Many Land Rover enthusiasts on the East Coast of the US have either heard of, or attended, the Mid-Atlantic Rallye (MAR) hosted by one of the oldest clubs in the region, the Rover Owners Association of Virginia. The MAR traditionally takes place on the first weekend that begins or ends in October. Which often seems to coincide with the US Southeast hurricane season. Leading to an alternative interpretation of “MAR”… “Mud and Rain.”
This year the weekend’s forecast wasn’t looking much different from some of the wetter years we’ve had. Rain, all day Thursday, followed by intermittent showers Friday, and finally maybe ending on Saturday. The area around Pembroke, Virginia, where the event is located, had been getting constant rain for quite a few days leading up to the event. Suffice to say it was not looking like a dry year for MAR.
I planned to drive down with my friend Sean riding shotgun, since his vehicle is in need of some overdue maintenance and wasn’t up for the trip. Sean came over early on Thursday, expecting me to be nearly ready. This was far from the case as I had spent the entire previous day writing articles for the RoverLog, and had to repack all my camping gear into some new weatherproof boxes I’d acquired. That, plus I’d just gotten my 90 back from a long hiatus away with my friend Dean at his shop in Bethesda, MD, where it underwent some overdue repairs of its own.
Sean and I finally hit the road around 5:00 PM, the 90 fully loaded and the rear tires bulging at the sidewalls. The fuel light was blinking out of control and Sean and I were both getting hungry. We fueled up in town, and used my CO2 bottle to put some more psi in the rear tires. We also had planned to stop for some last minute groceries, a bottle of hooch, and an early dinner once we got clear of DC traffic. The rain was coming down steadily and traffic was anything but light. Sean, in the navigator’s seat, managed to locate a Virginia ABC store in a shopping center not too far off of the highway. 2 hours later we had all of our groceries, a fifth of Booker’s Small Batch, and our bellies full of some pretty decent Bibimbap from the Korean deli next to the ABC store.
At 8:00 PM, we were back on the road and settled in for a long but uneventful slog down to Hoges Orchard Lane, the site of the rallye another 200 miles south of us in Pembroke, VA. The occasional larger downpours along the way were impressive, the rooster tails of water coming off the 18-wheelers making it virtually impossible to see at times. But the 90 never missed a beat, and the AC kept the humidity down and the fog off the windscreen.
I’m ashamed to say that Sean I contemplated hiring a room multiple times during the trip. As we got off 81 South about 20 miles from the event site, it was still raining. We found available rooms at the Mountain Lake Lodge (of Dirty Dancing fame, I am obliged to say) for $100 a night, but we didn’t reserve one. We decided that if people were up and about, we would try to set up camp but if everyone was already asleep we would just go get the room. No point in going to all the trouble of setting up camp in the dark and the rain, if no one is there to laugh and point at you.
Blessedly, the rain actually stopped right as we pulled into Hoges Orchard Lane around 1:00 AM. There we found a decent size audience, standing around waiting to watch us attempt the first hill up into the event field. We made it about twenty feet before the 42psi in the rear tires became a liability and we ground to a halt. We got out, surveyed the scene of muddy destruction in front of us, cracked open a much-needed adult beverage, and sorted out our plan of attack. I hooked up the ARB lockers to the Powertank CO2 setup, and with both axles locked and all four wheels churning up mud and grass, we clawed our way up to the top of the property to set up camp. With our late arrival, we got set up quickly. As will happen at these things, more beverages were opened, and stories shared until the wee hours. Everyone finally peeled off to bed just in time to get a few decent hours of sleep before sunrise.
It rained some more in the early morning, but the forecast for continuing rain didn’t pan out, thankfully. We’d just finished setting up our borrowed rain shelter when the last drops fell and the skies cleared up for good. That would be the last rain of the weekend. Of course we don’t come to these events just to keep tabs on the weather, we could do that from home. We always enjoy hitting the off road trails, and Wheatland Farm now has lots of them to offer, thanks to the hard work of the property owners and the club members who work during the year to build and maintain them.
We hit the trails in the afternoon, with a group of over a dozen vehicles, including two Discovery 1’s, two Discovery Series 2s, a Range Rover Classic, a Series IIa 109 Station Wagon, a very heavily modified Series IIa ambulance, an LR3, 5 Defender 90s, a Ex-MOD Defender 110 “Tithonus,” a 110 Station Wagon, and an also-very-heavily-modified BMW thing-a-ma-jing with some Land Rover parts bolted in underneath. With this large of a group, every obstacle turned into a winching exercise because of the wet conditions. Many of the vehicles were running street-pattern tires or were running at street pressures. The off-camber trails sent numerous vehicles sliding sideways into the trees, leading to numerous scrapes and dings, many close calls, and lots and lots of winching. The LR3 in the group suffered a blown tire, and probably spent more time on the end of the winch cable than any of the other vehicles in the group.
As daylight turned into dark, we reached one last long climb out of the woods. This one was truly dicey in a few spots, and the LR3 again had issues sliding off the trail, as did a few others. One of the D90s suffered a breakdown in the middle of the trail due to a cracked ignition rotor. Eventually that got sorted. Fortunately, Sean and I had music to keep us entertained, and my ARB fridge freezer strapped down in the back, full of sandwiches and other delights to keep us fed and watered all day. Some six or seven hours after we left, we were finally off the trail.
