Illinois To Arkansas: A 5-Day Off-Road Journey To The Overland Ozarks Event With Backwoods Adventure Mods
At the end of last fall, we went out to Arkansas for the Overland Ozarks Event. I will be covering everything you need to know about the experience; what is Express Rally, meeting up with Backwoods Adventure Mods, and breaking down the day-to-day experiences.
In total, this was a well-organized and inclusive event for all experience levels. If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend checking out the other organized rallies this team puts together.
The crew over at Express Rally put on a number of events but today’s focus will be what to expect on the 3-day trail ride through the Arkansas backcountry.
Let’s get into it!
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Express Rally Event Review
Table of Contents
What Is Express Rally?
Express Rally is an automotive culture club based out of Northwest Arkansas. Though centrally located, they organize events all over the United States spanning everything from track days, road rallies, super-car meet-ups, overland trail rides and tons of other social events for the automotive community.
Getting their start in 2015, these guys have been organizing some awesome rallies and community events for local folks to meet-up. As they’ve grown with the years these events have become even more engaging and far-reaching. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they continue to grow.
Backwoods Adventure Mods – Title Sponsor
A more and more familiar name in the community, Backwoods Adventure Mods, is a title sponsor of the event. If you’re not familiar with them, they manufacture all kinds of bumpers, roof racks, armor and offroad accessories for a bunch of different vehicles including the Tacoma, 4Runner, Sprinter and Transit vans – to name a few.
Backwoods designs and manufactures their products right here in the United States and have an impressive facility down in Arkansas. Take it from them, everyone at Backwoods “eats, sleeps and breathes off-roading” and it shows in their unique designs that stem from actual experience. They are known for using a blend of steel and aluminum, taking the best of both worlds – resulting in a lightweight product that’s still strong where you need it most.
We had an awesome opportunity to link up with Grant from their team who gave us a first-hand tour of their facility and some insight into their operation. We’ll get into more detail below and get a sneak peek at what these guys are working on.
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Hitting The Road – Chicago To St. Louis
A couple days before the Rally we packed up our trucks and head to our first stop.
A year or so ago we found this really scenic trail system in Missouri (not too far from St. Louis), a couple hours from Arkansas, and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to stop and spend the night. Winding our way through some rural roads and entering the trail system, we met a local guy cruising on his side-by-side who stopped to chat.
We learned the land was managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and a lot of the local guys ride the trails with their UTVs. These are the kind of spots that you really can’t get enough of; remote, quiet, tons of trees in the background, rocky riverbeds… it made for the perfect landing spot to make our first camp.
We snapped some pictures, hit an awesome water crossing (a couple times) and finally found the spot we were looking for. After a long day of driving we set up camp, made a fire, and shared a quick meal before setting our alarms for the next leg of our trip in the morning.
Missouri to Arkansas – Touring Backwoods
After packing up camp and hitting the gas station for some road fuel, we finally hit Arkansas and set our GPS to Backwoods Adventure mods to meet up with Grant. We pulled into the parking lot, checked out each others rigs (as overlanders do) and head inside where he introduced us to the crew and highlighted some of their current projects.
From there, we head into the production facility where we were met with all the whirring and whizzing of their high-tech manufacturing robots. Utilizing some of the latest and greatest technology, the builders at Backwoods are using precision manufacturing techniques to produce their already expertly designed products.
Backwoods uses a hybrid of aluminum and steel to bring the benefits of both into their designs. Using aluminum to reduce weight and rust issues while integrating steel into their designs where strength is needed most. We were able to see some of these designs in person, taking note of the lightness in weight and the clean welds, the process was incredible to see up close.
Ending our tour with getting a chance to see the Backwoods fleet, we were able to see some of their keynote products as well as some of the accessories they offer for other trucks and adventure vans.
It’s really awesome to get a behind-the-scenes look at how a company like Backwoods operates. Though I could go on forever about these guys, they seem like an awesome working environment and they definitely put a lot of emphasis into their customers.
Making Camp Before The Event
After checking some emails and talking about where to set up camp for the evening, it was time to head to our final spot before the Express Rally officially started. Stopping for gas, we noticed a familiar truck and ended up running into Ty from Mountain Yotas, who was on his way to the Rally as well. We exchanged info and agreed to all meet near the rally start for camp.
Pulling in late in night, we were followed by several sets of Toyota headlights, and ended up finding camp with some of the other rally-goers. After a quick set up and some introductions, it was time to turn in for the night and get ready for the first day.
Day 1 – Meet & Greet + First Section
The time had finally come, we got packed up and pulled into the local grocery/gas station parking lot which quickly began filling up with overland rigs of all kinds and even a stock Gladiator. With the final participants checking in, we had a brief circle meeting where everyone introduced themselves and went over some basic safety and good practices to follow.
After our intro we got an awesome swag and decal kit, complete with some trail mix from Jesse, the Overland Chef. Everyone was given some time and encouraged to put the decals on their rigs, it was pretty awesome to have everyone rolling down the road with our windshield and sponsor decals.
Everyone was given a radio channel to tune to for our trail ride, which made for some great comms during the trip. Once we all checked in and were ready to go, we set out on the main road and lined up along the trail head to air down. With everyone showing off their gear and excited to get started, we switched over to 4WD and set off.
The first day we took some scenic backwoods trails through the Ozark-St Francis National Forest.
We drove through some muddy, multi-grade back trails and some super scenic water crossings. Taking a few pit stops to enjoy a few of the landmarks, including a cemetery from the 1800s and an old watering hole, we made our way through the trails experiencing a couple technical spots and even a brief recovery.
