13th Annual Birthday Party
Silver Lake, Ontario
June 22 & 23, 1996
Despite the late evening a number of us were up at 5AM. We were helped from our slumbers by another dose of bagpipes courtesey of Mike. As long as we were up, we all helped Mike to pitch a canopy. This worked out well because it began to rain quite heavily soon after we completed the task. Promising us caffeine, Mike filled his kettle with water and promptly discovered that he had forgotten his stove. Coffee would have to wait until we managed to awaken someone else with our antics. Someone mentioned the early wake up call to Mike who replied, Five? I thought it was later.
As it was still raining, a number of us left the camp site in search of breakfast. Soon one of the local restaurants was filled with funny accents and money courtesy of the American contingent. For some reason Canadians are meticulous about changing money at the border, while we Americans just can't be bothered. Our money was accepted though, and the food was plentiful and delicious once the waitress figured out which type of bacon we were trying to order.
Soon the rain stopped, not to be seen again this weekend, and things got started. People picked up their registration packets and vehicles were safety-scrutineered for the offroad events. OVLR President Jason Dowell gave a welcoming speech and cars were lined up for the light offroad. Marshalls were on hand to make sure that winch-equipped vehicles were evenly spread throughout the convoy.
FINSUP is lined up and ready to go. Although I don't have a winch installed yet, you can see that I've prepared for recovery by attaching my tow strap to the front bumper. A smarter location, especially if you're going to be wading, is placing it inside the bonnet mounted spare. (Martha Manning photo)
I was happy to have Birthday Party veteran Martha Manning sign on as co-pilot. Martha's own Rover was not running but she wanted to take photos of the offroad event. This being my first Birthday Party, it was reassuring to have Martha there to provide steady guidance. Besides, it kept me from talking to myself. Two fun-loving guys jumped in back, totally unconcerned by the lack of seats, and we were off.
The light offroad was supposed to be non-damaging. The course followed a series of power cuts and trails through the forest, and it was quite muddy. I've discovered the key to successful offroad driving is to not over-direct the vehicle. The Rover naturally wants to follow the path of least resistance and, unless there is a specific reason not to, you should just let it. Low gear selection and a light but steady foot on the throttle, and you won't get stuck. And the nice thing about a club event is that there's always someone willing to give you an opinion on how to tackle an obstacle.
This is a typical scene of a Rover moving between obstacles on the light offroad course.
All proceeded according to plan until the long line of vehicles reached a lengthy mud pit. Approximately half of the vehicles attempted to cross, but to the best of my knowledge none made it unassisted. Finally, it was decided to turn around, have lunch, and regroup to try another route afterwards.
Fred Joyce spent a good part of the morning helping to unstick vehicles from the mud bog...
...but hard work makes you appreciate camp chef Al Pilrgrim and the kitchen trailer all-the-more.
Al Pilgrim and his crew of KP volunteers had lunch ready when the group got back. Hat's off to these people for a job well done! Robin Craig was displaying his impressive collection of model Land-Rovers...and selling some 'starter kits' for would-be collectors.
After lunch it was back to the trails. Martha was once again riding shotgun. Our morning companions had gone fishing though, so we were joined for the afternoon by the internationally published photojournalist/adventurer Jeff Meyer and a pile of video and still cameras. When he wasn't jumping out of the back of my Rover in pursuit of photo-ops, Jeff passed the time by tormenting me about my GPS. Exasperated, at one point I cried out I confess, I'm a techno-geek! Based on this, Jeff decided to tell the world that I was a self confessed computer nerd in his otherwise excellent article on the Birthday Party. (Land Rover World, September 1996 pp24-29) This prompted me to send a FAX to the Editor of the publication to set the record straight!
For the most part, the going was easy for Solihull's finest, with just a few tricky spots. There was another patch of mud which slowed a few people down. There was some 'deep' water to wade, fortunately with good footing, but a few vehicles had some trouble.
Alan Richer got Churchill all the way through, but as he climbed up on the opposite bank, the vehicle stalled. Unfortunately, while playing with the distributor wires, one broke off, so the convoy was delayed until a replacement could be fitted.
Land-Rovers plowing through deep water make for terrific photo-ops.
While Alan was busy repairing Churchill, Meyer took the opportunity to move ahead so he could photograph vehicles as they waded across. I figured that as I'd been chauferring him around, I'd at least be rewarded with a top-notch photograph of my first major water obstacle. No such luck. As I climbed up the far bank I noticed Meyer wasn't taking any photos because he was too busy loading his cameras. He'd run out of film taking pictures of the truck ahead of me!
Fortunately, there were other photographers around to capture the big moment: FINSUP's first deep water passage. (Spencer Norcross Photo)
The highwater mark illustrated by duckweed caught in FINSUP's grille.
Mike Loiodice also stalled out, and his 88 filled with water. It was a sight to see when Mike got to dry land and opened the back door! In a show of pro-diesel snobbery, 'Not so Desperate' Dale Despry came to a stop in the middle of the crossing. When watchers on the bank asked Dale what was wrong, he replied Nothing, I'm just waiting.
Bill Caloccia follows FINSUP through the water in style.
The next major challenge was presented because of a beaver dam. First, the trail approaching the dam was flooded. After a slight turn, the Rovers had to be driven up and over the Dam. Several vehicles required the assistance of a winch, but after onlookers removed a large rock, most got through unassisted.
That was the end of the rough stuff, and the convoy made it's way back to camp with just a few casualties. Spencer Norcross broke a rear halfshaft. The exhaust pipe fell off of Eric Zipkin's truck. No worries, Eric had been saying that he wanted to test stainless steel exhaust systems anyway. Alan Richer lost two ham radio antennas to low-slung branches. Someone complained that he'd signed up for the light offroad...Dixon soon set him straight, That was the light offroad.
While waiting for dinner (which was saved through the valiant efforts of Charlie Haigh who jumped in to tend the fire and spit for most of the afternoon) people milled about. The less hearty went over the campgrounds to shower or swim. Many worked on their Rovers. A 'helpful' crowd gathered to lend moral support and a plethora of tools to Spencer Norcross so that he could pull his propshaft and halfshafts. By chance he needed the one spare part I was carrying, a short halfshaft, so I was able to help Spenny outan act which I'm certain cemented our friendship as he continues to call and ask favors of me. Russel Wilson got the timing on his Rover dialed in sweetly and was ready to take it for a spin just about the time everyone else was ready for a beer.
The roasted pig dinner was delicious. Afterwards, there was more mingling and as it got darker, a bonfire to be enjoyed along with the music of Jon Humphery and Yves Fortin. Everyone planning on attending the next Birthday Party is advised to have a verse of The Land-Rover Blues ready to go as you will be tested. Of course, it wouldn't be a Rover gathering without running through a few Monty Python skits and having a good argument about the best computer. And did I mention there was beer?
After Dixon retired for the evening, Spenny and Jan Hilborn decided that the Green Beastie was in need of some new decorations. So they proceeded to cover the vehicle with Apple Computer and American Express stickers. Unfortunately, Spenny's stealth abilities were offset by the beer he had consumed so Dixon woke up and caught them in the act.
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©1997, Jeffrey A. Berg and Ottawa Valley Land Rovers