I returned to work this morning at Rovers North from The Muddy Chef Challenge in Manchester Vermont. This morning commute was pretty similar to most commutes; head down I-89, yell at people on their cell phones, stop and get a large iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts, and sing along to Katy Perry’s Firework way too loudly. The only difference this morning was that I had stop by one of those self clean car washes. You know the ones I’m talking about; You swipe your credit card and for $4 it will allow you to for 10 minutes soap up the outside of your car, rinse the car with a pressure washer, clean the wheels with some anti brake dust chemical that doesn’t work at all, and finally spray on some liquid wax. The only difference was this morning I had to swipe my card 4 times, for a total of $16 and 40 minutes of elapsed time… and the project LR3 still isn’t clean.
Let’s rewind a bit though. As many of you know, Rovers North now has Project Revelation that we acquired a few weeks ago (you can read about it here). We have spent the last few weeks frantically fixing a lot of it’s little gremlins, and bolting on prototypes of a few of our upcoming accessories to it; all in hopes of getting to take it down to Muddy Chef. The day before we were supposed to leave, we were fitting new upper and lower front control arms and then getting it aligned. We completed everything we could have possibly hoped, except for fitting a set of real tires. Nonetheless, we set off for the two and a half hour drive to Manchester.
On the road the LR3 felt like a new car with the Rovers North 2-inch lift bars and 4 new front control arms. It no longer clunked when changing speeds or direction, and the added height had not affected the handling or road manners. Apart from having to wake Dillon up way too early for his liking, swerving a few times to test the suspension, and losing our connection to Pandora, it was a fairly uneventful drive.
Around 9:45 we pulled into the Orvis parking lot and saw a few stragglers like ourselves still at the registration booth. Once registered we headed over to the campsite where the rest of the Land Rover owners were already queuing up after attending the safety meeting. We are consummate professionals so we don’t really need safety training anyway. Plus the organizers already had us sign away our souls on a form some lawyer wrote up in size 8 font. This year at Muddy Chef the off-roading included varying levels of terrain there were trails for beginners as well as advanced courses for the more experienced crowd. There were other events as well including falconry, fly fishing with new Orvis gear, and target shooting some fancy air rifles. We soon saw that Gene, another Rovers North employee, about to lead a run down a few intermediate trails. It seemed that we had done such a smashing job of fitting the control arms, it would be flat out irresponsible of us not to fully test them. So we got in line behind a few Disco 2s, a Discovery Sport, and a couple of Defenders.
The first group of cars set off in search of the intermediate trails, soon got lost in the back road of Vermont and had to turn around in a parking lot. After everyone else had turned left back onto the road, the traffic caught up and we ended up 5 or 6 cars behind everyone. Then the inevitable happened. The group went through a few twisties and once we were through, they had vanished. We did the only thing we could do, return to camp with our heads hung in despair.
We parked the LR3 back at the Rovers North booth with the rest of the vendors and proceeded to wander around the camp talking to people and playing with dogs. While walking down one of the rows of tents we hear “Hey are you Dillon from Instagram?” That’s when we met Matt from NYC and his group that was planning on going off-roading on their own. Their group had a new Range Rover L405 in it, so we thought how hard could it be. Not soon after we set off as a group in hunt of some decent off-roading only armed with the minimalist map in the Muddy Chef magazine. It was at this point we realized a glaring fault with our project LR3… We had not fitted it with a CB radio and for those of you that have visited Vermont, you know the cell signal is less reliable than an oil pan gasket on a Disco 2. That’s when a very kind member of the group offered to relay messages over this:
At about 1pm we finally found the trailhead we were looking for and we set off down the trail with LR3 occupied by Dillon and I; following a black Range Rover Classic piloted by Matt and Robert; a blue lifted Chevrolet 2500HD driven by Ashley and Connie; a red Defender 90 (affectionately known as Blue the red Rover) containing Jeff and Dave; a green Defender 90 wielded by Tim, Gina, and Forrester; and finally a new shiny black Range Rover guided by Konstantine and Sara.
