Can you imagine my surprise when I picked up the phone to check for messages, this voice says he is from Land Rover and he wants to know if I’m available to go to Las Vegas for the Canadian selection event. Available, ya, like there is a question. Instructions say to call or e-mail with an indication of my choice I do both. Problem here is I’m home alone, no one to tell and I’m just a bit excited, the cat has left the room, too much jumping about I guess.
I receive an e-mail the next Monday outlining where the selection event will occur and when, Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas, very nice, got to check this out on the map. There is no Lake Las Vegas on the map, no worries check the web site, bonus directions from the airport, print this.
I call the Visa travel agency and book a flight on points for two, my wife insisted on going as soon as she found out where the event was. Next step book the hotel.
Another e-mail from Land Rover, they want to know my shirt and jacket size, I wonder why? They also want to know when I will be arriving and if I would like them to book a room for me. Great we planed on arriving a couple of days in advance to check out the place as well as doing the tourist thing, we book 5 nights. Land Rover is going to pick up 2 nights and extend the corporate rate for the others, class act these guys.
New day and new e-mail, this time general information for competitors as well as a list of equipment to bring along, this isn’t so bad I have most of this stuff. Trail running shoes? My all stars should do, good excuse to buy some new ones as well, I get red and blue, not a great match but they will do. Climbing gear will have to be replaced since the harness I have I made out of old seat belts about 10 years ago. The price of this gear really has dropped almost cheap. I have all the bike gear as well as camping stuff, I thought we where staying at a resort? Lights and compass, pack for, as well as note pads I have from the Adventure Team Challenge, no mention of GPS best leave that at home.
I have gathered all the bits together, nothing left to do but wait for the flight date, this turned out to be the hard part.
On arrival at the Las Vegas airport after a totally uneventful flight we hunt for the shuttle to the car rental place. They don’t have Land Rovers so we have to settle for a Mitsubishi thingy, I hate midsize econo cars, I wonder who this would go off road?
They web page information from the resort claimed 15 minutes from the airport, the guy who wrote that must be a local, we took 25 minutes but then we did do a lot of wow look at that stuff.
The Hyatt Lake Las Vegas is gorgeous, service is amazing, parking lot to room in 5 minutes including book-in, now that is impressive. A quick change, and off to town to see the sights time to play tourist.
Two days of playing on the strip go very fast, this is one cool town and where there is so much money. I have never seen so many exotic cars on one place outside of an auto show. Range Rovers are common and they are all new.
December 8 is registration day, starts at 2:00. I get to read and sign a copy of the application from the G-4 web site, as well as the normal waivers. They hand me a backpack when I give them the form back, I do love prezzies. I grab a water bottle and a big fudge brownie from the snack table and sit down to see what it is I just got. The pack has a built in water bladder, looks like about 100 oz., a pair of ironclad mechanics type gloves, a new compass nice one too, Fleece hat with G-4 logo, nice. Last out of the bag, an orange Mountain Hard Wear, Gortex/Fleese jacket with a G-4 logo on the back, this is just too cool. Land Rover really knows how to put out a good event package. I even got a few snickers from the staff when I arrived with my antlers on.
First on the agenda for the G-4 is a vehicle familiarization session, we get a chance to see the new Discovery, Range Rover and Freelander, all very impressive. There is also a winching demo put on by some people from Land Rover collage, seems I have been no exactly correct in my winching technique all these years. Next the opening ceremonies, now this is impressive. We are directed into one of the conference halls that is decked out like a forest. There is a bridge over a stream as we enter, trees all over, and a Camel Trophy Discovery just to add atmosphere. Three tables are set out with a grand verity of food for our dinner. This tradition carries on for the rest of the event nothing is second rate, only the best.
Bill Baker steps to the podium and introduces the G-4 video, the room is crackling with excitement, as the video ends a G-4 Discovery bursts through what appeared to be a wall initially. The people pushing are the judges for the event, Camel Trophy team members as well as experts from various fields, the fitness judge is an ex navy Seal commander.
Next all the competitors are introduced; each has a brief bio read and is give a jersey with their name and number. We all gather around the discovery for a picture. Some socializing follows and more food is offered up. I wish I could eat more but my stomach just isn’t into is, 101 sized butterflies are taking up all the room. I make my way back to my room at this point to try and get some sleep since I have to be up a 3:00 am to get my stuff together to be at the athlete’s village by 4:00.
Did you know the sun isn’t up at 3:00, neither is my wife initially, she waves good bye as I leave the room to walk to the village, 2 km early in the morning is quite refreshing, my cigar is good too, I brought some really good ones along for the trip, but only one for my walk to the play place.
A resort truck slows down to offer me a ride, I tell them no since I want to enjoy the morning, the sun still is in hiding below the horizon. Seems the truck was delivering the morning coffee, Starbucks no less, as well as various goodies to munch on. Another table is covered with Cliff energy products for our use, I grabbed a bunch, and you never know when these might come in handy.
