My family and I just returned from a weeklong vacation in Alaska. We planned our trip back in December, long before we knew that early August would see me deep into production on the first issue of Alloy+Grit. To be honest, I felt guilty being away from the daily work of planning, writing and editing stories, not to mention talking to potential advertisers and putting in place all the systems required to make our little magazine a viable business. There really is so much going on behind the curtain right now, even if it’s not yet visible from the other side.
I’m used to traveling for work, but this was family time – not just a chance to connect with my wife and daughter, but also a long overdue visit to my brother and his clan – so I largely disconnected from my daily routine to focus on the more important things in life. While the weather could have been better, we nevertheless spent the week exploring the beautiful Kenai Peninsula, hiking its mountains and walking its shorelines in search of bears, moose and a variety of birds not native to our usual East Coast quarters. Despite my best efforts to line up a Land Rover for our visit, we did our exploring in my brother’s 4×4 Chevy pickup, a far more common mode of transport in the Great North.
On a whim, however, and with only a couple days left on our trip, we took a short drive from our base camp in Eagle River to Eddie Angel’s shop Steadfast Offroad in Chugiac, just ten miles north. Locals know Steadfast as the place to have a rig built for serious trail duty, be it a Land Rover, a Jeep or anything else. It’s also where you can find Jason Beard, locally famous for leading off-road groups into the area’s wilderness trails and abandoned mining roads, but nationally famous for his appearance on History Channel’s Alaska Off-Road Warriors series.
As luck would have it, both guys were at the shop and graciously showed us around, granting me free range to fantasize about all the gloriously faded Series trucks in the back lot. To my surprise, Jason offered to take us on an impromptu trail ride, an offer I could hardly refuse. Taking advantage of Alaska’s famous midnight sun, we regrouped around 8 pm at his house in Wasilla and took off into the nearby mountains for what turned into several hours of wheeling in his little red Series IIa. Over the strum of its 2.25-liter engine, the whine of its low-range gearing and the general clunking of its aluminum body crashing over boulders, we talked about Alaska and Land Rovers.
Where we live, you can hardly drive a mile without passing a late-model Land Rover or Range Rover. By contrast, there are very few newer Rovers on the roads of Alaska, in part because there’s no longer a dealer anywhere in the state. But Jason explained there are likely thousands of older ones still kicking around the mountains and tundra up there. Oil workers bought them during the boom, and because the roads never see salt in the winter, they’ve survived the otherwise harsh environment for decades. They’re there, even if you don’t see them on the road; many still serve their owners’ camping, fishing and hunting needs dutifully.
Over the course of our ride, Jason not only explained the nuances of the Alaskan Land Rover scene, but also played the consummate tour guide, sharing his knowledge of local history and culture. I sat there stunned at how this context all came together in a way not possible through social media posts or even a History Channel TV show. It reminded me that sometimes you just have to get out and experience new places, new people, and new perspectives first-hand to really understand them. And really, isn’t that what Land Rovers are all about?
For the last twelve years I’ve had the fortune to be able to write about Land Rovers professionally. For seven years I’ve been a Land Rover owner. And it’s now been three years since I first sat down and scratched out the basic plans for an entirely new Land Rover magazine. In all that time, I’ve met hundreds of Land Rover enthusiasts from all over the world, from wealthy collectors to young first-timers who can barely keep theirs on the road. It’s clear that Land Rover means different things to different people. But at the core we all seem to share a lust for reaching beyond the ordinary, and our trucks are quite literally the vehicles to take us there.
As Land Rover enthusiasts, we may occupy only a small slice of the automotive landscape, but our community is nevertheless large and diverse, at times even splintered. Our goal was always to provide a nucleus for the North American Land Rover community, and as we inch closer to the launch of Alloy+Grit magazine, it’s apparent to me just how complex a proposition this is.
That evening on the mountain with Jason Beard helped clarify that the best way to do that is by exploiting what we all have in common rather than focusing on the differences. We’ll let the “Alaska lesson” serve as our guiding principle as we move forward, and we hope you’ll be along for the ride as well.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of catching up to do.