“It’s like ‘Survivor,’” Tommy Mica – The Fast Lane Car (TFL) – told me as we rode in the car from the airport.
We were on our way to the Marriot in Montvale, NJ, about to embark on the Land Rover TReK event for 2022. This wasn’t an ordinary press trip. Instead of a lavish hotel and a relaxing drive, we would spend the next two days completing challenges and off-roading through the woods of Manchester, VT, behind the wheel of a Land Rover Defender.
What is Land Rover TReK?
Tommy Mica was on the winning team at last year’s TReK event. His team threw down an impressive performance and even beat out former Olympian Lindsey Vonn’s team. I picked his brain about what was to come. After pondering a little, he said, “I don’t think me being in the event last year is going to help at all.”
I felt like he was being coy, but I believed him. In reality, neither of us knew what we were in for.
I only knew this was the same challenge that 100 Land Rover dealership teams from across the U.S. would partake in for the TReK qualifying trials. The course is designed to educate sales and service technicians on the product in its natural habitat. It’s filled with different challenges that test the participant’s navigation, off-road driving, and team collaboration. After the trials, the winning teams would then compete against each other in the finals.
We were in the automotive media wave — comprised of 15 auto journalists — that got to experience what those brave souls would go through.
The first day of the Land Rover TReK 2022 event tested our physical and mental fortitude
After a good night’s sleep at the hotel, our first day started with a brief overview of the challenge and splitting everyone into five teams of three. I was teamed up with Justin Westbrook from MotorTrend and Caleb Miller from Car and Driver. Considering their prestigious publications, I figured I was in good company. The three of us were given jerseys that said “Team 2” on them.
When the challenge coordinators asked what our team name was – thinking we would come up with something catchy – we replied, “Team Two. But you have to spell out the 2.”
The challenge initially kicked off with a relay race around the Jaguar Land Rover headquarters. The run was filled with obstacles that included an army crawl underneath a cargo net, a balance beam, scaling a five-foot wall, and a tire run. After that, it was a long sprint around the rest of the building.
I thought I was doing well — while desperately gasping for breath — until I got lapped by Tommy Mica, who casually jogged by me and said, “good job.” Thanks, Tommy; I think I can feel my lungs coming through my throat.
His team came in first; mine did not.
The real TReK challenge began after getting into the Land Rover Defender
After the race, we got into our cars for the weekend, which were kitted-out Land Rover Defender 110s, complete with ladders, power winches, refrigerators, water cans, car wraps, and rooftop tents. There were a couple more challenges at the JLR headquarters where we had to drive around a coned course going forward and reverse using only the memorized directions of the navigator in the passenger seat.
I was the navigator, and unfortunately, I couldn’t remember all of the directions. Afterward, we partnered with another team to push an old Land Rover on a wood plank and rollers. Fortunately, we fared better at that task.
The long haul to the campsite
The easiest part of the day was when we finally set off to the campsite. All the teams were given Map Quest-like directions printed out on paper, and the challenge was to hit all of the points as close to the mile markings as possible while getting to the destination quickly. It was a four-hour drive, but our team did pretty well despite missing one turn.
We did have to stop at one point to complete other challenges that involved pulling the Land Rover by its winch across a line, driving in a specific sequence using a compass to map out the coordinates, driving through a coned course with a trailer in tow, and taking the spare tire off the Land Rover and carrying it through a course and putting back on the car in less than 15 minutes.
The challenges didn’t end at the campsite
By the end of the day, we were physically and mentally exhausted. But it didn’t end when we got to the campsite. Our next challenge was to go food shopping, come back to set up camp, and then cook appetizers for three judges that would score us on quality, plate presentation, and creativity.
We made pork sliders with sriracha aioli, jalapenos, and a fried egg on an onion bun. Gordon Ramsey would have been proud. Especially since we did it all in the dark.
Finally, it was time to sleep. It’s too bad there was a concert nearby blaring live music that consisted of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits. It’s amazing how many songs of hers I know.
The second day of the TReK challenge was more about the Land Rover Defender 110
After an OK night’s sleep, all of the teams had to do another relay race. This time, it was a one-mile run through the forest and over rocky land features. Our team did pretty well. After that, we went through another series of challenges that mainly involved driving the Land Rover Defender.
Is the Defender good off-road?
Our best challenge was when each team member had to drive the car around an off-road course and match the time set by the first teammate. The hard part was that we weren’t told what the original time was, so the other two members had to guesstimate how fast to complete the course. We were only 14 seconds off.
Another challenge was driving the car over small peaks and valleys to touch hanging cones to a sticker placed on the car’s windshield. I drove while my teammates stood outside the car and shouted out steering directions.
I learned quickly that it’s hard to follow directions when two people are shouting “Left! Left!” when they really mean turning the steering wheel to the right. We completed the task nonetheless.
The easiest challenge was when we had to use a compass to find wood planks that formed a small bridge for the Land Rover Defender to drive across. It was timed and scored, and it felt like we did well.
The Land Rover Defender did well through every challenge. While driving, I noticed that the 296-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder engine had no issues going up the steep inclines. Also, the car’s air suspension and hill descent control came in handy when driving over some of the rocky terrain.
After completing the tasks that day, we drove three hours back to headquarters to clean up and find out who won the overall challenge.
At the end of the Land Rover TReK challenge, the results were both surprising and not-so-surprising
Unsurprisingly, Tommy’s team won again.
But the weekend’s biggest surprise was that we did come in third place. I’ll take it, considering we mainly set out to complete the challenges as best we could while doing our best to conserve our energy. (Read: Not trying that hard)
Ultimately, it was a fun off-roading weekend that challenged everyone physically and mentally. The Land Rover TReK challenge was less about the car and more about the stressful problem solving that the retail employees have to endure on daily basis, only in the form of Survivor-like tests. It also gives them an idea of what the Defender 110 can do.
I can see why many Land Rover enthusiasts love their cars, as the Defender 110 was impressive. It handled all of the dirty, muddy, and rutty obstacles and highway driving without missing a beat.
But it still was not as impressive as “Team Two,” who took home third place that weekend. Our fancy appetizer even got second place. I guess we really did try, after all.