The Land Rover Writer

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Discovery Sport Global Launch - Iceland (Day 2)

The first full day in Iceland blended into the drive and flight day preceding because of the 5 hour time change. I'm not enough of a world traveler to adjust to time zone changes that easily; I remembered enough of past trip to rest up a bit and then push through the first day of GMT. 

The room at the Hotel Ion seemed so perfectly Scandinavian: compact, stark, laden with hidden amenities. The WiFi worked, each room came with an iPad filled with Land Rover information, coffee and hot chocolate were available in your room, truffles showed up in the afternoon. The view was that of a parking lot and mounds of frozen lava.

The Ion started life as a dormitory for workers constructing the nearby geothermal plant. As it's over an hour from the Reykjavik area it had little use until purchased and converted to a "luxury hotel." It had the iron railings, narrow hallways and utilitarian windows of a dorm. What really signaled its "luxury" was its service: the staff beamed without being obsequious, the floors and room fixtures gleamed, the small bars and restaurants supplied perfect food and drinks. The night desk clerk offered to wake me should the Northern Lights break through the overcast. 

I fiddled around the room, showered, and took a short nap. Around 11:00 I took a light breakfast prior to an orientation meeting.

First off, we received our Icelandic-designed, Land Rover logo coats from, a Land Rover hat and a pair of North Face gloves. This was just some of swag: we also received a Land Rover cell phone battery pack, a duffell bag and a Petzl headlamp. Given the limited amount of daylight, it made some sense.

The plan that day called for us to go four-up in a Discovery so as to experience on road and off road driving. While many of the journalists present had traveled to events like this together and knew each other, I just jumped in wherever I saw an empty seat. I wound up with a writer from, one from Indianapolis freelancing for a lifestyle magazine, and one from 

We began our drive to Pingvellir National Park in ice-covered roads, the majestic landscape of rural Iceland surrounding us. 

The park offered hot springs and geysers, as well as a coffee stop. The big geyser and the "little" geyser did just what they were supposed to do and we left refreshed, if surprised by the dusk at only 3:30 pm.

Our guides were team members from the Land Rover Experience in the UK, including Will Cox and Joel Rang from Land Rover Experience Scotland. 

The return drive took us by another route of narrow gravel lanes, and then onto a plowed track between hillocks around the geothermal plant near the Hotel Ion. 

That ascent and descent was completed in the complete darkness. It was my turn to drive, which was great by me as it meant I could test the off road capabilities for the first time. Off roading you want to avoid using the brakes at all costs; engine braking is the key. With manual transmissions you just shift into a lower gear and let the engine revolutions slow you down. With old school automatics you shift into a lower gear to get some of the same effect.

The Discovery Sport came only with a rotary dial for selecting gears and buttons to choose the best mode for conditions; in our case, "snow, grass, gravel." If you wanted to select a higher of lower gear within the 9-speed transmission, you had to use either the paddle on the steering wheel, or engage the hill descent system [pioneered by Land Rover], the speed of which could be controlled by using the + or - control on the cruise control system. I tested it out so thoroughly that one of journalists asked, "Is that you or the car? What's wrong with the car?" I don;t think he really believed me when I said I was testing out the engine braking (perhaps he wasn't an off roader?), but it really did work well.

To the dismay of most of the journalists the Discovery Sports came shod with Pirelli studded winter tires; somehow that was seen as Bill Bellichick-like bending of the rules. I questioned whether any of them had really done much off roading - without proper tires no vehicle would go anywhere. And given the added noise of studded tires it provided an added challenge to the noise and vibration categories that seemed to galvanize their collective attention. 

When we returned to the Hotel Ion, Land Rover made a formal presentation, led by Paul Cleaver, the Development Engineer for the Discovery Sport, and Stuart Schorr, LRNA's Communications Director [below].

