The Desert Leaf — May 2013
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Bob Rogers

They’re a rugged, independent bunch. These world travelers journey by motorcycle, truck, van and four-wheel drive to challenge themselves, explore remote countries and experience foreign cultures.

Tom Feuchtwanger and Janet Wilson have been overlanding for 40 years, and in the process driven 250,000 kilometers in 80 countries.They’ve traversed the Americas and Africa and are planning to cross Asia. They take pride in never having paid a bribe to corrupt locals, and have learned the benefits of patience and remaining seated to avoid escalating confrontation. (Wilson points out that it’s difficult to become angry if you don’t stand up.)

“We don’t want to go do the touristy stuff ,” says Wilson, who documents the couple’s travels at “Some people see edges, or boundaries; we prefer to let go and trust it will all work out.”

This month, one of the country’s largest events for do-it-yourself adventure travelers will be held at Mormon Lake in northern Arizona.The Overland Expo, now in its fifth year, is attended by more than 4,000 experienced and wanna-be travelers bent on sharing stories and travel tips.Expert-panel discussions and classes are hosted by presenters as disparate as solo women travelers, families traveling with children, adventure motorcyclists, writers, documentarians and regional specialists.

In the class Culture Clash: How Not To, Dan Garvey, a world sailor and a professor with Prescott College’s Institute for Sustainable Social Change, will encourage potential world travelers to be inquisitive, to look beyond the first impression and to ask questions.

At the 2012 Expo, an overlander asked Garvey, “How should I respond to beggars?”

“At least acknowledge them,” he answered.“Acknowledge the privilege you have and remember that in cultures of shared resources, it is normal to ask for something from those with more.”

The issue of road safety also came up in Garvey’s 2012 class, and he offered this advice: “When asking directions, be careful of ‘requiring’ a disagreement.” In other words, don’t ask “Is this the way to...?” because it may force someone to correct/confront you by answering ‘no.’

The gathering at the Overland Expo is like a homecoming for many of the travelers who have crossed paths in exotic places or have exchanged online advice in travel forums. Advice, books and websites are swapped as if at a foreign oasis.

Because of their extensive travel résumés, some presenters have a respectful, cult-like following.

Before his 2012 seminar on Sahara Desert overlanding, author Chris Scott paused to sign one of his books, overlander’s Handbook, a 752-page guide for worldwide route planning.Scott, having motorcycled extensively in North Africa since the 1980s, is widely regarded as an authority on both the Sahara and adventure motorcycling, though he’s recently taken up pack-boating in exotic locales.

Ara Gureghian lifted himself from pain and grief seven years ago to travel the American West by motorcycle with his companion dog, Spirit, riding happily in a sidecar. A former chef, Gureghian is now a professed nomad, writing and photographing his experiences to share on his website, He demonstrated some of his favorite traveling recipes at the Overland Expo in 2012.

Giving Back

Many overlanders have found themselves following in someone else’s tire tracks, as evidenced by the greetings they might hear from children in Vietnam: “Hello. Dollar?” Or children in Nepal: “Hello. Pen?” The children have received dollars and pens, respectively, from previous travelers and have been conditioned to ask for these gifts upon seeing foreigners. Consequently, some overlanders worry that their travels may have had unintended, negative effects on the exotic cultures from which they glean experiences of a lifetime.

Several organizations have developed to help independent overlanders connect with communities through facilitated exchanges. ConserVentures, based in Tucson, and the organizing sponsor of the Overland Expo, is one such organization.

ConserVentures volunteers helped to build backcountry, tourist cabins at El Aribabi Conservation Ranch in Sonora, Mexico. The company also sponsored a ranger exchange between the National Park Service and the Kenya Wildlife Service to better prepare Kenya’s South Rift Game Scouts for tracking poachers.

“If you’re going to volunteer, it should be meaningful, and more time [spent]consuming, in terms of commitment, preparation and evaluation,” says Gary Haynes, coordinator of the ConserVentures Resources for Rangers program.

He notes it is vital to understand the context of the issue under collaboration.For example, in the case of wildfire management, the procedures used to fight wildland fires in America don’t always transfer well to Kenyan wildfire management because Kenya does not have access to the same resources.

Accounts of the ranger exchange and other ConserVentures initiatives, such as efforts to preserve traditional Maasai war-shield construction techniques, are published in the organization’s journal, Terra, available online and in print.

The Ted Simon Foundation, launched in October of 2011, mentors adventurers through a program called Jupiter’s Travellers. To promote understanding, the Foundation encourages adventurers to share their traveling insights with the world.

Bob Clark, a Jupiter’s Traveller, pondered and reflected on the mentality of walls during his traverse of the U. S.-Mexico borderlands, on horseback.Eleanor Moseman documented Tibetan cultures while bicycling through China; and Danielle Murdoch wrote about women’s dress etiquette while motorcycling through Iran.

The Muskoka Foundation fosters several programs for travelers who want to share their expertise as they travel. The organization’s Market Access Program outlines the processes of identifying locally made crafts that could sell worldwide, and working with artisans to develop production.

Other of the group’s programs help teach travelers how to train teachers in the use of technology—donated computers often go unused because of lack of training.

Travelers also may opt to present a one-week photography program to a village or bring in a portable recording studio to share regional music with the world.

Even though overlanders generally embrace the differences that make cultures unique, they are often made well aware of those things that unite all cultures. Gary Wescott and Monika Mühlebach Wescott, of turtleexpedition.Com, have traveled extensively in Russia, Europe, Mexico and the U.S.

When Gary tried to thank a Russian man for his hospitality, the gentleman responded with a warm, “Our hearts beat the same.”

“That’s why we do this,” says Wescott.

Claire Rogers is a local freelance writer.Comments for publication should be addressed to

Overlanding Resources

Overland Expo 2013 will be held from May 17-19 at Mormon Lake, southeast of Flagstaff . Visit for more information.

Other online resources for overlanders include: Horizons Unlimited,, which offers a forum specific to motorcycle travel; Expedition Portal,, includes information for both motorcycle and heavyduty vehicles; ConserVentures,; The Ted Simon Foundation,; and The Muskoka Foundation,