The very first Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide was published in 1998, in association with Land Rover, in a hardbound format with color photos. These first editions now sell for many times the original price.
Once Tom Sheppard took over publication on his own, with his one-man Desert Winds Publishing, he opted for a more affordable, soft-bound book with black-and-white photos. But the information contained within remained head and shoulders above any similar publication that followed it. This was due more than anything else to Tom’s background as a test pilot for the RAF, and his predilection for solo travel in the depths of the Sahara—each of them activities that punished carelessness and lack of preparation harshly. Thus VDEG (“veedeg”), as aficionados refer to it, didn’t simply offer advice on driving techniques, what to pack, and the best camp cot. The sections within also covered vehicle and team selection, vehicle modifications both recommended and not, fuel types and grades, oil viscosities, water, shipping, cooking and food, loading and lashing, communications, navigation, and much more.
The same test-pilot attention to detail drove Tom to regularly produce new editions and sub-editions to keep the book current on rapidly advancing technology, leading some of us to tease him about an upcoming “Edition 4.1-6a (3t).” They certainly weren’t done in an attempt to squeeze more profit from the book; Tom could have saved much work by skipping several iterations and few would have noticed.
I remember well our first meeting in 2009, after corresponding for a couple of years when I was the executive editor at Overland Journal. While Tom had always been charming via email, Roseann and I nevertheless arrived at his house north of London expecting someone imbued with at least a touch of the Top Gun attitude.
Nothing could have been further from reality. We were greeted by a slender man approaching his eighties but thirtyish spry, somehow six feet tall yet at the same time elfin. And he was if anything more charming in real life, and in the comfort of his home bore more resemblance to a slightly absent-minded Oxford professor than a death-defying test pilot; given to exclaiming, “Oh dear,” when he spilled the sugar or forgot to put out cakes with the tea. Roseann fell hard and fast, and he and I developed a lasting friendship in addition to an effortless working relationship.
In 2015 I was shocked and humbled when Tom Sheppard asked me to be the co-author of the 4th edition of the Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide. There was good reason for him to ask someone on this side of the Pond: Overland travel had exploded in the U.S., along with hundreds of new products. As well, vehicles were changing and so were recovery equipment and techniques. Tom relied on patience and the simplest tools for recovery on his solo Sahara drives, eschewing complexities such as winches (which would benefit from scant anchor points deep in the dune fields).
That 4th edition took the better part of six months for the pair of us to completely revise and update, and for me to add a bunch of information on equipment with which Tom had no familiarity and, in some cases, little desire to have any (50-liter fridges, Tom?). We argued about his atavistic fondness for tubed tires; I lobbied for tubeless tires, plug kits, and Tyrepliers. In the end we each had a say. He let me write entirely new sections on winching and Hi-Lift (and, later, ARB) jacks, which later he also incorporated into his Four-by-four Driving, a comprehensive guide used by military special forces on at least two continents.
By the time we were finished, VDEG had grown by something like 50 pages and about a pound. And for the first two months during which Roseann and I were the North American distributors, I did little else but pack and ship VDEGs. Subsequent 4-point-something reprints incorporated the usual worthwhile Sheppard-esque detail updates, but remained similar.
Now comes the 5th edition of VDEG. This time, Tom took a deep breath and enlarged both the format and font size, making for easier reading—and, given several updated/expanded sections, also making for a book that now weighs a tick over four pounds. Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time the 5th edition is printed digitally, which has bumped the clarity and contrast in the images noticeably. Despite this, the price has risen just $5, the first price increase in six years.
Also—perhaps—significantly, this is a very limited print run. We received just 75 copies; Tom kept the same number for Europe and elsewhere.
I always feel justified in boasting about VDEG; after all I was a fan long before I became a co-author. I remember driving 120 miles to the Land Rover dealer in Scottsdale to buy my first copy, and waiting in line while the woman ahead of me agonized over whether she wanted the leopard or elephant tire cover for her Range Rover. The book was worth the wait and the price. It still is.
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