Moving across the country usually takes a lot of preparation and planning. But I only have about a week to get it figured out.
The timely arrival of a 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Crew means there’s no better time than the present to pack up and make the trek west from Michigan to California. So I jam all my stuff in the back of the Sprinter, call up a friend to help, and set off.
My friend Eric Jones is the only one brave enough to sign up for a last-minute trip across America. We’ve been trying to mountain bike in Colorado and Utah for the past few years, so we figure we’ll use this trip as an opportunity to do exactly that. But before we can get to the mountains, I head to the concrete jungle and pick him up from his apartment in downtown Chicago.
As I take stock of everything I have in the back of the Sprinter, the thought of traversing the continent with all of my earthly possessions seems daunting. But it all fits in the Sprinter variant we’re driving: a Crew model with the 144-inch wheelbase that’s outfitted with a turbodiesel V-6, four-wheel drive, and a standard-height roof. The Crew distinction means there’s a bench seat in front of the cargo area, and the addition of four-wheel drive gives us an extra 4 inches of ground clearance. With all of my stuff stacked in the cargo area there’s still seating for five, and even with all of this interior room the Sprinter is easily manageable around town and in traffic. I make my way through the maze of congestion and buildings and pull up curbside to Eric’s apartment. We toss his bags in and set a course to Colorado.
In our effort to cross the vast nothingness that is the state of Nebraska as quickly as possible, we elect to not stay in a hotel, instead finding a campsite to park the Sprinter. However, our chosen campsite turns out to be nothing more than a staging ground for horse trailers, so we make do and nestle our van in the back corner of the nearest parking lot for the night.
The following morning, after a stop at the local Starbucks, we continue west. The endless freeway starts to slowly rise from the cornfields as we gain elevation on the way into Denver. The extra thousand pounds of cargo doesn’t faze the turbodiesel V-6 in this Sprinter. It still pulls hard on the long freeway ascents as we make our way closer to our next destination. Snowmass Village sits just outside the town of Aspen at an elevation of 8,388 feet. During the winter months, this little town is a bustling ski resort. In the summer off-season, the slopes turn into dirt trails, bike racks are added to the chairlifts, and the resort transforms into a mountain biker’s paradise.
We’re the first ones on the lift the next day, eager to put our tires in the dirt and get in as many runs as possible. Once atop the mountain we take in the view from 11,000 feet, and then we set off down the mountain.
The trail is steep, fast, and rougher than I anticipated. The handlebars vibrate relentlessly in my hands as we blast down a rocky section of trail. It’s not until we’re about halfway down our first run that I start to relax and find some resemblance of rhythm. Then I catch a rock on my front wheel and take a face slam to the dirt. Getting back to my feet, I re-establish my whereabouts, grab my bike, and continue down the trail with a fresh dose of adrenaline.
After a solid day of amazing riding, our focus now shifts to the second trail in Moab Utah. At over 32 miles long with more than 8,000 feet of descent, the so-called Whole Enchilada will be the most intense trail we’ve ever ridden, and there’s no chairlift, no bailout, no reset button.
The drive into Utah is like landing on the surface of Mars. Red rock formations jet straight out of the sand like monuments dropped from the sky. Our Sprinter suddenly feels like an insect in the presence of giants as we follow our little dirt road through Sand Flats Recreation Area and find our campsite for the night. The added ground clearance keeps the Sprinter’s body clear of rocks as we creep our way down the sandy trail. With the four-wheel-drive system pulling us through with ease, we find a place among the boulders and settle in for an evening under the stars.
We pack up camp early the next morning and make our way into town to catch our shuttle up the mountain. We stop the van as we reach 10,000 feet and the start of the Whole Enchilada trail. Sweating bullets and gasping for breath, we slowly march our bikes up a switchback, and another, steeper ascent lies just around the corner. The climb seems endless, and we’re barely 2 miles into the 32-mile trail. The relentless ascent finally gives way and we see a sign: “Burro Pass. Elevation 11,150 Ft.” We’ve hit the top and it’s all downhill from here.
There’s a reason the Whole Enchilada is considered to be a rite of passage for any would-be mountain biker. It’s a steep, rocky, technical, and ever-changing trail, with everything from creek crossings to sheer cliff drops and canyon wall descents. After an exhausting day, we emerge at the end of the trail alive with a newfound confidence in our abilities and ourselves.
Now that I’m safely settled in Los Angeles, I’m already restless for another adventure. The West Coast has an abundance of trail to be explored and I’m ready to set off as soon as another set of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter keys hit my desk.
2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Crew 4×4 Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $57,440 (as tested)
- Engine: 3.0L turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6/188 hp @ 3,800 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 1,400-2,400 rpm
- Transmission: 5-speed automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD van
- EPA Mileage: N/A
- L x W x H: 233.3 x 95.5 x 97.0 in
- Wheelbase: 144.3 in
- Weight: 5,567 lb
- Top Speed: N/A