Riding With The Boys of HUMMER

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Spy Shots: '05 Hummer H3 by Brenda Priddy (6/23/2003)
Bred in Mishawaka, caught in Topeka.

What a disaster. Apparently it wasn’t enough that Jerry spent a precarious lunch hour groping underneath a three-and-a-half-ton Hummer H1 to repair a broken rear half-shaft that was splintered by an aggressive boulder. Then this guy Ron goes and pretzel-bends two tie rods on his unwisely modified Hummer H2, stranding sixteen or so trail junkies until you-know-who — that’s right, Jerry again — can make the necessary field repairs.

All in all, a fantastic day of max-adrenaline off-roading according to the general consensus.

For members of The Hummer Club, who gathered in the East Tennessee mountains overlooking Oak Ridge for their recent Windrock Trails 2003 event, “hitting the trail” is a commandment they take literally. Off-roading Hummer-style — in what are arguably two of the most unstoppable, indefatigable four-wheeled vehicles ever made — is all about getting stuck and unstuck, broken and repaired, “skeered” and exhilarated. In a day-to-day world crawling with underutilized, over-domesticated SUVs, there is something positively redeeming about five or six dozen Hummers making a simultaneous attack upon the flanks of the Appalachians with no other goal than to reach unreachable places bearing nicknames like the Rock Garden or Waffle House.

It's also a very sobering experience, especially for non-initiates nourished solely upon a media diet of hard-charging, hulky trucks kicking sand in the faces of unsuspecting suburbanites. Movies, TV shows, and even carmaker commercials themselves like to portray off-roading as a fast-paced contact sport with lots of dust and splashing.

Hummer H1But on a 65-degree grade, streaming with storm water and strewn with razor-edged boulders over 20 inches tall, two miles-an-hour will get you a speeding ticket. That and a visit from guys like Jerry who’ll put an arm around your shoulder and confide in you, “I’m fixin’ just one half-shaft for you today, okay? Bust another, and we're leavin’ you for buzzard-bait.”

The Hummer Club, although welcomed and supported by the two different Hummer manufacturers AM General (makers of the H1) and General Motors (the H2), is an entirely independent organization devoted exclusively to owners. “These guys,” says Ron Bomhoff, vice president of the club, “are fiercely loyal to their vehicles and to their sport of off-roading. The club is a way for us to come together at events around the country, socialize, explore unlikely places, and improve our off-road techniques.”

Predictably, owners of the H1 — which is derived from the military’s High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Humvee — are accorded an informal pride of place at Hummer Club events. Never mind the fact that a new H1 costs something along the lines of $110,000. With its 6.5-liter, 450-lb-ft turbo-diesel, individually geared hubs, Eaton “locker” differential and sixteen inches of ground clearance, nothing short of a vertical cliff face can deter an H1 driver anxious to get somewhere.

By comparison, the newly minted H2 costs mid-$50,000, boasts 360 lb-ft from a 6.0-liter gas V-8 and rides 10.5 inches off the ground. Far from being arch-rivals, the H1 and H2 dispose themselves naturally into the roles of big and little brothers, respectively. Out on notorious Trail 7 in the Coal Creek Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area in Oliver Springs, Tenn., both Hummer models scampered about like big-shorty and short-biggie. On the rare occasion when an H2’s clearance just couldn’t make the hurdle, out came the tow strap and a gentle tug from an H1 up ahead until Little Bro found his footing again. Rock climbers with their pitons and belays are hardly more selfless in their teamwork.

The Hummer universe owes a slight debt to the upstart H2 in any case. “At first we may have had a few gripes from some die-hards,” says Henry Smith, the club’s treasurer, concerning the arrival of the first H2s into the ranks. “But in a year’s time, we’ve more than tripled our club membership — from 400 to 1500 current members — and almost all of that is because of the H2."

More members, of course, are great for the club; but this growing popularity of Hummer-ness is also, in a very preliminary, germinal way, a trend in the right direction for owners of SUVs overall. Extremely capable off-roaders like the Hummer brothers are, after all, purpose-built vehicles that deserve their days on the trail. Too many SUV drivers are deluded into thinking that merely owning a sport/ute is enough, when, in fact, it’s almost a travesty if pavement is the only choice of thoroughfare. Imagine owning a purebred bird dog and keeping him caged in the back yard. If you don’t take him out — often — and hunt over him, he’ll go insane. It’s tempting to say as much about the inanity of our SUV proliferation these days, wherein image trumps action 95 percent of the time.

Not that the Hummer Clubbers on Windrock Mountain were going to let a pesky social agenda get in the way of their good time. For this week in July, the only controversy seemed to be which unscalable summit to conquer next. Like whitewater rafting, negotiating a Hummer off-road is all about adjusting your itinerary to two types of rocks: those you can glide over and those you had better miss. Then, at the end of the trail, no matter how many times you’ve been tow-strapped, winched, broken or bashed, you can pause for a moment’s exultation — before chipping away at a next stretch of the rocky road to Heaven.

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