A:S Expeditions: In Search of Adventure

A:S Expeditions: In Search of Adventure

| 03.27.23


My name is Carl Johansen. My good friend James Lamdin (founder of Analog:Shift) and I were chatting about my new Land Rover Defender when I mentioned the trip I’ve been planning to Alaska, and a shakedown trip to South Dakota to prepare for it. Thus was born the idea of documenting my experience in a sort of travel blog, with Analog:Shift’s participation. As I already owned a few sweet timepieces such as a Rolex GMT-Master II and an Omega Speedmaster, James offered to loan me a few others for the trip: a Rolex Explorer II 'Polar' and a Gallet x L.L. Bean Military Diver/Navigator. The plan was to apply some A:S stickers to my truck, take some awesome photos, and write about my experience. The results of our fun little project are below.  

Growing up, I was fascinated with adventure, travel, and the history of it all.

I consider myself lucky to have grown up during a time of exponential expansion of digital access to the world and all its wonder. From the late-nineties introduction of BBC America with Lonely Planet and Globe Trekker with host Ian Wright, to my formative years with Anthony Bourdain and the giants of No Reservations and Parts Unknown, I was hooked on adventure. These shows, along with other influential networks such as iconic National Geographic, Travel Channel, and YouTube, have shaped me into the opinionated, delusional romantic I am today.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to explore this country and its historical highways and scenic byways by vehicle. Only when I started reading and experiencing more did I come to know this as “overlanding.”

With a summer storm rolling in, rays of light descend from the heavens in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Preparing for the Journey

Our journey begins, not with open road, but with preparation... 

Overlanding is in no small part about the pursuit of gear and ability rather than actual use of either. First, we needed a chariot, an icon, something with ruggedness, beauty, and offroad prowess.

Unfortunately, as we continue down the path of the mundane to our inevitable dystopian future of self-driving electric vehicles, there are only a few remaining glimmers of hope.

Packing the Defender for the adventure on the way to Montana via Devils Tower National Monument in NW Wyoming

One such icon is the Land Rover, driven by royalty and farmers alike — indeed, not many vehicles can claim their place in history like the Land Rover brand. I’ve always been enthralled by the idea of trekking across the unmolested wilderness in some kind of Land Rover, searching for the unknown. Even with all of Land Rover’s potential faults (those that know call this the Ghost Of Lucas - Ed.), the thought of overlanding in this iconic moniker makes the delusional romantic in me giddy with wonder and excitement.

Killing Pterodactyl-sized bugs through Badlands National Park, South Dakota

While showing off my new purchase — a shiny new Defender 90 — to a buddy from college, it was decided that an epic adventure to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, was in order. Obviously, however, we needed to thoroughly plan an expedition to test the Land Rover SOS and AAA response times. (And yes, I’m a Platinum member.)

With Expedition Alaska planning underway, we kicked off the time-honored tradition of spending far too much money on gear. One of the most expensive bits of kit was the rooftop tent: After many hours of research, consulting YouTube opinions, and perusing general banter on Reddit, I chose Go Fast Campers (or GFC) as the manufacturer. A few weeks after I decided on the tent, I received an email with some exciting news about a business trip to Rapid City, South Dakota. With approval for paid mileage to Rapid City, Expedition ShakeDown was born, and planning started.

Expedition ShakeDown

Expedition ShakeDown, at its core, was a work-funded excuse to perform a “shakedown” (or trial) journey to pick up the rooftop tent and test packing methods, equipment, and technology to ensure the D90 was ready for our excursion to Alaska.

Getting the RTT installed before heading off to camp in Yellowstone National Park at Grant Village, WY

Exploration has two parts: advanced planning, and the daily excitement of not knowing what comes next.

The outline of the trip was now complete, and I established a few specific target dates and locations — mainly the few days in Rapid City for work meetings, the appointment at GFC to install the tent, and camping in Yellowstone with my buddy from college. I wanted the remaining parts of the trip to loosely follow some sense of logic while having a heavy dose of improvisation.

The D90 being iconic with its new RTT enjoying those mountain views, Grand Teton National Park, WY

Whereas we had initially planned on having my lovely wife link up with the expedition in Bozeman the night before we picked up the tent, she decided to join me for the entire adventure. This was an excellent change of plans since we genuinely enjoy each other’s company on long road trips, and it provided a further opportunity to test the D90’s capabilities as a mobile office.

The first portion of the expedition, over 2,100 miles long, took us through southern Ontario, Canada and nine U.S. states. This leg’s final destination was Rapid City, South Dakota, where we stayed for a few days to attend work meetings and explore the area.

In this first real taste of mileage, the D90 performed stoically and fed directly into my sense of adventure. My wife could work comfortably from the passenger seat, the front-facing Yeti was a great decision, and so far, mileage was hovering between 18 and 20 miles per gallon. Regarding timepieces, I felt that the Rolex Explorer II and the Rolex GMT-Master II shined in the first third of the trip. These particular watches exude exploring pedigree and passion for adventure and, thus, are well suited for bolstering my delusions of grandeur.

Getting a sense of our surroundings of the Rapid City, SD area with my "Pepsi" Rolex GMT-Master II

The next phase of the trip was set to take place over four days in the Rapid City area, and although I was here for work meetings, we did not let this stifle sightseeing or exploration. The Rapid City area is home to iconic Americana, national parks, and monuments — sprinkle in state parks like Custer with its scenic byway and local breweries, and you’ll experience much of what the area has to offer. Within only a few hours’ drive are wonders like the Badlands National Park, Devil’s Tower National Monument, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. A short 45-minute trip west takes you to the infamous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — which we missed by about 12 hours — along with Historic Deadwood, with its rich western heritage with Wild West figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Above: Potential close encounter? Light orbs around Devils Tower National Monument, WY

Above: Crazy Horse Memorial; Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch; Mount Rushmore National Monument

With work complete, the next leg of Expedition ShakeDown began, with our planned destination being the Mecca of all things offroad: Moab.

