As the 4:00 AM wake-up call echoed across the Nevada desert, 39 sleepy but resolute individuals emerged from their tents and raced towards the starting gate of a 8-mile cross country run for the beginning of the G4 National Selection competition.
These 39 Americans, like the 22 Canadians a week earlier, were the lucky ones. From the thousands that had applied, they had been chosen for a chance to represent their country in the Land Rover G4 Challenge, the “Adventure of a lifetime”. These men and women knew that only two of them would move on to the International Selections at Eastnor Castle where the sole competitor from each country would be selected.
After the pre-dawn, and pre-breakfast 8-mile run, competitors rotated through 3 different off road trials courses, one each for Range Rover, Discovery and Freelander, and a Time-Speed-Distance off road rally. Next came a tortuous mountain bike race, rappelling off desert pinnacles, swimming and kayak races, and the competitor’s least favorite event, the vehicle winching challenge.
Sunset saw the competitors heading out across the desert on a long orienteering course. Twenty hours into the competition, it was time to face the TV cameras to answer a barrage of questions. From the glare of the camera lights, competitors next faced the darkness of the desert night in a nighttime off road driving challenge. After grabbing perhaps an hour or two of sleep, the competitors where sent off, on foot, on a treasure hunt to find and retrieve all manner of large, heavy and awkward to carry vehicle parts.
In Camel Trophy fashion, the last event of the competition was a group task. Floating in Lake Las Vegas was a G4 Freelander. The task: bring it ashore and man- and woman-handle it to the top of a display mound. With temperatures hovering around freezing, and a stiff breeze blowing, swimming the 200 odd yards to the floating platform was in itself a challenge. Two volunteers made the swim and secured ropes to the “Freelander Island”. Towing the Island to shore was relatively easy, once the direction of the wind was taken into account. With the raft ashore, the competitors realized that the items they had retrieved on the treasure hunt were now needed.
The retrieved tire was needed on the Freelander, the bridging ladders were needed to unload the Freelander, and the ropes, snatch blocks, straps, shackles and recovery points were needed to haul the Freelander over the steep lake embankment and up the display mound.
With the competitors pulling or pushing, and to the cheers of the gathered press, the Freelander was delivered to the top of the mound ending the G4 National Selections. All that remained was for the judges to tally the scores and announce the winners.
And they were: Kirk Boylston, 45, a real estate developer from California and Nancy Olson, 29, a U.S. Marine Corps Captain stationed at the Pentagon.
The Canadian Selection winners were: Christian Stringer, 26, a wilderness guide and corporate team-building facilitator from British Columbia and Jim Kuhn, 37, a software engineer from Ontario.
At least in North America, the G4 National Selections were characterized by physical fitness competitions. As a matter of fact, of the 14 individual events, only 5 involved driving a vehicle and only 1, the winching, called for off road or expedition “savvy”. The running and mountain biking were for the seriously fit and not for the weekend warrior. And this suited the competitors just fine. Although they came from a wide variety of backgrounds, they all had in common running. Serious running. Fifty and one hundred-mile “adventure” foot races where the runners have to navigate as well as run. Many of the G4 competitors were veterans of the Eco-Challenge, Primal Quest, and Raid Gaulois adventure races.
It was interesting to note how these extremely fit athletes, unfazed by early morning desert runs or murderous mountain bike courses, were intimidated by the off road trials courses. Courses which with their precipitous downhills, extreme sidetilts and crater size articulation pits were, to us, just plain fun to drive.
This bias towards physical fitness and away from off roading is nonetheless a continuation of the trend evident in the last Camel Trophys. “It was the direction we were going” said Tom Collins, Camel Trophy veteran and moving force behind the US Camel Trophy effort. The Land Rover G4 Challenge is the next step in the long evolution of the Camel Trophy.
While some of us will decry having the Land Rovers relegated to a merely supporting role, we should take comfort in the fact that Land Rover is once again in the adventure business. And while G4 may not bring us images of Land Rovers up to the door handles in mud, it will take Land Rovers into the Outback, the African Bush and Moab keeping Land Rover in touch with its heritage. And for those of us who now and then find our Land Rovers up to the door handles in mud, it is good to know that the company hasn’t abandoned its roots.
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