Written by Arthur Treff | Photos by Evan Anderson
Western North Carolina has ample opportunities for fun- and thrill-seeking off-road buffs. Marshall Grant, of Marion’s Blue Ridge Expeditions, wants to make sure the fun and thrills are accompanied by safe practices and ecological sensitivity.
The track ahead is deeply rutted with a mound in the center that, if I’m not careful, could strike the bottom of the vehicle. The ruts lead me through a break in the trees barely wide enough. After a slight right turn, the road vanishes; all I see is sky.
“Okay, I’m in first gear, the transfer case is set to low and locked, and the M light is on,” I say aloud. Left foot is on the brake, right on the gas.
“Good! From now on until you’re heading downhill, you can’t see the road, so ease into it,” says the man seated next to me.
He wasn’t wrong. As I turn and crest the drop off, the hood pitches up sharply, obstructing my view. As the front lowers, the rear rises, and the seat pitches me forward… way forward. The valley floor slowly comes into view, but I still can’t see the road over the hood. I’m riding a rollercoaster that’s just about to plunge over the abyss.
When I’m about 10 feet down the hill, the track finally comes into view: It’s steep. It rained last night so, yeah, it’s muddy, too. But I’m way too busy feeling for traction to worry.
“Nice!” he says, encouragingly. “You don’t want to over brake and lose traction, because then we’re just sliding out of control. Let the engine do the work.”
Slowly we bump down the hill and towards the bottom.
“I wasn’t smooth enough on the brake,” I say, “but I’m sure going down is easier than up.”
“You’re about to find out. Make a U-turn in that little grass patch.”
What?! Gulp. “Wait—I’m going back up this?” I stop the car.
“Of course.” The man passes me a conspiratorial grin. “Now, let’s talk about momentum and how it affects the suspension and traction.”
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