Veteran Overland’s largest event of the year
The Veteran Overland group met in late May for their Memorial Day Muster. Cancelled last year due to pandemic restrictions, this is the group’s largest annual event. New this year was a venue move to private land owned by a veteran supporter, Jason Carnahan.
The breeze was constant on top of the hill outside of Dufur, Oregon. The view was breathtaking, Mt Hood and Mt Adams towered above. The lush, green Dufur Valley spread out below. It was an awesome display of nature and a reminder of the beauty of their country. A country most of those attending had served while in uniform.
Meet Veteran Overland
Veteran Overland, a 501c3 non profit organization, was founded in 2016 by two combat veterans. Each had served a deployment overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. This kind of shared experience albeit in separate areas, can bond people together like no other can.
Both men were bothered by the numbers of fellow veterans who were having issues adjusting to civilian life. As they met and bonded over a shared love of overlanding adventures the idea of expanding to help others made sense.
Meet the co-founders
Both Jeff McPike and Will Hardison together founded this group. McPike had already had success co-founding a veteran support group for a Fortune 500 company. Hardison, still an active member of the National Guard, wanted to find a way of sharing his new-found love of overlanding with other veterans. Together they assembled a team of like-minded people to help run their new venture.
It is no secret that veterans can return from these deployments with lasting post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues. There are as many different kinds of therapies available through veteran non-profit groups as you can shake a stick at. None of them would attack the problem in quite this way. One goal: the sympathetic support of people who have experienced similar situations is key to helping veterans returning from deployment.
Hunt the good stuff
Together, they wrote out this mission statement for their new group.
Veteran Overland is focused on improving Veterans’ lives through the proven healing power of CONNECTION, the positive mental perspective of the OUTDOORS and the need for post service skill building through OVERLANDING. Combined we produce wellbeing through RESILIENCE.
The main objective of this group is to “hunt the good stuff”. It is a military term instructing soldiers to search out the good in any situation. By doing so they can help themselves turn a negative around. It is a better mental picture than telling them to ’embrace the suck’.
A ‘muster’, as defined by Mr. Webster, is an assembling of troops. Each Memorial Day weekend Veterans Overland (V/O) does exactly that. Together the members receive overlanding knowledge in the form of classes. They responsibly explore the region’s more challenging trails. Most importantly they honor the importance of the holiday.
Knowledge is power
Classes were scheduled on Saturday for recovery training, first aid, trail side tire repair, and an introduction to HAM radio. These informative classes were taught by International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association (I4WDTA) certified trainers. Mike Block and Will Gillette from Backroad 4WD Training handled all the teaching duties on Saturday as well some impromptu training on the trail runs.
Block and Gillette had an eager crowd soaking up their every word. Asked about the difference between training veterans verses civilian overlanders Block stated, “You can be a little more abrupt training V/O members.”
At the end of six hours of well presented information those attending were ready for the trail runs planned the next day. Next it was off to the V/O Happy Hour, a fun social event. After that a bon fire and the raffling of prizes.
The Trail Run
The highlight for many attending was the trail runs for both intermediate and advanced drivers. This reporter was invited to ride along with advanced Trail Boss Zeb Farmer in his well equipped 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road. Zeb did not have to ask twice.
Farmer is a United States Marine Corps veteran who joined in 2005. By 2006 he was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. He exited the USMC in 2009. Now a vinyl graphic designer, he devotes much of his spare time to V/O. He serves as the Head of Experience. That means he lays out vehicle adventures for the V/O’s nine annual events. Many had recently returned from an annual Baja California trip.
The advanced trail run would parallel and cross several times Fifteen Mile Creek as it flows through the Dufur Valley. As a bonus, Backroad 4WD joined with some advanced trail rookies making the run into a training session. Participants were warned that this trail would leave scratches in the paint, possible wheel damage or body damage. No one backed out.
The fun begins
The trail meandered up a canyon and along the creek before it got narrow. The native plants started to get dangerously close to whipping through open side windows. The road started showing more protruding rock preceding a water-crossing. Word went out on the radio that we would gather at the creeks edge so the rookies could get a quick tutorial on safe water crossing.
There were a few large rocks strategically placed by nature to be a possible issue. A clear path chosen, the vehicles started across beginning with Zeb and I. We blazed the trail showing the safe way across. The others trickled across and just that quick we were on our way.
The big obstacle
Deeper into the canyon the road started to get wet. Bigger rocks protruded out of the road. Something was coming up. Around a slight left turn a small boulder field revealed itself. All vehicles stopped and we walked up onto the slippery rocks which emptied into a deep puddle with slab sided rocks on either side about the width of a truck. Another impromptu tutorial broke out as we devised the safest way across.
You knew the trail was dangerous when you took it
I would have been in the truck for this, but someone had to take the pictures. Spotter in place, Zeb crawled over the first set of boulders successfully and then laid his drivers front on a large slab of rock with an abrupt inside edge. On the opposite side was another large rock, so both front tires were tenuously gripped to wet rock. Zeb lowered the front of the Tacoma into the large puddle and started steering right to get into the narrow space between the third set rocks. The left rear tire slid off the abrupt edge and the departure angle of the bed slammed down on the tall slab and dented the underside of the bed.
The beat goes on…
Once through the narrow puddle it was a climb straight up the side of another few boulders then over smaller puddles until the road elevated above the creek. Mike Block came through next, wiser for seeing what Zeb did. He sailed through in his Lexus, then returned to teach the rookies about spotting.
Safely across the rocky puddles, the convoy moved on through a more narrow heavily brush lined trail. A few rocky areas required extra time to cross, then another low water-crossing.
The road smoothed a bit and we climbed up to the top of a ridge where we found a shady area to stop for lunch. After consulting the GPS units, it showed the roads further flattened out. The trainers wanted to have the rookies experience the same obstacles going back the way we came. So after lunch we turned back the way we came.
Was it this bad coming up?
Back down the canyon and along the creek we trundled. The deeper we got into the narrower and rockier sections the road took on a distinctly different feel. It was a valuable lesson showing how the road changes dramatically from a different point of view.
An afternoon well spent
The trail run was two hours shorter than planned, but no one complained about getting back to camp sooner. As the convoy rolled back into camp things were settling down into a social hour under any available shade as it was a very warm day.
Sunday evening was the only shared meal of the weekend. Spaghetti, Caesar salad and bread were available for everyone to enjoy. Following dinner another bonfire lit up the night sky. The next morning the Veteran Overland Memorial Day Muster broke camp after a ceremony to remember those lost in the name of freedom.
For membership information, donations, or to shop in their online store visit the Veteran Overland website.