Travelling the world overland, two weeks at a time

If I ever presented at The Overland Event it occurs to me that this would be the title of my talk. Like many people who have such commitments that their travel plans are limited to two week chunks, I approach my RTW travel in sections each with a sticker loving adorned to the luggage like a vintage suitcase.

I realise now that while there are many inspirational overland travellers, following in their footsteps doesn’t necessarily mean travelling round the world. It is perfectly acceptable to cherry pick locations from their travels and commit two weeks of your time (even three, the luxury!) to the ongoing, albeit fragmented, journey. A Smörgåsbord of adventure travel.

To the corner shop and back

I have often thought I was somewhat of a curiosity in the way that I plan a trip with OCD precision, scrutinising online maps and streetview perspectives. I have often been ridiculed by other travellers for creating my researched travel itineraries documenting locations, pass elevations and history before having sampled the indigenous species first hand. However Sir Edmund Percival Hillary didn’t just turn up at Everest and think “that might be a jolly good ramble for this afternoon”, nor did Captain Robert Falcon Scott think “I might go sledging in the Antarctic this morning”

I can, and have spent years developing a short trip. You don’t have long and if you meander too much you will find that you are returning home before anything has been seen or experienced. You have to hit the ground running. Remove and mitigate as much doubt and hinderance as possible and you can focus on the ride. This was an approach validated of sorts with the interview I had with Jim Martin on Adventure Rider Radio. Having interviews many RTW travellers he realised that coming out of the pandemic lockdowns that travel would be a series of shorter trips.

Camp 2.0

And so that brings us to the event itself. I had bought a ticket well in advance having watched from afar at the previous event. As Mental Health Motorbike would again have a presence I offered my service to volunteer on the stand.

Still room for more

This would be my second camping experience and I was looking forward to testing ‘Camp 2.0’ which was essentially a revised tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cot bed, and pillow. In addition I had been collecting various luggage items to neatly contain all this new kit rather than slightly it over the back seat in a dry sack. I even bought a camp flagpole!

My level of commitment is unyielding and if I did ever have the opportunity to do an RTW adventure they would probably list me missing in action until I emerged like some Tom Hanks character from Cast Away or Robin Williams in Jumanji.

The Overland Event

The Overland Event is a much more intimate event than the one that I had previously attended and rather than there be presenters and attendees the feel is one of “we are all in this together”. The infrastructure, marquees and beer had just been left in a field and we were just going to have to make the best of it.

I had been spared a very early start when a meet-up near Hill End in Oxford was pushed back from 9am to 11am. Its a good two and a half hours from home and thats not taking into account any comfort breaks.

The bike was packed with more than it had ever seen. I swear that this was not excess and all was needed. Yes, there were items of slight indigence such as some Swiss Le Crêt Gruyére AOP and a French Comté AOP together with a tin of caviar, but nether the less, required.

With the camp kitchen remaining in the right pannier my clothes had been relocated from the top box to the left pannier and the sundries, tools, tech stuff, chargers and medications had been stored in the top box. With the new bags on the back seat, the tent on top of the right pannier and a strap on bag attached to the left pannier which contained the food, every thing felt much more balanced. I was getting comments on the art tube I bought that looked suspiciously like a bazooka. This however contained my flagpole.

Having conducted the formalities at the event entrance we soon found ourselves in a field with a dozen tents that were either built or in the process of being erected. A spot was selected that was far enough from the event to provide some privacy but close enough to the toilet and shower blocks. A convenient fence lay to the rear of the camp for nighttime relief.

You don’t need to know the details of me setting up my kit since I’ll do a separate review with my thoughts on my new purchase. Needless to say I rolled around on the floor with my arse in the air huffing and puffing on what was a warm day. Before long a campsite had appeared. It was time to go off and see what I could do at the Mental Health Motorbike event site.

Setting up shop

We were relatively mob handed compared to the solo exhibitors and the marquee was set up in no time and I hung around looking for tasks to do when a neighbouring exhibitor arrived. A very nice lady jumped out of the van cursing herself having forgot the table. Unable to give her one of ours I randomly waved my arms in the direction of the larger marquees suggesting a solution lied in that direction. Luckily through more luck than judgement, but more likely through her own charm and tenacity, she happily reappeared with a table.

I returned to looking busy while doing nothing. Its a skill I learnt in my early years as an electrical apprentice. The trick is to move around often and not put your hands in your pockets. A further opportunity then came along to make myself useful as I saw my new neighbour lugging out the marquee. Having already put up a few that morning and in true Willem DaFoe style, “I’m something of a marquee erection specialist myself” I thought to myself as I strolled over to assist.

