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2016 HCOTY Nominee: The Bowman Odyssey Rig

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I’ve heard it all my life, felt it pulling at me from the dark and lonely places behind my ribs. It’s there when my mind goes quiet a second, when the distractions and noises I’ve painted all around me bed down. There, in the last long minutes before dusk gives up the dance floor, when the stereo lulls and there’s nothing in the air but the soft smell of her hair from the passenger seat and the spice of roadside eucalyptus. It wells up, that old echo. Run. Run. Run.” – Zach Bowman

Nobody says it better than Bowman himself, and no words I spew upon the pages of Hooniverse can fully embody what he and his family set out to do. By way of a camper/home-touting Ram 2500, they are amidst a year on the road, seeing, experiencing, being what they otherwise wouldn’t have. A journey of a lifetime. But it wouldn’t be possible without their truck; what was once a farm tool now is the driving force behind adventure and ambition, allowing Zach, his wife, and their young daughter to hit the open road or, in many cases, trail. It’s not just a beat-up Dodge, but a vessel for generating endless memories and the stories that accompany them. There’s a little adventure deep down in all of us, and the Bowman family is exploring that to the fullest. A a certain three-hundred-thousand-plus mile Ram truck is making that possible; it’s as much a home as it is an escape pod.


For everything it allows the Bowman family to do and for everything it represents, I’m proud to present this 2016 Hooniverse Car of the Year nominee: the Bowman Odyssey Rig.

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“It’s an ugly symptom of the life we left, the way we’d convinced ourselves that a stack of bills and our small pile of pretty things needed more care and attention than the people that mean the most to us. The idiot belief that they’ll always be there. That there’s time, or there will be time, later. I can’t stand the arrogance of it.”

– Zach Bowman

Those who have been following along on the adventures, reading the written bits from a distant device, know just how great the Bowman Odyssey Rig is. If you aren’t following along, you’re missing out; it’s a truly gripping story, written by one of, if not the, best automotive writers our time. Through his pieces on The Drive and now Bowman Odyssey (their own website), Zach is telling the tale of what it’s like to spend a year on the road, living out of a space he describes as roughly the size of a respectable walk-in closet.

Observed simply as the sum of its parts, Zach’s truck may not be typical HCOTY-esque material. But we need to acknowledge that it’s not so much the machine receiving the nomination as it is what the vehicle enables the Bowmans to do that makes it a HCOTY nominee, and possibly my favorite rig of all time. It’s a truck that continually allows them to realize their freedom, a vehicle that stirs the inner traveler and thrill-seeker in those of us not in the position to set off as they did. It’s proof that you can get out there and be a full-time explorer without needing an unlimited bank account to do so. It is, if nothing else, a testament to the fact that lust for adventure can overcome all obstacles.

So what exactly is the truck bearing the HCOTY nomination? A 2003 Dodge Ram 2500, bed stripped off and replaced with a flat deck and a custom camper installed atop it. A four-wheel-drive truck with a six-speed stick, odometer showing over three-hundred-thousand hard-earned miles. Equipped with goodies from ARB, meaty BFG All-Terrain KO2s, and enough aftermarket and replacement parts for it to be on its way to a full restoration, the old Ram not only looks the part but performs the way any workhorse that you rely on day-in and day-out should. It’s taken the Bowman family from coast to coast, through sand and mud and snow, and keeps on ticking, 5.9L Cummins working hard to keep the tires moving. The truck has helped rescue friends, has camped under countless jaw-dropping star-speckled skies, has held together well enough to keep them safe and moving. A perfect companion, it just might be.

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Zach and his family are inspiration to all of us yearning for something different, something adventurous. To eschew the monotony of the daily routine. To see the unseen, live new experiences, go to the places that call to you. Zach’s journey, his Odyssey, is motivating; anyone can get out there and see things, and he and his family are a perfect example of just that. There’s a little adventure deep down in all of us, in others more than some, in some more than others. Zach, his wife, and his daughter are embodying the spirit of adventure to its fullest, creating a life of excitement and the memories to match. It’s ambition-meets-adventure, transportation courtesy of a Dodge Ram 2500 with a camper affixed to the back. You might occasionally see a vehicle like this, but you will rarely hear a story as good as this.

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It must be said that I wasn’t the only one at Hooniverse who wanted to or who was going to nominate the Odyssey Rig as HCOTY, I simply go there first. Take a look at the responses that ensued in our email chain, following my nomination and pitch to hopefully be the contributor behind it:

Oh shit, what a great nomination!!!” – Bradley Brownell

“I mean… that’s going to win.” – Jeff Glucker

“Damn it! That is an amazing nomination. You dick!

