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The OE Blog

Goodbye 2014

Here's to trucks, to motorcycles, to sleeping on the roof, to short drives, long drives, and drives around the world. Here's to hiking in on foot, to getting there by plane and boat, to seeing new places, making new friends, hanging out with old friends, and making memories. Here's to all that we've done and will do, to the late nights and early mornings, to the stoke and radness of epic adventures, and to the good times playing in our backyards. Here's to 2014, and as always, here's to adventure.

We'd like to thank you all for an amazing year. It was truly incredible. From the Virgin Islands to Canada and everywhere in between, we had a blast. Thanks for following along and making this the Empire that it is. 

A truly special thanks to our friends Bamboo Studios, Treeline Outdoors, Travel Alberta for your hospitality. It's the moments shared with you guys that make us realize why we do this and why we'll keep doing it. So good.

And now we roll onward to 2015. We've got plans and ideas, new products, new friends to be made and new places to visit. So stoked about what's to come.

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Adventure 007 - Georgia Mountains

This was our sixth year in a row coming up to the North Georgia mountains. What started as a camping and fishing trip between a dad and his two boys had turned into a recurring cabin trip with the entire family, which had now grown to 14 strong.

 

These are about the closest mountains from our home in Florida, even then it’s about a nine-hour drive. We don’t have trout streams by us either, the hot weather not creating ideal situations for the trout. So we look forward to our annual migration north, for the time outdoors, the time with family, and for the change of scenery. This year we met up with family in Atlanta and spent a night in the city. There's something special about departing for a week in the outdoors from a big city. Maybe it's the contrast. Whatever the case, it was a good start.

Every year we go fly fishing on the local streams and rivers, and we’re never terribly successful. So this year we lined up a day of trophy trout fishing and quail hunting with a local outfitter, Noontootla Creek Farms. NCF has some beautiful property, and we passed by it the last few years on our way to other fishing spots, so we were stoked to have a chance to fish and hunt with them.

It happened to be the coldest day of the year so far—a brisk 15º F. The quail don’t move too much when it’s that cold, so we pushed our start time to a little later in the morning, arriving at the tiny log cabin at 9:30am. We huddled around the old wood burning stove for a bit, then headed out to the field. Watching the dog work the land has always been pretty incredible, and this day was no different. We ended up only finding five or six birds, and got three in the bag.

 

We then broke for lunch and switched gears for an afternoon of trout fishing. The water was as clear as gin, which meant that the monster trout we could see from the banks could see us, as well as every fly we floated in front of their faces. We fished for hours without a single bite. Then, as the sun started to go down, we came upon a section where the water was a bit faster, the clarity a little less. We ended up landing two giant rainbows within about 30 minutes. When you pull in a fish like that—one that’s been carefully managed to live so long and get so huge—you realize what catch and release is all about. There’s a certain respect for a fish that size, and it’s easy to put it back in the water.

 

The rest of the week was filled with the usual cabin activities: cooking big dinners, taking walks through the woods, games, drinks, and family. The week seems to go by so incredibly quick, and before we know it we’re packing up to come back home.

When you stop and look, it’s funny how things become traditions without even realizing it. Our original trip was cancelled due to a health scare with dad, and we weren’t sure if we would make it up at all. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, and our tradition continued. The drive up together, the trip to the apple store (real apples, not electronics), the family dinners, and even a talent show from the kids. Traditions are important, especially for families. You may have your own, or you may be starting new ones. Whatever the case, make time for them.

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Adventure 006 - Travel Alberta, Part 1

Trips like this don't come along often. We've been talking to our friends at Treeline Outdoors via email for a year or so, and Andy Best and Ryan Abernathy only through Instagram. When we reached out to plan a trip to Canada, we couldn't imagine what was to come.

We all dream. And the dream of traveling to Alberta had been festering for quite some time. In the summer of 2014 it was decided that we would make something happen, somehow. We would go to Alberta, even if it meant sleeping in a rental car for just a weekend. We reached out to our friends Chad, Andy, and Ryan to see if anyone was up for a trip to Alberta in September. All three said yes.

