Wheeling a fullsize isn't the simplest thing to do on tight trails. That simple fact is often overlooked by those who run Jeeps, Suzukis, and other small 4x4s through rocks, sand, mud, and snow. Such is the case with thisyear's 4x4 of the Year Winner (Feb. '06), the Dodge 1500 SLT Quad Cab TRX4 Off-Road. We picked this rig out of a gaggle of 4x4s because it consistently did well in everything we threw at it, and shined better than others in quite a few areas. But as with any competition, the longer you test, the better you can make an informed decision as to the true worth of said contestants. While we barely get three weeks of testing done between five judges, we have rarely been snookered into picking a dog as our winner. And truth be known, we'd rather have a good trail rig for our long-term winner than any other factor. When the big Dodge Ram won this year, we thought many trail days would be shelved simply because of the size of the truck. Luckily, we were wrong.
It's my job to drive this truck for a year and report back what we've found, so piling on the miles and trying it over varied terrain is part of that equation. I've had two months to get used to the size of the truck, which means average commuting, parking, freeway swooping, and towing were all dialed in so I could miss a tree or curb by inches on purpose. Like any vehicle it takes a bit of practice to be comfortable with it, and after coming out of a year of sport-uting I had my worries about trail riding. There would often be a dirt road I'd whiz by on a trip, instead of venturing down it into the unknown, just because I wasn't confident enough of the Big Red Dodge.
That all changed as I hit my first major trail/roadtrip with Big Red with a 1,000-mile trip from L.A. to Las Vegas to Pismo and back, with much of it in the dirt. That dirt driving wasn't the plan of course, but after three days working in Vegas, I had to drive to the middle of California, and the freeway was getting mighty boring as I looked at those cool 4x4 roads just waiting to be traveled. I headed on a new highway toward Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area five miles west of Vegas. I hadn't been there and since I try not to travel the same road twice, I detoured into the scenic loop drive with all the other tourists. I found it cost five bucks to enter, so to get my money's worth, I stopped at the visitor's center and looked around. To my surprise, I noticed a small notation on a map showing a 4x4 trail leading from the middle of the area towards Pahrump, the direction I needed to go! After consulting with the BLM official who tried to talk me out of traveling the "dangerous, rough, nearly impassable trail" I set off across the Rocky Gap 4x4 trail.
The trail is actually pretty difficult, with mud, snow, rocks, switchbacks, desert terrain, pine trees, and a total lack of cell phone coverage. Even though I had an untested adventure Dodge, I had to push forward through snow drifts, mud bogs, and rock stairsteps. Even if I got stuck, at least I'd know what Big Red was capable of in a real-world trail, and heck, adventure is what life is about anyway. Luckily, the rock trail was mostly downhill, so careful crawling with street tires at full pressure was much easier than going up, especially in the snow. By the time I hit a forest service road which lead to Pahrump, I had only nicked the rocker panel and ground the drop hitch to a nice angle. The Dodge had passed its first-real world trail test and instilled the confidence I needed for more adventures. Those little two tracks and dirt trails next to a freeway better look out; Big Red is coming to town.