In June of this year it was our privilege to attend the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers' 33rd Annual Birthday Party event. The event is held in Southern Ontario near the town of Maberly, located in an area known as the Mississippi Valley. The area is mostly rural, consisting of small towns interspersed with hills, forests, wetlands and over 250 lakes. Rumor has it that the hills in this part of Ontario were once mountains that dwarfed even the Himalayas. Whether or not that is true, the many exposed granite boulders, shelves and outcroppings contribute both to the scenery and also to the fun that can be had on the local 4x4 trails.
In years past, your correspondent was able to attend this event with more frequency, starting in 1997. In those days the OVLR club had a large US-based membership, and the Birthday Party was one of the more well-attended North American events. In the intervening years, life circumstances, economic conditions and competition from more varied and geographically dispersed events contributed to a downturn in attendance. When I last attended in 2011, it seemed like the field was almost completely empty.
More recently, thanks to concerted efforts on the part of the club executives and some of the more active members, the club has a renewed sense of energy, and the event has been regaining popularity. In 2015, I decided that I would have to return North to give it another try. I looked forward to meeting some of the newer members, and reconnecting with the old ones.
So, in June 2015, I set out early on Thursday morning with my newly acquired rescue pup, Shorty, riding shotgun. At the time, I’d had Shorty for all of two weeks, so we were still getting to know each other. Halfway through the trip, I was buzzing happily along in my Tdi 90, air con cranked up, Shorty finally relaxed, and looking pretty good for an early evening arrival at Silver Lake Provincial Park, where many club members choose to camp during the event.
Thirty miles south of Binghamton, NY, and 275 miles from home, all hell broke loose. Suddenly, the engine sounded like a Stanley Steamer instead of a modern turbo diesel. I cautiously limped the truck to the first exit. The Tdi’s head gasket was blown out on the back of the number 4 cylinder. Eventually, we were rescued by a tow truck that took us to a friend’s home in New Jersey, where we were able to effect a proper repair. I would have to wait another year to revisit the event.
Fast forward to 2016. The 90 was at a local shop since March, getting some long overdue attention paid to its chassis and firewall. Shorty has been with us for a full year, and my girlfriend Julie is overdue for another 12-hour epic Land Rover trip.
I got the 90 back from the shop on the Saturday before the event, and then spent most of the week prepping for our Thursday morning departure. In the midst of this, I noticed that the radiator was now leaking from around one of the oil cooler ports. Fortunately, I had another radiator on hand. While I had the coolant drained, I decided to swap out the old water pump. During that job, one of the bolts broke off at the base of the head. After removing the water pump, I welded a nut to the broken bolt and was able to remove it. Of course, nothing is ever that simple and that job took a lot longer than normal since I still had to set up the used welder I'd acquired over a year ago.
After a few other minor setbacks, we were finally loaded up late Wednesday night. Thursday we were out the door by 8:30 am, and arrived at Silver Lake exactly 12 hours later. There will be no need this time to recount the details of the journey, as it all went smoothly. The AC kept us relatively cool, and I breathed a sigh of relief when we sailed past the spot of last year’s breakdown. Our border crossing into Canada was also uneventful, consisting of the usual array of routine questions posed in a deliberately confrontational tone. It should be noted that the astute officer never even noticed there was a dog in the car with us.
At the Provincial Park, our campsite had a great view out over the lake, and we got set up just before dark. We cooked a quick round of smoked sausage, and wandered over to the other camps for some socializing. Friday morning after breakfast we made our way over to the site of the rally, a property in Maberly belonging to a local family that has hosted us in their restaurant for a few years, and also provides catering for the event. We were early, and passed the morning talking over current events while watching the later arrivals roll in.
After lunch, a poll was taken for various trail options, and we opted to do the Lavant Mountain trail. This is a 4 or 5 hour run with a long gravel road passing through a variety of terrain, and leading to a rocky, muddy circumnavigation of the base of the mountain. Our group of six or seven vehicles managed all the obstacles with a minimum of fuss. Returning to civilization, we stopped at the Sharbot Lake general store for fuel and refreshments, including some of the freshest, squeakiest cheese curds I’ve ever had. Back in camp, we went for a swim and did a big group dinner, followed by a somewhat larger campfire gathering than the previous night’s.
Saturday we opted to run some of the same trails that I remembered doing back in the old days. It was fun to revisit the old landscapes, even if the trails were not as challenging as they seemed to me back then. After the trails, we returned to the main site to see how the RTV trials course looked. I had J-L Morin walk me through the course. He’d just finished cutting it out of a section of thick forest, and there were thorns, poison ivy, rocks, and tree stumps everywhere. It was hot out, and I decided to just run the course and get it over with so that we could go back to camp and cool off. The first obstacle was a short, steep rock pile that my vehicle could not scale without using excessive speed, and a good chance of body damage from some nearby trees. J-L graciously gave us a pass on that one, and the rest was completed with little fuss, other than taking one of the last gates a little wide. At some point a large rock tried to occupy the same space as the 90's chassis, resulting in the softer of those two items receiving a good-sized dent.
After running the RTV, we were looking forward to the lake. Only this time it wasn’t to be, as a rather disconcerting sound emanated from under the 90. I nursed it slowly back to camp, where it was eventually discovered that the lower bolt had broken on the front left brake caliper. This would result in the caliper flipping up and away from the center of the hub each time the brakes were applied, and at speed could easily cause the caliper to come completely off.
Fortunately, the OVLR crew are both helpful and well equipped. I stripped off the front hub to get better access to the bolt, while one of the Montreal members produced a pneumatic cutting disc, and a box of bolts that happened to have one the exact length and thread we needed. The cutting disc was used to make a notch in the exposed end of the offending bolt, for a screwdriver to turn it out. This worked with no problem and were quickly sorted and back together. Not bad for being in a field with nothing else around.
By the time we finished the repairs, it was time for dinner. The catered dinner was quite good, although apparently it was somewhat delayed from its intended start time. Sunday, we were up early to break camp, and then spent an hour or two at the main site for the club auction, which is always entertaining and also not a bad place to get some good deals on stuff you probably don't need, or didn't know you needed. We pulled out of the main site around 12:30 pm, and made record time on the way home. We only stopped twice, and managed the trip in almost exactly 10 ½ hours. The sun on the driver's side of the truck while heading South was brutal through the 90's untinted windows, and the AC just couldn't put out enough chill to make up for it. A strategically-placed T-shirt curtain hung over the window eliminated that problem.
While the Defender models don’t offer much in the way of creature comforts, they still make an excellent road trip vehicle if there is off roading to be done along the way. We averaged 20 miles per gallon with the Tdi engine, while making speeds around 70-75 mph with the AC on high, and the vehicle loaded down quite heavily.
I recommend this event to anyone who wants to travel a bit in their Land Rover and see some of the Canadian countryside. The OVLR club is proof that one of the things that makes Land Rovers such great vehicles isn't how comfortable they are or how well they are made. It's the owners and enthusiasts who, bonded by a shared sense of adversity and a shared thirst for knowledge and adventure, will bend over backwards to help each other with little regard to circumstance - and have a good time doing it.
Thanks to all who organized, hosted, and sponsored the event. See you in 2017.
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