The United States of America is a magnificent chunk of land filled with natural wonders and populated by unique creatures. From the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean, it’s all connected via rivers of asphalt, best navigated by marvelous mechanical devices of our own invention. The idea that so many of the organic beings we call humans never leave the small plot of land where they were born and raised is a bit maddening. There’s so much to experience, and it’s my belief that we’d all understand each other more and perhaps get along a little bit better if we stepped outside of our echo chambers and visited other territories and encountered other cultures in real life, not vicariously through the Travel Channel.
Every year, I make at least one long cross country trip, and each time I try to drive new roads and see new things. Driving long distances is my Zen, one of the few things I’ve found that lets my mind rest and reset. The latest long haul was in a Dodge Challenger SRT® Hellcat Widebody with a 6-speed manual, a beautiful White Knuckle car with the brown leather (I like to call it ‘baseball glove brown’) interior.
The Widebody is stunning, and that’s not just my opinion. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to drive a Viper ACR Extreme Aero from Detroit to Las Vegas and back, and that car disrupts traffic patterns. You could hear the necks cracking as people strained their bodies to get a glimpse of the thinly disguised racecar. This time around, the Hellcat Widebody garnered similar attention as men, women and children took in the intensely proportioned Challenger. Darla, my best friend and partner in crime for 17 years, looked at me at one point and said, “You love driving cars that get a reaction, don’t you?”
It’s not the attention I want, it’s the type of response…the smile, the laugh, the jaw drop…cars that have character, that are fun just being around, that’s what I dig. Such a simple thing that can make someone’s day just a little better, what a cool deal! Life is too short to drive boring cars.
It’s also too short to drive in straight lines. We hit some incredible spots on this journey, starting with the Million Dollar Highway in western Colorado. The slinky road was first shaved from the Rocky Mountains by a Russian immigrant in the 1880s so he could transport ore. 50 years later, it was made a little bit wider, not by much. Currently, it’s still considered one of the most dangerous roads in America. It runs through valleys and mountains, and at its highest point, you’re 11,000 feet above sea level! I’ve wanted to hit the scenic route for a few years now, but the weather and timing foiled all my past plans. This time, we were able to carve out the time and the gods smiled upon us by providing a beautiful, sun-soaked day to push the Hellcat through the high-stake twists and turns. Darla was oohing and ahhing; meanwhile, I had to concentrate on driving, as there aren’t any guardrails to stop those who overestimate their skills from tumbling down the hill. And I guess that happens a lot, at least according to the friendly San Juan deputy who pulled me over for…uhh…accelerating a little too quickly. We’d stopped for photos and to enjoy the moment, but when I put her back on the road, the zero to 65 in 3-ish seconds was a bit much for the cops who just happened to be sitting around the bend. He was super cool, even posing for a selfie with me. He just wanted to make sure I understood the beast hiding in the beauty of the mountains.
“Hello officer, can I ask why you pulled me over?” is a line you’ll probably need to get used to saying when driving anything that has the letters “SRT” associated with it. Perhaps I’ve been guilty of going a mile or two over the speed limit on occasion, but the one ticket out of eight stops over my last four cross country trips in Challengers and Vipers would suggest the police have other motives. I propose a theory: the guys with the fancy blue and red lights just want to check out the cars. I was pulled over three times on this trip, the last one while I literally had the cruise set to the speed limit. But I digress…
I did end up in jail the next day; fortunately, it wasn’t exactly maximum security. It was in the prehistoric Bedrock City! Making our way past Colorado and through Arizona, we happened upon Yabba Dabba-Doo land, a weird semi-abandoned amusement park built around The Flintstones, a cartoon many of us, Darla and yours truly included, enjoyed in our youth. You know, back when you had a small, boxy TV and an antenna and got like 4 channels. Talk about the Stone Age. The park was a neat little diversion, filled with Fred and Barney and the gang’s huts and buggies and such. The place was another one of those things you just don’t run into unless you take the road less traveled. It was worth it just for Darla’s adventure on the Dino-slide alone. Yes, there is video. No, you can’t see it. I value my life.
Speaking of which, the value of life. Ugh. It’s now that we come to the most tragic part of our tale. Later that day, after the sun had gone down, we were somewhere in the mountains of the western United States picking our way south in the darkness. We planned on stopping in Navajo Nation for the night, and were nearly there, when the largest jackrabbit that’s ever existed darted into our path. Being the alert, crafty driver that I am, I knew we were the only car on the road. And with the widebody’s sport-tuned suspension and giant 305mm Pirelli P-Zero tires, I felt confident that I could kick the car right and avoid an act of violence against what was seriously at least a 50-pound rabbit. It was headed into the front driver’s side fender when I jumped to the next lane, successfully evading a full-on decimation of wild life and limb. Or so I thought. “Booomphh” was what we heard and felt next. It had jumped into the side of the car, more towards the rear. Darla started crying. My eyes were saucers. Kind of both at the same time we said, “What…how…that was a rabbit? Did you see how huge it was?!?” It was literally bigger than our pitbull April. I mean, we were in Arizona, so perhaps it was like a mutated, radiation-fed demon bunny? Whatever it was, at that moment of impact, its life force was snuffed out. The next day’s light revealed guts smeared along the door, hair literally embedded into the rear fender flare. I found a car wash as soon as possible. I felt terrible, but also like maybe I saved mankind from an evil man-eating Bugs Bunny.
We’d somehow never seen “the eighth Wonder of the World”, the Grand Canyon, which was our next stop. Early, early, the next day, the Hellcat crept not-so-quietly through the National Park in the dark. Watching the sun rise slowly on the Canyon’s walls is an event that no description will do justice, of which no pictures could possibly capture the awesomeness. Awesomeness in the absolutely purest sense of the word. We sat in silence as blackness relinquished its grip, finally giving way to light as it always does in their daily morning battle. It’s truly an inspiring and emotional experience, one I can’t recommend highly enough. The sun-painted rocks and green valleys, split with rivers and tributaries, leaves one speechless.
Next: Vegas and beyond…