Then, a couple weeks later Craig Hensel (@thecraighensel) got in touch about having Overland Empire put together an adventure. An Instagram Influencers kind of trip. Since we already had something in the works, we figured we could try to blow it out a little more. That's when we reached out to Travel Alberta (@travelalberta). Before we go any further, it must be told that we're not afraid to get in touch with people. 99% of the emails we send aren't returned, but the few that are have resulted in some pretty special relationships. Travel Alberta absolutely fell within that 1%. Special people indeed.

After we worked out the details and set the date, we gathered our crew and made the plans. Chad and Erin from Treeline (@treelineoutdoors) were an incredible help, arranging our rental car (a tricked out Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with a Treeline rooftop tent), arranging our camp location, cooking food, and so much more. Truly couldn't have done it without those guys, and we'll be forever grateful. 

The week before we left, Canada got hit with a major snowstorm. In early September. It was a whiteout, with inches upon inches of snow. And we were supposed to be sleeping in tents. We got a call from our friend at Travel Alberta, worried about us Florida boys freezing in the Alberta snow. We said that was part of the adventure. We were bound to visit Canada, come hell or high water. Or a few inches of snow. So we moved forward.

We arrived in Calgary on a balmy Thursday afternoon, met up with Craig, then made a stop at the camera store and MEC to gear up. Then it was out for dinner and beers at Craft Beer Market before a night in a hotel prior to setting off for the outdoors. We woke up way before sunrise to make the drive out to Turner Valley to meet up with Chad, Erin, and Andy Best (@andy_best). There's always a bit of nervousness when meeting up with new people for the first time. Especially people you'll be spending a few days with in close quarters. However as soon as we walked in Chad's house we knew this would be awesome. We hit it off right away, and felt like we'd known each other forever. What an amazing feeling and a great start to the weekend. We didn't know it, but that moment set the tone for what was to come the rest of the week.

We loaded up the Jeeps and left Chad and Erin's house still before sunrise, en route to Waterton Lakes National Park. A few miles down the road the sun popped above the horizon and painted the mountains pink, a welcome to Alberta like no other. 

After stopping to marvel at the sunrise, we kept driving. We had a three-hour drive to Waterton to make the 10am ferry to hike the Crypt Lake Trail. On the drive we saw a giant moose jump a fence a few yard from us, a coyote run across the road, and endless miles of fields and mountains. Beautiful countryside. We stopped a few miles outside Waterton to stretch our legs and take a break, and spent the time talking about fishing and whatever else. 

From there we made it into Waterton, changed and packed our hiking bags, then met up with Ryan Abernathy (@cruiserlifestyle) and Jeffrey Spackman (@namkcaps). We boarded the boat that would shuttle us across Waterton Lake to the trailhead, where we would embark on our 10.8 miles hike to Crypt Lake and back. Getting off that boat and stepping into the evergreen forest at the start of the trail is like being transported into another world. Especially if you're from Florida. Or plenty of other places, no doubt. The smell of the evergreens, the different flora and fauna, it's so much to take in at once, and it's almost overwhelming how you can travel to somewhere like this in a day and feel completely new.

We hiked along the trail, shifting places and talking to new people within our group, each getting to know each other along the hike. 5.4 miles one way, the trail takes you from evergreen forests through deciduous trees then out into fairly open land between mountains, with the ground underfoot changing from hardpack dirt to stone to gravely rock. It's rad how much the landscape can change along the hike, giving you new vistas to see along the way. So we hiked, and talked, and made friends.

One of the highlights of the hike is the cave towards the end—it's a tight cave you have to climb a small iron ladder to enter, and then when you exit you're on the side of the cliff with the most amazing mountain views. 

That's all for now. Part 2 to come.

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Adventure 005 - St. John USVI

We recently got away to the Caribbean for a little Summer adventure. Read another write up of the story on the Filson Life blog here.

Our trip to St John in the US Virgin Islands was born from a video assignment. We were hired to shoot a video for a local artisan, and we quickly made arrangements to extend our stay in order to satisfy our need for adventure.

A grueling full day of travel had us leave the house at 3am and take two planes, one boat, and two truck rides before arriving at the house in St John by 7:30pm. We made fast friends with our hosts as we poured a few rounds and shared stories. Like-minded in ambition and spirit, we realized early in the night that we would enjoy our week in each other’s company. There’s something about travel that brings people together—the host and the guest, the native and the visitor. One proud of their home and surroundings, the other excited to experience it. This is why we seek adventure, why we travel, why we get away: to see the world with new eyes and to make new friends along the way.

