An Exhaustive Look at Cars
Usually when you think of off-roading, you picture Jeeps and pickup trucks climbing over big rocks or blasting through mud and sand. What I'm sure you don't picture is a 2018 Ford Explorer displaying abilities that blow out of the water (or in this case sand) all the staged photos in its brochure (without popping a bead). Well that's what I was doing recently in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. The north end of the Outer Banks is home to the town of Corolla, where there are miles of beach to drive on and the neighborhoods are only accessible via 4X4. The way to get there is quite simple; just follow North Carolina Highway 12 until you start seeing signs for the 4WD beach and air-down stations (which you should stop at). Once you have aired-down, all you have to do is keep following the road until it turns into a beach, which is considered a road by Apple Maps.
I had two drives on this beach, and while both times were fun, the second trip is where I really pushed the limit. If you're into off-roading, you might have heard that sand is tough to drive on. While I love that Explorer and think it's awesome, I know that it's no Rubicon or Raptor, but I was pleasantly surprised when the Explorer didn't have any trouble with getting bogged down in driving on the beach. Whether I was driving in ruts or throttling it on fresh patches of soft Outer Banks sand, the Explorer took it just fine. When you drive in ruts you are less likely to get stuck because the sand is already packed down, however that gets a little old after a while. The only tight spot we got into was on the second trip with my dad and his younger sister (my aunt) and we decided to take one of the turn-offs to cross the dunes and were greeted by a no-vehicles sign positioned oh-so-intelligently behind the dune, where you can't see until you're over the dune. I tried to do a three-point turn to no avail, so I used a turn-around but there was one square, 90-degree turn that I couldn't take and instead plowed into the side of a dune. That was the only time we got stuck. I tried to reverse out of it but I couldn't, and I didn't rock the car out (my pet peeve is shifting from forward to reverse without fully braking). I got out to spot, and the front wheels were digging in. He managed to rock the Explorer out, although he did plow a bit of a path through the side of the dune with the front bumper of the Explorer. Once free he drove off quickly and climbed back over the dune we entered by. I chased after him because knowing his personality he would likely prank me and drive off for maybe a minute.
I quickly rejoined him and took back over, exhausted from my 40 yard sprint over the dune (I must have been doing about 12-15 mph, have you ever run on sand?). We later went inland again, this time it was through some neighborhoods. The roads were still sand, and we saw a wild horse, but things really picked up when we started getting into a wooded area. Those woods brought back memories of wheeling in George Washington National Forest with my dad and his lifted '96 XJ (the trail is called Peter's Mill Run). The best part was a small dip in the road that had turned into a mini lake. It was maybe 30 feet long and just as wide, and had had one of those black plastic drainage tubes running through it. The tube was maybe 15 inches in diameter and was crushed and broken, likely from people driving over it. We went through the water to the sound of two crunches accompanied by two large bumps.
The Explorer handled everything fine, which leads me to say that everyone should try going off-roading, just make sure you don't get in over your heads and have a driver with some experience going with you. There are so many crossovers and SUVs of all sizes that a good number of people have a vehicle that would work. Just make sure that you have something with at least AWD, although preferably something badged as a 4WD.
I am a high-school student who enjoys almost anything mechanical; cars, robotics, drones, etc. I also enjoy plain driving, vehicle dynamics, and off-road trips.