My family and I have been attending the Old North State Land Rover Club’s URE! (Uwharrie Rover Expeditions) since before I was born. It’s really somewhat of a paradox you can’t fully understand until you’re there.
This October weekend event really starts on the previous Monday but isn’t over until Sunday. You run around like your hair’s on fire for days prior to your departure and beg to get off work early on Thursday or Friday. You pull into the park, onto the gravel road, and feel a smile spread across your dusty face – suddenly, your Rover’s a bit peppier too. At this point, you finally stop to realize it’s officially Fall in North Carolina.
You pull into your spot at the Badin Lake group campground; like the seating in our Baptist church, it’s not assigned, you’re just always in the same place. You set up camp in a frenzy, like you’re late for supper, and then retire to your chair and time just stops. You relax, and “live as if you’re homeless for three days,” to quote a friend who declined my invitation.
You borrow toilet paper from some stranger with whom you’ve exchanged life stories, ride trails, help out people who need it or accept help yourself, and eat great food – doesn’t everything taste better when it’s cooked outdoors?
You meet people from different places. You Oooo and ahh at each other’s vehicles. It’s like going to a big family reunion full of perfect strangers. Before you know it, a few nights of campfire stories have passed and it’s Saturday morning. The Land Rovers line up in a big parade at the El Dorado Outpost store at the entrance to the Uwharrie National Forest; I run in for a Coke in a glass bottle, dill pickle sunflower seeds, and a new decal to add to the mosaic.
We hit the trails and enjoy some Doobie Brothers on a (sometimes) nice Carolina Fall day. As a kid I sat in a car seat crying like my life depended on it; my brother laughed the whole time. My Mom and I walked more than we rode some days. Now, I just smile from the passenger seat. It’s not the size of the rocks on the trail, but who you’re rocking with. We enjoy our time happily, driving at our own slow pace like a herd of mighty turtles.
We devour our trail lunches and bottle up the camaraderie for a rainy day. We slide around in the red clay and ruin some clothes. Then we return to our campsite and try to get the dust out of – well – everything. Each year there’s a big Saturday night feed around a bonfire at which you listen to Dan Ratcliffe call out the winning raffle numbers. You guard your raffle tickets as if they were made of gold foil and urge Dan to shake the bucket of tickets some more. You feel like you win when the guy beside you yells that it’s him and spills his sweet tea trying to get to his newly found prize. The unlucky ones make sounds that remind you of checking coolant while the car’s warm, but no one pitches a big fit. Saturday night hurts because you know that this time tomorrow, URE! will be another memory, so you soak it up, and stay up late.
Every year might seem like a sequel to the original movie, but then you realize, that the only thing that stays the same is change. Kids talk about “Remember when?” That enthusiast who brings a new girlfriend to URE! one year announces their wedding at the next. That new youngster who once cried over losing the toy Rover at the auction/raffle, sits at the campfire and pushes their bedtime to the limit, then moves on to sleeping in a hammock and all of a sudden, they’re driving. And wait, is that a girlfriend?! And the circle starts over.
We couldn’t figure out why there were more cars this year and we needed to cook more bacon in the mornings, then someone said it’s not new people, just bigger ones! But still, from ages 1–60, everyone smiles when they find Jack Walters’ free stash of old Rovers Magazine issues.
Sunday morning, everyone packs up and lines up for endless group pictures. Then, when you’re back on the pavement, you sigh, smile, and realize that this is exactly how you came in on Thursday, only boasting some new mud, maybe lacking a few parts, and eager
for next October’s URE!