It’s a popular pastime with the outdoor adventure set: boldly traveling to places few go by taking the road… or rocks… less traveled.
Of course, I’m talking about off-roading.
Most consider this an extreme sport, getting up close and very personal with Mother Nature in her harshest and most beautiful spaces. It’s not for the faint of heart, and you absolutely need to have the correct vehicle to do it in. The average sedan or minivan? Not going to cut it.
I recently had the chance to try my hand at off-roading at elevation in Utah’s rugged Wasatch Mountain range, and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.
My Mission, Which I Chose to Accept!
I was invited out to Utah by Nissan to test drive their newly-designed 2022 Frontier pick-up truck. This is the part where I admit, while I’ve been the passenger in a truck many times, I’ve only driven one a handful of times. I knew we’d have several different courses, including a standard highway cruise, but off-road? Well, that was something else altogether. Honestly, I was a bit nervous. It had also rained — pretty hard — the night before, which meant the course would be extra sloppy.
That said, the engineers and staff at Nissan were terrific in explaining all the features that would not only make the truck safe to drive over tricky terrain, but also fun. I trusted them, and my own driving skills. Add to that the fact that I’ve never been one to back away from a challenge or opportunity to try something new, and I decided to go for it with a sense of adventure!
From The Highway To Off-Road
Once I had completed my highway drive (which the Frontier also handled quite well — and much quieter than I would have imagined!), it was time to see what the vehicle could really do. My directions indicated we’d be starting the off-road course in a remote corner of Wasatch Mountain State Park.
There were a total of four vehicles in my drive group, and we were led and followed by staff in ATVs. It was quite the caravan! There were also support staff along the route, letting us know what vehicle systems to engage during especially difficult climbs and steep descents. They let us know the trail was not going to be smooth sailing, but that we would absolutely have a blast.
“As long as I don’t break your fancy new truck,” I told them.
“Just be sure to keep that gas pedal steady,” one tech told me. “Don’t be too slow, but don’t be a speed demon, either. Keep the RPMs steady and you’ll be just fine.”
With that, the ATV driver at the front of our group gave the signal, and we ventured off.
After a quick paved drive to the trail, I realized this was indeed going to be an adventure. We lined up on a rough mountain path and got final instructions from the staff. Then, we were off!
Twists, Turns, And A Lot of Mud!
Our off-road group took on all sorts of terrain. What started as a relatively gentle gravel mountain trail quickly devolved into a muddy mess, full of huge rocks to power up and over. As we headed up the mountain face there were really steep climbs, and a fair amount of steering wheel clenching twists, bucks, and dips along the way, too. Along the trickier parts of the route, we’d stop, make sure we were in correct gears and drive modes, then proceed again.
While there were a few stomach-churning moments on the drive, I tried to let go of my anxiety, have fun, and trust the truck’s capabilities. In proper gear, I felt safe and confident in the truck’s capabilities to get me up and over the terrain safely, and comfortably, thanks to super-charged shocks designed for such a trip. Sure, there were jolts, some rocking back and forth and some scary mountain passes to traverse (there were no safety rails, and the drop on the passenger side was quite substantial!), but the Frontier pickup gripped the trail well, and despite the muddy conditions, really stuck in, barely slipping or sliding.
And when I did have the chance to glance up from the challenging course, the scenery was absolutely stunning. We drove through stands of mountain aspen and lush green valleys. I knew this was a part of the park very few folks got the chance to visit given its remoteness and ruggedness and relished the opportunity — no matter how bumpy the trip!
A Slight Pit Stop
I did have a slight break — or rather pop — in the off-road action. Just as we were finishing up our mountain ascent, and the trickiest portion of the drive, I heard what sounded like a small, sharp explosion from the front of my vehicle over the revving of the engine. Then, a high-pitch hiss whistled out and I knew what had happened. Darn it, I popped a tire on one of the sharp rocks in the ridge.
I pulled over, letting the rest of the group pass me. Luckily, my mishap took place right in front of a support staffer, who was able to quickly change my tire and send me on my way. I was a bit bummed — I had made it that far with zero problems — but thankful that help had been right there. Clearly, that wouldn’t be the case on an ordinary off-road adventure.
All in all, this was a terrific adventure that I was happy to try out for the first time. Going off the beaten path allowed me to see a corner of our country few get to, and the vehicle I was driving had been designed for just such excursions. It was a challenge, and I was admittedly nervous in spots, but overall it was a terrific experience. I think I would like to off-road again at some point, but perhaps on different terrain — maybe on sand at a beach or dune area.
While I had a lot of fun, I was happy to have been in a group, and that I had help at the ready if I needed it — which I certainly did! I would not recommend off-roading alone unless you are experienced. Also, you must have a vehicle that’s correctly outfitted with the power and tech to get you up and over those trails successfully and safely.
The new 2022 Nissan Frontier is certainly such a vehicle — it handled my off-roading well without feeling like too much truck.
Road trip adventures can vary from the strenuous to the scenic: