The First Ever Rocky Mountain Overland Rally

The bonfire had died down to a glowing mound of coals, but with good-natured prodding from the hundreds gathered around it, Teepee Dave, the resident pyrotechnic, hauled more pallets over from the stacks ringing the pit and stoked the flames back to life.  Ray Hyland, one of the event organizers and the ring leader of this menagerie, raised the mic and continued his orchestral conduction.  

“And these, these are socks for your wine bottles, so they don’t break inside your fridge. Kind of like wine condoms,” Ray mused, as the crowd rolled with laughter. This was the nightly bonfire meetup, which included speeches, good-natured banter, and pretty incredible prize giveaways. A number was pulled from the raffle tickets, and before he even had a chance to read it, a chorus of “Burn It!” rang out from behind the rising flames. This tradition extends from years of raffles and rallies where each unclaimed number is tossed in the fire, and the next prize grows in conjunction. But the number was called, and an excited boy raced up to the front to claim his loot. To the backdrop of cheers, Ray handed the prize over to the boy and said, “We’ll let your parents explain what alcohol and condoms are,” igniting another explosion of laughter which echoed across the fields surrounding those gathered. The glowing faces of the crowds showed contentment and joy, an ability to relax after a day full of vendor booths, friendly conversation, and intensive educational courses. It was good to be able to share in this moment of community with other travelers, enthusiasts, and part-time adventurers.

This was the inaugural year of the Rocky Mountain Overland Rally (RMOR), an event that was born from the same minds who organized the Northwest Overland Rally and the BC Overland Rally.  Nestled in the fields of the I-Bar Ranch in Gunnison, Colorado, the RMOR drew nearly 800 participants, and it’s not hard to see why. The venue was perfect, with Ray and Maryanne Hyland and Mario and Anne Donovan, alongside their dedicated staff, attending to everything their guests could need. The I-Bar Ranch is situated mere minutes from downtown Gunnison, but still maintains an air of seclusion, with mountains framing the grounds and Tomichi Creek just steps from the main structures on the property. The open-air barn, which typically hosts concerts and weddings, stood as the loadstone for the event, drawing people in toward the food trucks, bar, and bonfire every evening, releasing them back into the wild once the last joke had been told and drinks had been consumed.

The event revolved around education, with a schedule of classes ranging from vehicle-build planning, advanced recovery techniques, and tool kit selection to fly fishing, photography, and cooking classes. Scattered in the offerings were community-focused presentations on specific trails, whiskey tastings, and social events designed to entice the senses while expanding horizons. Fireside talks with the likes of Dan Grec of The Road Chose Me, and Matthew “Griff” Griffin of Combat Flip Flops were both aspirational and grounding, as these men have lived incredible lives driven by humility and a dedication to service. The entire event felt like an exercise in growth, putting attendees into situations where their knowledge, friendships, and hands-on skills could flourish. The technical driving course presented one of the best proving grounds for this, and not just because of the expert skill of Bob Burns, the legendary ex-ringleader of events with Land Rover, as well as the 7P Overland team, but because of the floodwaters that covered the property not long before.

The weather in Colorado had been spirited during the winter season leading up to the rally, with the I-Bar Ranch nearly submerged by snowmelt that pushed Tomichi Creek well beyond its banks.  Days prior to the event, Bob spent sunrise to sunset in the seat of his Bobcat, carefully carving the water-logged course into something that would challenge drivers. By design and default, challenges abounded, which I believe set the stage for some of the most interesting learning experiences I have witnessed at these types of events.  The advanced recovery course pitted attendees against a 6WD Land Rover, mired to its axles in mud. 7P Overland instructors stood at attention to answer questions and give advice, but the crowds planned and executed the recovery. And they failed, multiple times—it was invigorating to witness. You could almost see the concepts of recovery, not mere routine, take root in the minds of the visitors.  They were exposed to tools they had never put their hands on, and the understanding of how to use them came before they walked over to a vendor booth to buy their own. Beyond the scripted recovery, the course grabbed hold of Land Cruisers, FJs, and even a mega rig that required the Box Manufaktur 6WD AND Bobcat to ease it out of the 5-foot trench it seemed destined to retire in. The newest addition to the AT Overland fleet, a Dodge 3500 single cab on 40s, was on constant recovery rotation, amongst its other work detail, and became a favorite among staff because, well, you couldn’t get the damn thing stuck. They tried. It didn’t.

The driving course was also the jewel of the all-women Rebelle Rally curriculum that spanned the entire event. Hanging back to observe, I witnessed experienced and novice women of all ages enjoy the realization that their unique skills and unwavering enthusiasm are well suited to off-road, 4WD travel. Emily Miller, founder and owner of Rebelle Rally, brought a depth of knowledge and experience to the field that inspired everyone within earshot of her passionate talks. Seeing young kids guiding their moms through the technical challenges of the course gave onlookers a glimpse into the future of this incredible community, and hopefully the ever-expanding diversity of its members. “One of the greatest things I have seen,” notes Mario Donovan, “is the relationships the families carry between these rallies. The kids have friends they made up at the Northwest Rally, many years running, and they get to reunite down here in Colorado.” If any undertone existed on those few days spent together, it’s the sense of community, family, and a passionate pursuit of adventure, tempered with enough humor to remind us these pursuits are meant to be fun.

While the Northwest and BC Overland Rallies have had years to grow in size and popularity, the template for their success was clearly on display at the first Rocky Mountain Overland Rally.  The caliber of vendors, instructors, and presenters speaks to the reputation of its organizers and their keen insight into the overland community. As attendees pushed off toward their homes as far as Florida and Maine at the end of the long weekend, I pointed the rig toward Texas and spent the next 13 hours imagining the possibilities of the next RMOR, as well as my little girl’s inaugural run of the Rebelle Rally, 2031.

Editor’s Note: The Northwest and BC Overland Rallies are operated as an independent franchise under license from Overland International, Inc. Overland Rallies is a trademark of Overland International.

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