The sun was still well below the horizon when the morning alarm blared, tearing our intrepid team of three journalists from whatever semblance of sleep they’d achieved in the cramped tent. What the trio wasn’t prepared for was how they would momentarily be divided—one into a kayak, one onto a bicycle, and the third to the starting line of a 5-kilometer foot race.
If you’re just joining us, MotorTrend Group Content Director Sean Holman, 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor Christian Hazel, and Truck Trend Editor Jason Gonderman traveled to Asheville, North Carolina, where they were reunited with our Land Rover Discovery. The last time they’d seen the Disco, it was receiving its finishing touches at the MotorTrend Group Tech Center in California in preparation for the Land Rover TReK competition.
Taking cues from the venerable Camel Trophy, TReK combined teamwork, problem solving, and, of course, off-road vehicle operation. The competition pitted three-person teams of journalists and similar trios from Land Rover dealerships across North America against one another in timed challenges with the goal of getting everyone intimately familiar with the capabilities of the Land Rover Discovery. Each of the 53 teams competed in an identical ’20 Discovery outfitted with off-road tires; armor on the frontend and rocker panels; off-road lights; a winch; and a roof rack loaded with spare fuel, a fullsize spare tire, and recovery gear. Teams drove their Discoveries through the Biltmore Estate using GPS coordinates to locate as many challenges as they could squeeze into the allotted time. These challenges ranged from physically intense to psychologically demanding and earned points for each team. The highest-scoring teams would be invited to Palm Springs, California, in 2020 where a final showdown will take place—this time using the new Land Rover Defender.
We now join our editors at the Biltmore Estate’s 8,000-acre North Carolina property where the competition began. So, buckle up, slide on a pair of winching gloves, and read on for some highlights of the TReK competition.
TReK competitors crawled over rocks, slogged through muddy ruts, and faced some brain-bending puzzles that demonstrated their off-road prowess and the capabilities of the Land Rover Discovery.
After shaking the sleep from their eyes, competitors were faced with a row of Land Rover Discoveries, each with its off-road lights gleaming in the early light. However, before subsequent challenges could begin, the Rovers each needed to be unchained from a post, and to do that, each team had to retrieve the code word. The strategy? Divide and conquer.
MotorTrend Group Content Director Sean Holman was chosen for the 3-kilometer mountain bike race, 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor Christian Hazel elected to run an uphill foot race, and Truck Trend Editor Jason Gonderman was faced with paddling a kayak across a morning mist-shrouded lake. Upon completing their courses, each competitor was given a clue that would help unchain the tethered Rover.
After the triathlon-esque warm-up, our competitors used handheld GPS units to navigate the Biltmore Estate in search of their remaining tasks. To test driver-to-spotter communication and maneuverability skills, one challenge required nosing the Rover into a fenced-in hexagonal pen that was scarcely longer than the vehicle itself. The challenge? Without leaving the enclosure or touching its posts, execute enough turns to turn the Rover around and drive forward out of the enclosure.
Loosely resembling a possible on- or off-road occurrence, another challenge revolved around changing a damaged tire. Using the Discovery’s scissor jack or the roof rack-mounted Hi-Lift jack, one wheel and tire had to be removed, rolled once around the perimeter of the vehicle, and reinstalled before the team could proceed.
As teams navigated between GPS coordinates on the Biltmore Estate, they found that some challenges resembled control points in competitive orienteering. Meaning, each Discovery had a punch card affixed to its bull bar where teams would collect “punches” from various stations in the course. For example, GPS coordinates led teams to a tree with a heart-shaped punch hanging on it. To punch the Discovery’s card, driver and spotter maneuvered the Disco over and through obstacles, close enough to the tree so the card could be punched, before moving on.
In the heat of the day, our team of intrepid competitors arrived at a pile of planks alongside a gully. The task? Assemble a bridge, drive the Discovery across, and disassemble the bridge. The catch? The bridge planks were like puzzle pieces, and they could only be assembled in one way. Success came when the Land Rover logo, which was emblazoned across the planks, appeared whole.
One of the last tasks undertaken by our competitors involved precise winch skills. Our team ran a winch line from the Discovery, across a gully, to a tree wrapped with a recovery strap. A small replica Land Rover had to be suspended by straps, affixed to the winch line, and moved along that line until it hovered directly over a target, where it was to be placed. With gloved hands and shrewd cable pulls, our competitors dropped the Rover on target, but they missed points because the replica Rover was rotated.
Fuel during the competition came in the form of engine-warmed burritos that were stored, to the surprise of our competitors, in each Disco’s engine bay.