Instructor Spotlight: Michael Ladden

Growing up in the rural farm country of New England, you’re bound to see many Jeeps, trucks, and tractors. In fact, many people have them, not only for daily transportation but for working on and around their properties, and the Ladden family was no exception. Fascinated from a very early age while watching his dad with his Jeeps and Land Cruisers, it’s no wonder that Michael’s first word was not “mom” or “dad” but “Jeep.” And thus began his love of the outdoors and all things that “go.”

Image by Michael Ladden

Throughout high school and college, Michael spent most of his free time camping, cycling, hiking, and exploring the United States. However, in the early 1990s, in a decision that would forever change his future, he and a coworker quit their well paid, comfortable office jobs and bought one-way tickets to Africa. They spent a year exploring north, east, and central Africa. Traveling by trains, buses, camels, hitchhiking, and a few other various means of transportation, it was here that Michael spotted and fell in love with his first Land Rover.

Upon returning home to the States, Michael searched until finally finding a 1965 Series IIA Land Rover to call his own. Until this point, the vehicle had only had one owner and had spent its life on a potato farm in Idaho. This Land Rover soon became the first of many overland trucks, particularly Land Rovers, that Michael would build, restore, and maintain over the years.

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In 1996, Michael and longtime friend Paul Shumway co-founded Drive the Globe Overland Adventures. In the early years, they focused on organizing self-driven adventures for their customers but eventually began consulting for larger expeditions. Personally, Michael and Paul visited every province in Canada, completed several border-to-border expeditions in Northern Canada, and traveled to the Arctic Circle.

In early 2000, broadening their horizons, Michael and Paul created the “Vintage Rovers Across Africa” Expedition. This expedition would see eight men in four vintage Land Rovers travel more than Eight thousand miles across West Africa. Fraught with all of the challenges that come with driving 30+ year-old vehicles across the rugged and remote terrain of the Sahara, Timbuktu, and the Atlantic coastline, the group eventually visited ten countries on their way from Morocco to the Ivory Coast.

Image by Michael Ladden

While planning his next big adventure, Michael wandered from the Land Rover marquee and bought a Mercedes Unimog with the goal of completing the Pan American highway. Ultimately, that trip never came to fruition. Spending most of the 2000s returning to a more structured life in business, Michael co-founded and became CEO of the Keller Williams Real Estate franchise in Connecticut, where today he still remains a partner. This company has successfully grown to one of the largest real estate firms in New England and produces more than a billion dollars of sales each year.

Never one to sit still, during this time, Michael also founded McLadden Restaurant Group opening four Irish pubs in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Established in 2009, he later sold the restaurant group in 2019.

Image by RoamLab

Despite this return to a more conventional living, adventure was never far from Michael’s mind. After a dozen years of working long days in the corporate world, Michael sold his house and most of his possessions and moved into his 1979 Mercedes Unimog. He added an overland expedition trailer and set out on an around the world expedition, planning to travel to all seven continents. This ~220,000-mile adventure that Michael anticipated would take five years to complete was as perfect as a plan could be until the pandemic hit.

Like many overlanders whose journeys were “in progress” when COVID came about, Michael’s plan has been altered, but his journey did not come to a halt. In the spring of 2021, Michael sold his Unimog and travel trailer, and bought, built, and moved into a 1994 Stewart & Stevenson (former) army truck. Trapped by border closures and shipping difficulties, he is currently exploring North & Central America.

Image by Michael Ladden

Most recently, Michael has added a KTM adventure motorcycle to the rear of his expedition truck and spent the winter exploring the back roads and tracks of Baja California Sur, Mexico, on two wheels as well as four.

In addition to his four- and two-wheel drive overland adventures, Michael is a private pilot and an avid cyclist, with the goal of pedaling more miles each year than he drives. He is currently writing a book about his African adventures.

This post was produced in collaboration with Michael Ladden be sure to check out his classes if you are attending Overland Expo West or Overland Expo Mtn West.

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