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Maine Winter Romp 2017

This winter has been a fairly mild one for most of the Northeast, but it showed up in full force just before this year’s Winter Romp in Maine. Multiple winter storms dumped several feet of snow on the ungroomed trails just in time for this year’s event, which hosted a record 100+ Land Rovers over President’s Day weekend.

The Romp started back in 1987 with just 15 vehicles in the area around Unity, Maine, and has out grown numerous locations. It has settled in more recently on the roughly 8,000 acres of private wilderness owned by Bruce Fowler, Timothy McWilliams, Gary Poulin, Dwight Gagnon and Ed Markowski. Bruce hosts the event at his house just down the road from the off-roading trails, his back yard becoming an impromptu pit area for people for folks fitting their vehicles with snow chains, as well as a place to gather drivers and vehicles into manageable groups.

The main event began, as always, on Friday, but arriving on the Thursday evening gave us an opportunity to experience the virgin trails before the majority of vehicles and people turn up on Friday night/Saturday morning. The deep snow proved a challenge early on, burning out the clutches in one Discovery’s automatic transmission just 20 feet into the trail. A Defender faired a little better, managing to get about 50 feet from the road before the white stuff stopped all its progress. It took 30 minutes to get the vehicles turned around and back to Bruce’s.

The following morning, loaded up with proper trail supplies, the snow chains wisely appeared and tires were being draped with all manner of square, diamond and studded traction aids, most new out of the bag. Various unnamed newbies spent the better part of an hour fitting and refitting the chains. The running joke of the morning was, “how many gallons of gas does it take to fit a set of chains?” as engines ran continuously to keep the heat flowing.

Attacking snow that in some places was thigh-deep required the lead vehicle to plow forward and then roll back, flattening the snow to make it passable for the following vehicles. Going too far forward meant it would get high-centered on virgin snow and would require a quick jerk backwards or even winching. The winch became the best option as the snow was often too deep to attach regular straps, and kinetic ropes were ineffective and snap easily in the frozen temperatures. With the near constant use, winches starting to overheat and became less effective. Options running out, elaborate rigging configurations were set up to reduce the strain on still-functioning winches and bypass failed winch units.

Along with battling the famously bitter Maine winter air and ample snow, adventurous recovery sessions can take hours. The limited daylight soon forces recovery by headlights and LED bars. Tire chains can (and will) loosen, break or unravel, entangling themselves in brake lines or even severing them, as happened on at least one vehicle. Recovery gear buries itself in the snow and becomes icy, and the act of releasing frozen shackles and snow chains becomes a hassle. Seasoned “Rompers” carry a plumbers flame torch to apply some heat to melt frozen gear.

The Winter Romp is clearly not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, for those who enjoy challenging themselves and their vehicles, there’s hardly a more demanding event than the annual Romp. Broken trucks, broken gear, and broken bones (yes, that happened too) are all part of the thrill of this event. We’re guessing most of the 111 or so trucks will be back next year to do it all again.