John Cappa Crosses The USA the Hard Way
Ever wanted to drive across the United States? What about drive across the United States off-road? Well, that’s just what Land Rover has proposed, driving three outfitted ‘13 Land Rover LR4 4x4s on a 5,000-mile trip over the Trans-America Trail starting in Asheville, North Carolina, and finishing up in Port Orford, Oregon. The Land Rover Expedition America began July 26th, and the company invited us along to drive a section of the trail! We’ll get behind the driver’s seat August 12-16th. You can follow along our drive section with daily updates here at http://www.fourwheeler.com/ as well as on https://www.facebook.com/fourwheelermag, @fwmag on Twitter, and fourwheelermag on Instagram.
We’ll update regularly with images, short stories, and videos. To follow the entire trip check out https://www.facebook.com/landroverusa and #LRExpeditionAmerica on Instagram today!
For more info about the trip check out www.interactivelandrover.com. Follow us along at fourwheeler.com all this week to see where we're headed next!
With the Land Rover American Expedition already well underway, I hopped on a plane to Utah, to drive my leg of the journey behind the wheel of one of three '13 Land Lover LR4s. While waiting for my bag at the small airport I noticed a single trail-dusted LR4 driving away from the loading area. I didn't see any others and it was too far away to chase after on foot, plus I still needed my luggage. I was already being left behind, and perhaps the funniest part is that one of the journalists on the trip, who shall remain unnamed, knows me and my brother and even talked to me as we were boarding the plane. He's a somewhat particular fellow, the kind of guy that complains to a waitress doing the best she can. He seems to have very little outdoor interest or experience and has already mentioned having been an asthmatic child. It should be interesting (funny) if we we have to camp on the trail a night or two. Anyway, he must have felt pretty silly when they had to turn around to pick me up. Oh well, I figure every adventure is better if it at least starts with a funny story. A few phone calls later and the driver was on his way back to get me and make the hour drive to our hotel for the night and dinner.
You never know what to expect when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle that's been piloted and abused on- and off-road by other journalists. I've met a lot of these journalists over the years at press events, some are experienced and talented wheelmen, others are overly cautious bumbling newbies that are well aware of their lack of skills, and perhaps the most dangerous and scary to ride with are the novice drivers with something to prove. These individuals can quickly get in over their heads. I've been put into a vehicle with all of them behind the wheel at one time or another, and in some aspects I have been all of them, too.
There is a lot of potential for messes when you put journalists into press cars. Sticky sugar-coated steering wheels and shifters are not uncommon. Since this is a cross-country trip I'm sure plenty of fish crackers, trail mix, beef jerky, and M&Ms have already fallen between the seats and spilled coffee and Coke stains have tainted the carpet. I'll try and take inventory of the floor food when I get in a vehicle. It's a long trip, I'll have time.
Interestingly enough, I have no idea what the driving arrangements are for this trip. I'd love to believe I'll be plopped behind the driver-seat of my very own LR4 with no one else in the vehicle, although it appears that's not the case. All I really know for sure is that I'll be in a Land Rover LR4 on- and off-road along the Trans-America Trail for the next three days from Cedar City, Utah, to Elko, Nevada. Wish me luck and stay tuned for Day 2. I'll let you know what kind of co-drivers I have, the type of trouble we get into, and if someone gets left for dead on the trail.
Today was simply awesome. I think I ate a whole bag of beef jerky all by myself. The driving duties behind the wheel of our '13 Land Rover LR4 are all up to another journalist and I. We keep a pretty good pace for the most part, but we do keep in mind that we are rolling on 18-inch factory wheels and 55-series tires. We are usually kept busy dodging sharp rocks in the trail to avoid flats. I'm sure I will regret saying this, but there were no tire troubles today on any of the vehicles, although the tires are looking pretty ragged. It sure would be nice to have some more sidewall and an aggressive tread pattern.
Anyway, we started out the day in Richfield, Utah. I settled in with my co-driver/meat sacks and quickly found out that we all have nearly the same sick and twisted sense of humor. Birds of a feather I guess. This made time and the miles pass amazingly fast, even though we hit several dead ends on our planned route in the mountains just outside of Richfield, Utah. We had to backtrack a bit and find a different path several times. This is the kind of thing you have to expect when traversing a cross-country trail that's never been fully navigated by a 4x4. One dead end took us to a really cool pond that looked more like a zero-edge pool hanging off the side of a mountain.
Eventually we found the correct connecting points of the Trans-America Trail and made some great time the second half of the day after stopping for fuel and lunch Kanosh, Utah. The wide graded roads allowed an easy 50-60 mph. We stopped at the Border Inn for the night (on the border of Utah and Nevada). When you stop by, ask the employees at the one and only restaurant to sing and perform for you, you won't be disappointed. Stay tuned tomorrow for Day 3. My co-driver and I will hop in the lead car with Tom Collins, the ring-leader and planner of this inter-state adventure, to see if we can't drive him nuts.
I woke up to shower and came to realize that my hotel bar of soap could easily be mistaken as a pillow mint. I really hoped this was not a sign of what to expect today.