Everyone needs good neighbours

Job done I reverted back to standby mode and hung around in the back like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper. Its only when next doors banners can out I realised I’d been helping out Steph Jeavons and didn’t recognise her. Sorry Steph, you look taller on the telly! Containing my excitement in true fab boy style I was just happy that I had been of some use.

Much as they are nice lads, Steph had accidentally pitched up in the wrong allocated spot and displaced Matt and Reece (Armchair Adventure Festival) who were our intended neighbours. Sorry lads, but I think it was a ‘dominance thing’ on Steph’s part.

The public wouldn’t arrive until 5pm and our team had been deployed in various locations to help set up the event. Even then those arriving on the Thursday would be busy setting up their own camp and with footfall low we regrouped and hit the bar. An impressive bar it is too with a wide range of ales and beers. Oh, and a wine list for the ladies. What am I saying? These were proper lasses and on the pints!

The mentions of pints gives me the opportunity to say what a bloody good arrangement it was to have reusable pint mugs and the pre-bought drinks tokens at the bar. It kept the punters and the booze flowing freely all evening.

I had made a shortlist on my phone of presentations I’d like to sit in on. We had enough people to cover the stand but despite some being reviewed many of what I wanted clashed. Having said that the availability of the presenters meant you could stroll over and get a private sitting. It was not uncommon to be sat at our stand and have someone come over to tell an anecdote or story which you realised was a rehearsal for their performance.

Presenting the presentations

First on my list was Pete Johnson from Manchester who had travelled the USA looking for the other Manchesters. That sounded right up my alley, not only being a Manc but also for my love of travelling in the US on two wheel, particularly the tail of the Dragon and surrounding area. Pete with his thick Manchester accent (normal talk to me) presented himself in a big pair of dungarees which wouldn’t look uncommon on a US trailer park. He had won a Bennett’s competition which enabled a trip he had been trying to fund for some time. His aim was to visit all the ‘other’ Manchesters. Covering some miles the route zig zagged up and down through the states. Its a great way to plant route and a lot more creative than some peoples perception that the route to do is the 66 one.

My next listed presentations were on Saturday but I was enjoying either dipping in and out of the main marquee or sitting on our stand talking about Mental Health Motorbike and listening to the stories of the overlanders who would inevitably saunter over to the stand to talk of adventure, mishaps and other amusing tales.

As Friday went on I started getting into my groove. I had my standard response to “Tell me about Mental Health Motorbike” polished so that it would flow off the tongue like a jellied eel. Talking of fish products I was yet to indulge in my cheese and caviar and there was a concern that the ice packs were spent and things would warm up to the point where consumption would lead to certain squits. Luckily I realised that the camper van we had came with a fridge… oh, the luxury. Only the finest refrigeration for my cheese snacks.

Taking a break from front of shop I took a seat behind the branded GSA we had on the stand. Looking over to the motorcycle exhibition tent I had to double take. Is that my old Kawasaki ZX-6R 636 A1P?! I’ve often wondered where it ended up and I’ve always kept an eye open for it. I still mingle in ZX-6R circles online and fully expect it to pop up one day. On closer inspection it wasn’t but it now had my attention. Who’s was it and why was it there amongst all the adventure bikes? I’d have to wait to find out.

Nice to meet you

I had two more boxes to tick off that afternoon. I had seen Sam Manicom and Oliver “Brokentooth” Solaro wandering around but I had yet to say hello. The first was Oliver who came over to us and told us many of his stories including everyone’s favourite when he accidentally froze his eye and ended up stumbling into a church for shelter only to find he’d gate crashed a funeral. His speciality is riding the frozen north and the Ice Road. I’d seriously recommend you look up this guy online. Here’s to the crazy one’s, as they say.

I’d been threatening to see Sam on a number of occasions but either he was doing something else or I was unable to attend a show or an event although we kept in touch occasionally online. Then the pandemic hit and that threw everything in the air while we were all locked down. I can credit Sam with the help and information he gave me that lead to the publication of ‘Are We Doing The Stelvio Today?‘. I went over to see Sam with David Martin from the Mental Health Motorbike stand. It was great to finally introduce myself and chat. That said most of the chatting was done by David. Those of you who know him will understand why. We even got to have our picture taken with the Queen.