The week fell into an enjoyable routine: shoot, explore, swim, and then have very late dinners and drinks accompanied by plenty of conversation and laughter. It was easy to get used to and hard to leave.

St John is an incredible island. Expansive views from almost every turn in the road, protected white sand beaches with clear turquoise water, lush green mountains, and random donkeys, goats, and iguanas scurrying through the streets. Sea life in every cove. We swam with sea turtles and encountered octopus, squid, and more.

As the sun goes down here the beaches somehow get abandoned. Maybe it’s that the tourists are scurrying back to St Thomas to catch their cruise ships (there’s no port in St John, thankfully). Or perhaps it’s that the locals can go whenever they want. Whatever the case, it was amazing to have a stretch of coast all to ourselves. Perfect for starting a fire on the beach and grilling our lobster and kabobs, relaxing by a mound of black boulders as the setting sun turned the sky and sand purple.

So as the week went on our skin got darker and our hair a little salty, and we knew we would be back. That this would be one of those adventures we would be dreaming of between the other adventures. For when we’ve had our fill of cold weather or sleeping in tents, we’ll be thinking about sitting in that pool looking out across the Caribbean, wondering what life has in store for us next.

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Adventure 003 - Overland Empire x Sanborn Canoe Co.

While we work hard during the week and most weekends, we dream of adventures and quick getaways. So we got away to Orange Island in Florida's Canaveral National Seashore for another canoe adventure while the weather was still cool.

We teamed up with our friends over at Sanborn Canoe Co for some killer paddles to use on our journey, so after paddling in to our camp on Orange Island we spent the weekend fishing, canoeing, cooking great food, and enjoying the outdoors. 

We hit the weather perfect—warm enough to wade in shorts in the middle of the day, cool enough not to sweat through the night. You've gotta love Florida in the early Spring. 

It was an easy paddle on the way out, with calm waters and barely any wind. It doesn't take long when you're out on the water—with dolphins swimming a few feet from the bow of your canoe—to feel far from home. After hitting land we made camp, built a fire, and started preparing food. Then we hit the water to freshen up on our fly casting and explore the area.

After a good amount of paddling and exploring we came back ready for dinner, and prepared an overland feast of maple-glazed pork chops, grilled artichokes, roasted potatoes, and corn on the cob. All grilled over open flame, the way food was meant to be cooked. It's a good feeling having cooked an amazing meal outside, and it's why we put in that extra effort and load the canoes with a little more food.

After dinner it was off to paddle and fish more, of course shooting photos and videos the entire time. Once it got dark we stoked the fire, started fooling around with some time-lapse to catch the full moon move across the sky, then decided to start a batch of chili to enjoy on day two. This wasn't chili from a kit either. Sliced up steak, coffee, cocoa powder, onions, black beans, and a mess of other guessed and hand-measured ingredients made for a chili that surprised all with how good it was. We kept it warm over the fire and broke into it the next morning. Break a fried egg over anything and you can call it breakfast. 

After that it was more shooting, more canoeing, and more eating. We know how to have a good adventure.

Check out more photos on Sanborn's Scout Field Log.

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Adventure 002 - Dual Sport Ride

We've always had a love for two wheels. While you can bring everything you need for comfort in a car, SUV, or truck, nothing strips you down to the bare essentials of adventure like riding a motorcycle. Especially an offroad motorcycle. This adventure was taken on to prove that even in an area overcome with urban sprawl, adventure riding could be found just miles from home.

To get off the paved road and explore dirt roads is liberating. It transports you to a time and place that may only have existed in your imagination. But it's there, and it's real. And it's right in our backyard. No traffic, no red lights, no trains. Only dirt, blue sky, and endless possibilities. This is what we came for. To get away and yet to be right here.

We aim for something more than a Sunday drive. Sure, it may be as easy as getting on your bike (or in your truck or jeep) and going for an exploratory ride, but we like to take it up a notch. To plan a route worth photographing, worth slowing down for, and one that will literally take us all weekend. The planning can be consuming—hours spent clicking through Google Maps, more hours scouting and coming across dead ends, private land, and locked gates, and still more hours preparing gear and equipment.

