THE 2019 DIRT ORCAS STATE OF THE UNION

By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 12/20/19

2019 is nearly in the books. It has been a life changing year for me on several levels. I took some great trips, grew to new heights professionally, and most importantly, I am now a father to a wonderful baby boy named Cole. He is everything.

As the sun begins to set on the year, I wanted to take a look at the state of all things Dirt Orcas and share my thoughts on the year that was with all of you.

First a few orders of business regarding the site. DirtOrcas.com continued to grown for the third straight year. More than 65,000 individuals looked at the site this year. THANK YOU! The most popular post was once again my opinion piece about switching from the BMW R1200gs to the F800gs. Nearly 7000 individuals read this piece in 2019. I am very proud that people find the article so useful.

The most popular interview of 2019 was actually one from back in 2017. The interview with Lifestyle Overland was viewed more than 1500 times. This is of course due to their very impressive rise in popularity. A popularity that can be attributed to their impressive travels and the tremendous amounts of hard work they put into their YouTube series.

Our top interview that was published in 2019 was with Joe and Jamie of @go_see.do. 

Other popular posts include my trip review of running the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail in the winter. A recap of a fun trip with @powers4x4 and @seven_slot_overland.

TRAVEL

2019 was one of the best years of travel in my life. In addition to some larger trips we also packed in as many weekends and long weekends as we could. Focusing on really making the most of our time outdoors. You can read about many of them in detail here but the main highlights of 2019 were:

  • Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail and French Quarter New Orleans in January
  • 7 National Parks over 13 days in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona in April
  • Adventure Motorcycling ride though Colorado and Utah in May
  • Cross Country trip in our Airstream to Vermont, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania in July
  • Backbone State Park in September

I also once again hosted The Dirt Orcas Summer Classic in late June with the help of my amazing sponsors Jefferson County Ciderworks, BMW Motorcycles of Iowa City, Giant Loop Moto, The Warming Store, and Backcountry Discovery Routes. This year was a bit of a slug fest due to the sloppy conditions, but I can’t thank our attendees enough for staying positive and for their great response to the event. We hope to see all of you again next year and lets keep our fingers crossed for better conditions in 2020. The recap video for the 3rd annual summer classic will be out in early 2020. Get excited for the 4th Annual Summer Classic this year on June 20th.

Satisfactions

Taking a 30,000 foot view of all things related to Dirt Orcas is very important and I was satisfied with a great deal of what I saw this year.

Overall, I feel good about the current state of expedition travel. Due to mediums like YouTube, social media, and good old fashion books, more travelers than ever are finding ways to stay on the road by telling and subsequently selling their stories. It is inspirational, educational, and interesting. On a more personal level it has been a wonderful experience to watch some of our early Dirt Orcas interviewees grow into prominent personalities. People who I reached out to early on in their travels have grown big names in the expedition world. Adventure Riders like Tim Burke or Donni Reddington have made names for themselves in a short amount of time as recognizable cogs in the motorcycle wheel. While expedition travelers like Lifestyle Overland have really broken the glass ceiling on “vlogging”.

Additionally, I am thrilled to see past Dirt Orcas interviewees form Women Overlanding the World. A group of female travelers who are committed to inspiring other women to travel and find their own path in the overland world. I can’t wait to see the trails they continue to blaze in 2020.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that I was very pleased to see that Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman, and the team are working on creating another installment of the Long Way series. This time riding electric Harley Davidson Livewires from Argentina to Los Angeles. While the general sentiment online seems to be rather mixed about their choice, I for one am unashamed to say I can’t wait to watch. While I would have been equally excited to see them throw their legs over the new BMW GS’s like they have on previous journeys, I applaud their choice to ride electric bikes and not just run the same game back again. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think they have created a bit of adventure simply by doing something with a lot of unknowns that may answer a lot of questions and forge a new direction of adventure travel.

Overall there were many positive takeaways from 2019 for expedition travel, individual travelers, and Dirt Orcas specifically.

Disappointments 

With the good there was inevitably some bad. 2019 was a hard year for bloggers. As much as I love the expedition travel aspect of this community, I can’t help but see discouraging things out there as well.

First and foremost, I am tired of the social media dependence fostered by the search engines. While at its best, Social Media is a place to share, connect, appreciate, inspire, and enjoy our community, it can also be a damn shame.

From a content production side, witnessing the constant pressure that people feel to “upgrade” their gear in order to garner more “followers” is depressing. The emphasis on the consumer side of expedition travel is bordering on greed. I wish more people would emphasize travel and experience over things to own. The point is to be happy and studies show that spending on experiences has a far greater return than spending on things. While there are great accounts like Graeme Bell or Piki Piki Overalnd that have their priorities in the right place, you also see far too many other accounts who are simply content creators masquerading as travelers. Frankly they are little more than people who are talented at staging photos.

