Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Do what you love and the money will follow.
That’s what they say. What they don’t say is that ‘not working a day in your life’ can be bloody hard work. And the money that follows often won’t cover your fuel. But that doesn’t matter if you still love what you do. This is something Expedition Overland (XO) owner-director Clay Croft knows well.
Making four-wheel drive videos in some of the world’s most dangerous and exciting locations, the 33-year-old lives and breathes every serious off-roader’s dream: ball-breaking, thrill-seeking adventure.
In the recently launched second series of XO, Clay and his crew of nine travel more than 16,000km through 10 countries, including the United States, Morocco, and eight countries in Central America.
Highlights include using cut-down rubber trees to cross rivers, travelling with Special Force surgeons, taking on the legendary Baja 1000 track, and reaching the infamous Darien Gap at the centre of the North American Drug War.
The ‘Central America’ special is currently gaining about 10,000 subscribers a month, with the show third-most popular in Australia.
Seeing that Clay is now exploring the possibility of an expedition in Australia, we thought it was about time to have a chat with him to see what makes him tick.
The XO series has become pretty popular. What inspired you to make it?
The biggest inspiration would probably be the example Warren Miller made when he found a way to make a living out of ski films. Second would be Anthony Bourdain. He thrives on travelling and cooking.
Overlanding is more of a niche than both of those things, but the stories that come from travelling the world by vehicle seem endless. I also think it’s an interesting way to see the world, and people will dig it if it’s done in an interesting way.
Where do you hail from?
I am a Montana kid; born and raised in Billings, Montana. I spent my summers on the ranch or in the mountains fly-fishing, backpacking and climbing.
What got you into overlanding?
I got into four-wheeling in high school. My dad bought us kids a Ford Bronco II, and from there I was hooked. I have been an explorer-type since I was little and, when I found out that a vehicle could help me in my adventures, it was a match made in heaven.
What 4x4 trips have you done lately?
I’ve been fortunate to have spent a lot of time now in Moab, Utah. I’ve been to quite a few places throughout Montana and Wyoming; places that I kind of keep secret. My big trips have been Alaska and the Yukon, Central America, the Road of Bones in Siberia with Expeditions 7 (another crew of adventurers), and some of South America with them as well.
What’s your favourite?
Alaska and the Yukon are my favourite places for beauty. They’re amazing places of vast landscape. I love spending time up there.
The Road of Bones is definitely the most unique place I’ve been, as it is so hard to get to and so vast.
Central America was the greatest challenge I’ve faced, but, out of all them, I would have to say that British Columbia is the most amazing place I’ve been. There is something special about that place.
What’s the hardest driving you’ve done?
The hardest driving I’ve done is the Road of Bones in Russia. The other cars are crazy, the rules are unpredictable and the remoteness and bad roads added up to be the hardest driving I’ve been involved with. A close second is Central America for pretty much the same reasons.
Anything left on your bucket list?
My dream trip would probably be crossing Antarctica the way E7 (Expeditions 7) did. I was not able to do it with E7 because I was editing the Alaska - Yukon season at the time and couldn’t get away. It’s haunted me ever since. Someday I hope to be able to do it.
A close second would be the Canning Stock Route. I really think the long distance remote stuff is cool. If it requires fuel drums, sign me up.
Been in any hairy situations on the road?
A couple come to mind. Once, while riding shotgun in Scott Brady’s 70 Series in Russia, we were travelling a long dusty road. Ahead of us was a semi-truck with a trailer. All of a sudden he thought it was prudent to come to a full stop on the road. The dust was so thick that we couldn’t tell until seconds before impact.
Scott whipped the wheel left, just clearing the trailer as we swerved on to the oncoming lane. He then quickly ducked back in as we passed the nose of the truck. It was an example of brilliant control of a vehicle, and split second decision-making. We now call the manoeuvre the “Russian Whip”.
Central America also had several sticky situations. They happened on our way home from the filming of the Central America series. In Mexico, we were stopped by plain-clothes policemen, who were carrying specialty weapons.
At first we did not think they were legitimate personnel so we kept our foot hovering over the gas and the trucks in gear as we were questioned and surrounded. As far as we can tell, in hindsight, they were real police.
Entering Honduras, we almost had all of our camera gear taken and it might have been the end of the Central America series.
Some of the border people didn’t like the level of gear we had and demanded answers. We played the medical assistance card from our time with Team 5 (medical and survival experts who venture into extreme locations to provide medical assistance) in Guatemala and that eventually got us out of the spotlight.
What are you driving at the moment?
We have a few personal rigs right now. My daily drive is the Tacoma in the series. A 2013 Tacoma with a laundry list of modifications: Icon Dynamic suspension; a TRD supercharger; six-speed manual with 4:56 gears; I removed the TRD axle for a Sport axle and ARB air locker that replaced the factory E locker.
So it’s a TRD off road with the benefits of ATRAC and bigger differential that the Sports had. It has a topper on it, with an Adventure Trailers drawer system in the rear and it’s equipped with a National Luna fringe slide and stove slide set-up. It’s killer! My favourite part is the AR15 gun rack on the roof in the back seat, activated by a secret switch. It’s very James Bond and a metric tonne of fun.
My other car is a classically outfitted 1989 62 Series Land Cruiser. You can see it in the Classic and Legends film of ours. I was able to get a Kaymar rear bar on it before they were all gone here in the States. I love to drive it and I go fishing in it all the time. It’s also my three boys’ favourite.
My wife Rachelle drives a Lexus GX470 that we have put Old Man Emu suspension on and an ARB front bumper with Intensity lights. It also has a set of white Maxtrax made for her race in Morocco’s Aicha des Gazelles Rallye.
What other 4x4s have you owned?
I’ve owned a 1982 Bronco II, a 1994 4-Runner, then a 1996 4-Runner, which I traded for a 2001 Tacoma TRD 4DR, then seven years later traded up to get my current 2013 Tacoma. Since starting Expedition Overland, we have owned a 100 Series Land Cruiser, the 62 Series Land Cruiser and now two 2015 4-Runners in the Trail Premiums edition.
What’s been your favourite?
That’s a tough call! My current Tacoma is dialled and I love it. The 100 Series is also at the top of the list and I hope to have a new Land Cruiser one day.
What do you love most about off-roading?
What I love about off-roading is the reliance of machine and experience, the decision-making process, and the thrill of getting somewhere remote and then getting back.
Best advice on 4x4ing you’ve been given?
Rod Hall gave me a tip one time of the acronym C.A.R. Make sure that you are Comfortable, Accurate with your vehicle placement, and Relaxed. If you do all these things, then your rig is within its capabilities and you’re in control.