The morning started off with tent assignment, my tent partner is a chiropractor, how handy; I hope I don’t need him professionally.<
Once the gear is stowed we gather to find out what is next, maps are handed out, with the explanation the terrain in Vegas tends to change minute-to-minute depending on the cash flow. This is to explain why the lake, that we are camped beside, is hand drawn on the maps. Seems that the lake was just made 2 years ago. The maps come with a Mylar grid sheet and a baggie for storage, so I do.
We are directed to meet at the start line as soon as we can get there. The fun is about to begin so I head for the start line, where we are informed we get to go for a run as a warm-up. Simple really just follow the ATV and we have 2 hours to finish this event. At this point I am thinking ‘I don’t run on anything considered regularly and not for more than maybe 100 feet’, this can’t be good. Off goes the ATV and following are us lemmings. Down the dirt road, the pack starts to pull away, quickly they are out of sight, I guess I will follow the tracks. Tow runners are about 300 yards ahead of me, not runners either I guess as we start down a wash another ATV come up behind me and motions I should turn right at the bottom, the other two have run up the hill straight ahead, so right I go. To make a long story about a really sad run short the run went all the way around the lake, about 16 km total, I managed to run for about half the distance, but I did make it in before the two-hour limit was up.
Next event for me was a Time-Speed—Distance driving exercise, our judge was Tom Shepard of Camel Trophy fame. Wow a Land Rover hero, I’ve died and gone to heaven. Being brain dead from running so far I managed to screw up an otherwise simple task of figuring out times at various points on the trail. I did manage to shine with the tulip chart navigation; we did this last May at the Adventure Team Challenge. Out in the desert we stopped to do a GPS navigation test; Tom entered coordinates into the GPS and we had to find the spot as fast as possible, great more running. All three of us managed to get this done quickly and we headed back to the tent village.
Next up was a recovery exercise. A 110 was up to its axles in a small pond, a Discovery was parked as a rigging point and another was the winch truck. The object was to spool out the wire, rig a snatch block and pull the 110 out of the pond without hitting some poles. Then re-spool the cable correctly, sounds easy, give it a try with some one watching while on the clock.
A quick run, only about 1.5 km this time puts us back in the village for a quick change for some swimming. It’s only about 45 degrees I hope the pool is heated. I haven’t done any serious swimming since swim team in High school, how hard can this be, very it turns out. I drag my sorry but out of the pool, towel off and run down to the beach. Kayak time, this will be fun; I think I was in one of these things once. The idea is to paddle down the lake keeping the floatie markers on the right, and then back keeping them on the left. Turns out to be almost as far as we ran this morning and I spent most of the time paddling in circles. At about ¾ of the way through the chase boat wanted to tow me in, not likely, I will turn around and paddle no way they are going to tow me.
Another 2 km run back to the village, change into something dry, and we get to go for a bike ride in the desert, about 20 km, this will be easy, I love mountain biking. Typical course all up, even the downs where up. Most of the down tracks where through washes which had a sandy gravel base about 6 inches deep, pedal or push up and pedal down just to keep moving. Nasty course, I love it. At the 15 km point after doing a really good bale on a down hill I got to hop, fall off the bike and climb up a messa type thing about 200 feet high. Once at the top I put on my climbing harness, clipped in and repelled down the sheer face. This is just like riding a bike you never forget, survival instinct more like it. At the bottom I stumble back to the bike and push it up the hill, I’ll take the harness off once I get back to the village.
Back at the village I finally get my rotation through some driving skill tests. First is an autocross drive through the cones in a Freelander. Two laps as fast as possible without hitting any of the cones, which I swear, move when you aren’t looking. Next was an RTV trials in a new Discovery, very tight course, timed with reversing allowed, penalty time for each stick you hit. I hit two so I got a 10 seconds added to my time. The next RTV was in a Range Rover, now that is one cool truck, traction control is awesome, just like lockers. The hill decent control was outstanding, flip a paddle to activate, shift into low, tuck your feet under the seat and let the truck take you down the hill. I went down slower that I could have walked, slide more like. This part of the competition ended too soon, time fly’s it’s almost sunset, where has the day gone? Back at the village we get a list of coordinates for the orienteering exercise, there is also a clue to the location of each stamp. I decided to make a run for the helipad we ran across this morning, my brain just isn’t working very well by this time, and they keep asking me if I’m all right. Nice of them, I’m still walking so I am still competing. On the way to the helipad I get a bonus stamp, yippi I get two, one more than some, this is good. Back at the village we are directed to wait around the tents until we are called, the food for dinner is out, no we can’t have any till we are called. Ok what ever you say. Within 5 minutes I am called over to a table, they take my stamp card and ask me to write my name on the top of a page in a note book. My name, let me think, right Kevin that’s it. It is explained to me I will have 5 seconds to look at the card when it is turned over, then 15 seconds to write down as many as I can remember, I got 6 of 10.
