Mit BF Goodrich in Australien 2018
What BFGoodrich is Building For
“We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
I finished this story before I landed back home in San Diego. It completed the 15,880-mile journey for a 250-mile driving experience. The delay in publishing it allowed me to truly reflect on what the hell happened those four days. The math just doesn’t make sense and to be honest, I hadn’t had very much time to think about what I was getting myself in to before leaving for Melbourne. However, I knew that under the BFGoodrich banner it would be well worth my time… especially since they flew me business class on the 15-hour flight. That helped, and alone made this a once ia lifetime opportunity.
This was the first of three global events launching the new Mud-Terrain T/A® KM3 tire, the latest and greatest from BFGoodrich nearly four decades in the making. The world was well represented at the event, with groups flying in from China, Germany, South Africa, France, United Arab Emirates and Iceland to name a few. I was the only American. Ironically, most of them dream of one day going to the Rubicon Trail or Moab and Baja is a bucket list item for many of them, but for now the twenty of us would settle for the High Country of Victoria, Australia. We were the first of five groups coming in for the BFGoodrich Tires KM3 Terrain Takeover.
“The KM3 tire is essential equipment for serious off-road enthusiasts. We designed this tire for extreme toughness and traction. Whether building for off-road fun or for extreme capability to reach outdoor activities, this tire was made to take drivers anywhere they want to go.”
Those two sentences by Harold Phillips, Global General Manager of the BFGoodrich brand, perfectly defines their campaign slogan, “What are you building for?” In a recent workshop, we did an exercise on how to write a proper headline. I hope this one isn’t too presumptuous. I’m certainly not saying I’ve figured it out, just offering my experience and how it’s made me reconsider the question at hand.
However, as much as this event was about the launch of a new tire, it was equally as much about connecting the people that drive it. This story is best told through them.
The very first connection dates back to 2014 when I was invited out for the launch of the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tire in Baja, California. The event was in the middle of one of our productions, so I was unable to attend. Months later, I received an invite from BFGoodrich to join them as their guest at Red Bull Frozen Rush.
At the time, these types of events weighed heavy on print and web outlets like Car and Driver, Autoweek, Field & Stream and AskMen.com. Little did I know, this pivotal trip would result in an imminent partnership that would Carrie well beyond the slopes. Plenty of work remains as our relationship continues to grow and 20 years from now I’d like to look back and say the rest was history.
What we’ve seen recently, and the premise of the BFGoodrich KM3 Terrain Takeover, is a shift from traditional advertising typically spent on product placements and media campaigns towards experiential events catered to social media influencers and content creators. The idea is simple. Activate through real people, provide a path altering experience that sticks, not something that disappears after it fulfills its quota, and it will pay dividends in the long run. What BFGoodrich is doing is nothing short of amazing. They get it. They indisputably get it.
In a time where “Pussification of Baja” and tear-filled threads are pinned to the top of RDC, this trip was uplifting and in case you abandon this halfway through, the point I’m trying to make is that the triumphs for the majority of us as off-roaders are immeasurable. Unless you’re Rob MacCachren, you’re never going to be the man so there’s no room for ego. If you listen to the people you will meet along the way, you will be rewarded heavily, as everyone’s going to have a story that one up’s yours.
When I landed in Melbourne at 5:45am on Sunday, a charismatic Emirati named Asil Abdo greeted me. He had flown in from the Dubai after catching the Hail Mary travel VISA from the United Arab Emirates. “Yeah man, I applied as soon as BFGoodrich invited me out. It took nearly three weeks and persistent phone calls to get it all sorted out.”
“Mine was approved immediately when I applied,” I ignorantly replied.
Rolling his eyes he responded, “Of course, you’re an American. It works a little differently for us.”
It doesn’t take long to recognize a stranger’s essence. Asil is a part-time Groupon Rep and full time content creator / GoPro Ambassador whose Instagram page boasts his free spirit and confirms my initial read of, “wow, this guy is just simply stoked on life.” We shared a transfer from the airport to our hotel at the Intercontinental Melbourne and talked about off-roading in both the Middle East and America.