Back in camp, I pulled out some baby back ribs that I started in the oven a few days before we left. We heated them up on the camp grill, slathered in barbecue sauce. As a side we did some chopped Brussels sprouts cooked in bacon fat saved from breakfast. While we were out on the trails, our friend Adam was busy preparing some Dutch oven apple and peach cobblers, which everyone feasted on after dinner. Later in the evening we wandered down to visit with some friends who were camped at the bottom of the hill, to sample some more Dutch oven delights and share some of our Booker’s.
Saturday we woke up a little more rested, but still too late to make the early 9:00 AM trail ride. We even wandered off to a local grocery to refill our beer supply and pick up some extra bread, as I’d miscalculated our sandwich requirements. We also managed to locate a semi-secret stash of firewood, along with a working log-splitter. We split and loaded up everything that would fit in the back of the 90.
A few minutes after we got back to camp, our friend Raub in his Ex-Mod 110 rolled up, excited for us to help him rescue a Range Rover that was stuck on one of the trails. It was later model, a 2006 L322 Supercharged. Which, unsurprisingly, was stuck up against a tree.
Arriving to survey the situation, I looked for some obvious problem or easy solution before just applying brute force to haul the vehicle out. In this case, he had a winch but no controller. Raub tried his controller, but it didn’t work. I tried my winch controller and it plugged in, but nothing happened when I hit the switch.
Some poking around with a voltmeter revealed a lack of volts going to the winch, and a quick peek around the engine bay revealed a big relay and some wires going into the firewall in the vicinity of the glove box. In the glove box, the words “Jeep Recovery Tool” were printed on the plastic support for the lid. Right above that was a little switch. Switch depressed, there was now power to the winch. I convinced the owner to let some air out of his tires so as to try not having a repeat of his current situation, and maybe have a fighting chance to get out of the woods before dark. With some fancy winch rigging and some solid driving, he was up the hill in two tries.
Sean, Raub, and I made our own way from there. We found a nice clearing to have some lunch, and then and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring blissfully un-crowded trails. We really only saw two or three other vehicles the whole day, and we ran almost every trail on one side of the mountain and a few others too. I ripped my roof rack halfway off due to focusing more attention on the stereo than the trees around me, and we noticed my rear locker wasn’t working during one of the rocky sections. And the glass on the passenger side door of my 90 fell off its track. Raub had no problems other than his camp mates being slightly miffed that he was out all day with all of their beer in his cooler.
Arriving back at camp, I was eager to try the RTV course, only this year they finally figured out a way to keep me from winning. Organizers Jeff Aronson and Bob Steele both seemed a little bit too happy when they told me they’d already pulled the canes on the first three stages. I still haven’t spent the gift certificates I won last year so I guess its ok.
Speaking of not winning anything, I came up empty in the raffle this year too. I suppose the people buying 100 tickets at a time might be on to something. But, I’m skipping ahead. Dinner was a decent affair of smoked pulled pork, and the usual sides. As a social event, the dinners are always a great opportunity to mingle and chat with new and old friends and catch up on the latest Land Rover gossip.
Steve Hoare from Alloy & Grit was there, taking notes and offering numerous samples of incorrectly-spelled distilled spirits- some of which were even quite palatable. We had a lovely chat about the magazine, and everything from Land Rovers to the surf at Normandy. Conversations do have a tendency to meander off-topic when you remove the “E” from one’s whiskey.
As the night wore on, and temperatures cooled off, we drew in closer to our fire, with some good music playing in the background and great conversation with great friends. Some more “Dump Cake” came out of the Dutch oven around midnight, and not long after that we all trundled off to bed.
Sunday morning broke with a heavy mist covering the site. As we packed and loaded, the sun did a pretty good job of drying everything out. Many participants were gone before breakfast, and the rest shortly after. I had to spend some time straightening the twisted roof rack and fixing the passenger door so the window would shut.
When we were heading south on our way to the MAR, struggling to see out the rain soaked windscreen and looking forward to camping all week in these conditions, again, Sean and I both questioned whether we would continue attending the MAR. At over a hundred bucks to attend, plus food, fuel, and other expenses, it isn’t exactly a cheap weekend. In previous years, the trail rides have been tightly controlled in order to protect the livestock on the farm. So there were times when you felt like you just paid a lot of money to sit around in a field and get rained on. When you did get in a trail ride, you did so with nineteen other vehicles, and just sat around in a traffic jam in the woods all day. Towards the end of this weekend, the trail access seemed to open up, so that anyone could go out when they wanted and explore on their own. Saturday, we covered a much wider variety of trails and terrain in one day than I had in the two previous years combined.
MAR was one of the great events of the Land Rover “season” many years ago, but it just hasn’t bounced back since the club lost access to the “Pearl’s Pond” property after the 2007 event. Sure it’s always fun to look at Land Rovers and catch up with friends. A “just ok” MAR is still better than spending the weekend on your couch. Now, after four years on the current property, the trail network is really taking shape, and this year’s improved access was a real game changer. The new MAR is finally starting to feel a little more like the old MAR. If they can just control the weather, I’ll keep coming back.
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