Every model of Land Rover participated in the event
The QEI helped pull this Series Rover from Ohio out of a deep hole in the trail
When the snow pack turns icy, even the simplest slopes become challenges
What To Do in the Snow [Courtesy Rovers North News - March, 2007]
By Jeffrey Aronson
Forget March – February is the cruelest month. Yes, it’s short and for many people, it includes a vacation weekend to buy cars in honor of forgotten Presidents. There’s a small sop to romance with Valentine’s Day. It’s also brutally cold [whoever heard of a February thaw?] and this year, much of the continental US witnessed its first major blizzard.
Forget frozen pipes! Forget the pain of the simplest errands! It’s February and time for off roading. There are numerous events around the country held this time of year, but for the northeast corners of the US and Canada, it’s hard to beat the Maine Winter Romp.
For 11 years, Bruce Fowler of Unity, ME, has lent out his time, Land Rovers and his land for the President’s Day weekend event. It grew from a hard-core, “who knows if any trail is even open,” “let’s camp outdoors in unheated cabins or tents,” event for local enthusiasts into a hugely-appealing weekend for a wide range of Land Rover enthusiasts. This year’s participants came from as far away as Nashville, TN and Washington, DC, to Nova Scotia and Ontario, Canada, and all over the northeastern US. There were hundreds of participants in 87 registered vehicles.
A signal of the event’s growth is that Holiday Inn in nearby Waterville, ME, its marquee adorned with a “Welcome Land Rovers” sign, has become the “Official Hotel of the Maine Winter Romp.” It earned that title because it would discount room prices, open two bars and give up a huge parking lot to effect repairs. As is often the case in a rural state like Maine, I had not seen another Land Rover all week until I checked into the hotel. There, I found a parking lot filling up with Series Rovers, Discovery I’s and Discovery II’s, Range Rover Classics and lots of Defender 90’s. The only models not represented were Range Rover P38-A’s and Defender 110’s.
I met up with four Canadians from New Brunswick, each with a beer can in their hand, all proclaiming in unison “Don’t worry - I’m not driving!” So I offered to take them to Friday night’s selected dining spot, a large restaurant in downtown Waterville (the home of Colby College, Hathaway Shirts, and a market/service town for central Maine). There, the beleaguered owners removed keg tap after keg tap as the noisy enthusiasts emptied them of all their good stuff. Imagine the Visigoths liked only Shipyard and Old Thumper when they invaded, and left nothing for the locals – you get the picture.
Some off roaders drove the 10 miles to Unity to tackle some nighttime off-roading, but most everyone else retired to the hotel bar and/or bed. A good night’s sleep would help you pack away breakfast at the most aptly-named Big G’s in nearby Winslow, ME. If the Visigoths noted above needed to dine heartily before pillaging, Big G’s could feed them. Pancakes the size of Super Swampers, slabs of homemade bread the size of brake rotors – all for prices that wouldn’t get you a pat of butter in New York City.
In recent years I’d been hard-pressed to get past dinner and breakfast in the QE I. Back in 2001, a thief attempted to steal it and tore up the fascia wiring at the ignition switch. Last year, the PCV valve diaphragm tore and sent vast clouds of oily smoke out the exhaust pipe. This year, I had only the simplest maintenance to perform, adjusting the emergency brake to make it functional. Other drivers’ tasks included changing out an oil filter and o-ring to stop prodigious leaking in a 109”, replacing a tire punctured when the owner of a Range Rover Classic turned around in a field full of sharp, hidden rocks, and swapping out a fuel pump on a Discovery.
Bruce Fowler called together a drivers meeting in which he reiterated the “No Whining” policy of the event. The admonition was worth repeating; this is, after all, the event when a “three hour tour” turned into a final departure from the woods at 3:00 am. To ease the crunch, Bruce had recruited John Cranfield [Defender 90 diesel], Ben Smith [Discovery Series I], Bill Nixxon [Series II-A 88” Pickup], Jeff Berg and Eric Riston [Series II-A 88” HT and Discovery Series II] and our own Hallie Vail [Range Rover Classic] to serve as trail leaders. Bruce took a group on his own behind his ’56 Series I 86”, registered in Maine as a “Tractor.”
A variety of trails awaited the participants. Peter Vollers led a group of extremely-modified vehicles that wanted to rock climb on icy, boulder-strewn trails. If you didn’t fear bashing body panels, this was the group for you. A second route featured boulders, brush and saplings strewn across a twenty year old clear-cut, then up a short rocky knoll that dropped you into a rock filled brook, with a steep bank to climb up afterwards.
A novice trail ran like a tree trunk through the center of the more difficult ones. It featured through the deep snow, large ruts, with small rises and dips. From it, you could watch Rovers climb up a windy path to the top of a power line trail, and then through a great open mud/ice/snow hole.
Two additional trails proved difficult to use because of the nearly 3 feet of snow that had fallen recently. One followed the remnants of a narrow gauge rail bed; built through a swamp about 150 years ago, the remaining corduroy logs dissolved under the weight of the vehicles. It took that group until Monday to complete the trail because of the conditions.
Another trail, named the “Couch Trail’ in honor of household debris that sat near its opening, proved too challenging on Saturday, but finally it was conquered on Sunday. It was a newly-built trail and required much snow-tamping to complete.