I was quick to share our trip to the Al Badayer Dunes, of which he responded, “Yeahhhhh, that’s nothing man. You need to go to a place called Liwa.” Liwa is about 250km (155 miles) outside of Abu Dhabi and is home one of the world’s highest sand hills, Moreeb Dune, and some of the best riding in the Middle East.
The notion, “You think this is cool? You should check this out”, that flows through all off-roaders was clear in Asil’s unfamiliarity.
We arrived to our hotel with a welcome letter explaining the weekend activities and a brand new Driza-Bone, a to-die-for jacket built to endure harsh elements. Driza-Bone is iconic to Australia and remains a 100% Australian company. They began in the 1890’s when a sailor conjured up the image of an indestructible wet-weather jacket made from recycled ship sails, treated with oil. Besides being one of the nicest jackets I’ve ever owned, I was appreciative because I quickly realized my suitcase-wrinkled windbreaker wasn’t going to cut it where we were going.
It was now 8:00am local time (3:00pm PST) and there was no way I was going to be able to crash out like Asil decided, so I quickly grabbed some “brekkie” then wandered the streets of Melbourne to check what it’s all about, resisting the urge to type “What to do in Melbourne” in to my iPhone. The no brainer was to go to the unmistakable Melbourne & Olympic Parks, originally built for the 1956 Olympics and now the heart and soul of their hometown Rebels. It sits between Melbourne’s business district and Royal Botanic Gardens and joins together the exceptionally spacious grounds of Melbourne Park and Olympic Park.
Melbourne is also known worldwide for its street art. I made my way to Graffiti Alley, where there was no way around saying, “you’re in my shot” as people obliviously took selfies and stumbled around purposelessly. This is no doubt a tourist destination but apparently every week the place looks completely different. I was grateful for exactly what it was at that moment, knowing its inevitable demise.
7:00pm marked the first function of the program at the Bluestone Lounge back at the Intercontinental and my first opportunity to talk with a landscape and nature photographer, Ben Simon Rehn. Ben has built his following through an admirable loyalty to his work. He is rightfully confident and his Instagram looks like it was shot on the set of Game of Thrones.
Our deeper discussion began when I intruded on his breakfast the next morning. I was up early, about 5:00am (12:00pm PST), still lagging from the monster of a flight. Ben attracts high-end clients like Olympus, who rely on him to portray the world through their cameras. His images can be found on National Geographic’s social media. There’s not one photo remotely related to BFGoodrich, from a literal sense, on Ben’s Instagram, which is full of icebergs, waterfalls and oceans. I asked him why he was here. Admittedly, Ben says he came to network and meet people.
He lives modestly in his cabin outside of capital city Reykjavik, where we plan to have a beer or two in a few weeks when I’ll be there on vacation. He travels to his locations by Land Rover Defender and stressed the magnitude of elements he faces while shooting some of the most astounding landscapes in the world.
“We’re crossing flowing rivers with icy rocks underneath to get to our locations. It is very dangerous. You move with the water; never faster or never slower,” he says.
But Ben’s followers aren’t interested in the Terrain-Attack tread pattern or the “Mud-Phobic” bars on the KM3. They look to his photos as a break from their mundane cubicles for a glimpse of adventure, excitement and unknown.
For BFGoodrich, that is completely fine.
Red Bull Media House was onsite to provide us with daily photography and video to assist in documenting our experience. It was a little disobedient for him and a few of the other influencers to use someone else’s creativity. Naturally, they prefer much more to create the content themselves. We laughed at the irony but also very much appreciated the photographs they supplied since he never has any of himself.
The day began with a surprise helicopter ride to our basecamp at Sebel Pinnacle Valley. Talk about an entrance. To my left was Ben, who was taking advantage of the aerial opportunity, and to my right was Francois Marais, whose absolutely remarkable story I barely scratched the surface of at dinner the previous night. Our flight was initially delayed nearly two hours due to fog at the airport, so I got some time to dig deeper with the South African.
