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January 2012 4xForward

Posted in Features on January 1, 2012
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Last month I made my midyear’s resolution to go wheeling at least once a month for fun. I’m happy to say I have stuck to that resolution and reawakened many of the thoughts and processes I had left dormant in my brain. It’s not like I had forgotten anything, but by not using a skill set and keeping it up to date, one tends to be a bit foggy on some of the basics.

Case in point: Last weekend. I was driving cross-country with a fully loaded Land Rover LR4 (our 2010 4x4 of the Year winner) when I spied an unmarked and unused road off to the right—an abandoned stretch of asphalt that was cracking and heaving under the forces of time, as well as calling to me. I had an appointment 25 miles away and was early by three hours. How could I possibly resist? I didn’t know where the road ended up or what I would find, but the southwestern desert of this country can be mighty inviting in the late summer—if you don’t mind the heat.

The LR4 is shod with the optional Goodyear MT/R 255-55 on factory 19-inch rims, and since it had recently rained I knew the tires would be appropriate in the forthcoming mud, and of course for the regular rocks and desert dunes that are in the area. I felt confident of the vehicle itself, as after nearly a year of testing it has proven its worth in all sorts of circumstances. Finally, I always carry all the survival gear and trail tools with me regardless of the trip, as you never know where you might find that special road or trail leading off into the sunset.

Since this was just a quick foray into the dirt I decided not to air down from the full-load capable 50 psi, as I had just been duning like a dream earlier in the trip while near Glamis, where speed and power rule supreme. With the electronic nannies negated from the dash switches, one can make the tires spin and go with the 5.0L V-8 engine.

All was good with life. And then, driving down the ancient tarmac, a monster dune swallowed up the road as it marched slowly across the desert. But it was only 25 feet tall and a few hundred feet across, so I opened up the LR and scooted and booted up and over the top like it wasn’t even there. From my vantage point on top I could now plot my new route to another dune where the road popped back out, so I took a leisurely charge and played for an hour amid the shifting sands, throwing roosters and doing powerslides across the slipface of the dunes. The flawless Rover felt good and rode right, and I was in heaven once again—wheeling as I should.

Of course I needed a bite to eat and to relieve and replenish myself, so I stopped after a rocky climb to the side of a dune looking for nonexistent shade, turned the rig off, and made a pork chop sandwich. That and a drink are hard to beat in the blazing sun of a desert afternoon, especially with a bit of windblown sand grinding your teeth down. It’s good for the digestion as well as the soul.

After reveling in the heat for a bit, I decided to head back to the road and highway for my appointment. Firing up the LR, I nailed the throttle once again and lurched forward about 5 feet, then straight down to the not-framerails in the sand. I had made a full-on rookie mistake, and I was going to pay for it. Wait until next month’s Readers’ Rides issue, when I will reveal the rest of the story and whether or not I made my appointment.

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