It was a relatively unchallenging trail for the first ten minutes until we hit a fairly rocky climb that ended with a turn over an exposed culvert. All of the trucks made it through without much drama until it was the LR3’s turn. It would be the first time that the tires would let down the truck that day. The all-season tires just didn’t provide enough grip for the car to both climb up a slippery rocky surface and turn at the same time. It took going forward and backwards a few times until it was a straight shot. It was followed by Blue the red D90 that had a lot more tire spinning then I would expect from a Defender; more on that later. Lastly the L405 took off up the trail. It made it the whole way up without any difficulty on basically the same tires as the LR3. Which goes to show you how much better the terrain response system from Land Rover keeps getting better with each version. Or you can take away from it what Dillon did, that it was driver error in the LR3 that caused all the issues. I think he’s just upset he didn’t get to drive and jealousy isn’t a good look on him.
We proceeded down the trail without event for another 30 minutes or so. Passing over a few mud puddles and narrow sections but nothing to write home about. It’s at this point that we came to a fork in the road. The group came to a stop and consulted the unhelpful map and phones without any signal. Left headed up the hill and looked more fun. Right sloped down and looked pretty boring. It didn’t take long before we all agreed that we’re probably supposed to hang a left, plus we had 4 hours until we had to be back to see the Chopped cooking challenge at Orvis, so we had plenty of time.
Then things started to get interesting and much much slower. We were having to stop every few hundred feet to help guide each other through difficult areas of the trail and wait for our turn. This is about the point the tires really started to struggle and no amount of Land Rover Terrain Response System dark magic could overcome the incline and muddy rocks. It was about this point that I employed the Jeremy Clarkson approach, turned off traction control and just applied liberal amounts of the long skinny pedal.
A few hours into our adventure we came across the best thing we would see all day as fully grown mature adults; a really really big puddle. As you probably have guessed, this puddle is the main reason why the LR3 still is not completely clean as I write this.
Every car made it through the mud pit and the only casualty, besides smell, was the front license plate of the Range Rover went missing; never to be seen again.
Things continued to get rockier and steeper as we forged on. It was at a particularly steep section that we realized that even if we headed back at that moment we would be lucky to make it back in time for the cooking challenge. Sadly we decided to head back without finishing the entire trail, but we did get to catch the last 10 minutes and judging of that night’s contest. Contestants that night were given 1 hour to prepare a dish that had to use a surprise list of ingredients including duck breast. The Madison Motors team prepared the winning dish.
After tasting a few of the dishes we made our way back to the campsite for the night. As we drove through camp, many attendees were staring at our vehicles and some were even stopping us asking where we went (because it looked like fun). We wrapped up the night by cooking and chatting around campfires. Some of the families made their way to the local carnival on the other side of the field. Most stayed behind waiting for the “bar” to open in the vendor section of the campsite.
The following morning began slow but many people were lined up ready for more events in their Land Rovers. Over the PA system, someone made an announcement to inform anyone headed for the intermediate trails, to be sure to turn right at the fork. As they put it, “a group took a left yesterday and got lost for five hours on the wrong trail”. I would disagree with that. It was more like five and a half hours and we knew exactly where we were – somewhere in southern Vermont.
Since I had spent the entire day prior enjoying myself on the trails, I decided I should probably do my job and stay behind to get photographs of the campsite and meet some customers. At about 4pm everyone started returning from their events and began prepping for the main event: The Muddy Chef Challenge. Everyone would be prepping an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Each contest would be judged by a different set of judges, which is a good thing because it seems like every contestant’s course came with another cocktail. I’m not sure how they were walking; let alone running a judging tablet by the end of each round.
I walked around taking photographs, observing a myriad of different cooking techniques (including using swivel balls as weights instead of bricks), and watching the judges testing all the dishes. The whole time I was wandering the campsite I was not so secretly hoping for a Gordon Ramsey style temper tantrum, but unfortunately everyone was nice and having a great time.
Soon judging was over, it was 8pm, and it was time for me to head back to Burlington for the night. Awards wouldn’t be given out until the following morning but I had a crazy basset hound to tend to. I started saying my goodbyes but kept stopping to talk to people. It wasn’t until about 11pm when I finally hit the road heading home wishing there was another day of Muddy Chef, but I guess I will just have to wait until next year’s rally.
By Steven Herr
Photography by Dillon Bonk
Chopped at the Muddy Chef Challenge
- Madison Motors
- Team Samosa
- Hungover Rovers
- Dark and Stormy
- Team Samosa
- Guns and Grills
- Land and Sea Rover
- Drive the Globe
- The Maple Blondies
- Old Blue
- Drive the Globe
- Team Samosa
- Guns and Grills
- Team Samosa
- Team America