Marais started documentary filmmaking in 2000 and since then has covered over 300,000km (186,411 miles) on BFGoodrich Tires. His series Voetspore (Footprints) has taken him to 45 countries and his four vehicle, eight-person crews capture around 300 hours of footage on each trip that will eventually be cut down to a ten to twelve, one-hour episodes they sell as a series to the government owned South African Broadcasting Company. The crews will travel for three months at a time, exposing hidden gems on their journeys.
Francois had many fascinating things to say about his travels and talked about the dangers of Africa. Another South African jumped in and cautioned about places where men whip their wives with thorns, as scars are symbols of status, and tribes drink the blood of cows, rarely drinking water. I asked him why he does what he does and he rationalized their aspirations of exposing South African viewers and other travelers to visit new, relatively unknown destinations.
Basically running out of places to film in Africa, his team believed it was time to move on and filmed Voetspore Madagascar in 2016 and last year, they introduced South African viewers to the other members of BRICS when they completed a trip around India. BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
They travelled from Mumbai to Goa, Hampi, Kerala, Chennai, Konark, Kolkata, West Bengal, Sikkim, Southern Himalayas, Varanasi, Ganges, Delhi, Ladakh, Himalayas, Kashmir and Gujarat. (Not to get too far off-track – you can follow their trips and get more information here.)
A very modest man, Marais says after the helicopter ride, “I feel guilty. I don’t know what I have to offer to these people.”
“Do you have Instagram?”
“No. But I have a drop box and an Uber.”
Marais does use BFGoodrich Tires genuinely and puts them on television. They do not have V.O.D. like Netflix so the problem is, the moment they put their stickers on their vehicles, they have to pay a hefty licensing fee to the SABC.
Marais still finds ways to incorporate the brand in to his projects but with no standard white lettering the new KM3 sidewall, it makes it a little more challenging. However Business Model Leader – BFGoodrich Passenger Car & Light Truck – South East Asia, Pierre Azemat, assured Marais that they are currently working on the ability for consumers to customize the BFGoodrich lettering on their tires, like camouflage coloring.
At this time next year, Marais will either be in China or Russia working on the next edition of Voetspore. Their team hasn’t figured it all out yet – something we all can appreciate – but I cannot wait follow their next adventure. In his words, it was absolutely “fan-TAS-tic!” getting to know him and hearing his stories.
Upon arriving at The Sebel Pinnacle Valley, we were greeted with handshakes and hellos from BFGoodrich’s 30+ person staff, then immediately thrown in to a Yamaha YXZ1000R with co-pilot and Factory Yamaha SxS racer, Dan McKenzie. BFGoodrich built the track specifically for this event on the backstretch of the resort to test the new UTV tire that will come in three sizes.
I first heard of Dan prior to this year’s Mint 400, when I came across one of his posts on his flight to Las Vegas to race The Mint. I, like many, thought this this guy was just a crazy Aussie who wanted to ‘arrive and drive’ the biggest races in the States. He is crazy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not different than any of us. The things we do mostly make no sense – he just has to work a little harder than us to get there.
Dan lives in Gold Coast, Queensland. In other words, he has a twenty-hour drive to most of the races in the SXS Australian Championship centered out of Melbourne. Dan quickly figured out it’s actually quicker to fly to America and race.
“At first, everyone looked at us as the dumb Aussies who just wanted to come over and mess around but we were soon embraced by the UTV class and off-road community when they understood our story and options,” jokes McKenzie, who just missed the win at Best in the Desert’s Silverstate 300 by two seconds.
On day one, we drove through a few National Parks, which are completely open to 4×4’s. If you want to drive side by side’s, technically you need a permit but it’s very, very far from anyone who could tell you different. This time of year, it’s supposed to rain every other day but we hadn’t gotten any at all, making the mud-less trails a piece of cake for the new KM3.
