This past weekend, hundreds of overlanders congregated in the mountains of North Carolina to celebrate the sport and share with one another their skills, experiences, and lessons learned. Hundreds more were turned away…
Don’t get us wrong, we’re sure that the folks that made it into Overland Expo East had a good time. In fact, we would much rather be writing this article talking about how awesome it was. Unfortunately, that just was not in the cards for us. As one of the many who were turned away from the event, we obviously are feeling pretty frustrated. After all, we have been looking forward to attending an Overland Expo for about the past year and a half. This article could be nasty and we could berate those responsible. However, that wouldn’t do any good. Instead, we hope to explain what we felt went wrong and offer some suggestions for how the OE folks could make it right.
First of all, let’s look at the facts:
- The Overland Expo East website specifically stated that the event would go on “rain or shine.” If you don’t believe us, here is a screengrab:
- It rained, a lot. Between a storm front and a hurricane, lots of rain pelted the Carolinas. However, the storm’s impact on South Carolina was exponentially greater than it’s impact on North Carolina and most of the damage was in the Coastal regions.
- Said rain did not start on 10/2/2015 or 10/3/2015. It had been raining in the region for over a week.
- The Overland Expo coordinators did not have a contingency plan nor did they secure offsite parking for day pass attendees.
- Day passes were only available for purchase upon arrival.
Now that we have established a set of facts, let’s look at our individual case. We set out for the Expo early on the morning of 10/3. We arrived at the gate of Taylor Ranch at 9:30 am, right behind a new Land Rover that was wielding Land Rover Experience license tags. The LR was motioned inside, we were instructed to pull over. The man at the gate informed us we could not go in due to the weather. After informing him that we had driven hours just to get there, he offered his apologies, handed us a flier detailing the “situation,” and told us to go grab breakfast and check the website/Twitter for updates. We asked if we could park somewhere else and trek in on foot. “No, we are no longer selling any day passes,” he said.
Having already eaten, we decided to drive into Hendersonville and visit the Mast General Store to pass the time. That’s another subject but, just in case you are curious, a trip to Mast is always well worth it. For about an hour or two, we continued to check the OE website and Twitter. Nothing, no updates at all. At this point, we decided to just cut our losses and head home. A wasted day, wasted gas, and a general feeling of being pissed off.
Having had some time to cool down, we wanted to really think about what went wrong here. Here is what we concluded:
- The property owner didn’t want his land destroyed. We get it. As land owners ourselves, we wouldn’t want hundreds of vehicles bogging through our saturated fields either. Not to name names, but we’ve seen some instagram videos of folks hammering through the ruts and clearly not cooperating with the posted signs and rules. Their 10 seconds of fun hurts the rest of us.
- The event coordinators failed to adequately prepare for Plan B. The rain was not sudden nor was it unexpected. The coordinators/property owner should have had plans for offsite parking ready from the get go. Even if they didn’t, they should have made them once it was apparent the rain would prevail which was over a week in advance of the actual event. They did neither.
- They lied. Plain and simple. The website clearly states rain or shine. They have since posted contending that this wasn’t just “a little rain.” They’re right, it did rain a lot. However, it really wasn’t that bad in THIS region. The hurricane hit the coast, not the mountains. I’d love them to try to plea their case with the good folks down in Charleston.
We could continue, but let’s leave it at that. The real question now is what can be done to make it right?
We hate to be spiteful but a simple sorry isn’t really going to cut it this time. We were pretty mad about what happened to us but that pails in comparison to some of the folks who were turned away. We read one post where the man flew in from Seattle with a weekend pass and was turned away not once but twice. Not only is he out his weekend pass ticket price but he is also out the cost of his flight (probably at least $700), his time, and a whole weekend he could have spent doing something enjoyable. Other folks actually made it a day trip from places as far away as Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, etc. I know they were way more angry than us!
The OE reps have already indicated they will refund weekend pass and OE experience folks who were turned away. That is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t the whole walk. Here is what we suggest to supplement that offer:
- For anyone who flew in and were turned away, OE should absolutely reimburse them for the cost of their flight (with proof of ticket, of course).
- For those who drove (like us), it is going to be too hard to verify miles driven and reimburse everyone accordingly. Alternatively, we have the following suggestion: (i) Offer a voucher for free admission to next year’s Overland Expo event (a day pass) and (ii) create a custom morale patch for those who were turned away. From what we have seen, morale patches have become a fun collector’s item for us overlanders. The OE folks could create a patch poking fun at themselves that says something like “OE East Castaway, 2015” or “I Was Turned Away from Overland Expo 2015.” These would be fairly cheap and would be a good way for OE to make amends. Plus, those of us who were turned away are actually now part of our own special brotherhood. We can’t speak for everyone, but we would definitely be proud to display that patch on the headliner of our rig or on a piece of gear. We think others would, too.
The coming days will shed some light on the character and future of the Overland Expo. We just hope they head down the right trail.