An Overlander’s Pilgrimage

Words and pictures by Grant Spolander. Words and pictures by Grant Spolander.

2013 Abenteuer & Allrad Show
I consider myself a fairly hardy camper. A few beers before bedtime, and I can pretty much sleep anywhere and on anything. But that was before I camped in Germany, and finally understood why so many European overlanders favour camper units rather than traditional tents.

I discovered the reason for this while attending the Abenteuer & Allrad expo, the largest overland / 4x4 show in Europe. People travel from across the globe to view the show’s exhibition of overland gear and project vehicles. SA4x4 desperately wanted to attend the event; it would give us the chance to check out new 4x4 gear, assess where SA stands in the overland scene, and see if we’re lagging behind the best Europe has to offer. But, mostly, we wanted to ogle some cool overlanding rigs! Lucky me: I drew the short straw for this adventure.

The Abenteuer & Allrad website doesn’t cater much for English-speaking visitors; the only information I got was that there’d be a shuttle service to and from the expo, a makeshift campsite for visitors, and that the show would be hosted in Bad Kissingen – a small country town in Germany. I arrived at Bad Kissingen train station with no idea where the campsite was located. After a quick Google Map search, I started walking towards the nearest open field, hoping it was the show’s designated camping ground. Before arriving at the campsite, I had visions of a grasscovered meadow dotted with colourful tents, so you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an endless mud pit plastered with thousands of 4x4s.

The Allrad campsite, a makeshift 4x4 city with hundreds of smouldering fires, water-logged awnings and bubbling pots steaming over gas stoves, looked like a refugee camp. Unfortunately, this year’s expo coincided with one of the rainiest seasons ever recorded in Europe. The result was a submerged campsite, drowning under a foot of mud and water. I tiptoed along the churned-up tracks and skirted around a bogged down 6x6, before I eventually found myself a small patch of land between two 4x4s, and pitched my pop-up tent

Because of the large number of vehicles attending the expo, visitors weren’t permitted to park near the show; even day visitors had to catch the shuttle bus. My camp spot was strategically chosen, based on three factors: it was in close proximity to the shuttle bus, and to the porta-loo, and to the beer tent. (I had a sneaky suspicion it would take more than a beer or two to find comfort in this campsite.) When I finally got to the show, I was like an overexcited puppy at dog-training class. I ran from one stand to the next without pacing myself, and within the first half hour I had burnt myself out, and had to take refuge in the show’s bustling beer tent. It was Thursday afternoon – the official starting day of the event – so I still had Friday, Saturday and Sunday to take a closer look at things. The show itself isn’t much bigger than a rugby field or two, but you zigzag through multiple exhibitor stands which makes the show seem bigger than it is. That said, I got lost on a dozen different occasions... Although that’s not saying much for an ou who often can’t find his way out of a shopping mall. By comparison, the Allrad expo is roughly twice the size of the LA Sport show, but nowhere near as big as SEMA – the Las Vegas automotive show is in a league of its own.

Most of the 4x4s on display at the Allrad expo are either off-road trucks or compact camper units. It makes sense from a European’s perspective; their summers are brief and their winters are long and harsh. So, even rooftop tents weren’t that common at the show. I suppose it’s a matter of warmth; camper bodies include builtin heating systems that allow prolonged camping through the winter months. In that sense, overlanding in Africa is totally unique, as we camp all year round and many of our prime destinations are best visited in the dry winter months. The other major difference between South African overlanders and our European counterparts is the fact that we’re not legally restricted in the accessories we fit to our 4x4s. As you’d expect, Europe is incredibly strict about aftermarket bull-bars, front-mounted winches, replacement suspension systems, and more. All of these components have to comply with stringent homologation laws before they can be fitted to a 4x4...

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