The terrain was completely covered by the canopy, so it was hard to see the surrounding area. The tracks included river crossings, sand washes and steep inclines/declines leaving me wondering how I’d get to the top in the rain. My instructor Angus assures, “ah, not to worry, mate!”
I was paired with Michelin PR & Media Manager, Angus Thompson. Angus is probably one of the chillest dudes I’ve ever met and our ideas and thoughts aligned in many ways. South African originally, he moved to Australia a few years back to begin his work with BFGoodrich. He was a journalist for TopCar, South Africa and has travelled the world covering some of the largest races in the world like Dakar, WRC, WEC, Le Mans, 24 Hours Nürburgring and Land Rover G4 Challenge.
But never the Baja 1000.
It was a bucket list item checked off when he attended the 50thBaja 1000 in 2017. His world was rocked. He couldn’t believe his access to Bryce Menzies, Rob MacCachren and Cameron Steele at the start line of the race. We talked about the magic of Baja and how off-roading through beautiful places like Baja is an undeniable good time. For him, sharing the ride with someone new is just as fun experiencing it for his first time. He had a very composed way of leading, encouraging people to figure it out themselves rather then forcing them on his proven line.
Dinner that night was served at a private lodge on the base of the Delalite River in the picturesque village of Sawmill Settlement. The meal was family style and I sat across table from John Eggenhuizen. John Eggenhuizen is an Australian encyclopedia. He literally had an answer for every question. BFGoodrich brought him on to run the entire program. Operations Manager at Getabout Training Services, John is one of five tier-5 instructors in the entire world but you wouldn’t know it when humbly talked about one of the 700 of species of eucalyptus in Australia that was on our dinner plate.
One of John’s ventures is teaching 1,200 worldwide Land Rover instructors how to drive. His programs include snow and ice in Sweden, sand in Dubai and rock crawling on the Rubicon. Nothing but the best for us, right?
When Michelin / BFGoodrich Australia Marketing Manager, Tim Hoare, announced an RC car race out back, the place completely cleared out leaving German Michael Ortner and myself at the table. Michael and I talked about side by sides and how I’ve gotten in to a UTV tour business.
“UTV’s are dangerous,” said Ortner.
“Why? Because they’re fast?”
“Exactly. Because of the drivers. They don’t know don’t know what they’re doing. People think they can fly. You have to be a responsible driver and you have to know what you’re doing. If you know you what you’re doing, they’re lot of fun. You have to respect the vehicle.”
The next morning, again at 5:00am, Michael was already out in the lobby waiting for 6:30am breakfast. We sat and shared coffee over Apdaly Lopez’ Dirt Session video. He was impressed but was quick to ask for my computer so he could show me his business, which coincidentally is producing 4×4 tours. Michael retired at 43 and has spent the last ten years taking people on off-road adventures through Europe.
“I design trips the way I want to spend my holidays,” assures Ortner.
That so happens to be spending 140 days (45,000km) on average sleeping in his vehicle. That equates to about 15 trips annually, all on BFGoodrich Tires. Aptly named 4×4 Experience, his tours span over fourteen locations including Germany, Morocco, Mongolia, Romania, Tunisia, Italy, Poland, Netherlands, Iceland and United Kingdom.
I showed him Matt Martelli’s 1962 Jeep and explained we live by the beach so it’s somewhat of a practical daily driver.
“So you’re beach bums?” he said. “No not beach bums – What is the Pamela Anderson?
“Yes, you’re Baywatchers.”
As you can see, BFGoodrich brought out a diverse range of people, a mixture of those directly amerced in off-road driving (Overlanders, 4×4 enthusiasts, 4×4 dealers) and those part of the wider BFGoodrich community who rely on BFG to get them to the “secret spot” like pro surfer, Mikey Wright.
For BFGoodrich, whatever their outdoor passion (mountain biking, motocross riding, UTVs, hunting, surfing, etc..), it’s these customers that the KM3 speaks to.
