Land Rover caravan offers pampered adventure

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- To the adventurers embarking on a tour of Alaska from behind the steering wheels of Land Rovers, the journey is about a chance to see backcountry without being crammed into a tour bus and without breaking a sweat.

''We've been on a group trip before and we hated it,'' said Frances Bevington, a consultant from Australia.

She was sitting in the lobby of Pike's Water Front Lodge on Saturday morning speaking moments before sliding into the passenger seat of a 2001 Land Rover sport utility vehicle. Bevington, her husband, two other couples and another man paid about $5,000 each to be a part of a caravan of seven white Land Rover SUVs.

''It's hard to see the country if you're one of 40 people in a coach,'' piped in Frances' husband Tom, also a consultant.

''This is between what the old generation would do and the backpackers,'' Frances Bevington said. ''We don't want to rough it.''

This is the first Land Rover adventure to come to Alaska. The company has conducted 40 to 50 tours a year, largely aimed at devoted Land Rover owners, all over the world the past eight years. Tours have taken travelers to Jordan, Morocco, Austria and even a route tracing Hannibal's route through the Alps, according to Chris Langton, a Land Rover corporate manager along for the Alaska tour.

The 10-day journey began Saturday with a drive to Manley Hot Springs. Valdez, Whittier, Kennicott and Seward are on the itinerary.

''It essentially offers Land Rover owners exclusive adventure-based holidays you couldn't buy from a travel agency,'' Langton said. ''All of them (on this tour) have been on at least two of these Land Rover Adventures programs. Some of them have been on four or five.''

The guests hail from America and Australia. A photographer is also along to get location shots of two models dressed in clothes from the Land Rover Gear apparel line.

The vehicles, rugged yet equipped with touches such as headlight wipers, were shipped from California.

The SUVs are part of the company's American fleet of demonstration cars. Langton said the company sells almost 40,000 of the cars each year in the U.S. They retail for $32,000 to $60,000.

A support crew packed the vehicles with food and wine and Windexed the windshields. One crew member licked her fingers and wiped water stains off a vehicles' back bumper.

''We just pay lots of money and the little fairies fix everything,'' said Diana Brookes, on the tour with her husband, a computer software executive. ''There's always an army of people who come along and do all sorts of things.

''We leave the vehicles and fly off somewhere and magically when we arrive the Land Rovers are there. That's what's nice about this.''

Off-road driving is not high on the list of activities. Langton said the company tries to restrain potentially destructive activities.

''We have a philosophy that says 'tread lightly,''' he said.

Besides, the guests have to give the cars back at the end of the trip.

''They've got to go back in, if not in pristine, at least in good condition,'' Langton said.

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