Dinner and drinks followed and flowed, but with a 7:00 am departure time the following morning, I hit the sack early. As I returned to the room, I noticed the absence of visible radiators and/or heating sources. The floors sure felt warm, which signaled radiant heat. The plant in the distance reminded me that some 90% of the buildings in the country are heated geothermally - efficient, non-polluting and effective. I slept well - no EMS pager on this trip!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Discovery Sport Global Launch - Iceland ( Day 1)

Back in December I received an unusual request from Land Rover North Amerca; could they have a copy the Rovers Magazine Media Kit, and quickly? Since it hadn't been updated in a few years, and since everyone at Rovers North was quite busy, I jumped in with some recommended revisions and we quickly sent it off to Land Rover.

It might have been the best Christmas present ever; in mid-December I received this e-vite to attend the Global Launch of the Discovery Sport in Iceland the following month. 

You can tell I don't get these often. My first response to Land Rover was that I needed to let Rovers North, the publisher, know the cost of the event as we had already set our budget for 2015. "No, no," said their representative, "everything will be covered by Land Rover." I accepted before I even notified Rovers North! Clearly someone had dropped out and they had extra spaces.. but I didn't care whether I was first or last - I was heading out to Iceland.

The requirements poured in from their travel agency in California. What were my preferred flights and airports? What was my passport number? Did I have the required international driver's license? What were my coat size and glove size? 

Vinalhaven has a dirt airstrip served by Penobscot Island Air, an air taxi service. While they're quite a wonderful service, the costs are above my price range and generally I fly them only when I'm accompanying a patient on an EMS evacuation. But they fly into Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head, ME, which has daily service to Boston via Cape Air [to whom I have a sentimental attachment]. Iceland Air flies direct from Boston to Reykjavik. Imagine, no ferry, no driving or bus - no to be. The agency tried but found that the return trip would not work as Cape Air does not have a late flight back to Owls Head. So instead, I had to "suffer" with a long ferry ride, a drive in the Corvair to Portland, Jet Blue to New York's JFK, and then Iceland Air to Reykjavik.

The passport would be tight in terms of turnaround time but an extra $100 to the Department of State and a trip to Rockland's Post Office for photos did the trick [fortunately I still had my expired passport]. The international driver's license was simple to get; I stopped at the AAA office during a trip to Portland; 15 minutes and $20 later, I had one. 

The itinerary from LRNA promised a tight schedule.To make the flights I had to leave the island on the 7:00 am ferry Tuesday, January 20 [of course I had an EMS call the night before so I only go a few hours sleep). I started driving towards Portland around 8:30 with a stop at L.L. Bean for winter weather socks and got to the Portland Jetport [yes, that's its real name] with plenty of time to spare before my 3:00 pm flight to New York. 

Arriving a JFK I found out that the "Saga Class" ticket I had was the same as First Class and that it entitled me to wait in the British Airways Lounge that Iceland Air shared with them. This was ridiculously comfortable; any drinks you wanted, fine hors d'ouevres, plenty of comfortable couches and seats, lots of International Men and Women of Mystery, even cell phone charger kiosks. Decadence becomes me, I think.

I overheard some men discussing automobiles and took a guess that we might be on the same flight for the same purpose; indeed, that was the case. Land Rover put us all in Saga Class. That, combined with the utterly charming flight attendants, astonishingly good food and a pleasant seatmate, made the 6 hour trip go by reasonably well - considering all the time i had spent sitting aboard the ferry, in my Corvair, at airports and lounges and airplanes.

When we landed in Reykjavik charming people held placards that read 'Land Rover." I got my bag through customs quickly enough and then boarded a bus with about 40 other journalists from around the US. We had a 90 minute ride in the January darkness [you get only 6 hours of daylight this time of year in Iceland]. The bus had the European style of great height and narrow width. My seatmate was a good-natured but large guy from the West Coast and he was not comfortable with the required seatbelt. 

We drove around the narrow ring road around Reykjavik's rush hour traffic and finally headed east to our destination, the Hotel Ion. It truly sat seemingly in the middle of nowhere, looking for all the world like a space station hovering above a moonscape. 

Once deposited we had a few hours to get our rooms and rest up before the driver orientation and first day of life with the Discovery Sport.