When I was offered the opportunity to test out the 2022 Ultimate Overland Vehicle, a GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X outfitted for adventure, I eagerly obliged. With Overland Expo Pacific Northwest 2022 approaching, I thought it would be fitting to take a scenic route to Redmond and share my first-hand experience with the decked-out truck.
After some recommendations and referrals from colleagues, friends, and fellow overlanders, I decided to take the truck on a portion of the Oregon Back Country Discovery Route 5, Section 2. After downloading the route on my phone, and completing my pre-trip checklist of the AT4X and personal belongings, I set out early to get to the trailhead that’s three hours away from my Boise home.
I entered the Back Country route at Gap Ranch-Wagontire Rd, which had an old windmill and a nice spot for those needing a place to set up camp for the evening. After setting tire pressure with the Viar Expedition High Pressure OBA, it was time to hit the trail. Starting out, I could tell right away that this was a less-traveled route. The roads were tight with sagebrush, and after passing by the cattle early on the trail, the tire tracks from previous travelers diminished.
What better way to overland than to overland with no other vehicles on trail? This allowed me to really slow down and enjoy my time doing some real-world testing of the GMC.
My experience with the Ultimate Overland Vehicle on the early portion of the section was fantastic. The truck easily took me through the dirt two-track surrounded by a healthy sagebrush community that seemed to get more dense as I continued on the trail. This portion of the trail, though easy on the truck’s mechanical side, the Cayenne Red Tintcoat paint received its first bit of trail rash. Oh well, I’m sure it won’t be its last.
20 miles into the trip, consistently hopping in and out of the truck for the cattle gates, the sagebrush abruptly stopped, turning into an open grassland. There was what appeared to be a border in the landscape. It was quite the sight to behold. Out in the distance, I spotted a mule deer skipping away from my direction. Scanning the horizon, I spotted a few more doing the same in different directions. Seeing so many of them was a nice reminder that I was truly off the beaten path and in their home environment.
I had entered the area that was victim to a human-produced wildfire, the Cinder Butte Fire that took place in 2017 that burned over 52,000 acres. The land showed great signs of recovery, but slowly. It was quite an amazing stretch of the trail, encapsulating the vastness of the landscape I found myself in. I had to take the opportunity to snap some photos of the AT4X here, just before golden hour. This part of the trip was my reminder to #OverlandResponsibly and to take moments like this story to spread awareness.
Half way through the trail the road turned rough, peppered with sharp volcanic rock that jutted out of the two tire-wide dirt paths ahead of me. This mixed with the rocky outcrops consisting of ancient western junipers turned the relaxing trip into one requiring some technical thought. I was alone with zero cell service and I had to be careful. Thankfully I had the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator, which gave me peace of mind with a satellite communication device but I had zero desire to be in the position to use it.
These rocky inclines forced me to face the hard pill to swallow with this truck, the low clearance front bumper. GMC has since announced the AT4X AEV Edition at Overland Expo PNW with a sweet, functional front bumper for off-road use. Even with the luxury of the 15 camera views, I found myself getting out to check my lines to ensure I didn’t drag the bumper. Aside from this bit of caution towards these clearance issues, the Multimatic DSSV spool-valve suspension dampers handled this rough, unevenness portion of the trail effortlessly. And it looked picturesque in the process.
The final leg of this 66-mile portion of the Oregon Back Country Route put us in Lost Forest, a research site of an ancient, self-sustaining ponderosa pine forest. Nestled up against Christmas Valley Sand Dunes, the 9,000-acre stand of pines has no water source. I marveled at the ancient trees and tried to picture what it looked like thousands of years ago as the AT4X meandered easily around the old growth. The road was sandy and smooth through the old forest, so I decided to let the 6.2-liter V8 stretch its legs a bit. The tone of the Magnaflow exhaust never fails to put a smile on my face.
I popped out into the dunes’ recreation area parking with less than 20 minutes until sunset and a little over 30 minutes away from the campsite I saved on my phone prior to walking out my door. I worked quickly to air the tires back up for the stretch of pavement and hit the road.
I believe it’s all about the time spent between planned stops that truly make the trip memorable. The backcountry asphalt to my destination was surrounded by a green oasis of alfalfa fields. I took this time to reflect on the 5-hour trail I had just experienced in a vehicle outfitted with some of the best gear and equipment on the market, which greatly differs from my budget-friendly Toyota FJ Cruiser.
To be honest, I spent a lot of my time with the Ultimate Build doing my best to learn about the products that set this truck apart from the factory. In my personal overland build, I use a lithium battery as an alternative power source, while this truck is decked with the REDARC RedVision Manager30 that’s managing a solar panel on top of the MITS canopy. This setup allowed me to enjoy the constant external power for all my things and storing my cold food and beverages in the Dometic CRX110 fridge. I appreciated the convenience of being able to quickly check the battery status of the setup.
I got to camp just as blue hour began, giving me just enough time to set-up the 23 Zero Outbreak 1550 ground tent. It was a nice spot near a dirt road, surrounded by trees, and host to a fantastic view. The best part? It was still quiet with no other vehicle or neighbors camping nearby.
Camp Kitchen with Green Goat Outdoors
It doesn’t take too many overland adventures to gain an appreciation for good meals. After a long day on the trail, I was eager for a warm dinner before bed. The Ultimate Build was supplied with the Green Goat Outdoors’ Camp Kitchen concept. Designed to be compact with the limited storage our rigs allow in mind, the layout of the kitchen was easy to set up and keep organized while I cooked my meal. Green Goat did a fantastic job supplying it with the necessary utensils and cookware for camping without overdoing it with needless kitchenware.
I wish I could have continued on the Oregon Back Country Route, but I had an Overland Expo to get to. After a quick cup of coffee over the kitchen paired with the early morning sunrise, it was time to hit the road to Redmond. Here I bid adieu to the GMC and handed the keys over to the Overland Expo team for another lucky individual to experience what it’s like to overland in an Ultimate Build.
The Less-Traveled Experience
The less-traveled road with the truck allowed me to experience the Oregon high desert landscape, consisting of tight roads overwhelmed with vigorous sagebrush communities, open fields with the occasional fire-killed western juniper, rocky outcrops, and an ancient forest. It was a luxury for me, a fairly novice overlander, to savor the capabilities of the 2022 Ultimate Overland Vehicle.
Though I did not have to utilize every feature the GMC had to offer, I got a good sense of its ability to be a full-fledged overland build, capable of going to remote locations and sustaining itself for extended periods of time.