With so much technical emphasis at shows and on forums, it's hard to choose the perfect camper. Here's how.
Lance Armstrong's fall from grace is an indisputable tale of hero to zero; one of sports greatest icons. Sure, it was a reputation built on a greater amount of chemical assistance than was legally allowed but, thanks to Lance, we do get a suitable opening quote for this article.
It's not about the bike.
In hindsight, and somewhat ironically, he was spot on. But let's not let a repentant endurance athlete get in the way of a sentence that sums up overland travel for many a keen adventurer.
The bike, in our instance, is a camper. On paper, a two part fibreglass shell, filled with an abundance of, admittedly well chosen, gadgets. A camper with a reputation for being both capable and agile sat on top of a burly full ton truck.
A 'Nimbl Evolution', like Lance's bike, is the manufacturing pinnacle of its niche. A fact held aloft by Truck Camper Adventure awarding Nimbl the '#1 Overland Flatbed Camper' rating for 2020. The top of the overland camper podium. If anything is better on steroids, it's a truck camper.
But a Nimbl Evolution is more than that. It's a conduit. One perfectly formed to deliver the dreams of an overland traveller.
Turning the key and firing up the truck is always a thrill. The engine burbles. Happy to get on with the show. Switches are flicked. Window coverings put away. Phones are plugged in and map apps checked, an arrow appearing on the head unit showing us a direction and estimated time of arrival.
We smile at the digital display's ETA. There is every chance that we will not hit that goal. Or even arrive at all; thanks to an inevitable collection of haphazard events or experiences along the way.
These can be in the form of a scenic lookout or a drink stop. A roadside stall selling massive avocados or tropical fruit. A hawker with a tray of oversized ants covered in some kind of seasoning that, for some reason, is a delicacy. A stop for snacks that evolves into a lengthy chat with a local about a great place to stay that may or may not be anywhere near where we are heading.
The days are not pre-programmed. Not like home. The certainty is gone. Replaced with a schedule that lives and breathes; changing its mind like a hyper pre-schooler. An excited child who weaves a new path for the day, one that leaves us scratching our head wondering 'what just happened'.
Our planned trip to Suesca, near Bogotá, for a few days of climbing, suddenly morphing into 21 hours of driving to relocate a rescue kitten. A trip that now involves a llama, a rainstorm, and a small finca in the hills with a pool, a visit to someones house to purchase a COVID mask from an old lady who owns a sewing machine and a small town where people (after seeing our camper) track us to a restaurant via our Instagram account so they could say hello.
This is life on the road. An escape from the clutches of the usual. It's not about the camper.
Comfort is one thing. But with capability comes access. Access to the places where paving, fences, kiosks and entry fees have yet to lay their sticky commercial fingers. Access to places where people are not.
Trails, mud and sand. Rocks, gravel and grades. The land harbours an enviable ability to protect precious gems from prying eyes and careless humans. Only submitting to those with tenacity and will. Those that invest in its grandeur. Of course, a capable vehicle helps.
A Nimbl Vehicle is a veritable Swiss Army Knife. Your bodyguard. It brings these hidden wonders of the earth literally to your doorstep and allows you to sleep within its majestic surroundings in safety and comfort.
A Nimbl Vehicle is your ticket to ride, to visit, to explore. But it's not the reason.
It's your VIP pass. It's all access. Access to all of the things we dreamed of, and planned for, in the months preceding our start date. Access to all the things we've seen that we didn't even know existed. The towns, the faces, the food, the culture, the ceremonies, the beaches. It's not about the camper.
We pull onto the small hand-pulled ferry just a few miles from the Mexico / Belize border. The road is white powder on a clay base. The ferry is a collection of planks held together with rusty hardware and a not inconsiderable amount of optimism.
A thick cable runs from shore to shore wth a hand crank on the ferry, supported by a rusting frame. The chain literally doused with syrupy oil. The ferry crew smile at each other, they suggest we have a go at winding the stiff crank. Little do we realize they mean for the entire crossing.
Time shifts forward a year, maybe more, maybe less. The landscape is barren; cracked earth littered with dark patches that indicate thick mud, to be avoided regardless of your vehicles capability. The trail is punctuated by thin barriers made of string, rope, plastic bags, bike chain. Whatever the locals can find to link up a makeshift barrier. The truck rolls to a halt, playing the game, pretending the flimsy roadblock stood a chance. We're in their territory, their back yard, on their trail; and it's pay to play.
We wind down the windows and a scrawny toothless lady peers in. Part in demand, yet primarily in hope, she holds out her hand. She is in luck, we stocked up with supplies to hand out - coffee; lentils; sugar; rice; water. We are in La Guajira, a desert that marks the most northerly point of South America and we've just had a transaction with a member of the hardy Wayuu tribe. A friendly 'hold up' and an essential part of their existence.
Rewind a few months. This new scene has a backdrop. Two massive volcanos standing guard over Lake Atitlan. The Main Street of San Pedro La Laguna, usually a racetrack of weaving tuk-tuk's, is lined with incredible colours. A kaleidoscopic carpet, surrounded by intricately woven shawls of stoic Mayan women. A massive, wooden 'Jesus adorned' slab is being ceremoniously rocked down the street on top of fifty or so men. The group struggling under the massive weight as it scrapes under power lines and banners, held aloft by a desperate helper with a long pole. Semana Santa in Guatemala is an assault on the senses.
Don't enter El Chorillo! The notorious barrio of Panama City was once rife with drug gangs and crime and likely still is. But the rougher lines of its edgy past have been somewhat smoothed. There is a new, progressive charge in the air; the same anticipation of a better future that covers many of Central Americas more storied cities.
It's my turn and I slam down a [2|2]. The domino sliding into position at the end of a snaking line of similar tiles. The locals suck their teeth and chuckle at my naivety. We have no idea what we're doing; sat in the middle of a game with Domino pro locals who called over a couple of curious travellers and invited them to play a round.
Our experiences, like yours, will include the occasional noisy gas station car park where a variety of semi-trucks keep engines running all night long and you awake. There is necessary rough to the smooth. An experience none the less.
Experience is a fundamental part of truck camper ownership. The vehicle gets you to a location, drops you off like a kid on their first day at school and watches you walk cautiously but excitedly towards new experience. New sights, smells and sounds that will add wonderful marks, notches, dents to your character and soul. It's not about the camper.
Ultimately, this heady mix of escape and experience leads to growth. You change. The spaces that once harboured a void of concern are now filled with confidence. The boundaries that previously walled your understanding of people and the world have been pushed back further than you thought possible, rebuilt at a distance that most will never experience.
Taking on projects such as extended overland travel are life changing events. The old you versus the new you. You feel inflated. Bigger than before. A more robust version of you with powers to take on the most challenging patterns of life's great tapestry.
It's not about the camper. But the vehicle you choose is a fundamental cog in that journey. The rolling platform from which your experiences will germinate, from which your plans and dreams will grow.
We chose a Nimbl Vehicle twice. Once when we placed our order and again, months later, when we had the chance to sell and choose something else. There was simply nothing comparable that ticked quite so many boxes. A mid-sized overland vehicle with a huge character. Magically bigger on the inside than the outside. Surprisingly luxurious but delivering every ounce of gritty adventure you could wish for.
It's true. Travel is not about the camper. But a quality vehicle that excels in its domain truly does give you the freedom to roam.
You can follow James at ThisBigRoadTrip.com or his Social Media accounts: