Rover-y Run

Automobile - - Drives - by AARON GOLD pho­tog­ra­phy by ROBIN TRAJANO

Rolling across Death Val­ley in our Four Sea­sons Discovery with an Airstream Base­camp in tow

“TAKE THE DISCO ,” edi­tor-in-chief Mike Floyd said. “Hook up an Airstream to it, grab a pho­tog­ra­pher, and go do some­thing Land Rover-y.” And that was it— my first as­sign­ment as an Au­to­mo­bile staffer.

Twenty hours later I was be­hind the wheel of our Four Sea­sons 2017 Land Rover Discovery, run­ning from a rain­storm I des­per­ately hoped would end in Death Val­ley, as that was pretty much what I promised our photo edi­tor would hap­pen. My wife, Robin, was at my side, my dog, Lexi, was sleep­ing fit­fully in the back seat, and an Airstream Base­camp trailer—which looked pretty small in the pic­tures but freakin’ huge once hooked up to the Land Rover—was trail­ing be­hind.

The diesel-pow­ered HSE Lux­ury Discovery and I were strangers, but it made a good first im­pres­sion. I liked the clean and con­tem­po­rary cabin, high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als, and feel of the switchgear. The view out is su­perb (aside from the wall of alu­minum and glass fill­ing my rearview mir­ror), and I was im­pressed that af­ter nearly 19,000 miles there were none of the squeaks and rat­tles I ex­pected from a well-used Bri­tish car. And noth­ing beats the smooth ride of an air sus­pen­sion.

Not all was per­fect. I never thought it was pos­si­ble for a seat to have too much thigh sup­port, but I had to tilt the cush­ion for­ward to avoid re­strict­ing cir­cu­la­tion to my thighs. An­other strange quirk: The Land Rover

The diesel Discovery is rated to tow 7,716 pounds, and I have no doubt it can haul that kind of weight up the hills. Our av­er­age fuel con­sump­tion was 21 mpg. Per­fect for Death Val­ley, where those “Last Chance Fuel” signs re­ally mean some­thing.

has two wel­com­ing places for my right el­bow (cen­ter con­sole lid, fold-down arm­rest) but none for my left; the arm­rest is too low, the win­dow ledge too high, and both meanly padded. Still, it proved a comfy char­iot.

It was also prov­ing to be a com­pe­tent tow ve­hi­cle, though to be fair, the Airstream Base­camp, $35,900 to start and $38,550 as tested, wasn’t much of a chal­lenge for the Disco and its 3.0-liter tur­bod­iesel with 254 horse­power and 443 lb-ft of torque paired to an eight-speed au­to­matic. De­signed specif­i­cally to be towed by smaller SUVs, the Base­camp weighs around 2,600 pounds empty with a max gross weight of 3,500 pounds. Its 7-foot width meant it was only a few inches wider than the Land Rover, and although it was a bit tricky to back up—the shorter the trailer, the twitchier it is—its size meant we could pull full-lock U-turns al­most any­where we pleased.

The Base­camp rep­re­sents a mid­dle ground be­tween tent trail­ers and full-on travel trail­ers. Inside there’s a small gal­ley with a half-height fridge, sink, and twoburner stove. The tiny shower stall is also home to the toi­let. The bulk of the liv­ing space is taken up by two fac­ing couches, which con­vert to a dou­ble bed, with small tables be­tween them. There’s an air con­di­tioner and a mi­crowave, but the trailer must be plugged in to power to use them. Ev­ery­thing else runs on liq­uid propane or bat­ter­ies, the lat­ter charged by op­tional so­lar pan­els on the roof. The Base­camp sits high on its

sin­gle axle, mak­ing it a per­fect trailer to do the Land Rover-y things my boss re­quested.

Hap­pily, the rain ta­pered off as we headed up Route 395 to­ward the Sear­les Val­ley. Some­where be­tween Boron and Trona, towns named for the ma­te­ri­als they mine, our pho­tog­ra­pher—also named Robin—called to say he found a place to shoot pho­tos.

