Fun at 5 MPH [Courtesy Rovers Magazine November 2011]
By Jeffrey Aronson
With the onset of winter thousands of New England drivers experience a collective amnesia that wipes out memories of how to drive on snow and ice. They then provide an economic boost to tow truck drivers throughout the region; many begin their vacation planning with the prediction of the first snowstorm. A former governor of Maine, chauffeured in his official Chevy Suburban by a State Police driver, found himself examining a highway median strip, contending with “excessive speed” and “lack of seatbelt” findings from his own State Police.
The whole episode embarrassed most Mainers; despite the fact that hundreds encounter fender benders throughout the winter, we pride ourselves on winter driving skills. After all, winter in northern New England can run from November – May while other regions of the country enjoy “autumn” and “spring.”
Land Rover enthusiasts throughout the northeast relish winter for its entertainment value. There’s the usual round of snowboarding and skiing but the significant fun arises out of the simple act of trundling through snow in a Land Rover at the Maine Winter Romp. It’s the most fun you can have at 5 mph. In the middle of February New England’s thoughts turn really dark as cold winds, snow and decreasing temperatures suck the “fun” out of “winter fun.” That’s when organizer Bruce Fowler holds Winter Romp
Event central is the rural farming/college region of Unity, Maine, about 200 miles from Boston and 410 miles from New York City. Despite the distances over 100 Land Rovers and 200 enthusiasts, of all ages, have driven up in recent years. Bruce Fowler, a long time Land Rover owner (ranging from a Series I to a Range Rover Classic) shares access to his land with neighbors. The good will extends both ways and thus Land Rover enthusiasts enjoy a huge selection of trails that run through woods, barely-frozen bogs, up narrow trails and over streams.
You never really know the weather conditions that might accompany each year’s Winter Romp; some years have seen little snow and early spring thaw temperatures, while others have seen snow so deep that some trails become impassible. What you can be sure of is that after over 100 Land Rovers have crossed those trails the conditions will change dramatically during the three-day event.
As the event grew from its roots in the early 1990’s, Bruce and a corps of volunteer trail workers added trails to enable novices to challenge themselves without likely damage to their vehicles or their psyches. “Damage” in this case is usually limited to a shunt against a tree or a bent suspension member against a hidden rock or stump. Virtually all the trails go through woods and bogs and many of the green lane trails circle the potentially damaging runs through ravines or up snow-covered rocky inclines. Unlike events at larger locales, you can watch your friends tackle challenging situations a short distance from your vehicle. Since extra help is often needed you can learn a great deal about effective driving techniques, winching and towing as you assist in a recovery.
Rural New England often surprises visitors who can’t believe how much of it is just a bog, a swampy morass of brush, tall grasses and huge boulders. While it takes some cold weather to produce snow, that same snow cover insulates the ground below from a deep freeze. You find that out when your Rover goes through the icy cover and you’re encased in ice flows, mud, and snow. A winch, coil springs, a mild lift, chains and maybe air lockers certainly help but Mother Nature can still come out ahead. Experienced enthusiasts, or those who simply want to experience at thrill, head for the more challenging trails of the Romp and return with stories to tell and videos to post online.
Mechanical breakdowns do occur; at the 2010 event, a Range Rover Classic became a 3-wheel drive when a front CV joint broke on a narrow trail. Winching, pulling and towing the vehicle required a 3-way Y turn, with barely the width of the Rover to spare. When something does go wrong, you’ll not be abandoned on the trail but you will be amazed as the accumulated Land Rover expertise present among the participants. Even better, if need be, you have a warm, fully equipped shop at Bruce Fowler’s nearby home to effect the repair.
As these photos from the 2011 Winter Romp demonstrate the range of vehicles is as wide as the range of enthusiasts. You’ll never know what your Land Rover can do in snow until you’ve tried a winter rally; the Maine Winter Romp provides that perfect opportunity year after year. What you can be certain of is that your Land Rover will amaze you each time.
[The 2012 Maine Winter Romp runs from February 17 – 20. The event is free but registration is requested. For more information visit www.winterromp.org]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."