The Copperstate Overland Is The 4×4 Adventure You Need To Go On Next Year
Photography by Hagop Kalaidjin
I just want to take a moment to thank our friends from The FJ Company for taking the time and effort to get our team out to the middle of nowhere in style for this event. By far and away it’s one of the most photogenic experiences Petrolicious has ever been on, and without question one of the most incredible overland journeys that our photographer Hagop had ever dreamt of going on.
After all the metaphorical dust settled, I caught up with organizer Hank Gries, who himself piloted the absolutely beautiful FJ55 that we profiled yesterday.
Ted Gushue: How did the Copperstate Overland begin?
Hank Gries: Well the genesis of the Copperstate Overland is that it is a sister event to the Copperstate 1000.
The Copperstate 1000 is one of the premier vintage car road rallies in North America. The Men’s Arts Council (MAC) created the event in 1990 as a fundraiser for Phoenix Art Museum and this event continues to set the benchmark for excellence. The finest vintage automobiles in the world have graced the scenic highways of Arizona during this annual four day event.
In 25 odd years of running that event, we’ve had some wonderful drivers and some of those guys have off-road vehicles. So, for those of us who also enjoy off-roading, “what would be amazing would be having vintage off-road trucks doing the exact same thing.” To take this quality event off-road with vintage trucks and see if we could capture the same magic. We’ve been blessed where in the first two years of the event we’ve had incredible participation and remarkable sponsors like The FJ Company who bring some of their stunning trucks out as well.
In the future, the Copperstate Overland will likely become a premium event, where we’ll limit the amount of drivers to keep it an intimate affair. Our goals is to come up with new amazing routes every year that create a special experiences along the way.
The feedback we’ve received from the participants has been off the charts in terms of the fun factor. We set up a Camp Overland during the trip where we have these killer Safari tents. They include beds. rugs, lights and heaters inside each tent. You just park your rig right next to your tent after the day, grab a beer or cocktail, and sit around the campfire. It’s a really fun experience for these folks.
TG: Is it something like glamping?
HG: [Laughs] It’s very luxurious camping, for sure. I’m not sure how glamorous it is, I mean, you know when we researched how to do this, a lot of the outfitters we saw out there were the same people who are setting up the tents for people like Madonna and Katie Perry when they go to Burning Man. But we created our own version of that level of quality without the frills they would want.
TG: How long is the actual route?
HG: The route varies. Last year we made around 80 to 100 miles a day, this year was closer to like 120 down to 140 miles a day. It really depends on where we’re going at that stage, or there’s going to be some longer distances. Usually if it’s a little longer, it’s no big deal because the terrain is flatter. We can travel faster, so that the day isn’t long. We always are trying to balance the mixture between beautiful scenery and how technical we want to get. Some of our drivers are very experienced and want to push their vehicles. While others may have just purchased their vehicle and don’t know anything about four wheeling. This is maybe the first time they’re actually getting it on the dirt, so they’re definitely novices.
Trying to find the right balance, giving everybody a little bit of something, be it challenging terrain or beautiful scenery is a constant challenge. To keep everyone happy, we have a full crew of mechanics that have specially desinged trucks for support and repair at off-road races like the Baja 1000. If we do run into any problems, we can usually fix it right on the trail.
With the Copperstate 1000 we have a massive support crew to keep everything running properly, which is a challenge when people are entering priceless Ferraris and so forth. But what we find to be the case with the Overland is that even though we bring along support crews that can keep everyone on the road, we generally don’t need to use as much. These classic trucks, while old, are incredibly rugged and straightforward to fix, if they even need fixing at all.
Combine that with beautifully engineered updated trucks like the FJ40s from The FJ Company and you really don’t need to do much to keep it on the road.
They are designed to be tough and they can handle it. They actually do very, very well and I think it surprises a lot of folks.
TG: What does next year look like?
HG: The first part of planning starts with the route, finding a region that we haven’t explored before, or an approach that we haven’t thought of. There is an incredible amount of man-hours that go into identifying and mapping out the route, making sure it’s interesting, and that it’s safe for a wide range of drivers. It takes a good nine months of doing all of that and then finalizing a myriad of details at the end.
We usually start accepting applications in the summer. It’s looking more and more like we are going to sell out next year, especially if we keep it to only 20 trucks. It helps retain a certain level of adventure and camaraderie during the event.
That’s been the feedback so far. Everyone really, really loves the camaraderie and friendships that develop.
TG: Very cool.
HG: The best thing, about this, is we do all of this for charity. The Men’s Arts Council of Phoenix Art Museum is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization that supports the programs and activities of the Museum through its unique events like the Copperstate Overland.
This is actually our 50th year of the Men’s Art Council, so we’re having a big anniversary year. We are able to donate to the museum as a result of our main three events, The South West Double Gun, Expo, The Copperstate Overland and of course the Copperstate 1000.
We organize all these different events to earn a profit. Then we provide a significant check to the museum every year. I think to date we have contributed a little over $8,000,000 in our 50 years.
MAC is a great organization because we are not raising money. We are just regular guys that want to volunteer our time into creating a fun event. Collectively, the sense of pride that you can write a check to the museum and help further the culture of our city is the real payoff.