Book Review – The River of Doubt

Book review:

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

I recently completed the book The River of Doubt by Candice Millard – the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition to descend and map an unknown river in the Amazon in 1914. I had never heard of it, but happened across it when I was browsing the “expedition” section at my local library.

Candice Millard is a former writer and editor for National Geographic, and you can tell when you read this book. She puts a lot of time into researching not only the individuals on the journey, but she also takes the time to give you a good sense of context for the book, so you understand the social and political implications of the events as they unfold.

She also spends a lot of time describing the jungle ecosystem that the team is traveling through, an environment where as she puts it the “men were more often prey than predator”.

The most fascinating thing I found when I read this book is that it is the opposite of the story I expected. Teddy Roosevelt is such a legend that it is almost unthinkable to portray him in anything less than heroic terms. And he is such a huge figure that anyone next to him automatically is in his shadow.

Yet in the book, Millard candidly talks about the personal issues that Roosevelt was facing and how that resulted in an expedition that was a textbook example of “how NOT to plan and execute an expedition”. Three men died on the trip, and it is sheer luck that they didn’t all die. Also interesting is how she portrays Colonel Candido Rondon, the Brazilian co-leader of the expedition, as the true driving force on the trip.

Many of us enjoy reading about epic adventures and famous historical expeditions as a way of learning about the world, and also for inspiration, and to learn best-practices for expedition preparation. Usually the men we read about who lead these expeditions have 20/20 foresight, always make the best decisions, and are prepared for anything they will encounter. This expedition is not like that.

In fact, I think I learned more from this book than many of the expedition-themed books I have read in the past, because it reads like one of those Harvard Business School case studies I had to read in college, you know the ones, they show you how a company was ill-prepared for the situation they found themselves in, and then made a series of bad decisions, which made the situation worse. You are supposed to learn from these case studies and not make the same mistakes in your own business. If you apply the same logic to this book, you can learn a lot about how NOT to plan and lead an expedition.

And throughout the book, you also get a good sense for the people involved. Roosevelt’s resolve and good character is very evident throughout. Some of the other members of the expedition do not come across so favorably.

So to sum up: Was it a riveting page turner? No.

Would I recommend it to anyone thinking of planning and executing an expedition into unknown (to them) territory? Absolutely!

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

Overland Journal participated again in this year’s Epic Rides mountain bike race event called the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. It is one of the largest 24-hour mtb events in the world, and takes place just north of Tucson, Arizona. We had two sponsored teams entered in the race: one 4-man relay team, and a solo rider. The 4-man team consisted of Scott Brady (of Overland Journal & Expeditions West), Travis Schanafelt (of Safari Pacific), Jim Feehan (of Here be Dragons Adventures), and Mike McMaude (fellow adventurer & all-around good guy). Christophe Noel (of Raven Singletrack) was our overall organizer, team captain & solo rider. Supporting the teams were Zach & Jonathan of Overland Gourmet, Jeremy Edgar of Overland Journal, and Expedition Portal members Heidi, Dave & Tim.

The event had over 1,800 riders this year, and probably a total of over 3,000 people camping in “24 Hour Town.” We started arriving on Wednesday evening to get a good camping spot for Overland HQ. Parked in the camp was the Jeep J8, two Earthroamer LTs, and a few Toyotas & Land Rovers. We used the Zero DS from Zero Motorcycles to get around and see the rest of the campground without creating any noise-pollution. The electric motorcycle drew a lot of attention—mainly because of how quiet it was.

the campOverland HQ

a section of 24 Hour Town the entire 24 Hour Town

The race started at noon on Saturday with a Le Mans start. Christophe the solo rider took part in the fray, as well as Jim who took the first lap of the team relay. It was great weather for the first few hours of the race, but then a ferocious storm blew in with high winds & plenty of rain, causing many riders to seek refuge in their tents for the night. Travis was out on the trail during the majority of the storm, suffering 3 flat tires and getting completely soaked. The team ended up doing a total of 7 laps (about 119 miles), and Christophe rode 8 laps (136 miles).

