After a few hours of driving through the heartland of Texas, we turned onto a small gravel road. According to our GPS, we still had more than four miles to go. There was a thought in me that I may had entered the wrong address... Though a few mins later we arrived at the entrance gate to Iron Horse Ranch and were greeted by a formidable lineup of Defenders – we had arrived at our destination.
The Defender brand proudly announced the return of Destination Defender for 2023, a weekend adventure festival that took place from November 10 through 12, promising an experience that goes beyond the ordinary. The event, which premiered in 2022 in Saugerties, NY, has already become a hallmark of celebrating the Defender vehicle's adventure lifestyle and connecting with a community of enthusiasts and owners. This year's edition, set against the backdrop of 2,400 acres of woodlands, lakes, and meadows, aimed to immerse guests in the legendary design and capability of the Defender vehicle.
As we rolled into the ranch, slightly out of place in our Jeep Grand Cherokee rental, classic and modern Defenders stood proudly, setting the stage for what promised to be an extraordinary weekend of adventure. Walking past these rows of these iconic vehicles, I couldn't help but feel a sense of anticipation building within me. The mix of classic and modern Defenders hinted at the rich legacy and cutting-edge capabilities that awaited us. The Defender brand had already woven its magic, and I was eager to dive into the festivities.
In collaboration with Outside Interactive, the festival offered a range of activities and experiences authentic to the Defender brand lifestyle. Guests were invited to push the limits of their adventuring abilities with unique offerings curated by Outside's network of creators, athletes, and personalities.
My journey began with a paddle board adventure that perfectly captured the essence of Destination Defender. It was about 60° with just a hint of mist in the air, and even though I was fully clothed, I really wanted to get out on the water. Gliding across the serene lake, surrounded by the vastness of Iron Horse Ranch, I marveled at the tranquility that contrasted the power beneath the hood of the Defenders lining the shore.
Before I pushed my luck too far, I jumped off the board and went to explore the rest of the ranch. Since this was an event for owners, there was a full section set up for camping. As an avid overlander myself, I was eager to check out some of the setups. Unfortunately, I was easily distracted by the child sized Defenders on a small offroad course. With no kids in sight, of course I had to run over and take one for a spin – I’ll always be a kid at heart!
Fueling the excitement, we hopped into a Defender Trophy Edition for an offroad excursion that had mud flying and adrenaline pumping. The Defender's legendary capability shone as we navigated challenging terrain, demonstrating why it's a vehicle synonymous with adventure. The thrill of off-roading set the tone for the day, leaving me eager for more.
While traversing the ranch on the offroad trail, we rounded a bend to a large pond tucked amongst the trees and we quickly switched gears to fly fishing. Showcasing its adaptability to various adventures, the juxtaposition of off-roading and fly fishing spoke to the multifaceted nature of the Defender lifestyle – a perfect blend of power and precision. Waiting on the shore was an instructor who quicky handed us some incredibly nice fly fly rods, gave us a few quick tips, and sent us off to catch some bass.
I hadn’t fly fished since I was a teenager, and though I was a bit rusty, I still felt that calming relief as I smoothly swung the fly rod back and forth. Though it was mid-afternoon now, we did have one small bass get reeled in by the team. I on the other hand, continued to be consumed by the energy of Destination Defender and found myself fishing from the top of the roof rack!
After it appeared that the fish weren’t biting any more, we transitioned to the next lake where Oru Kayaks was on hand with their amazing foldable kayaks, adding yet another layer to the tapestry of experiences. The foldable kayaks mirrored the Defender's spirit of adaptability, allowing us to explore the waterways with ease. Paddling beneath the Texas sky, I couldn't help but appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into curating an adventure that showcased the Defender's capabilities in diverse scenarios.
I’ve owned a couple of Oru kayaks for a while now, and ABSOLUTELY LOVE them. They can fold and unfold in just a couple minutes and are great on the water. Their compactness is perfect as they are much easier to transport and easily fit in the back of a Defender. Just wish I had waited a bit longer to get mine, as the new black ones looked awesome!
Continuing down the muddy trail as it started to veer back towards the main area of the ranch, the adventure continued with mountain biking. Too bad it was starting to get a little late, as I really enjoy some good mountain biking, so we skipped this adventure and continued on to find another adventure. Probably a good thing as it was quite muddy, and I was wearing a white jacket!
As the evening transitioned from gritty to glam, the Defender Service Awards ceremony started to unfold, and I found myself not just a participant in an adventure festival but part of a community that honored modern-day heroes. The recognition of non-profit and charitable organizations, combined with the announcement of the six winning non-profits being awarded a new customized Defender 130 and $25,000, added a profound layer of purpose to the weekend.
Right after toasting the award winners, we headed out onto the lawn overlooking the lake. And with Fitz And The Tantrums up on stage rocking a great set, a drone show appeared above our heads highlighting the weekend activities and the joy we all have for the Defender bringing a perfect close to a day filled with epic adventures.
In the heart of Texas, surrounded by Defenders and like-minded enthusiasts, I experienced the impossible. Destination Defender 2023 was more than a festival; it was a celebration of the Defender lifestyle, a tribute to the legacy of heroism, and a testament to the enduring spirit of adventure. As I drove away from Iron Horse Ranch, the memories of off-roading, fly fishing, mountain biking, and kayaking intertwined with the Defender's legacy, etching an indelible mark on my heart and soul.