“It’s a tire not only for those in search of the extreme, but an enabler that allows outdoor enthusiasts reach that remote location, climb that ascent, find that allusive wave and ultimately travel to those parts of the country they dream of. Confidence in a tire is everything and we believe the KM3 allows these people to live, breath and experience their outdoor passions,” said Thompson.
By this point, I felt like I had lived a month in three days and it was only until Michael and I departed for our rooms when it really settled in where I was. I had locked myself out of my room with no shoes or jacket. Sweeeeeeeeeet job. I prefer to look at it as I was getting more comfortable with things. It turned out to be a blessing when I stepped out of our lodge. The sounds were better than the sights. The kangaroos and deer moans filled the valleys with long, curvy wallows and the sky was similar to the color of the flowing Cock Fighter’s Ghost Shiraz we consumed the previous night.
Notably, the sky is ever changing in Australia. I’ve seen some pretty epic sunrises, especially in Baja, but given the circumstances this one took runner up (Best being atop Mt. Batur in Bali, Indonesia). I was able to quickly fire up my phone and get a time-lapse in an attempt to savor the moment and I also had my computer, so I sat on the back deck and began compiling notes for this story while enjoying a cup of coffee.
After breakfast, Angus and I hopped back in our Ford Ranger and began day two. The morning sections of the track introduced us to the performance of the KM3 on steep rocky sections. Here I got an appreciation for the toughness and dependability of the tire. It was a long way down to mess around with anything other. Here, the tracks were extremely tight. There were many instances where I needed to rely on the sidewall to position myself correctly.
The KM3 has earned the name “Baja Champion” as a result of winning the Baja 1000 Baja Challenge class in 2016 and 2017. Specifically, motorsport competition drove the decision to utilize a 3-ply carcass in all sizes of KM3. The same rubber compound in the sidewall of KM3 is used in BFGoodrich’s purebred off-road racing tire, the Baja T/A® KR3. Because of this, the KM3 now boasts 27% tougher sidewalls.
When we got to the top of the Victorian High Country, we arrived at Craig’s Hut where we enjoyed an authentic Australian campfire lunch consisting of slow cooked pork, lamb, beef, roasted vegetables and chili beans, topped off with Anzac cookies and Lamingtons. The following day was Anzac Day, a national holiday remembering the Australians and New Zealanders who’ve served in all wars. In the First World War, Anzac cookies were sent to soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and they kept well during naval transportation.
We finished the drive around 3pm and when we got back to Sebel it was smiles for everyone and I’m happy to say wasn’t the only one who lost his shoes this week. There has to be one funny guy in the group, right? Jonathan de Beer just happens to be that guy for a living. De Beer performs solely in Afrikaans, a language of Dutch origin, which only five million speak. He’s staying an additional two weeks in Australia to perform and has a planned tour in America later this year.
Dinner was scheduled for 7:15pm and I sat down for beers with Jonathan (who had been a part of my experience from day one) around 4pm. Both of us agreed, “What else were we going to do for three hours?” During happy hours, he gave me insight into modern South African life that I just simply cannot grasp and what I admire about him (and Francois) is he uses his talents to shine a light on an unimaginable situation.
From mid 1900’s to 1994, South African politics were dominated by Afrikaner nationalism. For nearly five decades, racial segregation and white minority rule (known as apartheid) encouraged state repression of black, Coloureds, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation’s minority white population. In 1994, after decades of armed struggle and international opposition to the white minority rule, the African National Congress (ANC) achieved victory in the country’s first democratic election in which all races could vote.
Being Afrikaans, both de Beer and Marais explained the social impact that apartheid has continued to present day. De Beer talked about how people throw babies in boiling water and pulle behind trucks until their organs burst and professional sports teams needing a certain number of black people on the field at all times. They have affirmative action, meaning every company has to have a specific Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) score. A company has to have a certain amount of black shareholding for them to tender for a contract, so companies need to employ more black people and less white people. Racial populism and anti-white sentiment is an increasing anxiety in post-Apartheid South Africa.