Sometimes you just have to scratch that itch - Bison roaming, Yellowstone National Park

The National Parks

With stops at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches planned, our adventure hit its stride. In this part of the expedition, we traveled another 2,100 miles, explored four additional states, and experienced some of the country’s best National Parks.

To begin this next leg of the drive, I wore my Seiko 5 on a forest green NATO strap — as this timepiece was my first foray into mechanical watches, it felt appropriate to experience Yellowstone for the first time while wearing it. Before we hit Yellowstone and met my college buddy for some more camping, we had to acquire the rooftop tent just north of Bozeman, Montana, in the town of Belgrade. 

Bozeman turned out to be a beautiful place to relax and stock up for the next few days of exploring. With ribeye steaks, local sausage, garlic scapes, butter, eggs, and bacon procured, we headed into Bear Country…Lessons were learned, mistakes were made, but we didn’t get eaten by a bear, and life was good.

Lower falls; Prismatic Pools; Prairie Dog - Yellowstone National Park

It’s tough to describe the natural wonder and sheer beauty of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The diversity of experience in Yellowstone, from sulfur pits and geysers to the prismatic pools and wildlife — it’s surely one of the most amazing places to see, experience, and lose yourself in. Grand Teton National Park is just south of Yellowstone, a majestic and surreal place with extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain. Although we only drove through and didn’t get to float on Snake River or hike any of the 200-plus miles of trails, I’m still awestruck at the sight of storms rolling in over the range, and that visceral feeling of mother nature was humbling. 

My mind instantly went to planning more adventures here, experiencing different seasons, and exploring the wilderness; I felt like I was a 10-year-old boy again. This is what it’s about — this feeling of escape, pure wonder, and joy. Back home in NYC, the deadlines, the hurry-up-and-wait, and the needless stress of everything simply faded away. Feeling jovial and stress-free, we headed south toward Utah.

A horse drawn carriage and antler arch, downtown Jackson, Jackson Hole Valley, WY

We passed through Jackson, a fabulous ski town in the Jackson Hole Valley, and down through Salt Lake City, soon arriving in Cedar City, Utah. 250 miles south of Salt Lake City and 170 miles north of Las Vegas, it's a great place to rest for the night. The next day brought a long day of exploring Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase, and Capitol Reef.

To Moab in the D90

The D90’s design ensures you have to try to take a bad photo of it; this new iteration of an icon is undoubtedly making a name for itself and becoming a neo-vintage classic in its own right. As we took in the views of Bryce Canyon, we started more than a few conversations about the D90. (By itself, this vehicle is a conversation starter — add a roof rack, rooftop tent, and expedition stickers, and it really stands out.) Some travelers wondered what we were doing and what “Analog:Shift” meant. 

The folks we met, and the conversations we had, are yet another reason overlanding is a great way to explore.

While taking in the red rock views, I felt like I was exploring another planet; nothing says “space” or “extraterrestrial exploration” like the Omega Speedmaster Professional 'Moonwatch,' affectionately known as the 'Speedy.' So with the Speedy wound and set, we continued our journey with some off-roading on the Grand Staircase and a construction-laden drive through Capitol Reef National Park.

75 miles outside Moab, in the desert, we saw a lone State Trooper in the middle of the road instructing us to stop. As I rolled the window down, the officer let us know that filming was happening up ahead, and it would be a few minutes. As we got out to stretch our legs, a pair of adventure bikes also rolled up and also stopped. I offered the trooper a water, and we began a conversation much like the many we’d had before. He was originally from Georgia, and we reminisced about the ghastly humidity back east and joked about our pastiness and tendency to sunburn. The five of us shared an unplanned but nice moment as we chatted and watched the sunset.  

A little over an hour later, we arrived in downtown Moab hungry and soaking in what seemed to be the most “on-brand” town I’ve ever seen: It was dusty, piles of dirt littered the main street, and there were buggies, side-by-sides, Jeeps, Land Cruisers, and everything in between all over the place.

"Well designed" by man compared to "well designed" by nature, Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, UT

We headed to Moab Brewing, where it was 25-cent wing night; we ordered a few dozen and enjoyed a cold beer (or three). There were a few old-timers chatting at the bar, guys who knew this place, its trails, and its secrets like the back of their hands. We came to find out that we just missed a flood two days earlier, which explained the dust and dirt piles.

The Drive Home

At this point in our journey, 13 days in, we were really missing our doggo, so we decided on a 2,300-mile, three-day push home. The final push took us through a few planned destinations, the vast majority being in those flyover states in which we never had much interest. (During the home stretch, we explored eight more states, for a grand total of 20 on the expedition.) Passing through Aspen on our way from Moab to Denver, we got to experience a summer storm through Independence Pass, which was an incredible drive. 

We pushed on to Kansas City for some BBQ and shut-eye, then through St. Louis for our final night in Cincinnati, where our hotel had a robot that delivered items to your room - quite the opposite of everything we set out to experience. As we made the trek home on that last day, I started to reflect on the journey we had just experienced: 6,523 miles, 20 states, 16 days, 10 national forests, six national parks, and countless memories later, we were home(-ish) — well, at least stuck in traffic in fucking New Jersey. 

One happy camper with his happy camper exploring Utah, Middle of nowhere, UT