The release of the 2020 Land Rover Defender in North America is coming up fast, and with it comes an innovative way for the brand to inspire dealership staff and employees alike for selling Land Rover’s latest off-road machine. Introducing Land Rover TReK 2020: a two-day competition consisting of various challenges and tests of physical ability, including off-roading in a Land Rover Discovery.
That’s right: Discovery. This was just the first step in a series of preliminary and qualifying competitions that will ultimately culminate with one conducted with the new Defender. It’s a highly-concentrated way for dealership staff, plus a small group of guinea pigs – insert Canadian media – to get acquainted with the revived program.
“She the North”
I joined two other Canadian female automotive media on the “She the North” team as we made our way down to Asheville, North Carolina, where the Biltmore Estate awaited our arrival. An 8,000-acre property consisting of farm animals, gated entry, winery, resort-like hotel and day-entry park use, the Biltmore Estate impressed us immediately. With its lush forests, and mountain tops peaking all around, our driver meandered around a small pond and the canopy opened up to a small “city” where Land Rover has set up its newest Experience, aptly named “Biltmore”.
We checked in with the Land Rover registration team, who suggested that we could relax and enjoy our free time for the next few hours exploring the grounds. Not us. We gathered in the lounge of the restaurant where the WIFI was strong and began perusing Google searches for mini refresher courses on the tasks that lay ahead. Winch use. High-Lift Jack tips. Garmin GPS helpful hints.
We were going to be ready.
Later that afternoon, we were shuttled on a 15-minute drive through the wilderness to our campsite, where scattered atop a hillside were a dozen or so yellow-orange four-person tents. No coddling Biltmore hotel rooms for us!
We were also given a care package when we registered, which included our team pants, shirt, reflective piny, baseball cap and head lamp to be used for our challenges the following day.
During dinner, teams were allowed some one-on-one time with the Land Rover team responsible for putting this experience together, and with the staff that outfitted the vehicles with the equipment we would be using the next day.
My priority was to corner a technician and discuss the winch system fitted to the Discovery. I’ve spent enough time off-roading to know the basics of winch use, and that learning a winch’s operation before you need it is a smart move, but this system was a new one for me.
Encased in a metal bumper, only the D-clamp at the end of a nylon rope was visible at the front of the Discovery, making me wonder not only how to operate the system, but how well this system will work once you’ve driven through two feet of muddy water, not to mention snow or freezing rain like what we get back home in Canada.
Fishing around through a tiny slot to find a plastic toggle lever is how you power the winch on or off and some rummaging through the storage compartment in the back of the vehicle revealed the remote control, which gets plugged into the dash within the cabin. Phew. We’ve got this!
On to the next challenge: learning how to use a High-Lift Jack. I’d seen them before, and from what I’ve heard, they're a lot of weight to carry around if you don’t use them often. I’ve never used one, nor had I seen one being used, so I requested some instruction. An interesting trick we did learn with the Hi-Lift, is that it can be used to raise a vehicle or object to a certain height, and, it can be used as a come-along as well – in other words, a winch.
If your winch breaks or your cable gets twisted – or as I mentioned earlier, full of muddy water or snow – you could use a hi-lift jack to slowly move your vehicle forwards, one leveraging crank at a time.
Third item on the list was to locate and operate the Scissor Jack found in the rear cargo compartment of the vehicle. Upon thorough review of the tasks and challenges we may face the following day, we were certain changing a tire was one of them, so we wanted to make sure we knew where all the components were to do so. We found the location of the jack, and quickly identified its accessories and how to operate it. Now we could sleep easy knowing we were as prepared as we could ever be. Ha!
After a restless night’s sleep in the tent, we emerged to find a row of Discoveries lined up ready for the day’s adventures. The morning’s first challenge was a simultaneous run, bike and kayak to a designated point, where we would receive a four-letter word – we hoped – to unlock the padlock that chained our Discovery to a fence post across the way. I was the runner; roughly 5 km, uphill for not quite half of it, to receive my four-letter word: “DIRT”.
I was the first to arrive back at our chained-up vehicle, where turning the dials on the padlock to spell out the word “DIRT” opened our padlock. Voila. As soon as Lorraine and Lesley made it back to the vehicle, having also completed their “warmup” activities, we were off on our own into the wilderness, toward our first “Challenge.” As if what we’d just completed hadn’t been challenging!
As our team set out to tackle the first of 12 challenges in total, each with 60 minutes to complete, we had some company. Turns out the events’ camera crew wanted to come along with us to get some of the day’s first shots. Sure. No problem. We should have realized we had picked a tough challenge and that’s why they wanted to tag along. Lo and behold, it was indeed a tire change. Good thing we knew where that Scissor Jack was.
Each of the challenges required teamwork, meaning that we all had to work together to complete the task or activity based in or around the outfitted Discovery. We had to navigate to each challenge checkpoint, by way of GARMIN GPS and a very basic laminated Google Map of the area giving us a 30,000-ft view of the estate, so communication in the vehicle was key.
Once we arrived at the challenge checkpoint, we were directed by Land Rover staff, who would explain the task at hand. There was A LOT of reading between the lines. If we didn’t work as a team, we couldn’t complete the challenge, which meant we didn’t gain points. One down, 11 to go. Off we went to the next challenge, satisfied – we thought – to have completed the hardest and most time-consuming task out of the 12. Turns out, it really was the easiest!
One of the other challenges our team faced included one called “Rat Trap” where we had to drive the Discovery into a hexagonal space, marked with upright black posts; then, turn the vehicle around and drive out the way we came in WITHOUT touching the uprights. Let me tell you, you haven’t done a 50-point turn until you’ve tried to maneuver out of a hexagonally shaped space in a massively bulging SUV.
Another challenge was to build a bridge. Literally! Build a bridge out of planks provided, drive the Discovery over it, then take it all apart for the next team. While that may sound like an easy thing to do, the wood was 2-inch-thick green Oak, cut in varying lengths and widths, which we have to fit together like a puzzle to create a somewhat solid “bridge” to drive over. Did I mention there was a Land Rover logo – in colour – that had to be visible on the upper side of this bridge? It was a life-size puzzle.
The TReK competition isn’t new to Land Rover or its employees but it hasn't been conducted since 2003. The return of the program is a great way to expose Land Rover’s front-line staff to the nuances of its vehicles and essentially pass that experience on to potential buyers visiting showrooms. Of course, Land Rover is hoping for some good ol’ team-building over the course of the two-day event as well.
The 53, three-person teams from all over Canada and the U.S., who will take part in this event over the next few weeks, are all competing for the final championship round in Palm Springs, California. The all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender will be their outfitted off-road vehicle to complete a new set of challenges and tasks with their teammates at that event. Each North American Land Rover dealership is offered an opportunity to participate in the competition and few are likely to pass up the team-building experience – especially since they have a chance at actually putting the Defender to use if they win.
As the “She the North” team, we chose to strategize and plan our days out by heading to the challenges furthest away from home-base, to try and collect up little points on many challenges as opposed to collecting many points on a few challenges, which meant we actually missed out on some of the better off-roading the Land Rover Trek Experience provided its competitors. We didn't win but didn't place last either. Disappointing yes, but I wouldn’t change any of it.
Camping and competing in the middle of North Carolina, with two amazingly tough and strong woman, whom I am so glad I got to know just a little better, was an incredible experience. We will forever have the Land Rover Trek Experience in our memories and are happy for the way it has changed us and helped us grow and learn, even now, weeks post-event.