Getting stuck in an unassuming muddy parking lot in one of the world’s most capable SUVs would be enough for me to be mortified by embarrassment and shame, but I must be some sort of masochist because after watching a dozen Land Rover Defender drivers meet that exact same fate, I overconfidently thought, “challenge accepted.” It’s just a little mud, I told myself naively as I stomped over to the SUV, my boots squishing through the soggy ground.
Of course, I made it about five feet before the mud swallowed the SUV’s wheels and the Defender was left with zero traction. The confidence departed my body instantly as I was stuck spinning my wheels in front of a group of off-road enthusiasts. My heart sank and I started to panic. I’ve been fighting the “my people can’t drive” stereotype my whole life and I was crushed to have gotten myself into this situation with so many people watching.
How did I get here? The first-ever Destination Defender was a weekend festival in the Hudson Valley of New York celebrating the Defender lifestyle. As an area famed for its outdoorsy but bougie vibe, it was the perfect backdrop for this event, designed to bring together Defender drivers and enthusiasts with all the activities they enjoy the most: camping, off-roading, cooking, art, adventure, and exploration. Hundreds of different Land Rovers and Defenders new and old converged, from bone-stock brand-new SUVs to rare vintage ones and rigs of all ages built up to tackle the most uncompromising terrain the world has to offer.
An overnight torrential downpour drenched the grounds of Destination Defender, turning the event’s parking area into a mud pit that became the unexpected “uncompromising terrain” of the weekend. The biggest issue was that most of the Defenders that got stuck were wearing regular street tires, but any SUV with chunky, knobby mud tires was confidently trekking through the slop like it was a leisurely stroll.
So here I was spinning my wheels, feeling immense shame for getting myself stuck. I was ready to just abandon the SUV and come back later when the mud was dry and nobody was watching, just to save myself from the embarrassment. But instead of being met with taunts and judging stares, something incredible happened.
A group of complete strangers ran towards me and started coaching me on how to get out. Already covered in mud and exhausted from helping other people get unstuck, when I wasn’t able to get out on my own, they grabbed their traction boards, started pushing and rocking the Defender, and strategizing on how to get me to firmer ground.
With a group of my rescuers surrounding the Defender shin-deep in mud, I was watching from the sidelines, still weirdly embarrassed. I apologized for taking up their time and asked if there was anything I could help with, but one guy just laughed and said, “This is what we do for fun on the weekends!”
After a few more attempts, someone from the Land Rover team came by followed by a skid steer, grinning and covered in mud. “These are my work problems,” he said shaking his head. “I love this sh-t!”
I watched the group of complete strangers around the Defender, strategizing on how to get it out of the mud (and getting absolutely filthy in the process) laughing and having the time of their lives just helping random newcomers to their community get out of the mud, with absolutely zero judgement.
And that’s really what Destination Defender is all about.
We’re weirdly taught that getting stuck is something to be ashamed of and that we must project that we always have everything under control. Getting stuck is definitely scary and spinning your wheels literally and figuratively while watching yourself get deeper and deeper into the mud is absolutely terrifying.
But this whole situation reminded me that struggling isn’t something you have to do alone. Not only are there people who can help you get unstuck, but they’re also incredibly happy to do so. There was no shame in accepting help, and getting stuck was the most fun and eye-opening experience of the whole event for me.
If I didn’t get stuck, I wouldn’t have met Robert White-Harvey, a retired Canadian Defender 110 owner who drove his built-up SUV from South Carolina all the way up to Tuktoyaktuk with his wife. “We have had homes all over the place, but I have a whole family here,” he said, pointing towards the people who were digging out my Defender.
I also wouldn’t have met Doug Gable, an enthusiast who restores and collects Land Rovers of different vintages. He summed it up best: “Land Rover people are some of the nicest and friendliest people you will ever meet,” he said. “(They’re) always willing to lend a hand, as you have experienced first-hand.”
You learn so much by getting stuck. In life and in off-roading, getting stuck shouldn’t be seen as something to be embarrassed about because it’s an opportunity to learn about yourself and learn about others. It also arms you with the knowledge on what to do the next time you’re stuck. Destination Defender taught me that there’s always a way out of a scary situation, and while it may seem dark and impossible to get out on your own, there are always people who can help you when you’re spinning your wheels.
I never considered myself an outdoorsy person, but if this is what it could be like, I know I’m in good company. And maybe next time, I can be the person to help when someone else is stuck in the mud.
Defender Service Awards
In the same theme of strangers helping strangers, the second annual Defender Service Awards were held over the Destination Defender weekend to celebrate non-profit organizations in Canada and the U.S. making a difference in their communities in the fields of animal welfare, veterans outreach, environmental conservation, community outreach, and search and rescue. One organization in each category was awarded a brand-new custom Land Rover Defender 130 to enable them to get physically further to help their communities and a US$25,000 cash prize. The runners up in each category also got a surprise US$10,000 donation.
During the awards gala, it was incredible to learn how these prizes would make immediate and long-lasting impacts on a grassroots level. Some of these organizations had live viewing parties at home, and the sheer joy that these wins brought was enough to bring the audience of hundreds to tears. If you’re in need of a good happy cry, the winners’ acceptance speeches have been made available to watch here (there were also some dogs on stage!), which is also where you can find more info on the winning organizations and the Defender Service Awards in general. If you know a small non-profit organization making a big impact in your community, let them know about the awards so they can apply for next year.