PELL CITY — There was nothing that unusual about the all-terrain vehicle parked in the gravel lot in Lakeside Park, except for maybe the tent that hovered over it.
“Some of these guys have wives who don’t like to sleep on the ground,” said Karl Erickson, 51, of Kentucky. “Actually, lots of these trucks have tents on top of their roofs. I just set up a tent on the ground.”
Erickson and his group was just one of 18 teams gathered at the park for the start of this weekend’s Southern Expedition Overland Challenge, an off-road vehicle event that takes competitors “on some of the most scenic routes that central Alabama has to offer,” according to organizers.
Erickson said the event is fun and challenging.
“It’s not just a race for time, there are challenges along the way,” he said.
Teams are not told what the team challenges are until it’s time for the challenge.
Erickson’s his team was prepared for just about anything, carrying extra food and fuel.
“It could be anything,” said Keith Gipple, of Tennessee. “We did not know where to meet until Sunday.”
Gipple said organizers did not want participants to scope out where they would be during the challenges, which could give them an unfair advantage.
Participants came from across the Southeast and beyond to participate. There were competitors from Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Proceeds from the event are being donated to Team Overland, which helps veterans transition back into civilian life.
“We’re not here to win anything,” Gipple said. “We’re just here to meet people and have fun.”
Erickson said these off-road vehicle events are family oriented.
“We like to camp and drive off road,” said Manfred Detzel, of Panama City, Florida. “We like the outdoors.”
Detzel was with his wife, two daughters, brother and the youth minister from their church. Their group was driving two Nissan Patrol vehicles that were manufactured and shipped from Germany.
Detzel said the vehicles could travel 500 miles on one tank of gas.
After completing a couple of team challenges at Pell City Lakeside Park, which including some kayaking on the cold waters of Logan Martin Lake, the group will travel to Morris Mountain ORV Park near Oxford, said Derrick Oursler and Matt Granger, who organized the fundraiser.
Oursler said the group will travel to Choccolocco Mountain ORV Park on Saturday afternoon before finishing up at Cheaha Brewing Co. in Anniston late Sunday.
“You may not win a prize, but you will make a positive impact on someone’s life,” Oursler told the group Friday morning during the driver’s meeting.
He said organizers planned eight to nine months for the three-day event.
The challenge started with a dart throw Friday morning to help determine the starting position for each team.
Then it moved to other parts of the park, with teams trying to build the tallest structure within a 15-minute period, while others were timed on how fast they could maneuver an obstacle course, which included a final sprint in a kayak.
“Take this opportunity to mingle with your challengers, share stories and enjoy yourselves,” Granger told the competitors before the event got underway.
Jeremy Averette, of Moundville, who was with friends, a group from Tuscaloosa Jeep and Truck Outfitters, said the event was all about having fun and enjoying off-road adventures.
“We just like to play,” Averette said.