The sight of nearly 90 vehicles heading out on the trails was quite impressive. Bright sun, lots of dry snow and a wide range of vehicles and interesting people promised to make the trail runs quite fun. Lots of drivers played with adjusting their snow chains, many clearly out for the first time. If you run chains, you can’t really air down your tires. I settled for reducing my tires to 15 lbs, securing a tow strap and readying the high lift and the kinetic rope. Most of the cars were kitted out with larger tires, skid plates, diff guards, and some winches, but many were surprisingly stock. If you were not running good snow tires, you were going to have problems no matter what equipment you carried.
This being Maine, some of the trials and wood roads featured the detritus of civilization: a couple of wrecked trailers, a few junk cars, some household debris, but it quickly gave way to stunning views of snow covered trees. In my group, I followed Dave Richards, Bangor, ME, in a ’64 109” Station Wagon. Utterly stock, he borrowed wheels and mud/snow tires from a friend just for the event. We both noticed that the newer, wider Land Rovers created ruts that could cause our narrower, lighter cars some problems. On one portion of the trail, I found myself suddenly going nowhere. I could, however, go backwards, which I did successfully, until I found traction. Then I pounded forward with a bit more wellie and I continued along successfully.
As a group, we paused to watch Hallie Vail’s group head up a hill cleared as a power line trail. The fields below the hills could not be seen for the cover of snow on top, but veterans knew to take them slowly for the many rocks and stumps hidden from view. That meant you had little headway before you reached the steep hill. Compounding the challenge was the fact you can’t simply driver straight up; you must weave right and left between boulders, icy stretches, and lots of drifting snow. Oh yes, you want to avoid the electric tower, too. Running chains on her rear tires, Hallie’s Range Rover made it up first, a testament to skilled driving. Following her were a group of Discovery I’s and II’s. Depending on tires and driver skills, some made the grade while others needed assistance. With little room to gain momentum, cars found it hard to find the best line up the hill. When they lost traction, the heavier weight at the front of the car would make it slide downhill nose first, an uncomfortable sight and less comfortable feeling for the passengers.
Within a mile, we came across the group led by John Cranfield. They had tackled a steep climb up icy rock face that required much winching, only to descend into a stream. The water crossing was not deep or wide, but the riverbank on the other side was very steep, very icy and with little snow, too difficult for any vehicle. Every vehicle, whether a Defender, Range Rover, Discovery or Series 109”, required winching up the hill. Bruce Fowler got the first vehicle, Mark Letorney’s Defender 90, up the hill using his Series I strapped to a tree. Mark, with his sons Graham and Calef, then took over winching chores for the remainder of the group. Working with the Letorneys provided another lesson in winching procedures and safety. Stapping trees, winding winches, walking through deep snow to hook up vehicles, all made for a lot of work. Bill Callocia’s 109” was the final vehicle. Bill engaged his air lockers, drove slowly into the stream and butted up against the riverbank. There was no way to get a hook onto his Rover, so Graham and I slid down the hill to help push him backwards. Between Bill’s lockers and our pushes, we managed to move the Rover back so Bill could take another run. Graham, young and nimble, avoided tumbling into the stream as the Rover moved astern. I, old and clunky, followed the Rover into the river and soaked my pant legs. My L.L. Bean boots kept my feet dry [unsolicited testimonial] but my pant legs would remain frozen for the rest of the day.
This year, the Romp featured plenty of families and couples enjoying the challenging off-roading. Greg and Sarah Black had brought their 5-year old son, Tristan, along for entertainment. Gregarious and very charming, Tristan enjoyed doing face plants in the snow as his parents helped others with winching chores in their ’93 Range Rover. Tristan also showed his smarts. He announced proudly that he was “peeing and pooping in the potty” while sharing his latest foodie trend, “watermelon pieces soaked in hot chocolate.” Remember, you read it here first!
Winching a half dozen vehicles up a rocky, icy riverbank took a long time; no sooner did we finish than Bill Nixxon’s group needed us to find a parking spot off the trails to let them pass through to lunch. I can attest that the snow off the trails was at least 30” deep; at least, that’s the distance I sank whenever I left the trail. So we pounded our way into a clearing and created a parking lot out of this small area and another trail. Finally, around 4:00 pm, we made it to a huge encampment where a large group enjoyed the conviviality of lunch.
The Maine Winter Romp benefits from the good will of local landowners and snowmobiles clubs. Many owners have built small cabins in the woods, featuring barbeque pits, some outhouses, and a willingness to share their space with 87 Land Rovers. As we traveled the trails, many snowmobilers paused to watch the Rovers tackle the tough stuff.
After a late lunch and with rapidly falling temperatures with the setting sun, most everyone headed back to Unity and Waterville for more food and conversation. By the end of the night, a handful returned to try the power line trail at night; others found a secure bar and settled in for an entertaining evening.
Sunday morning found most of the vehicles back at Big G’s for breakfast. There, Matt Browne, York, ME, lent his professional assistance to a Range Rover suffering from drivetrain problems. “It will either be a broken axle or a transfer case problem,” predicted Matt. Sadly, when the owner pulled out the half shafts, they were in great shape.
After overeating and/or recovering (depending on your activities Saturday night), over 50 vehicles took an extra day of off-roading. Some of the trails that had proved impassible on Saturday succumbed to the strenuous efforts of the Rover enthusiasts that day. Even on Monday, the federal holiday, over 20 vehicles remained for additional offroading on the same trails.
Bruce Fowler felt “I think it went really well. There were no major concerns or issues, just some problems on a Range Rover Classic. For the large number of newcomers, and the increased amount snow, I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have more problems. Everyone worked together as a team to make it work.” It worked brilliantly; here’s hoping the event continues in 2008.
Copyright 2007 Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers North
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."