Then there's the food. For us, food is the tie that binds. An impromptu cookout after a scouting session rather than dinner out. A legitimate hot lunch on the trail rather than a granola bar or pre-made sandwich. Great food is such a tremendous part of our lives. We grew up in households anchored by a home-cooked meal, and that is one legacy we each pass along to our families. A scratch-made meal is always worth the extra effort, be it at home, at camp, or here on the trail.

And so we now find ourselves huddled together on a particularly frigid Saturday, going over our route and plans in the dark space between night and morning. While a vehicle-dependent expedition can be had with only the necessities required for your length of adventure, we decided early on that we would have a support truck. The video needs required to meet our critical eyes, along with the food and equipment involved in putting together meals worthy of sharing, helped make this decision a rather simple one. Now as we stand and eat homemade pop-tarts and bulletproof coffee, we laugh about how we get excited over a good break of pastry, or the perfect mug for a photo. Six men with a unified purpose—to have an adventure worthy of pictures, and pictures worthy of an adventure.

After a delicious and protein-rich breakfast we quickly load up and ride out, a race for the rising sun. Two motorcycles and a truck, all off-road ready and built for this type of adventure. There's an excitement to setting off on any sort of journey, much less one that's been anticipated for weeks, even months, on end. An excitement that can barely be matched, and we feel it immediately. We drive a carefully planned route from one of our homes, driving back roads North towards our destination. The planning pays off in spades. Almost zero traffic, easy navigation, and picturesque vistas that remind us of the aforementioned goal—to enjoy an area less developed, before time and growth catch up to it and spoil it for good. So we pass country homes, pastures full of cows, and beautiful groves full of peach trees just beginning to blossom, and we make sure to enjoy it.

The cold cuts hard through our clothes, and the sun does little to make a difference. Thankfully there is only one stretch of road that requires highway speeds, and we get through it quickly. By the time many are just wiping the sleep out of their eyes we've reached our first waypoint, our destination for all the dirt roads we can handle: a Wildlife Management Area consisting of 50k+ acres that crosses three counties. And it's our home for this portion of our adventure.

When many hear the words "Wildlife Management Area" they may immediately think of deer hunters and tree stands. And they would be correct. As we enter this area on the last day of general gun season for deer, we see our fair share of rifles and blaze orange. However we're the ones that receive the odd looks today, "hipsters" in our funny clothes. We get a laugh from the looks we get, but we know many are well deserved. It's not everyday you see a guy with a GoPro on a four foot pole strapped to his back. Now we roll off onto this leg of our trip, feeling the dirt beneath our tires. We explore the forest, finding a lake, smoking trees, and yes, plenty of hunters. We drive until we find a spot for lunch, a grassy site with plenty of sun and a break from the wind. We set up our temporary camp, with our field kitchen and cooking supplies, and quickly set to work on making a hot lunch. Homemade vegetable soup, made from scratch right on the trail, along with Shao Bing chicken sandwiches and some much needed beverages. We enjoy our break together, standing in the sun to get warm, telling stories, talking shop, and just being guys. We also have a good time making fun of ourselves, imagining the conversations in passing trucks as they see a bunch of dudes taking pictures of each other. A strange world indeed.

After lunch we're off to lay tracks in the dirt, enjoying the sky above our heads and the dirt 'neath our feet. There are few things in life so simple as this, to enjoy our surroundings, the Earth as it was made. As we traverse our route, making wrong turns, dead ends, running out of gas, and burning leather on hot exhaust pipes, we grow stronger in our ties. These adventures of ours become our signature, an inscription of our time on this planet and our lives together. For as much as one can accomplish alone, we know of our strength in numbers. Our wisdom lies in our collective skills. Friends joined by purpose, bonded by story and adventure, and clear in intentions. As society hurtles on in progress, gobbling up our land and open spaces, we are sure to enjoy what we have around us, while we have it. Be that the outdoors, friends, or family. In our case, it's all of those and more. Nothing can replace our time together, our time doing what we enjoy.

So while today's road takes us to a remote lake house where we'll meet up with family and enjoy a delicious dinner spent around a campfire, tomorrow the road takes us somewhere completely different. And that, our friends, is why we do this.

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