This past Presidents' Day weekend saw Land Rover owners and enthusiasts traveling hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of miles for the 88s Annual Maine Winter Romp. One of our favorite events, the "Romp," as it is known, continues to grow in popularity every year. It's quite amazing to see how many people show up, given that temperatures can easily dip down to 25 or 30 degrees (F) below zero. This year, however, Winter Romp took place under some of the mildest weather that it has ever seen. Daytime temperatures climbed above freezing, making for some of the most pleasant times on the trails imaginable.
Heading down the powerline hill: Steve Ostrovitz Photo
As is usually the case, the improved weather conditions in no way made the trails any more or less difficult overall. The fact is that every change in temperature brings with it changes in the consistency of the snow. It can go from densely packed, where your tires almost ride on top of a crust, to loose and dry with the consistency of soap flakes or cornstarch. That makes obstacles, like the hydro cut/power line hill, easily done at some times of the day, and almost impossible at others. It challenged preparations, where at times it was better to have those radials try and float across the snowpack with some traction, versus dig down in search of (frozen) dirt. No solution was perfect, or lasted the day.
The growth of Winter Romp has now reached a new stage. It has taken on a life of its own. Unlike most events, this one has no fee for attendance. Organizer Bruce Fowler prefers that participants spend their money in the local businesses in the region. The restaurants, bars, hotels, and other businesses have all come to rely on, and very much look forward to, the influx of visitors during a time that is otherwise very slow for them. Bruce also insists that no commercial interests be associated with the event. Another guiding principle is that Rompers are encouraged to take responsibility for their own fun, comfort, safety, and overall preparedness while out and about and on the trails. These guiding principles are what has allowed the event to grow and evolve in a healthy way, without the distractions and inevitable conflict of more commodified, profit-driven events. Compared to a half-dozen vehicles in the first year, one count placed the estimated number of vehicles at one hundred and thirty (130), making it the largest Land Rover gathering on the east coast of North America for the year.
In addition to the influx of cash for local businesses during the event itself, on a number of weekends prior to the event, volunteers come from all over New England to help clear and prepare the trails. The event is in a watershed that is inaccessible from Spring to early Autumn. During that time, trails become overgrown, and trees and branches fall. The clearing and trail building over the years has resulted in a fairly dense network of trails that have a seemingly magical ability to absorb all of the vehicles without too many traffic jams.
Driving trails with names such as Screaming Eagle leads one to obstacles such as the “Pit of Despair”. One trail has a “Bypass” trail to avoid a swampy bit that a habit of chewing on vehicles. Of course, there is a “Bypass to the Bypass”, and if that is not concerning enough, then there is the “Triple Bypass” trail. The PowerLine Trail, connecting the Dickey Road to the endpoints of the Ridge Trail and Screaming Eagle trails has a hill climb that challenges the best drivers, depending on the time of day. A thick layer of corn-starch snow made speed and finesse important at trying to climb the hill, and people tried all day long, many making it, many others going the long way around to reach the party at the top of the hill.
John and Peter McKelvey's Series One 80" strikes a fetching pose: Dixon Kenner photo
Nearly every generation of Land Rovers was represented on the trails. There was a 1951 Series One 80-inch, the usual assortment of Series II and III 88s and 109s, at least one LR4, and even a full-size Range Rover and a Supercharged Range Rover Sport. We didn't see any Velars or Autobiography editions, and no Freelanders or Evoques. By far the most popular were the Series One and Two Discoveries.
A few brave souls ventured out in the newer Land Rover models including this L322 Range Rover: Adam Check photo
The Discoveries also would take home the champion title for most broken differentials. The author counted at least ten that were destroyed on the trails. The same, if not more half shafts, let alone a grocery list of other parts that went, either through bad luck (water pump), or bouncing into an ice wall (body panels).
Heavy-footed participants contemplate a broken rear-end: Dixon Kenner photo
The Winter Romp is not all trails and off-roading. The dinners and other meals out and about around Waterville made for great social occasions to catch up with people and start planning this year’s event calendar. There was even a warming tent by the Dickey Road, staffed by Habitat for Humanity, offering heat, hot chili, coffee, tea, and snacks for people looking for a break.
Some interesting footnotes:
Words by Dixon Kenner: Ottawa, Ontario
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