Christophe (6) and Jim (657)

We encountered many cool expedition rigs at 24 Hour Town, aside from those parked in the Overland HQ campsite:

Overall it was a great weekend, spent with good friends. Overland Gourmet prepared some delicious meals for us, and we all shared some great stories around the campfire. Even though the rainstorm put a slight damper on the race, we got to witness some beautiful southern Arizona sunrises & sunsets. Until next year!

A huge thanks to Tim Huber and Heidi Van Camp for helping to contribute photos for this post!

Memorable meals while overlanding

Aside from driving and sleeping, eating is one of the things we spend the most time doing when overlanding. So much of the time we are thinking about the new places we are going to see, and hoping to take great photographs of great vistas, flora and fauna. However I (like many people I know) enjoy taking photos of meals while traveling. I do so because many times they look absolutely beautiful–in addition to tasting wonderful–but also because it will remind me of a good memory.

On a recent trip to Baja I encountered many delicious dining experiences; two of which stand out. The first was a meal that I prepared, both with something I brought from home and items sources locally in Mexico. I made elk tacos, with an elk that I had hunted, along with ingredients I had purchased in Baja: fresh vegetables, a habanero pepper, corn tortillas and a margarita. At home I had eaten elk many times in different forms, but never as a spicy taco! The next meal that really stood out were fish tacos served to me at the restaurant Alfonsina’s in Bah­a Gonzaga. These are classic “Baja-style” fish tacos which are deep fried and served with Baja sauce along with many other toppings. The cold cerveza made for a perfect side dish. They have a lovely outside patio right on the beach which made for the perfect scenic lunch stop!

elk_tacos fish_tacos

Tools, bad and good

I’ve just finished an editor’s project column for the Gear issue that deals with quality tools. The importance of that subject was brought home to me this morning.

For nine years I’ve been using and abusing an excellent Bosch cordless drill, the batteries for which finally died a few months ago. To my chagrin, I discovered that that model drill was one of a very few Bosch made with a battery no longer available. So I put it on my list to buy a new pro-level drill, and until I had the money figured the Sears cordless model someone traded me for construction work a while ago would suffice. It was a nice-looking 18-volt model, and brand new when I got it. Not one of Sears’ professional models, but it should do, no?

No: This morning as I was holding up a panel of sheetrock to secure to the shop ceiling, and driving a drywall screw through the panel and into an ordinary 2 x 6, the gearset on the drill stripped itself of every tooth it possessed. Inconvenient enough that I was balancing sheetrock on my head, and now have to drive 40 miles to town to get a new drill. What if I’d been in the middle of nowhere using it to repair a broken-down vehicle?

It pays to buy good tools.

Update: Mark Weiss sent me a link to, a battery rebuilding service. I already bought a new 18-volt lithium-ion Bosch set, but now I can have my old Bosch batteries rebuilt so that drill can serve as a backup or loaner.

Everybody needs a little adventure

When we think of adventurous travel, we often think of the “epic” trip, where we spend months planning, packing, preparing, and going on an overland trip to places we have never seen before.

And yet sometimes, adventures can happen unexpectedly.

I am lucky to live in a beautiful spot, a little house in the Northern Cascade Mountains, on the BC side of the border. It is a rugged area, with a mix of steep mountains, un-named glaciers, winding highways, and scenic trails. We are 20 minutes from the nearest town, gas pump, or grocery store which, having moved from the bustle of New York, feels a little like heaven.

But every once in a while mother nature decides to remind us that life in the mountains, while scenic, can also be unpredictable. Yesterday was a good example for me:

Having driven to Vancouver in the morning for a business meeting, I was driving home when I found out that a mud and rock slide had closed the highway that I normally would follow to make it home.

As the heater in my Defender had decided about 10 minutes earlier to only blow cold air, and with the outside temperature hovering around freezing, the thought of a winding detour through the mountains and valleys had less than the usual appeal.