Making our way to the top of the trail, we found the perfect spot for everyone to camp and started setting up our tents and checking out everyone’s setups on full display. As the sun went down and everyone was settled in, we lined up for one of the many awesome meals. Jesse and his wife prepared for everyone out of their fully kitted Tacoma and adventure trailer. If you haven’t already, check them out @overlandchef.
With our bellies full we made a fire and stayed up talking everything from gnarly trail rides, new projects, gear and life in general. After making some new friends everyone shut the lights out and climbed into their tents for our next full day of wheeling.
Day 2 – Deeper Into The Backcountry
With the sun peeking through the tree line everyone rustled out of their tents and started tearing down as we got ready for our trail breakfast and coffee. After a brief run-down of the day we lined up and set out for another full day of wheeling. Taking note of the clouds rolling in, everyone prepped for the mud ahead of us and we started rolling.
We started off with a water crossing into a dirt trail system that would lead us up some steep terrain and a couple more technical areas. We took plenty of time to make sure everyone made it over the obstacles safely and even had a couple recovery situations which made for some great on-the-spot teachable moments.
Deep into the forest, we found ourselves along some really scenic terrain and the moody weather made for some great content. With our cameraman running all over the place and some rigs getting up on three wheels – we really put our group to the test. Everyone got a good dose of what the Ozarks have to offer.
When we started approaching the top of the climb a couple of the older vehicles ran into, well, older vehicle problems and had to make some quick decisions on how to proceed.
Ultimately, those old vehicle problems turned into a safety issue and we were able to get those guys off the trail safely and everyone carried on to our campsite for the night. I was really impressed with how knowledgeable and cautious everyone was, from the experienced mechanic to the first-timer, everyone pitched in and had fun doing it.
To end the day, we pulled into our forest camp spot along a moving river, taking some time to stop for photos along the way. Everyone piled in and set up camp, taking some extra time to cover for the off and on rain of the day.
With everyone settled in, mud dripping from our rigs, we made a fire and waited for the Overland Chef to work his magic in the mobile kitchen. We shared some horror stories, sang birthday songs and even stayed up late eating chicken feet and sharing a couple adult beverages before finally winding down and getting ready for our final day.
Day 3 – Final Stretch
We woke up our final day to the sound of rain and heavy winds blowing in. Taking note, everyone gathered around for breakfast and made plans to ease into the trail, things can turn fast with the wet, Arkansas Fall weather so we treaded carefully as we packed up and head back out.
Our first stop was at a historic school house, still preserved as a time capsule in the middle of the woods. We pulled in and walked around the old wooden building immediately realizing our grandparents weren’t lying when they said they walked 3 miles through the woods to get to school. After everyone had a chance to look around we regrouped and continued on the trail.
When they said the weather turns fast, they weren’t kidding, on our way out of the trail there was a flowing river where there was once dirt trail. Realizing not everyone had a snorkel to keep their airbox dry, we sent a couple capable rigs through to determine if the route would be viable for us to continue. With water splashing over the hood and another rig shutting off halfway, we decided to pull out and call it early. Tending to the dead truck, we made sure everyone got off the trail safely and made plans to call in for some backup to get the truck off the trail.
With everyone taking off, we were left with a couple stragglers that wanted to keep going a bit for the day so we made our route and head back on the trail. Our remaining rigs found a cool route up a hillside that would take us to the famous Oark cafe where we could get a slice of pie and head back home.
Not fully accounting for the weather we made our way up the trail, getting stuck, making some on the spot recoveries and even getting a couple wheels off the ground we had a blast going off the beaten path and exploring the backwoods just a bit more. We took longer than expected to get off the trail but we had finally made it to Oark and they even let us get our slice of pie just as they were closing.
We aired back up, said our goodbyes, and hit the road for our long haul home. It was really awesome to build up this camaraderie with some like-minded enthusiasts. The weekend was packed with activities, recoveries, and tons of opportunities to learn and show off your skills and gear.
Review & Trip Overview
The Express Rally trip really covered everything you could ask for in a group ride.
Accommodating all kinds of rigs and skill levels, there’s so much planning that goes into a trip like this, it really made for a smooth and action-packed weekend. From the scenery to the awesome landmarks there’s so much to explore and it’s all that much better when you have a crew to do it with.
Going through the obstacles and working through recoveries everyone built relationships that make trips like this so worthwhile. From the meals to the people, we all shared in a unique experience that will make for some good campfire stories for years to come.
Though I wouldn’t necessarily want to take my stock truck through this, there is plenty to enjoy for driver’s of all experience levels. In fact, you can see a stock Gladiator in the photo above. He did just fine – it was his first overlanding trip ever!
If you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the game for awhile, I would highly recommend checking out an Express Rally event. There’s some awesome people and any time spent exploring the trail is time well spent.
The crew over at Express Rally are bringing truly unique automotive culture experiences to enthusiasts all over the United States. From their group rides, to their private track events – they have something for everyone from tuners to track vehicles and even to us overlanders. Bringing the community together with the enjoyment of these shared experiences, these guys are building something truly awesome.
Putting on these yearly overland events, I can’t wait to see where they plan on wheeling next. With activities for all levels of rider, their team puts a lot of care into planning their trails and making sure everyone has a fun and safe time. From influencers to hobbyists the Express Rally draws people in from all walks of life. It’s a great experience to be able to meet like-minded people, take your family on an adventure and share in some trail stories.