The “science” of creating nice photos for a very small screen is important. It makes you double tap while you mindlessly scroll though your feed on the toilet, but have you ever gone to look at some of the galleries of the most popular accounts out there? Basically just the same damn photo time after time. This is a weird way to measure success. Eventually content creators are forced to find a new “subject”. Which means a new “more extreme” vehicle in many cases and we are once again pressed up against consumer side of expedition travel. Which I think is a dark place. The experience of travel is the rewarding part, not the slick photo of the recovery boards you didn’t need. The point is so easily lost or misconstrued by social media. Lust after the smell of the desert after a thunderstorm, not after the photo of your shit.

A big part of the reason I started Dirt Orcas was because I wanted to share peoples stories in a longer format. Let them showcase larger pictures and provide more information about their journey and who they are. So we can learn from them and appreciate their unique tales.

I do realize I am culpable to some of what I am complaining about. I am not above staging a photo to try to get more likes. But know that I wish I wasn’t doing it and it was more organically produced. Unfortunately, this behavior has become a necessary evil that accompanies blogging or being a voice in an industry. I just wish there was more openness about it and less blatant consumerism. My concern is that people will delay taking that camping trip to the mountains because they are waiting until they have a rooftop tent for the ‘gram. This is a mistake and I urge people to prioritize experience over things. Ground tents kick ass and are way easier to get in and out of.

The state of social media and blogging in general is one of the most discouraging things of 2019. Watching sites like Deadspin collapse because their cooperate overlord wanted to sensor their work was difficult. Hammering home the point that operating a blog in 2019 means that if your blog makes money, it also means you are beholden to censorship. If you truly want to remain uncensored or unbiased, you’ll need to stay independent and likely unseen. This realization was tough.

Watching Facebook spread damaging lies without conscience and lie about the pivot to video was much tougher.

I thought about the damage that Facebook was doing to truth and democracy and it makes me genuinely upset. I thought about how they lied to companies about their “pivot to video” stance and how that directly drove companies to bankruptcy. Facebook’s business model is unconscionable and I considered leaving the platform several times.

I haven’t yet due to my own websites dependency on social media for search engine traffic. Googles organic searches are what really drive traffic to my website. Yet obtaining that traffic means posting my article on Facebook even if it only receives two likes. It’s so damn stupid. Between Facebook and Instagram I get only about 12% of my traffic and frankly most of that is from the event I create/host each summer. Facebook is a great way to raise awareness about my event, because I invite people directly and do not have to advertise. I often feel like I could live without that 12%, but unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way. I need to post things on Facebook and Instagram and other sites so that Google ranks my website pages higher in the organic searches. Which is really important to my traffic.

It is also very upsetting to me that it has become pay to play in so many regards. How Instagram and Facebook basically require me to pay them to reach my own followers. Think about that. Over 600 people have chosen to follow Dirt Orcas on Facebook and over 2000 on Instagram. Pretty humble numbers but they made the choice to see my content nonetheless,. Yet because of their for profit algorithm, I am required to pay money to expand my post reach to those same people already following me. Folks, this isn’t what we signed up for!! Sites like Twitter or LinkedIn really aren’t the correct places to share what we do, so we are stuck. We are beholden to these websites that do nothing for us, in order to appear bona fide for the organic searches. This is the reality of writing a blog in 2019.

Another thing I find disheartening in the overall landscape of overlanding in 2019 is the military cosplay. While I would never, I mean never, disparage anyone who served in our nations military in any way, I don’t like how military experience or “military envy” has bled into overlanding. It comes off as a form of aggression. When you’re on a camping trip and you think radio communication becomes necessary to keep the convoy tight, it’s just too much. RELAX!!!

If you are showcasing how many firearms you carry in your vehicle, you aren’t promoting preparedness, you are promoting your arsenal. While you might think that is cool, I can assure you that there is nothing cool about the suggestion of violence or promoting fear. If you feel safer with a firearm that is your right. When you need to make a point to your followers that you are prepared to take someones life  if they “mess with you” it crosses a line. People who like trucks often like guns. There is an obvious overlap in hobbies there and that’s OK. However, the suggestion that you think about using your guns so often that it makes its way to your “overlanding” Instagram feed is a little weird to me. Maybe people should reconsider their motivations for sharing things like that on their accounts.

Finally, can we stop calling SUV’s and trucks “rigs”? It’s insulting to truck drivers everywhere. Your glorified grocery-getter looks awesome and is very capable but it isn’t a rig.

Noun. 1. Trucking rig – a truck consisting of a tractor and trailer together. articulated lorry, tractor trailer, trailer truckrig, semi. semitrailer, semi – a trailer having wheels only in the rear; the front is supported by the towing vehicle

  1. the particular way in which a sailboat’s masts, sails, and rigging are arranged.
    “the yacht will emerge from the yard with her original rig”
  2. an apparatus, device, or piece of equipment designed for a particular purpose.
    “a lighting rig”

Right or wrong, these are my thoughts at this moment. I am concerned about the present state of things, but also deeply optimistic about the future.

Hope to see you on the trail in 2020.

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