Pulling over to put on my parka, consult my GPS, and confirm I had snow chains, shovel, air-hose, winch-controller and granola bars in the back of the truck, and grumbling at the inconvenience, I set out to find a “scenic route” home.

But a funny thing happened on the way home. After about 40 minutes of driving through little farms, over ancient steel bridges, railroad tracks, and quarry sites, I realized I was no longer in “commuter” mode. Rather than driving down the highway on auto-pilot, I was actively engaged in the drive, the truck, the road, and the scenery around me. And you know what? I was enjoying myself. And I continued to enjoy myself all the way home.

So the drive home took about 90 minutes longer than usual, and I got less work done in the afternoon than I’d planned, and yet, I found myself a little disappointed when I checked the highways-department website this morning and saw that the road was back open.

I guess adventure really is good for you. Even a little adventure.

Open House

Overland Journal and Adventure Trailers recently hosted an Open House and BBQ at their headquarters in Prescott, Arizona. Overlanders from far and wide turned out for the event, the longest-traveled being Espen and Malin, a couple visiting from Norway in their Nissan Patrol. Many vehicles, trailers, and equipment were on display and there were presentations and slideshows on new mapping software, a trip to Mexico, and an adventure in the Mongol Rally. Clint Rounsavall was there to present his new book, Adventures From the Trail. Overland Gourmet was on site creating more delicious food made in the outdoors. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us and have some fun!

More photos can be seen at the Expedition Portal forum

Overland Journal and Adventure Trailers open house and BBQ

Chowin\' and chattin\'

Espin and Malin from Norway

Overland Gourmet made grilled peaches and bacon-wrapped sausages

2010 Holiday Special

We at Overland Journal are excited to unveil a new 3-year subscription/renewal option, along with our 2010 Holiday Special. Folks who purchase a 1- or 2-year subscription/renewal will receive a decal, in addition to one extra issue for each year purchased (so, a total of 6 issues for a 1-year, and 12 for a 2-year). The decal will be included with the next issue to be published after the purchase (so either Winter 2010 or Gear Guide 2011). Purchasers of the 3-year will receive a free pair of Mountain Khakis. We will be emailing the codes for use on their online store about 1-2 weeks after you make the purchase, so you can get whatever color and size you want. For each of these offers, be sure to enter the coupon H2010 in the shopping cart after a qualifying item has been added (1-, 2-, or 3-year subscription/renewal).

Check out the most recent newsletter.

Mountain Khakis Fly Fishing Vacation to Lake Tahoe!

There has been a growing interest in fly fishing among overlanders, or perhaps it’s a growing interest in overlanding among fly fishing enthusiasts; either way there is no doubt that the two compliment one another wonderfully!

So, when Mountain Khakis told us about their latest sweepstakes, a 5-day/4-night fly fishing vacation complete with a resort stay at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe, a half day of training and over $3,500 in gear, we had to share it with you.

Registration in the sweepstakes ends on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. Good luck!

Here’s some of the cool gear included:

New sign for Overland Journal headquarters

In the previous blog entry you can see the Overland Journal sign on display in our safari tent at the Overland Expo 2010. We also used it in our booth at the Whiskey Off-Road mountain bike race at the end of April. That sign is now proudly hanging above the door of our office/shop in Prescott, AZ. It is lightweight so that we can take it to other events in the future.

new sign


Overland Expo 2010

This year’s Overland Expo is being held at the Amado Territory Ranch in southern Arizona. A huge thanks to Exclusive Tents for providing the awesome safari tent for the Overland Journal booth. So far it has provided for a great place for people to stop by and spend time with the OJ staff. The vehicles we are featuring at the booth are a Land Rover Defender 110 Dormobile, a right-hand drive diesel Jeep Wrangler, a Royal Enfield Bullet, and a Thorn expedition bicycle. We have definitely enjoyed the event so far, and are looking forward to the next two days!