Between November 10th and 11th, South Florida witnessed the first Overlanders Xperience, a rally style event and first of its kind.
As early as 0600 hrs., over 50 participating vehicles started to gather in a designated parking lot in the city of Sunrise, very close to Markham Park, Broward County. Each vehicle went through a detailed technical inspection by our friends from TOYO SOLUTIONS, to insure the safety of its occupants and other participants. Vehicles were then parked in a designated spot to await departure.
Over 150 people showed up at our Check-In station to verify their information and receive a welcome kit, which included T-Shirts, Hats, Stickers, Keychains, Patches; as well as the event’s information such as Roadbook, Vehicle Sheet, clipboards; and other gifts by some of our sponsors. Also, first 20 teams to register received a Snatch Strap kit thanks to Dobinsons USA.
After all participants were checked in, they were given some time to go back to their vehicles, place the stickers and all final touches before a quick briefing on the general rules & regulations as well as general details of our route for day 1.
And just like that, at 0830 Hrs. the first vehicle dipped into adventure, with a two-minute interval in between each vehicle departure.
First objective was to reach checkpoint 102CP, were each vehicle had the odometer checked. This would allow us to compare the real distance in between start point and 102CP, with the odometer reading. When a vehicle’s tire size is altered in any way, this last reading is not accurate, and it needs to be corrected using a Correction Factor. After this checkpoint is were the real adventure begins; the first real navigation challenge for teams. The way to the next checkpoint was two parallel dirt roads separated by a water canal, with several bridges in between them that had to be crossed in a certain pattern; If the passenger didn’t study the route using GAIA GPS App and direct the driver accordingly, it would mean a lot of wasted time and miles. Some teams got lost and drove over 3X the allowed distance to reach to 104CP. Fortunately enough, all teams made it to this checkpoint, even after completing a challenge which was to photograph an alligator in the canal.
Back on the road, every team had to drive around Lake Okeechobee following the waypoints and distance allowed in the roadbook as well as additional challenges. Thirsty to get back off-road, the vehicles arrived to the next WMA, were a muddy trail would lead them to the next checkpoint 109CP were the odometers were checked again and gave way to a series of off-road obstacles that only the most daring would go through.
Water crossings, sandy trails plus demanding navigation skills had the adrenaline pumping for everyone. A special challenge was set up in the middle on the WMA only for those vehicles that were somehow prepared for it. A deep water crossing with a muddy bottom that was very difficult to sort out, even for the most experienced one. Very few vehicles made it through thanks to the help of winches, snatch straps, anchor points as well as the help of other teams. The sense of camaraderie between complete strangers that were brought together by the shared passion is what this event was all about.
Continuing through the muddy trails, each team managed to follow the route back to civilization, where a few other challenges and a long trek of paved roads awaited before arriving to Day 1 final checkpoint, an organized campground near Palmdale, FL specially setup for Overlanders Xperience.
To close day 1, teams were setup up for camp in a wide, green campground with enormous trees distributed just perfectly. A night full of stories and anecdotes, paired with a delicious dinner that included “Carne En Vara, Yuca, Arepas & Chorizo” and served by the wonderful people of “JH Carne en Vara a la Llanera” who traveled from the city of Miami to cater this event; was just an opening to lots of group fun that continued deep into the night.
One more challenge awaited the competitors, this one a very particular one invented by my daughter that is only 7-years old , called Antonella’s Challenge which consisted in a Tongue-Twister given to each team in the morning and had to be recited in front of everybody with no reading permitted. The few brave ones that nailed it, in between laughter and jokes, received a generous bonus.
Day 2 started very early and for the most, the wear and excesses from the night before were obvious. Even then, each team slowly began to line up at the start line. This day included a lot of paved roads, this because in south Florida, even with the vast Everglades, it’s near impossible to stay off-road for vast extensions. In the first WMA to visit that morning, there was not a lot of off-road obstacles or difficult terrain, but it was nice sightseeing and was needed to get the answers for a couple of challenges.
The following WMA was the complete opposite; the first few vehicles driving through the fields and paddocks had a relative advantage since the soft and muddy terrain didn’t hold up for long. One long mud pit was created that became a real challenge for most if not all the vehicles going through. Guided by our technical staff to ensure safety and to follow tread lightly principles, Winches, Straps, pulleys and other recovery methods were used to sort this obstacle in the least amount of time. With many of the participants just getting off their vehicles to enjoy the show, this quickly turned into a personal challenge in between them to see who could get further before getting stuck in the mud. Others opted to wait on the other side and help with the recovery.
Leaving the mud behind, teams continued on with the different trails and roads that led to the Finish Point; completing the last few challenges that included pictures, walks and clues.
Finish Point was set to be at “JH Carne en Vara a la Llanera” in southwest Miami; exhaustion was obvious but there was a sense of happiness and joy for completing the event and experiencing a different weekend than most of them were used to; making new friends and enjoying real family quality time. Once everyone arrived, we proceeded to the much-awaited raffle. Thanks to our sponsors, the participants received discount certificates, gear and much more.
Although the winners were announced and rewarded, we later discovered an error in our calculations that changed the whole scenario. Many of the Excel sheets had incorrect formulas that threw off inaccurate results and led us to a full audit to compare them with the information gathered by our checkpoint officials.
In the next few days, an official communication was issued with an explanation and apology. Also, after a very exhaustive audit and recheck, the complete results (including distance, time, points accrued and disqualifications) was released. Being this a very serious matter and because we take pride in what we do, on November 17 we cited the true winners in Markham Park (Weston, Florida) to award them with the respective trophies and prizes.
I would like to thank all the participants of the Overlanders Xperience, the sponsors, the technical and support staff and everyone else that somehow made this event possible, letting you know that the following events will be much better and that we count on you to make Overlanders Xperience an icon in the Overland & Off-Road world.