We hit the dirt for a trail day consisting of about 215 miles, nearly 200 miles of it off-road. Starting in Baker, Nevada and ending in Eureka, Nevada, we found ourselves on everything from a well-maintained 50-mph-plus graded dirt road to an almost single-track cow trail. My co-driver and I hopped in the lead vehicle with the mastermind behind navigating the trail, Tom Collins. Prior to the event, Tom spent months planning the route, with help from Sam Correro (www.transamtrail.com) among others. Sam took a good portion of the '90s hand picking dirt trails and roads to link together so he could cross the country on a motorcycle. As far as anyone knows, this is the first time a 4x4 has made the off-road expedition from ocean to ocean. In preparation of the trip, Tom literally followed the trail on Google maps to try and make sure it was passable in a 4x4 such as our '13 Land Rover LR4. As you can imagine, it took weeks of 18-hour days, clicking and zooming in, trying to locate trouble spots, keeping in mind that some of the online images could be up to a couple years old. In some areas trees would hide the trail, so he searched out videos that many of the motorcycle riders making the trip had posted online. This offered an up-close view of what to expect. Today was one of those questionable, masked trail days.
In my opinion Tom must be the most patient man in the world. He is somehow able to quietly settle into the passenger seat behind a Terratrip mileage indicator, topagraphy maps loaded onto an old laptop with GPS capability, and turn-by-turn roll charts from www.transamtrail.com. He calmly calls out turns and maintains an unbelievably cool head while rogue bumbling journalists entertain themselves from behind the wheel and attempt to sabotage his trip, or at least slow or temporarily stop progress with things like flat tires and lunch breaks. I am a far lesser man. I would likely get to the point of wanting to rip the driver from the seat and leave him in a shallow grave in the U.S. outback. When I asked Tom how he can possibly maintain his sanity from the passenger seat, he responded that he learned it from being a waiter in Aspen. I'm sure that without that job experience, some journalists on this trek would come up "missing".
Anyway, today the rocks were especially sharp and treacherous. The fact that much of the trail was extremely narrow did not help the situation. The vehicles carry multiple fullsize spare tires, all stock.
We stopped for fuel in Preston, Nevada and spoke with the gas station attendant. He mentioned that he has seen motorcycles pass through on the trail for years, but never a 4x4. After a quick lunch at a local burger joint we steered back into the dirt.
Around 150 miles in a small stone wedged itself into the tread of one tire, causing a slow leak. A few tire plugs and a quick air up had us back on the trail in no time. The last bit of the trail today was the tightest so far with several washouts that were still drivable. It's expected that the washouts will be worse today. Fortunately, we have shovels, a pick, an axe, and even a chainsaw to aid in building a bridge if need be. Be sure to check back tomorrow to find out how it goes.
Final Day-Day 4
I felt fat and lazy from eating and snacking all week long. A breakfast burrito that morning at our start point in Eureka, Nevada, didn’t exactly put me on my A-game so I chased it with some coffee, something I rarely do because most people can’t stand me as it is. Adding caffeine in close quarters exacerbates the situation and can make me absolutely unbearable for some personality types.
Anyway, my co-driver and I settled back into our original ’13 Land Rover LR4 positioned behind the lead vehicle. Following requires a lot less attention. We could simply meander behind the dust cloud created by the lead Land Rover. This freed-up the needed brainpower for the four of us riding in 4x4 to discuss the unimportant questions of life like “Who is on your celebrity get out of jail free card?” which as it turns out is far different than the answers to “What celebrity would you marry?”. Other questions required a bit more prodding and resulted in all of us figuring out that we are hoarders. The hoarded items included rubber bands, used empty cheap plastic lighters, old clothing, cardboard boxes, beer cans, beer taps, Land Rover gear, and used tooth brushes among other things. Each of us had an explanation and justification for the horded items, all true hoarders do. As the day progressed the conversations revolved around the belief in aliens, ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, and so on. If you spend enough time with four people in a vehicle you get to know them really well.
We chewed through several more beef jerky types (including tasty bacon jerky) while navigating over mostly graded roads with minimal washouts. A good silt-bed section made for interesting driving as the wind direction changed and took visibility to absolutely zero. There was so much dust that our LR4’s dual air filters even needed a knockout in the hotel parking lot. We finished the day early and came to the end of our drive portion of the Trans-America Trail at Battle Mountain, Nevada. The next wave of journalists were set to hop in here.
During the week we bumped into a pair of dual-sport riders (Michael Fletcher and Tim Sharp) that we seemed to be leap-frogging with for hundreds of miles. They were making the Trans-America trek from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the Nevada/Oregon border near Cedarville, California. We would usually catch them around lunchtime each day. The rough technical sections of the trail are much faster on a motorcycle, but the long loose rocky roads and sketchy silt beds are faster in a 4x4. When we reached our final stopping point we caught the two riders once again, only this time one of the bikes was broken down. The rear wheel bearings had eaten themselves on Mike’s ride. Mike had already ordered the parts. He and Tim were waiting for the shipment. The next morning we wished them and the new journalists taking our LR4s luck and hopped on our plane for home.
Since some of the Trans-America Trail has only been navigated by motorcycles and our ‘13 Land Rover LR4s are likely the first 4x4s to complete the entire trek, a few of the paths are pretty narrow. I suspect by this time next year the Trans-America Trail will be quite a bit more popular with the 4x4 crowd. In fact, I’d like to get back out on the trail myself and traverse it from the New Mexico area up to the Oregon coast. I think this would be the most interesting section of the trail. And who knows, maybe I’ll spend the next few years completing small sections as I have time, much like it’s founder Sam Correro at www.transamtrail.com.
To follow the Land Rover Expedition America in its entirety don’t forget to visit www.interactivelandrover.com.