This year we headed out to Overland Expo West with KC HiLites. KC was hosting a trail ride and we teamed up with them. The ride was called “Road to the Expo” and it involved 9 rigs over the period of 3 days ending with a large tailgate party at KC’s headquarters in Williams, Az. We loaded up the gear, grabbed a few cameras and hit the road.

Day one had us meeting up in Ramona, Ca. The roster was an impressive showing of some purpose built rigs and personalities to match. First off was Brad in his Jeep who is known better as Trailrecon and who would be leading the trail portion of our trip out. Nick of Roam Adventure Company joined up in a very impressive Ford Raptor build. Joining him in the full-size truck category was Jordan of LOSTSASQUATCH (on IG) driving a very well equipped Chevy Silverado. Adding a lot of contrast to the group was Jillian Rebecca who in addition to having 2 first names has an awesome Toyota Tacoma that she’s built to support her solo missions out into the wild. Randy from KC HiLites (Calscadia on IG), and a close friend, rolled out in his Jeep JKU along with Rob from Venture the Wild who showed up in his awesome Jeep with Truck Conversion and trailer in tow. Last but not least, Frank from Rigged For Dirt, would miss out on our first day in his Toyota FJ Cruiser and meet up with us the following day on our way through Blythe.

After meeting up and gassing up, we embarked on our journey through the Anza Borrego National Forest. We had one major obstacle called, Devil’s Drop Off, which added the unpredictability of sand in addition to a steep and pitted decline down a hill into a large sand bank. Beyond that, the most notable aspects of the trail were a combination of the mud caves and wind swept arches. The evening brought out the camp kitchens and the majority of the group got to cooking. Drinks also came out in the form of a few different Bourbons as well as some bottles from Shelter Distillery which I brought out to share with the crew.

The following morning we hit the trail by 9:30am and made our way through another large stretch of desert known as the Bradshaw Trail which has a large portion that runs adjacent to the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (a bombing range). There’s a slight feeling of unease and excitement that comes with being that close to an area that’s used primarily as a test range for large ordinance. It’s not like anybody ever misses right?

That day would bring some light crawling as a recent rockslide had made getting through the sandstone canyon impossible for some of our trail mates. But even with that detour we would end up with some of our most epic views on the trip. The magic would happen later that evening. As we headed into the later part of the afternoon we decided to head out for some shooting and shooting (guns and photos) with a small group of us. Jillian, Jordan, Ryan, Bill, Rob and I headed out to a nice overlook surrounded on one side by massive canyons to set up our impromptu range which consisted of us picking out a bush on the adjacent hill and sending a few rounds down range.

Wednesday morning would have us driving out through Blythe towards Williams. On the way we paralleled the Colorado River and given to the nature of our adventure we all voted on pulling off into Cattail Cove State Park and jumping into the water (for some of us this would also double as a much needed bath).

Bill, our events coordinator at 5.11 Tactical, would head out that morning to oversee our Phoenix store ABR Academy with Mike Glover from Team Fieldcraft Survival. Mike would be heading a stop the bleed clinic which involved the basics in determining the assessment of wounds and the application of life saving techniques of which a large part was the proper usage of a Gen-7 C-A-T Tourniquet.

From the river it was a straight shot to Williams where we were given a tour of the KC Headquarters and meet with their teams. After the tour we headed out for Dogtown Lake where we happened upon a gorgeous and scenic park crowned by a beautiful lake where Ospreys were plunging into the waters and surfacing with a fish or two. We would wrap up our shots that evening on the banks of the lake skipping rocks and exploring the surrounding area.

Thursday came lightning fast and with it the real work would begin. I split from the group that day as I met up with Bill and the 5.11 team from Phoenix at our Overland Expo West booth spot in the Ft. Tuthill Campground in Flagstaff. After unloading we headed back to Williams for the KC Tailgate Party. Hundreds of rigs would show throughout the day as over 300 RSVPs were accounted for. KC had a local BBQ location cater the event and Black Rifle Coffee would keep the party goers going on a mixture of Leadslinger’s Whiskey and BRC coffee drinks courtesy of the on-vehicle mini-bar inside of their UNIMOG event vehicle.

Friday morning would bring with it the first official day of the Expo. The Phoenix team was ready to go bright and early and proceeded to show me why our guys are so amazing at events. Within a couple hours we went from a blank canvas to a full set up. I was on the grill (as I had been for the duration of the week) cooking up breakfast and even in the early hours of the day and tucked in the back of the show within the premium quad area I could see people already congregating in and around our booth.

The following days were a flurry of activity as the traffic would remain pretty consistent with a combination of fans of the brand, new to the brand and those who were actively searching out Kate would come to the booth and walk away with a new bag or pant or pouch from 5.11. My favorite moment was probably seeing the owner of Alu-Cab, Jeremy, come by the booth, grab a pair to try on and then subsequently buy himself multiple pairs of pants and talk the rest of his team into purchasing as well.

The second day of the expo was extremely busy highlighted by another ABR clinic live at our booth with Mike Glover again covering the many ways to assess and stop a bleed. The day would bring with it some of the largest traffic numbers in addition to the larger brand parties of the night. Between KC HiLites, Overland Bound, FOX, Hard Korr, the Moto Party and another friends’ booth I’d find myself walking all over the expo grounds Saturday night and sharing a drink or two with friends as topics of partnerships and events would surface and fade away to the steady beats emanating from subwoofers throughout the field.

Sunday finally came and it all felt like it had gone by in minutes. The day would be a hard one for us as traffic numbers were high until the winds decided to show up. With 50mph gusts starting to turn company canopies into kites and the first falling snowflakes it was time to pack up before everything got soaked in the coming storm. As we finalized packing, the reports of overturned rigs and snow flurries fueled the urgency of our exit and we all made a hasty retreat.

On the way back I got separated from Bill and would later find myself thanking God for the addition I had made in the form of 2 gallons of fuel and water on Kate as I had to pull over and dump the gas I had on hand into the tank to make it the 15 miles to the next gas station. Such a close call. The next few events would consist of seeing a fellow Jeeper with his fender flapping in the wind and pulling off to help him get it affixed to his rig, then an hour or so later I was in hail so hard and dense that I could barely see through it. Luckily it would only last for a few minutes and through the dense cloud cover and lightning storm around me I could see a distinct line that would spell the end of the storm and the beginning of a traffic free mellow rest of the drive home.

Reflecting back on the week I’d say the greatest takeaway was the camaraderie that the trail can bring to a group of travelers even though 1/2 of them had never met before. It was great meeting all the different folks who use or wear 5.11 on the trail. Can’t wait until next year and look forward to all the new and old friends we’ll meet at the trail head.

Check out some of our favorite road trip gear here