Trans-America Trail Part I: Planning

          When I purchased my LR3 in rural Wisconsin in September of 2020, I had no idea what adventures would ensue less than a year from my purchase. I first saw my Disco on a Facebook Marketplace ad when it suddenly caught my eye. The pictures were astounding, the body looked well preserved and the undercarriage looked impeccable. I was looking for a winter beater at this time, but after seeing her, I could not get her out of my mind. After several more days of searching, I consulted my two mechanic friends, John, a lifetime Chevy mechanic, and Cam, a hobbyist rally driver. Both seemed skeptical of the vehicle as it looked “too good to be true”. They both warned me that despite of the many failures of Land Rover past and present it was still worth looking at. After about another week, I messaged the man in the ad, asking him if I could come up and look at the Rover, and he agreed. Later that weekend, John and I drove about 50 miles north of our residence in Monroe County, Wisconsin. After some disputing with the bank, I retrieved the cash, ready to buy.

We arrived at the seller's home on a particularly hot, sunny day, and he warmly greeted us. As he gave us a tour of the vehicle, I knew immediately that this was the truck for me. John started her and did his inspection of the vehicle. I anxiously awaited his nod of approval, which fortuitously happened. After some haggling, we agreed on a price, started the paperwork, and in no time, I was ready to take her home.

When I cranked the ignition for the first time, I felt the power of the V8 engine, its hum mesmerizing me as I firmly grasped the wheel. I arranged my mirrors and seat, trying to become familiar with my new vehicle. When I was ready, I slammed the gas down and peeled out of the driveway. This was the first time I had a vehicle with enthusiasm and character such as this one. I immediately fell in love with my new Disco and everything about it. I can still remember rolling down the two-lane highway back to my hotel room in Tomah with all the windows down. It was liberating. On this maiden voyage, I realized my trip back to Washington would be a great one.

It was not long before I began purchasing upgrades and replacement parts for the still-unnamed Disco. I bought a gas cap where I also purchased a "Camel Trophy" hat from Atlantic British. I thought this was just a simple inside joke that I did not yet understand. An internet search revealed the fantastic series that it referred to, the Camel Trophy competition. I started diving deep into the history and community and the more I read, the more I realized I needed a name for my Disco. I was driving down a backcountry road with my friend Zak, whom I purchased the vehicle with when he jokingly proposed the name Lottie as a joke while searching English female names. I knew this was it, and thus, Lottie was born. 

          The fantastic thing about Land Rovers is that they all have character. They are not always the most reliable vehicle, nor are they the most affordably priced. Still, each individual Rover is different in its own way, which is the vehicle's beauty. I started consuming all the media that I could possibly find regarding the brand. I started listening to the Centre Steer podcast; I read Ben Fogle's book on the brand's history before I knew it; I was familiarized with many of the models and history.

          Fast forward to March, where I was sitting in a cigar lounge in Lake Forest, Illinois when I initially dreamed up the idea of a cross-country road trip. COVID-related work brought me to New York City, San Diego, Chicago, and Wisconsin. I felt as if I was beaten down so much by the events of the previous year that I knew I needed a long break. At this point, I had heard two suggestions about the Trans America Trail (TAT), one from the guys at Centre Steer and another at REI when I was purchasing a water tank. At this point, I did not have a significant amount of off-road experience, and appeal of a true adventure across the wilderness of America was as appealing as it was intimidating. However, while sitting in this lounge, it was a mere dream and nothing more.

          When I returned to Wisconsin that week, I told Zak that we were going to go off-roading. I bought a set of all terrain tires, researched essential recovery equipment, and hit the tracks. Other than gathering broad experience, my sole purpose was to push Lottie to the limit, to know exactly what I could and could not do in the coming months. The trails of Wisconsin were a great way to experience the capabilities of the powerful LR3. They were riddled with deep snow, mud, and frozen ponds that were plenty of practice for navigating the rough terrain I would encounter on the TAT. As winter turned to spring, the snow was replaced by deep mud bogs, which in turn became firm dirt-packed roads.

          I explored the bluffs of the Mississippi River, the trails Black River Forest, and the unmarked rural Wisconsin roads. The tracks became an engaging way to see my skills develop and Lottie persevere. I learned the fundamentals of avoiding getting bogged down immediately after digging myself out. I got stuck in a deep snowpack, traversed small water crossings, encountered navigational errors, and the importance of paying attention to gas, even more so than on the highway.

          Slowly but surely, the TAT became less of a dream and more of a reality. It was early spring when I purchased the GPS tracks from Sam Correro and started the proper trip planning. I remember looking at the cross-country map for the first time, seeing what the trail would inevitably be. It was nothing more than a line at this point in time, but it already meant so much more to me. I could not fathom what I would encounter on the trail, so I tried to account for everything in my later stages of planning.

          Driving across the country, most of it being mountainous terrain, I had to make sure I was prepared for everything from Bigfoot to Brown bears and sandstorms to downpours living by the adage: "Two is one, one is none.". I packed light weather and cold weather sleeping bag from Big Agnes, a sturdy tent from Mountain Hardwear, a Jetboil, and a Eureka stove. I filled pages of notes containing average weather, general conditions, and suspected wildlife I would encounter. In addition to my pack out, I would also be bringing what was effectively my entire life for the past 18 months.  

          A section of my tiny hotel room became dedicated to the pack out of Lottie and playing with options that would be the most convenient for me on the trail. The best part of Overlanding in a vehicle with so much space is that I could carry tools of both convenience and comfort. During this time, instead of focusing on college, I began focusing on the trip. The anxiousness of the unknown was starting to consume me, and I was itching to begin. Every day seemed to slow down as work began to draw down, and I became nearer to the trail. The last two weeks were almost unbearable, but I remained focused on the goal. I compiled the last of my rations, toyed with the final setup, and I issued my final pack out.

          Lottie was packed several days before I actually began the trip. I was emptying my room and tending to all my last-minute needs as I was preparing to leave Wisconsin, a finale of a 18month work trip due to COVID. Work was not entirely over, but I had several travel days to Maryland, where I would perform my final weeks of work and then depart on the trail. While conversing with one of my co-workers, we decided that we would make a trip to South Dakota for several days, then he would split south, and I would cut back east to Maryland. Although South Dakota was off course, I was excited to see the sights of Badlands National Park and the Black Hills.

          On my second to last day in Wisconsin, I finalized my initial travel plans. I would head west to the Black Hills, then cut east to Iowa and Colombus to visit some friends, then lastly, onto Maryland. Several of my friends seemed confused about why I just didn't head back to Washington, as I would already be mostly home. I explained to them that it wasn't an actual cross-country road trip unless I crossed the country.

          The night before, I finalized my packing, said goodbye to all of my friends, and tried to get some well-needed rest. My plan was to depart at midnight to enjoy most of a full day in the Black Hills. Unfortunately, I became restless; a surge of emotions overcame me as the trip was finally about to begin. I anxiously tossed and turned, attempting to sleep, but the great unknown kept me awake. My mind raced with questions about what the trip would unfold, the sights I would see, the people I would meet, and the scariest of all, what I would find out about myself. I finally drifted asleep around 5pm and had a relatively undisturbed rest. In a few hours, it would ultimately be time to embark on this adventure; I would finally be on the open road.