Story by Kelly Nomura
Photos by Staton Carter, Josh Gobi & Jimmy Kazmier

Excitement Abound at Overland Challenge 2020

Adrenaline, Obstacles, and Teamwork Fuel Excitement in Three Days of Relentless Competition at Overland Challenge 2020

Pulled toward the East Coast like a bee to honey, we jumped at the opportunity to hop on a plane to fly across the country and check out the 2020 Overland Challenge, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosted by Southern Xpeditions, the 2020 Overland Challenge took place November 6-8, 2020, in Uwharrie, North Carolina. Why head out there? Because of all the events we’d heard of or had attended, this one was unlike the rest. A competition that highlights all the skills needed for driving off-road trails and setting up the ultimate campsite appealed to our senses and brought intrigue. Whether you have loads of experience with recovery, spotting someone, or picking a line, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a vehicle, or the intricacies of setting up camp quickly, this event highlights those talents, all while utilizing teamwork to an advantage. All that encompassed in a weekend filled with camaraderie and an overall good time? Heck, that was an easy sell.

Dare to be Unique and Different at Overland Challenge

Unlike other expo-type events, the 2020 Overland Challenge put the knowledge and experience of drivers and co-drivers to the test. As Southern Xpeditions President Derrick Oursler says, “Truly from start to finish The Overland Challenge is a truly unique experience.” It is that uniqueness that also appealed to us. Participants engage in different tasks and challenges all having to do with the overlanding lifestyle. “Based around what we consider essential skills for “overlanding,” we have created our version of the best of both worlds,” Oursler says.

Participants gather at event check-in for the morning debriefing. Photo: Josh Gobi

Each half day a new course or activity is presented to the teams to complete, which dictates standings. For example, a team may compete in one of the off-road parks one morning and then be sent to the Uwharrie National Forest in the afternoon. The next day the team completes two totally different courses, with also one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. On the final day, Sunday, all teams compete in specified challenges in the morning, which also count toward the team’s standings, but the day finishes with the awards ceremony to see whose skills are the cream of the overlanding crop. As Oursler says, “This was a passion for the entire team and we have sharpened it into a truly unique experience.” Unique it is, and the planning and coordination that goes into smoothly running an event such as this certainly shows.

Adventure Accommodations at 2020 Overland Challenge

Upon arrival at the event site, the big BFGoodrich archway welcomed us to the grounds. We could see teams camped in the distance, complete with fires aglow. Oursler greeted us at the archway and escorted us to our accommodations for the next few nights: a CVT St. Helens hardshell rooftop tent fixed upon an adventure trailer, courtesy of CVT. Having never slept in a CVT tent before, we were quite excited to compare it to our other sleeping experiences in RTTs.

After a day of wheeling, members of the Apex Overland team check for any damage. Photo: Jimmy Kazmier

For the next three nights, our acting home was comfortable, warm, and kept us dry amongst dewy mornings, even with the windows open all night. The CVT Comfort Bag was a sleeping bag that fits the mattress like a fitted sheet. It not only makes set up easy, but gives you the feeling that you’re actually crawling into bed at night. Plus, for those side sleepers, kiss goodbye to constantly waking up because the mummy bag is all twisted up. The RTT setup was easy, breakdown was easier. Simply put, this added accommodations bonus was icing on the cake for the weekend.

Friendly Faces Surrounded Us

Friendly people usually come with overlanding events, and this one was no different. As we settled into camp, we met the volunteers and workers of the 2020 Overland Challenge who’d be camping with us over the weekend. The entire weekend we were greeted by friendly faces and smiles from the 2020 Overland Challenge staff and volunteers. They were knowledgeable and helpful when you needed something, regardless of where you were, from the off-road courses to those at check-in and vendor row.

The spare tire change relay kicked things off for this team who got to start their day getting their hands dirty. Photo: Jimmy Kazmier

In fact, everyone we crossed paths with that weekend were some of the nicest, friendliest, and excitable people. Whether it be southern hospitality, affirmation of the traits we already appreciate of the overland community, or a buzz from some adult beverages, each and every person welcomed us—some with a sip of moonshine. We were fondly reminded why this lifestyle is bar none the best. And to think, they all competed against each other all weekend and were still kind. Now that is what it’s all about: friendly competition and warm fuzzies around a campfire.

