A Dodge Ram to Algonquin
The 401 highway lives up to its infamous reputation.
Algonquin national park, roughly three hours out of Toronto, wasn’t the jewel in the crown that it is during the summer when I visited in late November. The truck however was a delight. Now, it would have been much more sensible to take one of the other Dodge options, but a big truck with four-wheel drive was calling my name as minus temperatures and ice were forecasted. Plus I wanted to arrive feeling fresh and the big truck is a very comfortable place to be when you’re a tall driver with long legs. Fortunately, the journey up was fairly serene once the city traffic on the 401 highway. A road known for long tailbacks, accidents, and even at the best of times congestion. It was here that a newfound appreciation of the truck was discovered. Squeezed by several big rigs and road works, the situation would have caused a few heart palpitations in a small car, but the Ram held its own. The sightlines over the hood giving a sure-footed placement. The dry cold didn’t appear to faze the 5.7 Hemi that was steadily chewing through petrol. An economy trip, this was not. Although the consumption was a lot better than I had estimated, sticking to the mid-twenties by my maths, put that down to hours of steady cruising.
Once I passed into the forest and parked up by a lake, the challenge ahead became clear. It was now midday, the stop at the halfway point for a Tim Horton's coffee had allowed for the tank to be topped off so there was no fuel worry, but the road surface was hazardous. Being stuck out here slowly freezing to death was not an enticing thought, but a need to explore won out over being overly cautious. The first side road I picked was a lovely smooth gravel entrance that quickly gave way to black ice. I tiptoed one wheel to test it out and quickly had to retreat to safer ground. On foot, the walking shoes I was wearing may have as well been made of canvas for all the good they did. Here ice skates were the only thing that was going to afford any progress. So onto my next stop, a promising side road that looked more frequented. A slim area in the corner was clear, one wrong step and not only would I be in a losing battle for traction, but the gradient would throw me off a steep hill if friction wasn’t regained. The trusty Ram waited as I went on a walk through the forest. On return from the trail, I managed to retrace my tire tracks with a fair amount of ease. This being the base spec Countryman it doesn’t have much in the way of driver assists past the obligatory safety of traction and braking systems. No reverse camera or sensors to edge my way with. Again the big brute shook this off with ease and we went and found another break in the land together. A lake nearby gave chance for a more thorough look over both the scenery and the Dodge. I can see why they manage to shift so many of these, the quality was good, the driving position is easy to relax in over a couple of hours. The countryman was probably a little too sparse to recommend, but if you live on a farm in the North American countryside and plan on putting pigs, chainsaws, and heavy loads on the bed, then this will do just fine. I had deliberately picked a run-out model of the previous generation for this trip as I had arranged a drive of the latest 5th generation model in Sweden in a few month's time. The lake in front of the headlights was spectacular and with only a few patches of ice ahead, I managed to get right up to the shoreline without worry. Not once was I forced to correct the direction of travel. In the UK this would be a preposterous vehicle to suggest unless you mainly travel around the wide lanes of Milton Keynes grid system or are up in the highlands and not worried about fitting along a narrow country lane. I still would love one, a right-hand drive model is possible through conversions, the Australian market for these (where they are all sold as right hookers after re-engineering) is budding and so if a Mercedes X-class, VW Amarok, or Ford Ranger doesn’t fit your fancy, and you are willing to ignore the possible big German SUV’s that could be purchased straight from the dealer in this price bracket (in the UK with all the taxes budget £60,000-70,000 for a decent spec). Then the Dodge Ram would be my choice over the Ford F-150. If you’re in North America, then you really are being spoilt for choice with the high quality pick up trucks at the moment. Lucky you.