Northern California's Mendo_Recce email list, a long-standing Internet Land Rover community, held its 25th annual Joe Lucas Not-a-Rallye, making it one of the very few Land Rover events in North America to celebrate an event every year, without fail, for a quarter century.
Mendo started in late 1994 as a suggestion from Granville Pool, a long-time Northern California Land Rover owner, to replicate an enjoyable mid-1980s spring weekend Land Rover camping trip to the Mendocino National Forest. Granville made the proposal on the Land Rover Owners mailing list ("LRO"), the premier method of online communication for Land Rover owners in the 1990s. Several Northern California owners replied, and arranged a first research trip in autumn 1994. They had fun, reported the details on the LRO list, and proposed a second reconnaissance. Ben Smith, then living in Southern California, thought it looked fun, wanted to come along, and set up an email list for the second trip to avoid a clunky list of Reply All email addresses. He used the throwaway list name "mendo_recce" to plan the reconnaissance. After the trip, everyone found they were enjoying the mailing list, and asked Ben to keep it around. It was used to arrange the first event in April 1995, and the now-beloved apocryphal name stuck. It now numbers several hundred members and is a buzzing daily staple of many Land Rover owners' inboxes.
It wasn't without changes this year. In August 2018, the Mendocino National Forest was devastated by the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest forest fire by area in California's recorded history. The traditional site, an unimproved campground deep inside the forest, was damaged. The forest is currently closed until at the least July 2020 to deal with deadfall trees and allow soils to heal.
In the wake of the fires, long-time Mendo list member John Brabyn offered the use of his 400-acre ranch, Salmon Creek Ranch, in Bodega Bay, California. About an hour and a half north of San Francisco, in Sonoma County. Salmon Creek Ranch has another tie to Land Rover history -- it was the site of Trek 1999, a proto-Camel Trophy event pitting North American Land Rover dealers against each other through the 1990s and 2000s. Much of the event site is still intact, and one of the members, an employee of a Bay Area dealer in the 1990s and participant in the event, gave us a walking tour of the elements of the event that remain twenty years later.
I've been attending Mendo for several years now, and have been a member of the list a few years longer. Last year, I drove my 1994 Discovery 1 out, a 2-week, 7100-mile endeavour from New Jersey to California. This year, like I usually do, I flew out. Although Mendo is nominally a Northern California group, a significant number of attendees come from far afield. This year, four attendees flew in -- two of us came from New Jersey (including myself and Ben, who moved back east in the early 2000s but maintains a solid long-distance attendance record), one expatriate Californian came from his exile in Portland, and one member from the Denver area flew in on 18 hours' notice and a heck of a lot of United Airlines miles. People also frequently make long-haul roadtrips from across the West Coast. This year there were a number of attendees driving a day each way from the Los Angeles area and various parts of Oregon. The plurality of the membership comes from the Bay Area and greater Sacramento.
Traditionally Mendo is entirely and intentionally unorganized, but this year we had a very vague schedule of events. In addition to the tour of the Trek '99 sites, we also held a Downhill Slow Race. The goal: put your truck in first gear and low range, and turn off all driving aids on modern trucks (most importantly Hill Descent Control). The slowest descent wins. The results were surprising. After a pair of Series Is with modified drivetrains, the third place Land Rover was a Series IIA 109" station wagon. After that, only 0.03 seconds faster (fast being less desirable), was an L405 Range Rover Supercharged, with an insanely low first gear/low range ratio.
The highlight of Mendo every year is without fail the Saturday night potluck, a bacchanale of good eating cooked on a campstove. A few people have a traditional recipe, others take the chance to experiment. You've got to be quick, because some of the most talked about dishes are gone in seconds. After dinner, the evening concluded with a big group campfire, a few toasts, and a long night of music and joy. A few awards were also given out, for everything from "highest number of functional electrical systems" (given to a fly-in attendee's rental Nissan Sentra) to "fewest unneeded modifications," "most authentic natural patina," and "classiest Land Rover".
With the Mendocino National Forest still healing, where Mendo will be next year is unknown, but it'll definitely draw me across the country again, by plane or road, wherever it is. It's one of the most low-key, low-drama, traditional, friendly, and welcoming Land Rover events out there.
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