You've got your eyes set on gravel, dirt, camping and ultimately you plan to escape the big city this weekend, but you don't know where to start. How can you plan a road trip without logging hundreds of miles on tarmac?
In this post, we'll give you some insight on how to plan your next overland route while avoiding the painted lines and freeways that separate us from the wild.
Step 1. Consider your goal?
Rick was writing a behind the scenes article on adventure film production and overland culture. We wanted Rick returning home dirty, dusty and smiling.
Our goal was pretty simple, keep it wild, keep it rough, find some great campsites and treat everyone to some southern hospitality.
Step 2. Use your resources.
The key to planning an overland route is to focus on using resources; don't start from scratch. There is an ocean full of routes planned and reviewed all over the internet, you just have to look. Websites like Expedition Portal and the Adventure Journal are just a few that we use to help us get started.
As natives to WV and VA, we've got a leg up once planning starts but we often end up in places we've never been. For Episode 4, we hunted down routes in SW VA because of its proximity to both parties; DRT was coming from NOVA and Rick from western TN.
After some quick internet searches, we had our hands on some recommendations that could give our trucks a run for the money and they were centrally located for both DRT and Rick.
Step 3. Create your map.
We use Google Maps; its free but its a little tricky. You can't put in your starting and destination points and expect your route to unfold; you have to lay down your tracks.
We built our route using Google's 'Create a Map' tool; I won't bore you with a "how to" on using Google Maps, just start playing with it. Make sure you set your map for "walking" directions; otherwise, Google won't let you mark the the forest roads.
Plan on mapping out more miles than you expect to travel. This gives you options if you come upon a forest gate or private property and need to reroute.
Step 4. Review your route.
Once you got a route laid out in Google Maps, take an aerial tour of it - you'll be surprised with what you see. You can often tell the road quality which can help you determine if your route meets your goals.
You'll often see some creek crossings, tight spots, rocks and even campsites in your aerial overview. Spend some time overviewing the route so you know what to expect when you get there.
Step 5. Campsites and destinations.
If you plan to camp, which you should, mark a couple destinations as you come across openings along the roads. In most National Forests, you can camp anywhere, so long as you're far enough off the road and their aren't any other restrictions in each particular district.
Pin potential campsites, overlooks, photo opportunities, gas spots and hazards; you'll be happy you did later.
Step 6. MVUM.
What's a MVUM? Most forest service districts put out motor vehicle use maps (MVUM) that indicate which forest roads are open and which are closed.
For Episode 4, we identified all of the forest roads and referenced the MVUM. Even though it was a couple years old, the MVUM was 95% accurate; you'll see what we mean when Episode 4 airs.
Also, pick up the phone or stop by a ranger station in the district you'll be traveling though if you want to be 99% certain. Why not 100%? Well, lets be honest; we're talking about the government, right?
Step 7. Create your .gpx file.
A .gpx file is what you'll need so that you can upload your route into your GPS device. I know there's mixed opinions on GPS; however, when time is limited for your trip you'll be happy you have it. We use GPS Visualizer to convert our Google Maps to a .gpx file. You can search the net for "how to" steps on the conversion process.
As for GPS, use your iPhone or iPad; GPS specific devices are overrated in my opinion, but they have their purposes. Gaia GPS is a great app to help guide you off the beaten path and it works wonderfully without cell service; you just have to remember to download your maps onto your device or you'll be up a creek without a paddle. Either way, it'll be an adventure!
Step 8. Share.
Finally, share your route with your trip companions. Prior to meeting up for Episode 4, we emailed the .gpx file to DRT and Rick. This allowed the team an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the route and offer suggestions if they've traveled parts of it before.
Sharing your route is a gift. You're passing on a little "secret." If the route turns out to be epic, you're passing on something that will continue to deliver memories for several years to come.