I am not a car girl, although I have seen my fair share of Top Gear (I watch it for the interviews and to see really talented people embarrass themselves by driving a car very poorly.) But there’s something about witnessing someone’s passion, like Jansen’s over cars, that just makes me admire the feelings, even if I only understand half of what he says. It’s still a joy.
Last week, we learned of Jansen’s, should we say, minor disappointment about his rental car – a JEEP. (That’s right – a gasp is in order.) This week, let’s see what how this disappointment handles. (Do you like how I used a car-esque term – “handles” – there? Jansen is now rolling his eyes, I’m sure).
A few days and several hikes after our arrival on the island of Kauai ,I decided to go for an ambitious trek out to the Na Pali Coast. Almost 13 miles through slick mud, unstable dirt cliffs and sheer 2,500â€™ drop-offs was what I was after and would surely get–even if it killed me (please donâ€™t tell my mother). This quest required a spirited drive up through 17 miles of canyon road before I could reach the trailhead. Having driven Hwy. 550 on a previous trip to the island (insert envy), I knew what a twisted, evil snake of a road it is. Now I know what youâ€™re thinking; you canâ€™t drive a Jeep aggressively without tipping it onto its side (or someone elseâ€™s side) and bursting into flames. I am here to tell you that a stock Wrangler has a low enough center of gravity and good enough chassis dynamics that it can be tossed about with aplomb with little fear of it falling over & setting the world on fire, unlike that Suzuki Grand Vitara that once tried to kill me.
Brimming with confidence in the Red Dragon, I set my sights on the canyon and turned the key (wait for it!) to hear the V6 eventually leap to life with a dull drone that would make Garrison Keillor envious. I selected â€œDâ€ and gave it some welly. My neck muscles instinctively tensed in anticipation, and I came to the rather quick conclusion that I was going nowhere. So I waited an eternity (1.2 seconds) for the transmissionâ€™s computer to weigh this decision of mine and ultimately allow the solenoids to engage the clutch packs. Then I was off.
I followed Route 50 west through shiny leaves of coffee groves and vast fields of billowing sugar cane. I continued west until I saw Niâ€™ihau, then made a right. Up into the canyon I drove, each mile I traveled gained me several hundred feet of elevation and rewarded my effort with more than a few tight corners. It was early morning, and there was no traffic so I decided to up the pace a bit. Strangely, I was greeted with eerie silence– save for the constant breathy wheeze of Garrison emanating from under the hood. No squeals, no bellowing exhaust. It seems the engineers who designed this vehicle did not agree with me on the capabilities of this truck (a truck they designedâ€”they should know better). They installed an unseen evil that stole all the fun from the driving experience. The same phantom that silenced the normal sounds of speed also seemed to be taking the controls away from me. I could feel the throttle pedal drop in response. The rear brakes engaged on their own whim, and an annoying yellow light was flickering furiously in the center of the gauge cluster. â€œAh, this must have Dynamic Mortality Control.â€ So I switched it off and got on with it. Suddenly, the tires began to protest just a bit (not a full-on protest like a 13 year-old girl being denied IM access), and the brakes seemed to respond directly to my feet once again. I was back in control! The chassis was working more like I had anticipated, so I upped the pace a tick more. Back the Phantom came, stealing all my fun and confidence with it. I checked & was assured that I had switched off the DMC, but the Phantom would not be denied. He was a cunning adversary and ultimately successful in saving me from myself during this leg of the journey.
After I reached the trailhead (behind schedule, thank you), I hoisted my pack to my shoulders and prepared my mind for the perils the cliffs would have in store. Eyes closed and a deep breath to calm my mind. For the next 12 miles unguarded drop-offs, deeply questionable footings, stiff winds, misleading trail markers, and a forest full of wild boars (and the occasional feral goat) were ahead of me. I paused and considered telling the Phantom, but thought better of it. His little binary heart would surely have been broken.
(Legal disclaimer: Now before you both start writing in a deluge of complaints to Andi about my irresponsible driving habits; I feel it is my duty to explain that I was always at or within 10% of the posted speed limit of 25mph. I was not sliding out of my lane or kicking the tail out into the flocks of wild chickens serenely poking about. This all took place at a relatively sedate pace and is what made it all so surprising to me.)
Jansen is going to be my regular guest writer each Friday for as long as I can convince him to keep it up. So stay tuned for more of his adventures of the road, the body, and the heart. I know you won’t be disappointed.