Sometimes you find yourself in a place that has you beat. For overland explorer Clay Croft, his geographical crucible came to fruition 40 miles into what was supposed to be a 120-mile crossing of British Columbia’s unforgiving Alexander Mackenzie Trail. “We had run out of fuel. We had a broken shock. We had two punctured tires. Our freshwater supply had been volcanically contaminated. And short of that, we had run out of time,” he says. That was in 2013. Impelled by the unfinished business at hand, Croft and his team at Expedition Overland returned to Canada two years later, finding redemption on the historical trail that was first cut in 1790s. By definition, overlanding is the practice of long-distance, self-sustained travel, primarily by off-road vehicle. In the name of that pursuit, Expedition Overland produces a web-based series that follows Croft and his crew, in their outfitted vehicles, as they traverse an unpaved world in “4Lo.” Here we check in with Croft, who tells us more about the people, the vehicles, and the gear that bring a sense of achievability to the seemingly impossible. Buckle up.

One way traffic

The view from the office window

SIMMS: Where are you from, and where have you been?

Clay Croft: Well... we’ve been up to Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, and we’ve been down to the Darién Gap near panama. We’ve traced the western spine of South America, all the way from Colombia to Ushuaia [the capital of Tierra del Fuego], and then went back up to Buenos Aires, in Argentina. But Bozeman, Montana is home. I grew up fishing here, with my dad and brother, and several of us at Expedition Overland are into flyfishing.

SIMMS: Tell us about your crew.

Clay Croft: The common thread is that we’re all people who love storytelling. The people who’ve been involved with us over the past seven years want to see the world, and they want to tell a cool story.

We travel at about a third of the pace of someone else, because we’re working so hard at the filmmaking process. Making the episodes is part of the joy for us. It’s a big part of the overall experience.

SIMMS: What traits make for a good overlanding teammate?

Clay Croft: I think the first and most important thing is character—a high level of it. If you have that, you can move to step two, which includes the kinds of specific skill-sets we need on the road; from photography and cinematography specialists, to people who excel at logistics, to those who are mechanically inclined. Some of us are jacks-of-all-trades, people who can fill in the gaps between all the major roles, which can become just as important in the end.

SIMMS: In addition to some great people, you guys rely on some great gear…

Clay Croft: Yes, it’s a big part of it, because it plays into things like efficiency and overall comfort levels. During our South America trip, we logged about 70 days of travel. We faced some challenging weather, and that’s when the right outerwear can really impact the success of the expedition. We’ve been wearing hard and soft shells from Simms. It’s been a great match for us.

SIMMS: Speaking of South America, your no-man’s land crossing between the Chilean and Argentinean borders had you navigating a complex fluvial river basin, one side-channel at a time. Did it have you thinking like fishermen, as far as judging depths and currents?

Clay Croft: Fishing has really played into our river crossings. Having spent a lot of time on rivers in waders gave us that insight to be able to bring vehicles across them—especially understanding water hydraulics in relation to riffles and deeper buckets. That all comes from fishing.

If it’s a 4X4, and if it has enough room to haul you and your buddies, you can go overlanding.

— Clay Croft

SIMMS: Looks like you guys stayed dry…

Clay Croft: That trip was relatively tame. The deepest and most aggressive river crossings we’ve done were in Alaska. There’s a lot of fording that happens there, and it’s really where we got good at it. But the most grueling test for our crew has definitely been the Alexander Mackenzie Trail, in B.C.

SIMMS: You helped bring that trail back to life. In addition to re-examining historic circuits, is pioneering new routes another goal?

Clay Croft: That’s kind of a thing of the past. And it’s really not possible without permits. This is more or less about keeping trails alive. We’re also using ‘tread lightly’ principles to travel with the most respect to the land as possible.

SIMMS: How do you keep your footprint light?

Clay Croft: You’re working as hard as we can to not tear up the trail… not spinning tires and making deep ruts. And when you do, you fix it behind you.

SIMMS: Your Toyota builds are spectacular.

Clay Croft: Thanks, we typically put about 1,000 hours into each one before we set out on an expedition. The funny thing is that most of us already have overland-capable vehicles parked in our driveways. If it’s a 4X4, and if it has enough room to haul you and your buddies, you can go overlanding. A lot of activities, like shooting or fishing, can be included along the way. In fact, some of you may be overlanding already… without even knowing it.

SIMMS: Any advice for getting started?

Clay Croft: Don’t be overly consumed by the gear. Do be consumed by the experience. As you get more and more experience, that right gear will become apparent for your preferred methods of travel.

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