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An overland version of Air BnB comes to Flagstaff
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An overland version of Air BnB comes to Flagstaff

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The hulking Toyota Tacoma, off-road 4x4 edition, that constitutes (so far) the fleet for the adventure startup Overland Flagstaff is painted orange, technically. But it’s not a garish orange, not some hideous spray-tan orange, more like a burnt sienna pigment that can blend in well with, say, a sunset in the Southern Utah red rocks.

That’s fitting, because the premise behind Mike Rickerd’s idea to rent Tacomas fully loaded with camping gear, from cutlery to tent and everything in between, is to have people get close to nature, to see as much as they can in a limited amount of time, and most of all blend in and become one with the environment.

Yes, if any truck can do all that, it’s the Tacoma, he insists. And Rickerd’s fledgling business — a second truck is on order and, eventually, there’ll be a fleet of six — depends on the reliability of the vehicle he’s leasing to tourists who may or may not have much experience traversing the wide-open spaces and rutty roads that greet them.

Overlanding, as the pastime is called, usually is not something that people can dabble in. A sturdy vehicle and tons of gear is a must, as is knowing the lay of the land and how to navigate it.

To introduce overlanding to more people, Rickerd, 31 and a structural engineer in Flagstaff, can give you the vehicle and the gear and even provide some tips on getting around. Only three weeks after launching, he’s already sent many folks on overnight adventures — some being outdoors neophytes, some grizzled vets traveling to Arizona and just needing the sturdy ride.

“The majority of people so far are curious about (overlanding),” Rickerd said. “They don’t have $40,000 for the truck and the $10,000 to put all the stuff on it. They’d rather take it for three nights for $600 and see if it fits. Then there are people who live far away and want to experience Arizona. They already have their own Tacoma with their own stuff; they just can’t drive it out from Connecticut or wherever. So they’ll fly out here and experience Arizona without having to put 5,000 miles on their truck.”

But why the Tacoma?

Well, if you have to ask, then you obviously haven’t been overlanding much.

“To me, the Tacoma’s reliability and toughness is legendary,” Rickerd said. “When you think of a Toyota Tacoma, you know it’s something you can trust. It’s really the ultimate overlanding rig. People that I know that are going to do serious travel — we’re talking around-the-world travel — they are in one of these.”

Reliability is key both for people renting the vehicle, because having a breakdown deep in the high desert or forest, away from cell phone signals and easily reachable tow trucks, is not ideal.

The peace-of-mind factor is huge, Rickerd said, because many of the people who rent from him are new to the activity.

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Essentially, almost everything an overnight overlander could want is packed up neatly in the bed and storage areas of the Tacoma.

There’s a 6-foot rooftop tent with a king-sized foam mattress, a propane stove for cooking, all the utensils and pots, a Dutch oven, a large cooler, a fold-out dining table and chairs, a 5-gallon solar shower bag, lanterns, a Garmin Satellite Communications device for emergencies and an AeroPress for that morning espresso.

All that’s missing, it seems, is a mint on the pillow and turn-down service.

But this is not so-called “glamping.” Not in the least.

“You don’t get the Ritz Carlton,” he said, laughing. “But you do get a lot. We even have a cold-weather package to heat the tent. But the thing about overlanding is part of it is uncomfortable. Part of the deal. That’s something important for people to know. You’re going deep into the woods. Overlanding, in simple terms, is just vehicle-based exploration.

“I’ve pulled up to sites where somebody has a big trailer and I’m pretty much set up in 15 minutes,” Rickerd added. “I’ll go on a hike or ride my bike and come back later and they’re still setting up their campsite. This isn’t that. It’s getting into nature.”

Creating a connection

Such communal acts is a major motivator of Rickerd to start the business. His full-time gig is as an engineer, but he long wanted to start a side business combining his love of cars and nature. He says he will offset the carbon emitted in the venture with tree-planting.

“The entire thing is not financially motivated,” he said. “When you’re sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon -- I mean, literally right at the edge --  and spending the night watching the sun go down and notice how the colors change along the landscape, you kind of discover and realize a little about yourself. But you also appreciate the environment.

“When people are in nature, surrounded by it, maybe it’ll share with them that, ‘Hey, this is something that actually exists’ and take care of it. These wide-open wild spaces on earth, maybe they shouldn’t be taken for granted. If you can immerse yourself in that through this, maybe it’ll change somebody’s opinion on how they feel about the environment.”

Or how they feel about camping. One way to look at Rickerd’s business is as a moveable version of Airbnb. The Tacoma truck is yours for a weekend, or longer.

Hiking, running or mountain biking is great, Rickerd said, but to see much more of the vast expanse of landscape, he recommends the Tacoma.

“When you’re hiking, you worried about how much things weigh down to the gram,” he said. “When you’re in a truck, you can do 100 miles and carry 500, 800 or 1,000 pounds with you. It changes the experience and opens it up for a lot of people. The ability to see three or four really cools places in one trip is pretty impressive, compared to parking at a trailhead and hiking in.”

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Feature Writer, Community/Calendar Editor

Sam McManis is an Arizona Daily Sun features writer and the author of two books: “Running to Glory: An Unlikely Team, A Challenging Season and Chasing the American Dream" and “Crossing California: A Cultural Topography of a State of Wonder and Weirdness.”

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