The idea sprung, as so many great ones do, from the Dukes of Hazzard. How many times have the Duke boys evaded Rosco or made it back to the farm just in time to beat the foreclosure guy? Many. And how do they do that, other than by driving fast and jumping over barns? Exactly - they take shortcuts. The Dukes are masters of driving off into the woods, blasting down a suspiciously well-graded trail, and then slewing back onto the main road, having cut critical minutes off their journey.
Is it possible, I wondered, to use that strategy in the real world? In all the millions of miles of asphalt in this country, is there anyplace left where the quickest point-to-point route would be the path unpaved? I find my potential answer on a map of Colorado, a state bisected by 14,000-foot mountain peaks. For instance, there is no paved road that runs directly from Telluride to Lake City, because the terrain between those two towns-about 50 miles distant-includes 13,509-foot Telluride Peak, as well as Darley Mountain (13,260 feet), Engineer Pass, Palmetto Gulch, and countless other remote locales where you'd expect to see mountain goats idly gnawing on the bones of ill-fated prospectors. According to MapQuest, it's a 166-mile drive between Telluride and Lake City, as the pavement takes the long way around all that daunting topography. However, my trusty Colorado recreation map says there's another way: up and over, via seasonal four-by-four trails. As the crow flies, more or less. So if a car averaged about 50 mph and an off-roader averaged about 15 mph, we might have a photo finish on our hands. And maybe, just maybe, we'd find that there's still a place in the U.S.A. where a low-range transfer case and big, knobby tires are more than a sad affectation for highway-bound suburban commuters. And, to be frank, I want to go bash around in the boonies with a jacked-up truck before somebody decides that that sort of thing is really so much fun that it should be illegal.
Next question: Which vehicles? For the four-by-four, we settle on the new Hummer H3T Alpha. Before you begin formulating your anti-Hummer letter to the editor, allow me to remind you that the object of this exercise is to traverse 50 miles of rugged mountain trails without getting stuck, breaking down, or puncturing a tire, all while driving as fast as possible. And the H3T Alpha has available 33-inch off-road tires, underbody skid plates as thick as manhole covers, and locking differentials front and rear. Also, the Alpha packs a 300-hp V-8, which means that the H3 finally has something in common with hundreds of thousands of other trucks and SUVs that somehow don't incite the same radical-conservationist urge to firebomb dealerships.