Scott Buckner was driving his Outback along the Piney River in Nelson County when he had what he described as a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation golden Christmas tree moment.
Buckner was on one of his overlanding trips — more on that in a minute — and had spent the last hour or so looking for the perfect spot to camp. Unable to find it, he had just about resigned himself to spending the night at the campground at Devils Backbone Camp in nearby Roseland when he saw a golden sight.
Coming down the mountain, he rounded a curve and there on the right was his Christmas tree campsite, absolutely deserted as if it had been waiting just on him.
“It was huge. Ten people could’ve camped there. It was completely deserted. I pulled in and was like, ‘Is this for real?’” he recalled laughing. “It really was like that scene out of Christmas Vacation, the very beginning when the family is Christmas tree hunting, and they come across this tree in the woods that is just glowing.”
Unlike the Griswolds, Buckner didn’t get stuck under a tractor-trailer on his way back. Instead, he parked, set up camp, and spent the rest of the night enjoying his good fortune, listening to the sound of the two adjoining creeks and river surrounding him.
While Buckner’s experiences are like camping, this occurred on one of his many overlanding trips. What’s the difference between overlanding and camping?
Overlanding and camping differ in three major areas: the focus on the journey versus the destination, the level of planning done ahead of the trip, and the gear you’ll need to bring.
Buckner described the experience in a way that would’ve caught the late Ralph Waldo Emerson’s attention, even inadvertently using one of the writer’s most famous adages.
“Overlanding is not staying at the same place two nights in a row,” Buckner said. “The idea is going from one place to the next, using your vehicle as a vessel, using only what you have on you, and focusing more on the journey than the destination.”
A few weeks back, Buckner hopped in his Outback and headed up to George Washington National Forest with only what he needed and no specific place to stay. After completing the 78-mile journey to the national forest, he found his ideal campsite completely off the grid and spent the rest of the night next to a river before falling asleep in his car. The next day, with no tent to pack up, he simply got up and headed to another place in the forest where he met up with some friends and spent another night.
A lifelong outdoorsman, Buckner is used to the planned and often strict regimen of camping at a campground. However, he’s found none of that in overlanding.
“I’ve always done regimented camping and have dealt with all those types of time restraints, check in, check out at a certain time, but with overlanding, you can throw all of that out the window,” he said. “You leave at six in the morning, 10 in the morning, two in the afternoon. It doesn’t matter. You should be able to set up and break down your camp in 10 minutes and move to the next spot, so there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”
Buckner got into overlanding back in June 2020 after coming across a series of YouTube videos. To use another adage, “It was love at first sight.”
“I was just flipping through YouTube and came upon a couple of these overland videos. I had heard the expression before. I knew what the word meant, but had never experienced it before,” Buckner said. “Then I started following a few channels, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to do that, I want to get away, get farther out.’”
Not long after, he headed out on his first trip, a solo one to boot, leaving him a little pensive despite his extensive outdoor experience.
“I was very apprehensive because it was the first time I’d gone out in the middle of nowhere by myself,” Buckner said. “You feel safe when you encounter wildlife in a campground around other people, but it’s not like that overlanding. I thought, oh, it’s just me, and there’s all these big hemlocks and deer. It’s bear country, mountain lion country. I was anxious.”
It turned out Buckner’s fears were unfounded. He didn’t have any dangerous run-ins with the wildlife. His first trip coincided with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. He found relief in his newfound passion.
“I saw my spirit change on my overlanding trips. I let go of social media,” Buckner said. “COVID was new. I escaped all of that. There was a sense of escapism in all of that, and it was just the best reset. I went every two or three months and have ever since. Sometimes I go with others, sometimes by myself, but every time I get that sensation of being stress free. It’s been great for my soul. No doubt about it.”
Buckner, a salesman for Specialty Beverages of Virginia, is used to his phone constantly alerting him of a new call, text, or email message. “In sales, it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday or 8 on a Saturday night, you can get a call, but being completely cut off from that relaxes your mind a bit,” he said. “When you’re on a trip in the middle of nowhere, you don’t think about anything else except splitting wood, cooking food, and a little fishing. All the thoughts about the week just go by the wayside. It’s a nice disconnect.”
Buckner recalled a specific trip that engulfed him in silence.
“There was one trip where I got set up in one spot. There was no sound. None. I wasn’t close to a stream. There wasn’t any wildlife, no birds, no vehicles, no people, and it was amazing,” Buckner said. “On trips like that you can really become introspective, get inside your head and work things out. There really aren’t any distractions when you’re overlanding.”