The invitation for Land Rover TRĕK 2021 described the competition as “an off-road event that will test your technical, physical, and communication skills.” Reading through the equipment list, my husband raised his eyebrows.
“You’re camping?” he said. “As in, with a tent?”
“Yes, me. Camping,” I retorted. “It will be an adventure.”
Little did I know how much of an adventure Land Rover TReK would be. What I did know is that I’d be competing as a team with two other journalists I’d never met against five other teams, spending all day driving a brand-new 2022 Land Rover Defender across uneven terrain and working together winching, mudding, driving, and navigating our way through myriad challenges to rack up points.
The journalist wave tested out the course ahead of the retailer wave, which ends this weekend with teams from 70 Land Rover dealers across North America for the TRĕK qualifying trials. At the end of the trials (which are designed to educate and challenge sales, service, and technician personnel), the top teams compete against each other for all of the glory. In the process, the teams come back to their dealerships with first-hand knowledge about exactly what you can do with a Defender 110 P300 S.
Our tents were set up for us when we arrived, which felt a little like cheating but I wasn’t about to complain. Land Rover CEO Joe Eberhardt was nearby talking to the superstar team made up of Olympic skier and Land Rover ambassador Lindsey Vonn; world-class mountaineer, high-altitude skier Hilaree Nelson; and ESPN journalist Alyssa Roenigk. Talk about some tough competition.
Technical Trainer for Jaguar Land Rover University Sean Gorman explained what we were going to do in general terms and then the teams had the chance to learn how to use all of the equipment at our disposal, including a Hi-Lift Jack, Warn Zeon 10-S winch kit, recovery straps and shackles (when I think of recovery straps, I think of the guy who barely avoided decapitation because he used the wrong kind of strap), and TRED Pro Recovery boards. The trainers handed us a Garmin etrex10 GPS unit, and faded into the background, leaving us to figure out how to prepare for the morning.
After a night camping out in the rain, me and my two new friends–Scott Brady from Overland Journal and Kristin Canning with Women’s Health–grabbed our topographical map and GPS and lined up at the starting line. All we had was a set of coordinates and our laminated map and we discovered quickly that our first task was to find our vehicle. On foot.
Trekking through a mile and a half of wet grass and dirt paths (next year, please remind me that I need to do more running to stay in shape) we were the first team to find the cluster of vehicles hidden in the woods. We opted to follow the banks of the river on the map; our logic was to make the navigation easy. The speed guidance was set at 20 miles per hour, which was met by groans and laughter at the meeting the night before. Lindsey Vonn made it known that she likes to drive fast, and word on the street is that she whipped her Defender ably through the challenges when it was her turn.
One stop required the teams to make use of the Hi-Lift Jack, recovery strap, and chains to pull the Defender uphill two full car lengths. It was sweaty, difficult, and tedious at times, and we swapped out who would sit in the SUV to operate the brake and who would crank up the jack and reset the chains. Early on, as I was getting out of the Defender while it was parked on the hill, I didn’t pay enough attention to the weight of the door. As it slammed on my left thumb, I tried to play it cool but I was a little concerned that I had broken it. Luckily, it didn’t break the skin and no bones were poking out, so I grabbed a cold bottle of water and held it until it was my turn to crank. A week later, it’s still a bit stiff but I notice it fondly, a trophy injury of the challenge.
Other obstacles were set up for precision, like hooking up and towing a trailer through a tight set of cones and the crystal-clear backup camera was key. Scott and Kristin spotted me on my lap, which I took with only one penalty. When it was Scott’s turn to drive, he sped through the cones impressively fast. Another station consisted of a grid of poles set up for a specific pattern requiring 3- and 5-point turns in a tight space. By the time we finished that one, we had earned the breakfast sandwiches the Land Rover team had stashed under the engine cover to stay warm.
My favorite challenge (and the most physically challenging) required us to build a bridge. Lifting a set of heavy boards, we uncovered pieces of the Land Rover logo that had to be placed between sections that were locked in. The coordinator at that station told us we had to use every board provided and as we got down to the last few, we couldn’t get them to fit. Finally, we came up with the idea to tent two rows of boards and then dropped them down, jumping on them to set them in. After driving the Defender across our new bridge, we had to go back and disassemble the structure we had just built.
Driving the Defender was the easiest part of TReK. It's clearly designed to handle just about anything you throw its way, and I felt confident tackling all of the terrain we encountered, knowing it can do more. Full disclosure, I have a 2000 Range Rover (P38 body style) at home that we've had for 20 years and more than 180,000 miles and we’ve taken that vehicle all over the country.
In the end, our team didn't win the competition but we had an unforgettable experience. I flew home to Texas tired, bruised, and with a temporarily non-working left thumb, but triumphant anyway. I learned a ton and can see how this event educates retail employees and gives them a firsthand opportunity to see what a Defender can do. From there, I'm sure they're selling them like crazy because I didn't want to leave without one myself.
Can't wait for my next adventure. Even the sleeping-in-a-tent part.
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