Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


2011 Mudfest (4): Making mud in the off road division

If Land Rover had any serious intention of winning the off road division of this year’s Mudfest, refusing to let their LR4 onto the “hard” off road course when it got muddy was an odd way of showing it. Jeep on the other hand had something to prove, namely a series of cajone swingin’ ads touting the Grand Cherokee’s newly redesigned off-road prowess. Toyota’s FJ Cruiser Trail Edition rounded out the three way competition as the only real truck of the bunch that would rattle your teeth out of your head and not flinch when you hosed them off the floorboards.

The scene was primed for a showdown of epic proportions on a stage composed of sludge imported directly from hell. Or so we were led to believe. We returned from lunch with the promise that the road course would be converted to funnel the SUV’s into a “Hard” and “Easy” course somewhere in the unknown brush territory that surrounded the paved area of Dirtfish Rally School. 

One of the event coordinators climbed into the back of a pickup truck, sweating, breathless and bleeding from what appeared to be a near-death battle with a jungle cat. He announced that while navigating the hard course he had become stuck in the Subaru Outback wagon and subsequently only the vehicles competing in the off road division would be allowed to attempt the journey for the remainder of the day. 

A bolt of excitement shot through the auto journalists. The Grand Cherokee, FJ Cruiser and LR4 were quickly manned and released into the wild. I found myself behind the wheel of the Mini Countryman, puttering merrily towards the easy course. 


Turned out to be a dirt road that weaved through light shrubbery momentarily before exiting safely back onto the pavement, at which point a line of road cones led drivers back to the garage. Terrain included both dirt and grass that apologetically tainted the Mini’s wheels in several wet patches, as if we were attempting to find field parking for a Dave Mathew’s concert at the Gorge after a light rain. 


Followed suit, but with muddy little ruts that reached halfway up the LR4’s tires, some of which were filled with the tears of a five-year old who’s Jeep Powerwheel had run out of batteries. 

An abrupt hump of hard-packed gravel and dirt was intended to scrape the skid-plates of passing vehicles, possibly to establish the presence of the skid plates. For an added an element of danger, an elevated exit bridge composed of 4x6 planks of wood with steep approach/departure angles was just wide enough to contain the trucks; one wrong flick of the steering wheel would send Lattes aslosh in their cup-holders.

I spent roughly forty-five minutes under the cover of the garage to think up and jot down these witty sarcasms for use here, chuckling smartly to myself as the zingers rolled in. During my absence, the other journalists continued to run laps through the hard and easy courses while the rain that had flooded the Snoqualmie River the previous night persisted. 

“Land Rover doesn’t want the LR4 on the hard course anymore,” a voice announced.

What? This was definitely going to warrant another zinger for the blog. But before my lazy eye could list away to a creative happy place, it caught sight of something peculiar:

The SUV’s were… Muddy. 

I hopped into the nearest available vehicle, a Kia Sportage to investigate. 


Several hours of traffic had transformed the happy trail into something horrific, as if a pretty girl had downed a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, loaded her makeup into a shotgun and blasted herself in the face. 

At its ugliest, a stretch of about thirty yards looked as if a giant set of fingers had dug gaping ruts into a dirt cake. In places the impressions were nearly a foot deep. If the little Kia and I were going to make it through this, we were going to have to pick an angle and keep steady momentum; we didn’t have much ground clearance to work with. 

A group of three fleet services representatives stared blankly with their arms crossed as I approached the muddy hell hole. Fifteen minutes later with the help of their spotting I managed to back the Kia out of the whole I dug and the easy course was closed for the day. 

Intrigued, I cruised smartly back to the garage to see what had become of the hard course, half expecting Jeep and Toyota’s PR guys to be following Land Rover’s lead by refusing to let their prestigious vehicles anywhere near harm’s way. 

Jeep’s guy invited me into the driver’s seat of the Grand Cherokee – he was making laps on the hard route. The FJ Cruiser didn’t even have a PR guy. 

Stay Tuned

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:


The latest news, reviews and commentary about cars, trucks, and more, automotive technology and car culture