Pride goeth before the fall,” so warns the proverb. My comeuppance came when I arrived early that October morning at the Mid-Atlantic Rally (MAR) in Virginia after a 900-mile, two-day drive.

Last Train to Wheatland Farm

No one was present at the registration tent, save for a lone Ford pickup with a Range Rover Classic in tow.

            I paused from patting myself on my back over my long drive when a tiny dog began barking, waking up its owner from his slumber in the back seat. I should have known better. The strident barker was Violet, a Jack Russell terrier; her sleepy owner was Peter Vollers — who was two hours into a nap after a 22-hour straight, 1,635-mile drive from his home in Placitas, NM. Damn! There went my bid for the “Longest Distance Award.”

            The Rover Owners of Virginia (ROAV) have organized their Mid-Atlantic Rally for 27 years with a seemingly endless array of themes and activities. Participants have enjoyed fantastic off-roading, entertaining camping, draft horse pull demonstrations, black-tie evenings, bagpipers, scenic train rides, new Land Rover and off-roading instruction/demonstrations, an “Aluminum Man Triathlon” and the Rovers North RTV course. In 1996, the club took over a nearby drive-in theater for a showing of “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” So, too, it seems, must be the attendees, as the MAR has always taken place during hurricane season, turning trails and campsites into quagmires.

Last Train to Wheatland Farm

            Wheatland Farm’s 700 acres include a working farm, so participants always share the land with hungry, inquisitive cattle. The topography ranges from hillside camping to steep forest ascents and descents, from long green lanes to truly expert trails. Bill Burke, who has run-off-road course instruction nationwide, used the Wheatland Farm trails before ROAV moved its event there. Over the intervening years, thousands of hours of volunteer time have helped maintain the varied trail network and, with the encouragement of owner Sam Moore, create new trails. For enthusiasts who attend each year, every trail experience could include a new adventure. This year’s attendees should thank Bob Steele, David Short, Larry Michelon, David Powers, Allen Kidd, Tyler Smith, and Doug and Trey Crowther, among others, for clearing trails and organizing the event.

Last Train to Wheatland Farm

            ROAV has instituted some subtle changes to accommodate safety issues related to the pandemic. The organizers separated the campsite locations further than usual, actively discouraged campfire gatherings of different families, and encouraged social distancing and mask-wearing when appropriate. David Short, the event coordinator, and a firefighter/paramedic wrote to all advance registrants, “If you are feeling ill or sick – please do not come to the event… We are asking that all participants please wear a face mask when social distancing is not possible and to please get your vaccine for everyone’s protection.”

            MAR has always endured a wide range of weather conditions, but this year, the warm, dry days and nights assured that the event could remain an outdoor activity the entire weekend. Tyler Smith, a student at nearby Virginia Tech University, noted that “we really were lucky as it had been raining on campus all week!”

            Once again, the off-road trails at Wheatland Farm impressed and entertained enthusiasts. There were drives on forest service roads for mild off-roading, and spectacular vistas on intermediate and extreme trails. This year’s trail leaders included Bob Steele and Tyler Smith, David Powers, Larry Michelon, Tim Coates, and Dale Jackson. Michael T. Boggs and Bill Burke led an extreme group.

Last Train to Wheatland Farm

            Bill Burke, the off-road instructor, and former Camel Trophy competitor accepted the invitation to create off-road driving presentations to inform and enlighten; as always, he did not disappoint. I learned and/or re-learned the importance of proper use of D-ring and soft shackles, assessment and use of tow straps, ropes and chains, and other off-road necessities. ROAV has hosted Bill’s master classes several times over the years and his insightful presentations never fail to impress the attendees. 

            Bill and Patty Cooper, Blairstown, NJ, gave advance notice of their upcoming homage to the remarkable cross-country trip of British adventurer Barbara Toy [see p. 2 of this issue -ed.]. The Series I that will make the trip sat beside the awning enclosure, looking impossibly small for the upcoming journey. The historical information and period photos were a joy to view.

Last Train to Wheatland Farm

            Rovers North has long sponsored, created, and organized the RTV Trials Course, and again this year, it became my principal responsibility at the event. Shamelessly, I’ve become quite skilled at lassoing people – who otherwise had every intention of enjoying the weekend – into the chain gang that designs and creates the course of the trial [think “O Brother, Where Art Thou” -ed]. I’m sure that John Kostuch, the host of the Centre Steer podcast, did not drive all the way from Pittsburg, PA, to pound stakes into the hard ground; most likely, Mike McCaig, Sarah McCaig, Paul Prosser, and Chuck Yarborough had other plans, too.

            A trials course tests your knowledge of your Land Rover’s capabilities as well as your driving skills. A series of sequentially numbered slalom poles create narrow, twisty paths through which you must wend your Land Rover. Except in rare instances, you’re not allowed to stop, pause or reverse your Land Rover – you must always maintain forward motion. While you focus on the driver’s side of the Rover, it’s really helpful to have a passenger paying attention to the poles on the opposite side. To add to the challenge, the course of a trial will include moguls and dips – often hidden from view – alongside the poles.

            As usual, penalty points were assessed if you tapped (or flattened) a post, stopped forward motion or had to reverse [exceptions were made for 130” wheelbase Land Rovers]. To make it more difficult, we created an ideal time range for each section; if you drove too fast or too slow, you gained points too. The team that accumulated the lowest point total would win.  

Last Train to Wheatland Farm

            ROAV scheduled the RTV for the main event on Saturday afternoon and asked that we place the course on the hillsides at the event’s campground. This enabled a large crowd to cheer on competitors, lob sarcastic remarks to the course’s organizer, and egg on more enthusiasts to tackle the challenge. The judges of each section spent

a lot of time running up and down the hillsides refereeing competitors, but their hard work provided a lot of fun for entrants and viewers alike. While challenging, the course of the trial was non-damaging (except to egos), so we enjoyed watching a new generation of enthusiasts take the wheel as their parents became the navigators.

            MAR has been held in six different locations around the Commonwealth. Last October’s edition ended 14 years at the Wheatland Farm location. Fortunately, several members of the Moore family, who have made the property available to thousands of enthusiasts, attended this MAR to receive the thanks and appreciation of this year’s attendees. Many powerful memories will remain of the enjoyable years spent there. We owe a big debt of gratitude to Sam Moore’s immediate and extended family for all they made possible for Land Rover enthusiasts.

The RTV Trials Course winners received Rovers North gift certificates:

First:  Khalili Alzagga

Second [tie]:  Ed Manus and Abigail Bang

Third [tie]:  Grace Michael, Mason Hensley, Loic Fabro, Ethan Fabro, and Alex Breakell