Hi-Lift jacks were used in many different ways to pull a vehicle closer to a second. Photo: Staton Carter

Let the Fun Begin

Morning came quick as participants awoke, prepped vehicles, took down some breakfast, and scurried to the start line for the morning debriefing from Oursler. Each morning he gave general instructions, announced where each team was heading, along with the current standings. While most sipped their morning coffee and listened, others made last-minute tweaks to vehicles to ensure it could handle a full day of romping. Before you knew it, vehicles lined up in the start lines, clocks started, and off teams went to their designated destinations: LFD Offroad Park, Mobtown Offroad Park, Uwharrie National Forest OHV Trails, or BFGoodrich Training Center. That morning, we stayed back and checked out the BFGoodrich Training Center.

Not to be missed was the blind driver course, which required driving and communication skills—and trust. Photo: Staton Carter

At the BFGoodrich Training Center, teams competed in various activities revolving around things one would normally do when overlanding and camping. Perhaps that would be setting up camp … intoxicated. Or coaching your teammate on how to safely drive through a section of off-road obstacles … blindfolded. These activities were not for the newbs nor the frightened, but rather those who are up for fun, laughter, and … a challenge. Other notable challenges that tested teamwork, communication, and skill included a spare tire change station, triangle rope walk, and the blindfolded driver course. Each station had a volunteer read instructions to the team and time the team on completion. Laughter was heard, many conversations took place, instructions were either demanded or suggested, and working together in various capacities was seen everywhere. As we know, there is no “i” in “team,” nor is there the chance to skate by in these challenges without cooperation and good communication.

Spectacular Views Steal the Show at Overland Challenge 2020

The afternoon on Day 1 took us to Uwharrie National Forest where we followed a professional team through the course. The challenge here was to hit geocaching waypoints along specified routes to obtain points within the given time constraints. The fun here was, well, everywhere. This year we drove through three main trails that exist in the forest OHV Trail Complex: Daniel, Dickey Bell, and Dutch John. As novices to the area, we enjoyed following the local teams through the terrain. It gave us the chance to take in the scenery while driving trails through trees, through water crossings, and ultimately up a couple intense rocky climbs. We even got the chance to get behind the wheel of the Southern Xpeditions Tacoma owned by Jimmy Kazmier for a large portion of the afternoon. Whipping around turns and hitting the pedal in straightaways to keep up with the teams in front proved quite an exhilarating time.

Dark blue Toyota Tacoma drives off road up rocky terrain during Overland Challenge 2020 in Uwharrie National Forest.

The epic fall colors of the changing leaves in Uwharrie National Forest took your breath away, just like some of the trails. Photo: Staton Carter

However, nothing got our gut like the climb up on Daniel. That ascent coupled with tight turns and rocks to scale was where the expertise of the teams would rise to the occasion. Spotters proved their worth. Climbing up the inclined dip got us holding our breath when figuring out which line to take to straddle the dip—even when spotted by an expert off-road driving trainer who certainly knows what he is doing. In fact, we were sideways at one point.
The big sigh was released as we all reached the peak of Daniel, jumped out the vehicles, and took in the beautiful sunset. Timing couldn’t have worked out better for that afternoon challenge. The struggle to get up the incline was quickly forgotten as we took in the view of vast colorful trees and the oranges, yellows, and reds cresting the peaks of the mountain in front of us. And hopefully, we also made good timing to get all the points for the team.

Quick Turns and Slippery Slopes

On Day 2, we continued to follow the professional team through the multiple courses in Mobtown Offroad Park. Each time trial course was a different experience, with each one more fun than the last. Tight turns through trees, picking the best line through mud, or knowing when to speed up or slow down proved a skill set advantageous. It was here where we had a mishap. Not anticipating the size of the muddy dip nor correctly judging the best line, we slid into an embankment and got stuck. Oh, and shattered a rear Tacoma window. It ain’t fun until you break something, right? Meanwhile, it was another supercharged LS engine nestled in an LX570 that romped this course like nobody’s business. Riding along in that muscle monster was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride meets Back 2 The Future. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Each course presents its own character and challenges. Some are fast and some require slow, swift, and smooth driving. All of them will keep you on your toes and wanting more.