Dinnertime, and what a spread they put on too. There was just about anything a realty tired competitor could want; potatoes two types, onion rings sausage, brisket, salad, veggies, Starbucks coffee, 2 types of pie, all in all very yummy.
After we all ate so much we could hardly move, we gathered around a fire pit to try to keep warm, the temperature was about 30 degrees with a steady southwest wind. It gets really cold in the desert at night.
Next on the schedule was night driving, two groups of three went out at a time for a 45-minute run. Nice to get some down time but I was to hyped to sleep and too cold to stand still. I had put on a couple more layers and my wind suite, which helped a bit, but I was beginning to look like the Michelin man.
My turn came to drive about 2:30 am, and as soon as I got in the Range Rover I turned on the seat heater, are they ever nice, warmed me up in no time. We headed out to play in some washes, about 20 feet deep and very twisty. The desert looks very different at night. We covered driving on rocks, loose gravel and talk like sand, the Range Rover took it all in stride, the traction control behaving like automatic lockers whenever traction was an issue. The lights which where mounted on the roof rack turned the area ahead of the truck into daylight, very bright daylight, which presented it’s own set of problems. There was a very high contrast between lighted and shadow in front of the truck; caution was the name of the game.
Upon arrival back at the village we huddled around the fire pit to wait for the last group to go out to play. We traded stories of our previous adventures, most of the other competitors where adventure racers who agreed this event were one of the toughest events they had ever done. When the last group rolled in those of us who where still awake got to wake up all the others, it was about 4:00 am by this time and there was another adventure awaiting us. Once again we where split up into teams, this time for a scavenger hunt. GPS units where handed out, one to each team, and we where given co-ordinates of where we where to go, what we where to bring back would be on a note card at the location. As luck would have it our spot was in the direction of the helipad I had been to twice already today, we tried to jog to the location, but it was more of a stumble, we where all very tired and sore. I was right we where going back to the pad, but not quite about 50 yard before the turnoff the GPS indicated straight ahead into the desert. Up the hill we went only to find that a really deep wash was on the other side. The good news was that there was a stake in the ground with some streamers flapping in the wind. The bad news was that the stake was on top of what appeared to be a somewhat less than stable gravel mound. Tow of us stayed atop the hill to light the area while three went to investigate. The note said; retrieve the ramps. What ramps? The ramps where hidden half way down the other side, thankfully made of aluminum. We took turns carrying an end as we made out way back to the village. By now it is about 5:30 and we are beginning to wonder what the stuff was for. Others had brought back a wet suite, a length of rope, recovery bits; snatch blocks and shackles. One group had gas cans and a tire with lug nuts and wrench. This was beginning to look nasty since on a raft about 75 feet off shore there was a Freelander on a raft with a missing wheel. The last group arrived about 6:15 with a canister, a note inside explained we where to recover the Freelander, put the wheel back on, get in onto the shore and up no a mound of rocks the was a display area for the G-4 trucks. Gas it up and get it started before 8:00, we could only use what we had found on the hunt. A couple of people got volunteered to put on the wet suites, they fit them, and out they swam to attach the rope to the raft to pull it in. I grabbed the snatch blocks to get the rigging started, as I was the only one with any experience with recovery. Once on shore the ramp where attached and as soon as the tire was back on the truck it was pushed off the raft. With everyone pulling getting the truck to the mound was easy, no way we where going to push it up. Two snatch blocks on the Freelander and two on the Discovery on the mound made for quick work whit very little effort. We poured a can of gas into the tank and fired it up with two minutes to spare. We broke into a rousing rendition of Oh Canada as we where told we where done. Everyone gathered there kit together and headed back to the resort, the plan to meet in the hot tub as soon as possible. I arrived back at my room to find my wife tucked in the warm bed, after some good natured kidding about hanging in the desert all night, I headed to the hot tub, with a good cigar as a reward.
I sat and soaked for 30 minutes, after which resembling a prune but a warm one I headed to the hall Land Rover had set up for participants to get a bit of breakfast. Coffee and muffins for starts, followed by eggs and bacon toast and jam, I was beginning to feel human again.
We gathered again at 11:00 for a closing banquette, on the back terrace over looking the lagoon behind the resort. All the competitors received a good bag of stuff including a water bottle, a G-4 pin, t-shirt, hat and key fob. I love souvenirs. A buffet lunch was available, which was quite yummy. We all received a participation trophy and awards where given out in various categories.
When it was all over and we where saying out good buys a very special thing happened. The guy who was judging our fitness, the former base commander of the Seal base In San Diego, walked straight over to me, shook my hand and said; “well done”. That alone made the whole trip worthwhile.
The Land Rover G-4 qualifier event was something to remember for a life time, and I want to thank everyone involved for putting on a fantastic event. I am looking forward to next year, when I will try again to qualify to go on to the next round, and represent Canada in the main event, in fact I am already training for just that. Happy Rovering.
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