Our journey began with a trek up north to see our good friend Alex and return his OZ Tent that he let us and some Dirt Road Trip swag.
We decided to take some back roads on our way to Ohio, which we highly recommend as you get to travel at a much more leisurely pace. For example, we stumbled upon a fun little drive out of VA through Paw Paw, West VA…check it out one day if you’re lookin’ for a nice drive.
We continued our back road trek all the way to Bellfountain, OH, where we did the “not so overland” thing to do and checked into a hotel for the night. The reason for our side-trek to OH on our way to AZ was to pick up our highly anticipated Conqueror Camping Trailer. We had placed our order for one of the South African made beauties shortly after Overland Expo East and had been waiting not-so-patiently for its arrival, so one more sleepless night wouldn’t hurt us.
Waking early the next morning, we headed towards the Conqueror North America Facility. We had imagined a sprawling warehouse full of workers tooling away on these extreme off-road campers, though in reality, what we got was David Bates :o). In hindsight we couldn’t be happier that it turned out this way.
So let us tell you about David, and how he came to be the Conqueror Guru in North America.
A 38 year old, well educated, extremely hard working, devout family man and father of 10, the youngest born only a few days prior to our arrival!
David once held a great position with as an engineer with Honda Motor Company. He gave all that up to pursue a dream. David too had fallen in love with the Conqueror Trailer and took steps to become the North American Distributor. David is a one-man-show, making everything happen from start to finish. He places the orders with South Africa, flies there numerous times during the construction process, is there to receive them when they land on U.S. soil, and painstakingly appoints each one with its various options by hand one at a time in his warehouse. David knows these trailers front-to-back, top-to-bottom, and has been instrumental in helping us get to know our own camper.
Saying our hellos, David escorted us inside his “big-kids toy store”. A mint FJ-40 was set on display in the center of his showroom, surrounded by every make and model in the Conqueror line-up. After some shuffling around, we helped Dave wheel our prize to the center stage. We spent the next 24+ hours in the showroom getting familiar with our new prize. Due to our never-ending questions and a few more loose ends that needed to be tied up, Dave was kind enough to let us camp-out in his showroom overnight. After a great night sleep on a nice thick Conqueror mattress, we finished up the paperwork and it was time to hitch-up to our Lexus. This is when we noticed our medium Icon springs were going to be no match for our new addition’s tongue weight. Dave was kind enough to get us in touch with Mark, a fellow Conqueror owner in Flagstaff, AZ who allowed us to send a set of airbags we ordered to his home…more on this later.
We said our goodbyes to David knowing we would see him again soon at Expo West.
Our original plans were to go to Sedona, AZ and explore the area and hit some trails with our new trailer prior to Expo. Knowing that we needed to get the airbags, we altered our plans and headed straight to Mark’s house in Flagstaff. We arrived late that evening and couldn’t not have been welcomed in by a more gracious host turned new friend. Mark invited us in, fed us food and drinks, offered us his guest bedroom which included a nice hot shower. After a long evening of pleasant conversation we went to sleep and awoke the next morning to the best home-made steak omelets either of us had ever had!
After breakfast we followed Mark to his shop in town, where I was assured the airbag job would be an easy 3 hour install when we dropped the truck off. Mark drove us to a few historical sights and kept us company while the vehicle was in the shop for 8 hours!!!!!!! A simple 3 hour job had ultimately turned into our truck being in two separate shops for a total of 3 DAYS!!! More on this in our next entry…
So what about Overland Expo West 2017?
Overland Expo East was our only prior Expo experience and we were very excited to see what Expo West had to offer. The venue for the show had been moved from Mormon Lake to Fort Funtill Hill in Flagstaff, AZ, and everyone we spoke with was in agreement that this was a much better venue. The campgrounds were well shaded in a beautiful forest setting, but those areas quickly began to fill in, and the first few camping areas became quite crowded. The organizers of the event were on top of their game and quickly opened up an even more beautiful area of dispersed camping on the property. We were so lucky to have been some of the folks to be guided into these more open and beautiful spots, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our location. Our spot did require a bit longer hike to the vendors, but it also meant that we weren’t stacked right on top of each other like we were at Expo East.