With bellies full of delicious barbecue for lunch, we headed into the afternoon of Day 2 and toward LFD Off Road Park. Now, if you had seen a map of this course, you’d still be confused. Those with a decent sense of direction will still find themselves turned around, and that’s all part of the excitement. On this course, accuracy ranks king. Drivers must complete the entire course, using Gaia to map their route and show each section completed.  A series of one-way trails, tighter than the yoga pants seen at Trader Joe’s, pump teams full of exhilaration. In one section, we squeezed the Southern Xpeditions Tacoma between two trees with barely 2 inches on each side. Winch Hill, an optional hill climb path, forced teams to decide to romp the rut or do their best to avoid the tree—some hit it. Combine slip ’n’ slide mud on a trail system with no rhyme or reason with trail crossings that look familiar but make you think twice and you’ve got LFD Off Road Park. It’s the masterpiece your Kindergartner made for Back to School Night that leaves you wondering, ‘What the heck is it?’ So much fun to be had. And did we mention it was a timed course?

Nighttime Activities Did Not Disappoint at Overland Challenge 2020

As dusk approached on the second day, it was impressive to see raised spirits, smiles on faces, and most people excited for the evening activities: a raffle and the cooking challenge. Straggling teams reported their times to Jenna Kazmier at the Check-In Station while others roamed the vendor booth area or made their way back to their campsite. Everyone reconvened later to buy raffle tickets, with proceeds going to True Patriot, a veteran-focused organization. Prizes handed out varied from Hi-Lift Jacks to a Southern Xpeditions firepit to sets of Actiontrax. The most desired and highest value prize of the night was a set of five tires from BFGoodrich.

The blindfolded driver course was a part of the team challenges in the BFGoodrich Training Center. Photo: Staton Carter

The blindfolded driver course was a part of the team challenge in the BFGoodrich Training Center.

As the raffle ended, Oursler reminded everyone that Saturday night also brought the camp cookout challenge. Each team received three main ingredients and added whatever else they wanted to create their masterpiece of a meal to be judged and included in their standings. Of course, we tagged along with the judges on this one. Creativity was in full effect, lots of empanadas made, and we also indulged in a meat pie or two. People used their Dutch ovens for main courses and desserts, like peach pie and apple cobbler. We even ate a Thanksgiving taco, complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. However, those YotaMafia green beans had us cleaning other judges’ plates, too. Taste buds were teased, bellies were filled, and points were added in to overall standing tallies.

Final Day Finale of Overland Challenge 2020

The final day of the event started like the rest with a morning debriefing from Oursler. However, unlike the other days, all teams stayed at the BFGoodrich Training Center to compete in the final two challenges: a Hi-Lift jack race and an Actiontrax relay. Teams took turns trudging through the grass in pairs while holding Actiontrax to their feet with rope. Looked simple enough when a pair was in sync, but reality hit when two people were not. During the Hi-Lift jack relay, it was interesting to see all the technique variations used to move vehicles forward using a Hi-Lift. Each team used their own recovery gear, and some equipment broke, adding to the excitement. After winners were determined, teams finished breaking down camp, having a moment to reset a bit, and soon made their way to town where the closing ceremony was held.

Raised front end of Toyota showing skid plate.

It wasn’t rare to see a front end up in the air as vehicles made their way through the tracks in Mobtown Off Road Park. Photo: Staton Carter

Winners of the 2020 Overland Challenge took home prizes from Dometic, BFGoodrich, ICON Vehicle Dynamics, CVT, and more. The last place team received a trophy of broken truck parts, while Mobtown Offroad presented the First Place trophy to Team WEGAS of Oklahoma City who entered with two Jeeps and a Tacoma.

“Our hope is that even our Last Place team walks away with friends, skills, and experiences to last a lifetime.”

The LFD Offroad 4Runner makes the tight turn before the memorable hill climb on Daniel. In years past, vehicles have flipped here and we now know why. Photo: Staton Carter

Accuracy, teamwork, communication, and skill set determine how far one will make it. Completing at all is a fete in itself, but having the time record is what will bring you and your team into the winner’s circle. Regardless of your standings, you will feel accomplished, exhausted, and excited for the next Overland Challenge. “Our hope is that even our Last Place team walks away with friends, skills, and experiences to last a lifetime,” Oursler says. We acquired new friends, stronger relationships, and enough adrenaline to get us home and push through the following week. We look forward to attending again in the spring, April 23-25, possibly even competing. Do you have what it takes?

Registration for the spring event is well underway. Visit to learn more.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit sed.

Follow us on