“It’s a race war. It’s literally reverse racism. There are nearly fifty murders per day in South Africa and crime plagues everyday life. Neither my girlfriend nor myself are ever unarmed. Your media is not a very accurate portrayer of the real South Africa,” says de Beer.
“You have to keep a sense of humor about it all, otherwise you’ll lose your mind,” de Beer continues.
“You have to,” Marais adds.
“I don’t get political with my material. Never. I talk about dogs, relationships and people walking into glass doors. The occurrences where life blows you a kiss.”
When I met Jonathan and Francois, I assumed they had travelled here together and go back a long time as mates but like me they knew no one punching their tickets to Melbourne. Their connection as Afrikaans is intrinsic.
De Beer shares Angus’ sentiment that BFGoodrich is selling a lifestyle and an experience.
“I think it’s the basis of the whole launch. You can Google all the technical stuff. It’s about sitting at a table with strangers, watching fire spinners at dinner, getting drunk and unknowingly packing your only shoes in your bag that’s already on a bus back to Melbourne,” laughs de Beer.
The event campaign “What Are You Building For?” arrived full circle when we started descending Howqua Gap Trail on the final day. Angus and I hadn’t shut up the entire two days we were in the truck together. From the moment I turned over the ignition to the high fives and hugs at the end of the day, we were talking about something.
On that final trail, I asked Angus what his expectations were for the program.
“It’s our job to make sure that people understand that these KM3 tires are an enabler. They allow them to reach the remote destinations they desire, do the activities they love and are a means to expand their passions in life.”
In a world driven by likes and impressions, this is extremely refreshing. Angus continues:
“We want everyone to leave here not only with an understanding and appreciation for the capability of the KM3, but more over a BFGoodrich experience that they will always remember.”
The experience was one of Mike Eloff‘s favorites, despite living a life of wanderlust that leaves most wanting to quit their jobs. Mike worked for online casinos and poker rooms for 15 years and hated his life altogether, in his own words.
He quit his job to start creating content with his girlfriend. The duo gets approached by travel and lifestyle brands to create content, very much driven by likes and impressions, for their followers to drool over. Their Instagram pages leave you wondering, “what the hell do you do for a living?”
“So you and your girlfriend, you just travel?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Mike.
“That’s all you do?”
“And we don’t make money from it. I am her photographer and she sells presets and does campaigns, so she actually makes good money now that I think of it.”
It’s people like Mike whose adventure is more important than the destination that fit these types of events.
It’s a given that dinner was top notch that night, complete with fire spinners, a Red Bull DJ and a new appreciation for kangaroo. Somehow, I always find myself being the last one in the building and as most had made their way back up to the lodge, I stood at the table with Angus, Tim, Pierre and a few others from BFGoodrich.
I could feel their relief that the first wave of guests was in the books. As an event producer, I get it. Their attention to detail was extraordinary and as world class as the tire they created. What I hope I got across in our conversation was that they should be exceptionally pleased with the experience they allowed us to have. Just like their product enabled us to reach the remote destinations laid out for us, they themselves enabled us to surrender to the experience and truly learn about the things that make the BFGoodrich brand what it is.
The next morning at breakfast, I saw Angus walk by with a guest from the new group of guests. I felt like my girlfriend was cheating on me. Just like that, I was yesterday’s news. We all know the feeling of an ending, wishing we could stay longer and asking ourselves, “what do I do now?”
However, I left incredibly fulfilled.
BFGoodrich hit me in the sweet spot with this one and helped me realize a piece of what I’m building towards. I haven’t figured it out quite yet but isn’t that what it’s all about?
Flying home more experienced, my passion for life through off-roading and filling it with people I respect has now touched to new parts of the planet.
Each one of these new friends asked me, “Have you ever been to ________ before?” to which they eagerly responded, “Well you need to come check it out!!”