The organizers of the event had everything well thought out, including shuttle service to and from campsites, ample and clean port a potties, and a very smooth check-in process. All of this impressed us greatly as Expo West is unquestionably a much larger event, with many more vendors and visitors.
There was an large amount of vendors selling anything from “Overland Coffee”, Roof-top Tents, Trailers, all the gear you’d ever need, and even “Overland Bathroom-Bags”. Expo West certainly had every category covered.
In my opinion, A.E.V. (American Expedition Vehicles) had one of the most impressive displays, which included some very well designed and well-built rigs. Their Dodge Ram was definitely a showstopper.
Among the many companies selling RTTs, Tepui had a great display, lots of knowledgeable reps on hand to answer questions, and a nightly concert that included FREE BEER!
One of the products that we were really impressed with was the Shiftpod tent by Advanced Shelter Systems Inc. This very attractive dome shaped structure was very eye catching and drew our attention right away…not just because it was shiny and my wife is drawn to these things. This product was engineered with at very reflective and well-insulated material, which made stepping inside feel ten degrees cooler than it did on the outside. This lightweight tent sets up very quickly, in about two minutes time and provides ample room on the inside to stand up and could easily sleep a family of 4. The tent had integrated tie down points and beefy ground steaks that aided in the easy setup and provides 900+ pounds of combined down force to hold fast in high winds.
Tear down was also super fast and simply required a few quick latch releases and the whole tent folded down to fit easily into its storage bag. This tent truly was a unique product amongst the many that we saw and is one we look forward to checking out for ourselves and to list for rent on our site at Overland Gear Exchange.
The Sportsmobile and Slide-in truck-bed campers made a big impact this year. Sportsmobile, along with a few other companies, even had their own section separate from the other vendors with an estimated 15-20 Vans!
Sprinter Vans were also very well represented and we believe that these types of vehicles will definitely become the normal “Overland” rig sooner than later. The ease made by simple set-up, stealth camping, and very capable 4WD make these vans very appealing.
The “Off-Road Overland” display was also plentiful. A few of the companies there brought their version of an “Off-Road Trailer” but some of these seemed to be nothing more than glorified utility trailers with a little bigger tire. However, there were a few companies that did stand out. Conqueror and Patriot Campers are two of which that are “true off-road” campers and are both very impressive and capable. We believe this market has a very bright future because these trailers appeal to those who like to set-up base camp prior to heading out on the trail, yet are still more than capable of going anywhere your tow rig will take them.
We also spent a great deal of time in the V.I.P. Travelers section. This area of the Expo featured travelers who live full-time from the road, either in the U.S., internationally, or both. We really enjoyed checking out their truly unique builds and how each one was suited to the taste and needs of the different traveler. We found each person that we met to be warm and inviting, and more than happy to chat about their home on wheels and all of their adventures. This was probably one of our favorite areas of the Expo because these are the folks that are living the dream that a lot of us “Weekend Warriors” wish we could live.
With all of the good that Expo West had to offer, there were also some things that weren’t so great. The large number of vendors made the set-up area very tight and compact. It almost seemed as if you couldn’t tell where one vendor stopped and the next vendor started. Overland Expo East had a much better “flow” about the vendor area, which allowed more space to check out and take pictures of each individual product.
We ducked our heads into multiple classes that were being offered and found that not a lot of good education was being given but more story telling and product promotion. This was probably the number one complaint that we heard from many expo visitors. They were upset with the higher prices for the “Overland Experience” and felt that they didn’t get much out of the classes.
All in all our Overland Expo West 2017 experience was an epic one. We look forward to going back to another Expo West, as this region of our country is so breathtaking with miles and miles of incredible scenic routs and unforgettable views, and most importantly returning for the opportunity to make new friends.