“It’s a dirt road off the main high­way,” he said. It turned out to be both way off and way dirt. I wasn’t ter­ri­bly wor­ried about the Discovery, but it was clear we were drag­ging the Airstream through places most peo­ple would not take a trailer; the be­mused ex­pres­sions on the faces of Jeep driv­ers head­ing the other way con­firmed this. The Base­camp brochure boldly says “built for adventure.” I hoped Airstream’s copy writ­ers meant it.

Our photo ses­sion went well, in­clud­ing some rather ace trailer ma­neu­ver­ing. (Both Robins might dis­agree, but I’m sure I never ac­tu­ally hit the rock, and their fran­tic yelling and arm wav­ing were more of a dis­trac­tion than any­thing else.) Af­ter chas­ing the dog around a bit—she and pho­tog­ra­pher Robin got on fa­mously, though she seemed to think his cam­era was an ob­ject of evil that needed to be barked at and pos­si­bly eaten—we tip-toed through the dirt back to the main high­way.

As we started to climb the Panamint Range, the Discovery fi­nally be­gan to show vague signs of re­al­iza­tion

A smor­gas­bord of bad sur­faces started with wash­boards that I feared would vi­brate the Discovery to pieces. I crept along, hop­ing that the ca­coph­ony of rat­tles were from our lug­gage and not bits that were bolted to the chas­sis.

that it was drag­ging a ton and a half of Airstream in its wake. Gaso­line en­gines never let you for­get you’re tow­ing a trailer, but diesels make it hard to re­mem­ber. The diesel Discovery is rated to tow 7,716 pounds, and although I’d be hes­i­tant to tow a much longer trailer (the Discovery’s short wheel­base would be a sta­bil­ity con­cern), I have no doubt it can haul that kind of weight up the hills. Our av­er­age fuel con­sump­tion was 21 mpg, pretty frig­gin’ in­cred­i­ble con­sid­er­ing we had a trailer in tow. That gave us a cruis­ing range of roughly 450 miles, per­fect for Death Val­ley, where those “Last Chance Fuel” signs re­ally mean some­thing.

The sun was low in the sky by the time we en­tered Death Val­ley proper. Our orig­i­nal plan had been to camp in the mid­dle of nowhere, but find­ing the per­fect bit of nowhere in the dark struck me as a phe­nom­e­nally bad idea, so we stopped at the first camp­ground we saw. This turned out to be a good idea, as con­vert­ing the Base­camp for night use was a lot more work than ex­pected.

First, ev­ery­thing on the seats—and in our case, that meant ev­ery­thing we brought—needed to be chucked out­side, fol­lowed by the couch cush­ions. The ta­ble legs must be changed out for shorter ones (the short­ened tables sup­port the bed), the benches opened and folded out, and the cush­ions re­ar­ranged to form a bed. “I don’t know how you’re sup­posed to do this in the rain,” my wife said. We de­cided the op­tional pa­tio tent ($1,500), which at­taches to the side of the trailer, is a must-have.

The cush­ions are about as thick as prison mat­tresses and slightly less for­giv­ing, a prob­lem we solved with a $20 air mat­tress. This left gaps be­tween the rect­an­gu­lar mat­tress and the rounded walls, but that was OK. They proved use­ful for glasses, e-read­ers, and the like—the Base­camp doesn’t have any bed­side stor­age.

The next morn­ing brought a fan­tas­tic view of the moun­tains through the Base­camp’s panoramic front win­dows and a knock on the door from pho­tog Robin, who spent the night at a nearby ho­tel. (Two peo­ple and a dog is the Base­camp’s limit, un­less you’re very, very friendly.) We un­hooked the trailer, left wife Robin and Lexi be­hind to sleep in, and headed down Cot­ton­wood Canyon Road, a smor­gas­bord of bad sur­faces start­ing with wash­boards that I feared would vi­brate the Discovery to pieces. I crept along, hop­ing that the ca­coph­ony of rat­tles were from our lug­gage and not bits that were sup­posed to be bolted to the chas­sis.

“The ride might smooth out if you go faster,” Robin sug­gested. “How much faster?” I asked.

