Jennifer and I both came from small towns in the Midwest. Both of us had parents that instilled great work ethic as well as the need to be outdoors. In the Midwest, that's code for manual labor outside. Don't get me wrong, we both enjoyed our childhoods and we had plenty of fun along the way. But we also learned quickly that life could be hard and that there was a time for work and a time for play. Play almost always followed work and if you worked hard enough, play might mean something really fun. Like fishing, camping or hunting (in my wife's case for mushrooms) with our parents. Whether we realized it or not these activities, whether work or play, were building the foundation for our love of nature and the outdoors. Little by little, as we grew older and matured, we started looking at our surroundings less in relation to the amount of work left to be done and more for the beautiful landscapes that we were a part of. For me, a summer afternoon of pitching hay into the back of a pickup truck quickly turned into laying in the bed of the truck and staring at that big prairie sky. Still to this day, when I close my eyes, I can see the slow moving clouds, hear the sound of the wind blowing through the prairie grass and smell the fresh cut hay in the pasture.
Fast forward several years... Jennifer and I had just graduated college and moved from Chicago to Virginia Beach. We were new to the east coast and southern living. Our free time was mostly spent exploring the surrounding areas and camping. We found that we really enjoyed camping in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Appalachian Mountains of northwestern Virginia, as it was so different from anything we’d experienced in the midwest. We were in our twenties, having adventures and life couldn't get any better!
As we started to approach our thirties, one particular conversation kept occurring. A conversation that would lead to our greatest adventure ever. Parenthood. With the birth of our oldest daughter Hadley, we challenged the unknown like we had done so many times before. But as new parents, we found ourselves acting less adventurous and more conservative. We traveled that fine line of being over protective as we were always trying to do everything right the first time. So much, that we had put our love of the outdoors on hold and focused all of our attention primarily on her. We pretty much ran ourselves ragged. About the time Hadley was 3, we had our second daughter, Bailey. She unlike her sister was a little more, what’s the word I’m looking for, spirited. Yeah, we’ll call it spirited. Again we found ourselves running nonstop and were desperately in need of a break. Some type of vacation was in order and with kids we realized that it took a little more planning than just jumping in the truck and heading to the mountains like we used to. After much debate, we bought an old Coleman pop-up camper and once again began to spend our weekends camping. But unfortunately, that only lasted a few years until the roof went bad on the camper and we were forced to get rid of it.
In the search for our next adventure, we went the complete opposite direction and bought a 20ft Cuddy cabin boat. Again, we spent our weekends outdoors, running up and down the Inter coastal water ways exploring and playing on the river. From time to time we would anchor off in a cove somewhere and spend the day and sometimes even the night. We clearly loved exploring and the adventure of not knowing what you may see next! After a while, we grew increasingly tired of being blasted by the sun on a day to day basis and had all but run out of locations to explore on the river. The kids enjoyed spending time in and on the water, but enjoyed the exploring and camping parts more. So, still thirsting for adventure and exploration, we turned back to camping and to the mountains.
At the time we had a 2000, gas guzzling beast, Dodge Durango. It had a 5.9L Magnum V8 and was 4 wheel drive. Insert Tim the Toolman Taylor grunting noise here! We bought a new tent from REI and brought just about every piece of camping gear we could think of. Remember, we had just come out of boating and a pop-up camper, so we packed accordingly. Meaning we brought everything including the kitchen sink. A two day trip looked like we were out on a ten day expedition. We were staying in State and Federal Campgrounds and that was the norm. That is until the day we took a drive down Coal Rd to go hiking in St Mary's Wilderness. There were vehicles pulled over and people were just camping in the woods. It looked so peaceful. Imagine, no more putting up with the group of college kids or the partiers the next site over. Just us and nature. We liked the sound of that! As soon as we got home, we started scouring the internet and found all kinds of dispersed camping throughout the Blueridge mountains. Dispersed sites you could hike or drive to. Then it happened, we discovered Overlanding!
Not only did we discover it, we also discovered that we had done it quite a few times already. So we dug further in, gathering as much information as we could. We found out that it was very popular in South Africa, Australia and on the western half of the United States. We discovered Ronny Dahl, Expedition Overland, Andrew St. Pierre White and a local group, Mountain State Overland. We watched their videos over and over and I started doing little things to the Durango in the hope to build our very own overland rig. I built a storage box for the rear and did my best to imitate the rigs the professionals use. You know, the ones that were built by people who's pockets seamed as deep as the Grand Canyon itself. The Dodge was an alright off-road vehicle, but there wasn't a whole lot of aftermarket support for it. Parts like suspension upgrades, armor, recovery gear were all but non existent, causing me to come to a screeching halt very quickly. A decision had to be made. Keep going with the Dodge and fabricate one off parts or find some other platform that has a lot more options and support. With my decision made, I began to look for a better platform from which to build our overland vehicle. Eventually I found a really good deal on a 1993 Toyota Land Cruiser. Now all that was left was to convince my wife that we needed a third vehicle and this 230,000mi Toyota was a sound choice. Surprisingly the talk went better than expected and she agreed with one exception. Her exact words were "If we do this, we do this as a family. Not just camping, but all of it. We get to help repair and outfit the truck too." Wow! I was in shock! I thought I was lucky enough just to spend time with them in the outdoors, now we get to build the vehicle as a family! What more could I ask for? I don't think I could have been any happier! Obviously I agreed to her terms. We bought that Cruiser and Jennifer and the girls have helped with just about everything along the way. It goes without saying, we've had some amazing Family Adventures Overlanding and we haven't looked back since!