Since my wife didn’t want to go camping the weekend after Thanksgiving for a variety of reasons, I decided to see what would happen if I took the new 2020 Subaru Outback on the Georgia Traverse. I planned to make it halfway across northern Georgia, and largely succeeded. The car had just passed 1,000 miles when I started, and I put 700 more miles on it in three days.
Some things that I found:
The rooftop cargo carrier needs something to provide the clamps with additional grip. Even though it was lightly loaded with a pair of recovery boards, a garden shovel, small tent and camp chair, I found that the rough trail and resulting side-to-side motion kept moving it around on the cross-bars.
My old cooler does keep things cool for two days, but by then the ice is melted (I knew this previously, but this trip once again reminded me). The cooler is nice to be able to move around in the vehicle, and it’s simple, but I get the appeal of powered cold boxes and refrigerators for trips, particularly trips longer than two days. I also could do with less space than the full-size cooler for my simple food needs when solo, and might benefit from the Yeti knock-offs that can be considered bear-proof when padlocks are applied.
I am glad that I picked up bear repellent a couple of days before leaving. On night two, just before I found a spot to camp as light was fading, a black bear crossed the forest road about 100 feet in front of my car, so they were around. I really should have had repellent on many previous trips.
I slept in the car both nights, which worked well, better on the second night when I figured out to have the nose of the car slightly downhill to level out my “bed.” I have a sturdy plastic box that is approximately 18.5 inches tall that I was able to put in the rear footwell to support my head. The plush 77 inch long Camp Dreamer XL foam/air mattress fit, with the passenger seat pushed forward a bit. I did choose to keep the cooler in the car, so there was some risk that a bear might be tempted to try to get in, although this was unlikely. However, a bear-proof cooler placed outside (likely under) the car would have eliminated that risk.
Sleeping in the car was okay, especially on night two when I stopped to camp and the rain started. No setting up a tent in the rain, and no taking down a wet tent the next day. However, I missed the fresh air and the sounds of the forest and streams. And while the car was warm initially, it cooled down plenty, although likely never as much as one of my three season tents. It was much easier to inflate, and deflate/roll up the bulky plush air mattress in the car.
I wouldn’t have needed the cargo carrier on a solo trip if I committed to tenting. However, it is a good place to put garbage bags to carry out. (Rant: People leave tooooo much garbage in National Parks - they carried it in, just carry it back out!)
I was also glad to have grabbed a cheap Harbor Freight recovery strap just before leaving. I almost had to use it . . . to pull a downed tree from blocking a forest road. Fortunately it turned out to be rotten and I moved it by hand easily. Similarly, I was glad to have the cheap recovery boards as insurance, but glad that I was smart enough to avoid a couple of lines where I likely would have gotten stuck in mud and needed the boards. One big mud puddle was a close call, though, being both deep water (about 12-16 inches) and a very soft bottom, but I blasted through that and was fine.
Best technical equipment that I brought? Ditch boots to allow me to wade across water crossings to figure out what line would work and how deep it was.
Or, in the case of the morning of day three, post-heavy-rainfall, to determine that there was a slightly better than 50% chance that the brand-new car would be washed downstream off of the concrete dam/ford by the fast water. I did the mature thing and turned back around. I had to backtrack for 4 miles of 12 MPH travel back to good gravel and then keep driving to get out to paved road to turn toward home. I had only another couple of miles to get to the end of my planned route when I turned back, which made it tough.
Would I do the trip again? There are a couple of areas that I might go back to camp in, and the Jeep playground of Charlies Creek Road would be good if I wanted to get technical again, but it was a lot of driving to stay off the beaten path, and only some areas were rewarding.
How did the car do? The Subie acquitted itself well, able to get past most obstacles available, while also able to be driven fast on curvy paved roads for long periods. I now know to keep the foot on the accelerator when the tires spin and let the all-wheel drive figure itself out. And when the stock all-season tires are done, to get at least mild all-terrains as replacements if I want to do technical terrain more. I have to wash it off and inspect it carefully this weekend to see if I did any less-than obvious damage.
I found a decent seat position, but by the end of the trip (admittedly a lot of miles in a short time) I was back to struggling to be comfortable - but that is something about my body and almost any car. Still, I’m not excited to go for a long drive in it at the moment, but maybe after a week of driving my GTI I’ll get back in to the Outback and work to find the long-term seating position for me.
Here is a link to a brief video with a couple of fun water crossings, and probably one of the most difficult spots of terrain obstacle although there were other similar ones I didn’t film: https://vimeo.com/376727919