(minutes later)

Fucking game over. Fire that guy. ” Kamil Kaluski

“I guess all that’s left for the rest of us to do is try to get the LEAST amount of votes then.” – Greg Kachadurian

“[…]and I had just thought of writing about it, too.” – Tim Odell

“What if… what if we don’t have a vote. What if we do things different and just all agree that this is our winner.” – Kamil Kaluski

“If that truck doesn’t win, we’ll do a “Hoon’s Choice Award”.” – Bradley Brownell

[Cue me holding my breath]

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One last thing: I’ll let Bowman himself convince you of how great the Odyssey Rig is. The motives, even more so than the machine, are what this make it so much more than just a truck. Now, a few excerpts from Bowman, if for no reason other reason than they’re worth the time. Enjoy.

“It’s an ugly symptom of the life we left, the way we’d convinced ourselves that a stack of bills and our small pile of pretty things needed more care and attention than the people that mean the most to us. The idiot belief that they’ll always be there. That there’s time, or there will be time, later. I can’t stand the arrogance of it.”

“The camper is small. That is its virtue and its curse. And while it’s easy to panic at the thought of sharing that miniscule footprint with wife and child for one long year, the reality is the camper isn’t our living space. The world is. Save for sleeping and rainy days, I don’t plan on spending any more time under its roof than absolutely necessary.”

“My father says, ‘It’s not the years, it’s the miles.’ Usually around his birthday or mine, his blue eyes bright with mischief and a half smirk on his lips. It’s as true for men as it is machines—it’s not the lapping of time that gets you but the distance the days drag you. But I’m learning there’s value in being worn. In being used. That it’s better to be beaten with the fullness of your purpose than to suffer the slow decay of preservation.”

“It’s a rare day that doesn’t leave me wondering if we made the right decision by leaving everything we’d built in Knoxville—if selling our home and balling up our lives there didn’t set us back somehow. If my greed for the early days of my daughter’s life didn’t imperil my ability to provide for her later. But there in the sun, with her squealing and high-stepping her tiny red sandals through the grass, laughing ecstatic as the wind picks up our blanket and wraps it around her over and over again, I know this is one of them. I know that there is an ocean of Thursday afternoons ahead of the three of us, bright and dark, and we will spend so few of them together. A precious handful. I know that this year has made me wealthy with them.”

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All images courtesy of Zach and Beth Bowman

  • Alff

    When it comes down to it, HCOTY isn’t really about the car.

    • 1slowvw

      There’s the thing. The only vehicle vehicle I could think of nominating was the sloppy mechanics Colorado. But while the “lets go fast for cheap” narrative is a classic. it’s just not as inspirational as bowmans experience.

      Your comment also makes me really think of what experience I am building my truck to give me.

  • Kiefmo

    I’m suddenly extremely dissatisfied to be sitting at my desk.

  • Andy White

    I don’t know how you even let people be 2nd or 3st to the Bowmans. They should get some kind of 1st annual Fangio award for keeping it real and staying humble while doing kick ass bucket list stuff nearly EVERY DAY. Then everyone else can slap fight over the HCOTY per usual with big/rich and cheap/fast and novel/unique standard fare.

  • jeepjeff

    These are great trucks. I got to ride in a Power Wagon back in August. After the Death Valley leg of the Rally, I was too wiped out to get back on my Tdub safely. (Also: the bike’s chain was shot at that point, but I wouldn’t figure that out until well after I got back to the Bay Area.) James, the owner of the Power Wagon, offered me a lift. I didn’t drive, but I got to experience hundreds of miles of travel in a well used diesel RAM, I think was even a 2003. It was everything you’d want out of a truck. Bowman picked the right platform for this adventure.

    But that’s not why the Odyssey Rig should win. That’s not what pulls at the heart strings. Zach did something that a lot of us dream about. He sold everything and went on an adventure. He shared that adventure with all of us with some truly beautiful writing. I’ve been following along and cheering the Bowman family on.

    I don’t think any of you could nominate something I would vote for over this truck. As Alff said, it isn’t really about the car.

  • Maymar

    I will be absolutely shocked if someone manages to nominate anything better, more deserving, even if I like my little routine and sleeping in the same place every night (I’m happy to carpe just the diems adjacent to work trips, and whatever 2-week yearly vacations my wife plans).

  • Brad Tonkatruck

    Sort of on topic, have a look at this cool Datsun camper. They even tried to hop up the engine!
    I saw this truck in Winnipeg.
    https://youtu.be/4_2bth8DreI