I recently spent an afternoon mired in the kind of fear that only really comes when you believe you’re staring down the barrel of certain death. It happened a few weeks ago, when I took my Hummer off-roading with a Jalopnik reader named Phil.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: I’ve finally taken my Hummer off-roading. When I first got it, you were asking me to take it off-roading, so I brought it to a race track. Months later, you were still asking me to take it off-roading, so I brought it to a drag strip. And only now, after I’ve had the thing for almost a year, have I finally taken it to the kind of place where people view a rollover accident with the same mundane regularity that you or I would view shopping for sunglasses.
So what happened? Ah, where to begin…
Oh yes, that’s right: on the miserable two-hour drive to the off-road facility. We decided to take the Hummer to Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, which is a giant off-road park set up for people who have lifted their Jeeps to the point where an entire church youth choir could perform under the frame. Unfortunately, getting there was a stark reminder that the Hummer should not be taken on long road trips. Or short road trips. Or any sort of road trip, unless you’re driving through a war-torn country with a guy on the roof manning a machine gun the size of a floor lamp.
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Here’s the situation: the Hummer is loud. It’s slow. It’s inefficient. It has mediocre steering, brakes, and headlights. It doesn’t have air conditioning. So when you drive it for a while, you end up sitting in the right lane of the interstate, roaring along with the semi trucks, getting passed by people in one-owner 1980s pickup trucks that look at you with such an extreme level of surprise that it’s clear they haven’t passed anyone since they were rushing home to catch the Quayle-Bentsen debate.
But eventually we made it to the off-road park, and we signed up for the afternoon. It was approximately this time when I began to feel the fear of certain death.
Actually, the first thing I felt when we arrived at the off-road park was rocks. Off-roaders aren’t content to just drive along on dirt roads, even if it’s the roads leading to the trails. To prove their manliness, they have to be driving along on rocks. So we drove down some of these rock roads, which were about as uncomfortable as asking someone when the baby is due and finding out she isn’t pregnant. Then we came to a hill.
As it turned out, the first hill of the day wasn’t a very challenging one. But I didn’t know that at the time. You see, I’ve only been off-roading a few times before, and never in a vehicle the size of the Hummer, so I spent the early part of the afternoon getting freaked out by basically everything, including slight breezes.
So we drove down the first hill, and then we drove down a second hill, and the Hummer performed like a champ. The next obstacle was a mud hole – and as I forded it at full speed, splashing mud all over the Hummer, and the cameraman, and various innocent bystanders, I realized something: I was actually having fun. I was having a great time. I was having a blast. I was—
Then I almost rolled over.
Here’s what happened: we were navigating down a steep, rutted hill and I accidentally put the Hummer’s driver-side front wheel into one of the ruts. Then the Hummer rotated forward, it lifted its passenger-side rear wheel off the ground, and it started to rock back and forth like that fishing boat George Clooney piloted into the tentacles of the Kraken.
Now, what’s going to happen next is, a bunch of Jeep guys are going to post below saying that I’m a weakling because their rigs are always teetering on the trails, and they’re always going into ruts, and they’re always going down steep hills, and you can’t fit an entire church choir under their vehicle, but maybe you could get the tenor section.
But here’s the situation: yes, when you’re on a trail, and your Wrangler teeters a little bit, it can be slightly uncomfortable. But the Hummer is a monstrous behemoth that weighs something like 8,000 pounds. When the Hummer rocks back and forth, it feels like you’re sitting on the toilet one afternoon and all of a sudden your house begins to tip over.
So I got out, and Phil told me what to do, and I nervously applied the gas pedal, and the Hummer drove down the rest of the hill as if it were the slight incline you have to cross when you’re entering a residential driveway. It was as if the Hummer possessed every ounce of confidence that I personally lacked.
The rest of the day was less dramatic. There were more hills, and more rocks, and more mud, but I never again felt like I was going to die. It only took a few minutes off the pavement before the Hummer me convinced that it really is the capable off-roader that everyone says it is – and at the end of the day, I came away certain that four hours of off-roading was the most fun I had with the Hummer during the entire year I’ve owned it.
Unfortunately, we still had to drive home.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.