Proof that there’s a link between the way you live and what you drive.
I pushed the throttles until both tachometers hovered at the 4500 rpm redlines.
Nothing budged so I eased them forward until they read 5500. Still nothing.
It was at that instant I visualized our ambitious plan for this media event coming to an unceremonious halt with the bulk of it still yet to unfold. Desperate, I asked the four on-board journalists to move to the rear deck of the 65-foot houseboat I was trying to get off the beach of Lake Mohave, a bulge of the Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border 25 miles downstream from the Hoover Dam.
“Get as far back on the quarterdeck as you can!” I shouted over the roar, hoping the shift in weight would alter the center of gravity enough for the two 175-horsepower engines to drag us off the beach and keep Subaru’s Baja Multiple Choice Adventure on track.
The massive hull finally moved a few inches then slid out into the calm early-morning waters. I watched three more of the huge boats struggle off the shore like a fortuitous school of beached beluga whales. Judging by the cackle on the twoway radio, their crews seemed as relieved as I was to be launched.
It was the beginning of the second day of a three-day driving adventure in September 2002 for a group of lifestyle writers between Las Vegas, Nev., and Morro Bay, a bustling fishing town on the California coast midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The idea was to integrate active living with the then-new Subaru Baja truck/wagon.
In the previous three weeks, my wife Lisa and I had logged the equivalent of two equator lengths on flights across North America. We had driven more than 5,000 miles of Southern California back roads checking out 160 hotels, restaurants and attractions to find the right 23 venues to make a viable trial for participants and the Baja vehicles they would be driving.
Prior to launching the houseboats, our guests had already connected a few of the dots on the Baja Multiple Choice Adventure. Within an hour of landing in Las Vegas, they had dangled from cliffs as tall as a 30-story building in the stunning Red Rocks Canyon. They had driven to the base of the Hoover Dam and then rafted down the Colorado River. After a rendezvous with speedboats, the final leg took them to those beached houseboats moored on a remote stretch of beach. Later, under a canopy of starlight, they feasted on rustic Tuscan bean soup, grilled fillet tenderloins and fresh lobster. Tales of self-discovery were rampant.
Behind the scenes, Lisa and our roadies Pete Schlay and Bill Rusey juggled a logistical Rubic’s cube of speedboats, kayaks, houseboats, support vehicles and the five Baja event vehicles. Spare moments were spent wracking our brains developing a series of exams we handed out every night to check up on what the participants had learned, with multiple-choice answers of course.
In the morning, after coaxing the houseboats off the beach, they piloted the armada down Lake Mohave for an hour before slipping into kayaks and racing into the marina where their Bajas awaited. A quick drive briefing sent them on their way into the Mojave National Preserve for a hike break at Hole-in-the-Wall, aptly named by 18th century ranchers in hot pursuit of cattle rustlers who seemingly disappeared into the rugged canyon walls, bovine booty and all.
The next two days unfolded according to plan. Participants feasted at the unlikely Mad Greek Café in Baker, wandered the deserted streets of Randsburg Ghost Town and descended 4,000 feet on mountain bikes led by John Stallone’s Mountain and River Adventurers in the Southern Sierra Nevada Range. A lunch stop at Wool Growers Restaurant in Bakersfield, Calif., let them rub shoulders with eclectic locals over a “Soup and Salad Set-up” lunch.
The energized gaggle of drivers finally nosed their dusty Bajas through the oil fields and cotton plantations of the fertile San Joaquin Valley into Morro Bay. During their late afternoon surfing session among the sea lions and pelicans, our crew finally had a chance to pause.
With seven physical challenges and 800 miles of driving in 55 hours, teams were raving about life in the fast lane. The Bajas had taken abusive desert tracks and twisty mountain routes in stride. Aside from a scraped knee after a mountain bike wipe-out, there had been no injury and our 50-balls-in-the-air logistical plan had looked like a well-executed chess game.
The next night, after we had ferried everyone to the airport for their trips home, Lisa, Bill, Pete and I relaxed over dinner at a beachside restaurant. I confessed my terror with the overrevved houseboat engines on the shore of Lake Mohave. It seemed like months ago. I asked Bill if he had had a moment of doubt.
“When I woke up that morning on the houseboats and thought about their dashboards and engine controls,” he confessed, “I had a knot in my stomach all right. ‘Cause I never thought we’d even get the engines started.”
I thanked him for keeping that knot to himself.