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Hello Mother, Hello Father: Letters Home From Camp Jeep - Day 1

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Arriving at Camp Jeep in High-style

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Off-road performance course

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Taking a long walk off a short platform

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Off-roading, two wheel style

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Jeeps line up for performance course

An old Willys Jeep at the Museum

SEE ALSO: Camp Jeep Day 2

Charlottesville, VA: As you know from yesterday's brief letter, I started the day late for breakfast. Now in my old day-camp days, that would have been somewhat fatal, since it would have meant that I'd miss the camp bus in favor of a bowl of cereal, or in the attempt to catch the bus I'd have to forego the morning's nourishment. Either would have been sufficient to put me in a funk for the rest of the day. However, thanks to Jeep, I was not only able to avoid the light-headedness of a day without caffeine, I traveled in high style, and under my own control, to Camp Jeep in a brand-new black, Quadra-drive, V8 Grand Cherokee Limited.

The thirty-something mile drive through the lovely green pastoral Blue Ridge Mountains countryside was in sharp contrast to what I found waiting for me at Oak Ridge Estate in Lovingston, VA, the location for Camp Jeep. Wow, this isn't a simple offroaders club rally; it's a Jeepster Disneyland. The main site encompasses a variety of tented structures and activity areas, which are divided into five "Villages": World of Jeep Village, Adventure Village, Big Kids Village, Virginia Village, and Camp Kids Village. Here you'll find things like a Jeep Museum; several demonstration & performance off-road courses; crafts workshops; product displays; retail stores; food concessions; cooking, gardening, golfing & fly casting seminars; a radio-controlled airplane flight school; a bicycle motocross; and an Adventure Tower Multiplex, where you can throw yourself off a 50 foot tower while attached to a zipline - yeah baby, that's for me!

Adjacent to the five villages is the hiking and wilderness skills trails. And then, located 30 to 60 minutes away, there are the venues for kayaking, guided mountain bike rides, river tubing, and, of course, 4X4 trail rides.

This year's event is the seventh Camp Jeep, and the third one at this location. Last year's attendance was around 8,500 people; this year DaimlerChrysler is expecting as many as 10,000.

I spent most of the morning getting acquainted with the overall camp ground: shooting stills, scouting locations and people for some video shooting, and signing up for some of the specific activities that I'm interested in. Hell, if I can't have some fun while working, what good is it being here? So on Friday I'm scheduled to take an instructional compass & map reading hike, a two-hour 4X4 trail ride, and a watercolor workshop. Then, when I find time I'll try to conduct some video interviews, which will be posted on The Auto Channel in the next few days.

For Saturday, I've already scheduled a second hike - this time to learn how to navigate via a handheld GPS device; and a kayaking class on Walnut Creek Lake.

Unfortunately, the day at Camp Jeep came to a surprisingly early end when a very heavy thunderstorm moved in. Everyone bravely hung around waiting for the downpour to stop, but this was no typical summer afternoon shower. At about two o'clock the officials closed the park for the day. Although it was disappointing, everyone agreed that it just ain't summer camp without some rainouts. And so, in keeping with summer camp tradition, all the "campers" headed back into Charlottesville, where other Camp Jeep rainout activities were scheduled (such as a free movie premiere of "American Outlaws", a new western that will be released in August), or to their own respective campsites and individual diversions.

Dutifully, I returned to my hotel to work on this letter and to take a short run through the downtown area.

Well, that's all for now. I hope everything's fine where you are and that you're doing something fun too. I write again tomorrow with more news from Camp Jeep.

Marc J. Rauch Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher