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Here's something you don't want to do at a media event for seasoned automotive journalists from all over the world: high center a dually pickup truck during a test drive ... on an off-road trail where you are not supposed to take that kind of vehicle.
But that's what I did.
The scene was Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Ground near Ann Arbor, Mich. The occasion was the company's "What's New for 2015" event. The embarrassment was all mine.
Here's how it happened. Chrysler had dozens of new vehicles available at the event for journalists to test drive, everything from Ram trucks to Jeeps to Fiat 500s. There were also a sleek Alpha Romeo and a couple of evil-looking Viper SRTs. Those were for show and drooling over only. Car companies know better than to let random journalists behind such high horsepower dynamos.
The dually in this sad story was a 2014 gorgeous deep blue 3500 Ram Laramie crew Cab Long Bed 4X4 DRW with a bed loaded with hay bales. My intention that day was to compare it to 2015 Rams for ride and handling.
This was my first truck of the day. I already had taken it through the road course, a long, flat loop with pavement hazards of all sorts like chatter bars, uneven slabs and manhole covers. Some sections reminded me of the rural roads around my Missouri home, broken blacktop that once was smooth but now dipped and slumped with old age and neglect. You've seen roads like that where you live.
I also had taken the Laramie through the handling course: a couple of miles of S-curves -- and whatever is curvier than S. The truck had taken all of this in stride. It cruised over the bumps without uncomfortable jolts and glided through curves without swaying. Credit the dually's three-link coil with track bar front suspension and the rear suspension leaf springs with air bags. Very impressive.
On my second trip through the road course, I noticed signs for the off-road trail. They lured me like the scent of pizza lures a teenager. I had been on this trail a couple of years earlier and remembered it as tough but navigable. Without much thought, I made a left turn.
The trail was both muddy and rocky. I avoided the manmade, boulder-strewn riverbed near the front of the trail. The Ram dually is rugged, but it has standard ground clearance and I didn't want to rip out the bottom of a $66,000 vehicle those nice Ram people had let me borrow.
Instead, I made another left turn and headed up a steep gravel slope. No problem. Once down the hill, I avoided the water crossing. No need to get wet. I made another left turn and went up another steep hill, this one with "steps" of half-buried railroad ties. That was my big mistake.
The Ram roared up the hill, but once at the top, I realized the trail had gotten seriously narrower. This is not dually territory, I realized. But I couldn't turn around and I didn't want to back down those steps. So I edged forward until I saw another vehicle off to the left in front of me. It was a Jeep negotiating its way between two trees, with its mirrors folded back to give it a skosh more clearance. Once through the trees, it would head down a rocky slope. No way the dually would fit between those trees.