealing the beautiful fall conditions we had all been hoping for. The ground was still slick goop, but the sun warmed the spirits and thankfully the feet of everyone attending.

For all of the experience package attendees, the weather provided an excellent chance to put their new skills to work and learn firsthand about recovery scenarios. Instructors were able to do live demonstrations instead of simple mockups, which gave a clear picture of the various factors that come into play. Non-recovery based classes were booming as well, with topics ranging from vehicle preparation to border crossing advice. We sadly didn’t have the chance to attend a single one, but we’re hoping to change that at Expo West this coming season.

Of course, not all news from the event was rosy. The weather caused chaos in the campgrounds and led to some of the planned parking lots shutting down. Day pass visitors were turned away at the event entrance, and forced to take buses from over 9 miles away, often waiting extended periods in the rain just to catch a ride. Booths flooded, walkways vanished beneath the mud, and some areas became downright sketchy to walk through. While no one can control the weather, there was still an air of frustration floating through the event, and many people weren’t afraid to voice it.

Yet the true spirit of the overland community eventually rang through. Those who weren’t scared off by the rotten weather could be seen smiling, passing around food, hot coffee, or something a little more stout, and chatting about adventures past and those still to come. They learned the most important lesson a traveler can know, that things rarely go as planned, so you just need to smile, enjoy the moment, and keep rolling because there’s a whole beautiful world out there still waiting to be explored. In that regard, this Overland Expo was a smashing success.

To learn about the cool new trucks and products from the event, follow this link here.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.

2 Comments

  • Paul

    November 27th, 2018 at 7:07 am

    You completely glossed over how horribly organized this event was. I spent money on a plane ticket, a rental car and lodging for the weekend. Waited in line at the shuttle parking lot for over an hour with hundreds of people in front of me to be told another shuttle wasn’t expected for three hours (no idea how they came up with that number, but one had arrived as we were parking and didn’t see another one after that). Two of the workers walked the line and we were told we wouldn’t even make it to the show and they scanned our pass and said to come back tomorrow. My flight out was in the morning so that was impossible. No one working the event seemed to have a clue what was going on other than they seemed really intent on scanning your pass even if it looked like you had no chance of catching a shuttle bus. On the way back to Charlotte we decided to drive by and found parking in a nearby church. I hope the organizers make a sizable donation to the church based on how many frustrated attendees decided to use that lot.

    The whole venue was a horrible location for inclement weather and obviously no one had made any provisions for rain which is pretty damn common in late fall in North Carolina. Word around the event was the venue was scheduled the following week for a wedding, I really feel sorry for that poor couple.

    After hearing this event be hyped year after year on this webpage I was sorely disappointed to finally experience the real thing.

    One positive note, the vendors and attendees were great, friendly and the only ray of sunshine in this mess.

    Reply
  • Keith

    November 28th, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Hi Chris, I can’t find your link at the end of the article.

    It was pretty cold and miserable, but it was also awesome. I must have been one of the guys happy enough that I didn’t notice any complaining until I was reading about it after I got home. I was signed up for a bunch of the motorcycle riding classes and didn’t bother. They closed most of the moto course and I didn’t need to just slide around in the mud all day. But that did give me a chance to catch more seminars and courses that I otherwise wasn’t going to do.

    Reply

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