“I dunno,” he said. “Try 60.”

Wash­board soon gave way to sand, and I ea­gerly spun the Land Rover’s Ter­rain Re­sponse dial to the sand set­ting. Did it work? I have no idea. The sci­en­tific ap­proach would have been to stop and see how much trac­tion we had, but if the Discovery did get stuck, I’d get the triple play of a long walk, an em­bar­rass­ing phone call, and an irate pho­tog­ra­pher. In­stead, I kept up my speed, and the Rover eas­ily floated over the sand.

Cot­ton­wood Canyon turned out to be a phe­nom­e­nal photo spot, but as we headed back to camp along the boul­der-strewn trails, I was start­ing to think we weren’t re­ally mak­ing much use of the Discovery’s off-road abil­i­ties. Just then I heard the first rock scrape the un­der­side. Turns out I had some­how dropped the Discovery’s air sus­pen­sion from off-road to nor­mal height. Oops. I guess we were mak­ing use of the Disco’s sig­nif­i­cant off-road abil­i­ties af­ter all, but the Land Rover makes it all feel so ef­fort­less.

Back at camp it was time for lunch. Wife Robin had stuffed the fridge, and I fig­ured she was primed to put the gal­ley to the test.

“What’s for lunch?” I asked.

“Sand­wiches,” she replied.

“You’re not go­ing to cook?”

“Sand­wiches,” she re­peated. “And if you don’t want a sand­wich, there’s dog food in the cabi­net.” “I thought we’d try the cook­top,” I said.

“I used it to boil wa­ter for cof­fee,” she said. “It worked, which you should be able to tell

by the fact that the ket­tle is not wrapped around your head.” She is not, as you might have guessed, a morn­ing per­son.

Pho­tos made and sand­wiches eaten, pho­tog­ra­pher Robin headed home while Robin and I hooked up the Base­camp. Our des­ti­na­tion: the Alabama Hills, film­ing site for nu­mer­ous Westerns and a place we’d al­ways wanted to visit. It’s also BLM land, so you can camp any­where. We ex­pected to­tal iso­la­tion, so you can imag­ine our sur­prise when we found our­selves smack in the mid­dle of a Greater Los An­ge­les Airstream Club rally, shar­ing our seclu­sion with 20 other Airstream trail­ers. Se­ri­ously—we had no idea this would hap­pen. They wel­comed us with open arms, and we joined them for a potluck din­ner, where they ex­plained the Ap­ple­like ap­peal of their alu­minum Twinkies. (Short ver­sion: Nos­tal­gia, qual­ity, and ca­ma­raderie wher­ever you go.)

We parked in an iso­lated spot some ways away and set­tled in for the night. The Airstream­ers had warned us that the heater blower mo­tor re­ally sucks down bat­tery power. Thank­fully, Robin had brought enough blan­kets to cover an en­tire Alabama hill, so we were toasty warm with­out me­chan­i­cal as­sis­tance.

The next morn­ing, I re­al­ized we’d barely made a dent in our wa­ter tank (not for lack of try­ing on that dirt road), so I de­cided at long last to try out the Base­camp’s shower. Try­ing to soap up with a toi­let in the way is tricky enough, but with the wa­ter rapidly al­ter­nat­ing be­tween hot and cold, I gave up. Af­ter my aborted at­tempt at get­ting clean, it was time to pack up the Base­camp and head home.

On the way back to Los An­ge­les, it oc­curred to us that the Discovery and the Base­camp com­bined to make the per­fect go-any­where va­ca­tion ma­chine. We had taken a rea­son­ably com­fort­able mo­tel room on wheels just about any­where we pleased. If that isn’t a Land Rover-y thing to do, I don’t know what is. AM


WITH A VIEW The Airstream Base­camp’s big front win­dows pro­vide a panoramic view, per­fect for see­ing the scenery … or your tow ve­hi­cle.


SPEED! Lexi launches a salvo against pho­tog­ra­pher Robin’s cam­era. Rugged in­te­ri­ors

of both the Discovery and the Airstream

proved suf­fi­ciently


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