It wasn’t long until we were back in the bar but with some good live music on but the team were drained and collectively decided to retire early. I conceded but it wasn’t a problem knowing that I could hear the music from the campsite and I had a cheeky flask stashed in my bags. I finished Friday night in my camp chair, under the stars sipping Jack Daniels Tennessee Apple.

I was happy with the decisions I had made and the purchases I had made, particularly in the sleeping department. I awoke having slept right through the night in comfort. This may in part have been down to the flask but I still had a clear head which indicated that I’d probably not necked the lot. Even if I had I don’t think 8 fl/oz would put me down. I think we’d be talking a full bottle for that but Overland were running a strict no glass policy.

The look in my eyes says that alcohol was involved

We hit the stand running and had yet to get the merch table out by the time we were getting visitors wanting to know what we did. I took another glance a the timetable and happy that the stuff I wanted was in the afternoon I settled back into position and got back to my script.

Fine taste in food or a pretentious prick?

As lunchtime approached I remembered that I had yet to have my cheese luncheon. I retrieved my cool bag and got hold of some cutlery. I did have some cheese biscuits at the tent but I really didn’t fancy the trek down. Having said that, this was top drawer AOP stuff from raw milk. Stuff like this should be enjoyed without biscuits. Maybe with a bit of my home made tomato and chilli chutney or my caviar. I sat in the tent with my feast with my bit of luxury. I was happy to share and did, although I do now know that Steph Jeavons does not like caviar.

I took another stroll over to the Kawasaki. This time there was a leaflet tucked into the petrol cap. The owner was Kevin Turner. I had Kevin’s book and had bought it some five years ago before misplacing it meaning it remained unread. But why was the Kawasaki on display here? I took a look at the schedule and not only was he presenting but his chosen subject was the two to three week adventure. We were singing from the same hymn sheet on that one! That had sealed it, I was going to sit in on his presentation even at the expense of my previous schedule.

Aa it was the planets were aligning. Kevin’s presentation was in the same venue as one that was just ending by Nich Brown. Nich and I were scheduled to meet up at some point but I’d yet tor catch him. I had started to think that we would miss each other but my unintended choices had landed him right in front of me. I had a few minutes to catch up before I dived into Kevin’s presentation. It was so refreshing to hear him talk of only being able to budget for two to three weeks and still call it an adventure. Kevin is a guy after my own heart. Take a look at his book ‘Bonjour, is this Italy?

Attending Kevin’s presentation was at the expense of Lisa Thomas‘ adventure cooking demonstration. I’d missed her demonstration at the ABR Festival and had been keen to attend, what with being a bit of a foodie and all. I say missed, I had been on the way to watch when I ended up talking to some Mental Health Motorbike members who had spotted me. I watched with one eye from afar while she cooked, finished, packed up and left.

I had pre-ordered her book ‘Dirty Dining‘ and had had it from release. I found it a great read with recipes, often made with interesting ingredients that can easily be carried on a bike. There are also some great stories from around the world linking into each recipe. As I returned to the stand I spotted her returning from the demo and managed to stop her to say how much I enjoyed the book and that I was sorry to miss the cooking. Lisa, I will try your Cikana Kari (Chicken Curry).

On stage on Saturday night

Saturday night kicked off with an appearance on stage by David Martin, Paul Oxborough and Andy Elwood who while nervous did a spectacular job. By the time we got to the top bar to find Mojitos on offer the party was well on the way. They had surprised us by offering all Mojito proceeds to Mental Health Motorbike. One in a sequence for fantastic and very generous gestures.

Come Sunday all that was left was to pack up. I was getting packing anxiety as this Camp 2.0 arrangement was assembled on the bike over a couple of weeks in the sterile environment of my garage. I now had to repeat the process in the middle of a field. Would I remember where everything went? Would it even fit? Some of the stuff was brand knew with a factory pack. These items are never as small as they were after first use. At least it wasn’t raining.

In fact it was probably worse. It was hot and I found myself rolling around on the floor like a sweaty pig rolling in mud. In my case it was dried grass that was getting everywhere and as I finally lay on the floor getting my riding pants on I found myself reaching into my under trolleys and pulling out clumps of hay.

Time to say goodbye… for now

All that remained was to say our farewells and with a few waves, a hug from Saul Jeavons and Oliver Solaro we were done. Absolute kudos to both Saul and Paddy for putting on the event and I look forward to next year. Its bound to be a sell out so please, don’t buy a ticket until I’ve bought mine. Either way I already have my Overland Winter Warmer ticket which will prove to be an interesting camping experience.

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