It’s a drizzly September morning in Quebec as I hop into my temporary new ride — a shiny, silver Range Rover Sport. I take the wheel and drive around a bit with a big goofy grin on my face. Already, I can tell, it’s everything I imagined it would be. But, I don’t even know the half of it yet.
Just as I’m getting used to the ultra-luxe SUV and the two-footed driving that’s required, my instructor points to a steep incline. Eeks, the Florida-girl in me thinks, this is some pretty sketchy terrain. But, I’m here to learn today (I’m at the Land Rover Experience Driving School after all), so I start the rocky ascent. Of course, the coming down part is what’s scaring me.
Once I reach the top, my instructor calmly says, “Now take both feet away from the pedals and just let the vehicle go down.” Right, right. First of all, I can’t even see the trail below; I can only see treetops and blue skies. Second of all, what did you say? Take my feet off the gas and the brake. Now, that’s just crazy talk.
However, since I’m driving a mountain-goat-of-a-vehicle rather than my Nissan Pathfinder, it is, it turns out, a grand idea.
I lift my feet up timidly, and the Range Rover is doing all the work for me. The anti-lock braking system kicks in and gently guides us down the muddy hill. What a breeze this is turning out to be. And now I understand why these vehicles are so pricey. They are the smartest SUVs I’ve ever driven. Ever. The all-wheel drive and independent suspension, plus the computerized system coupled with high-compression engine braking does a much better job than I could ever do.
To put it bluntly, the Range Rover Sport makes me a better driver. And that is priceless.
With that hurdle behind me, I plow through the course, sometimes teetering on three tires, other times trekking over mammoth-size boulders. I’m mastering the gnarly climbs, the deep, squishy ruts and the occasional water hole, mainly because it’s just a cake walk for the nimble SUV.
And the scenery is not too shabby either. The driving school is part of Le Château Montebello, located on the north bank of the Ottawa River about halfway between Montreal and Ottawa. It happens to be the largest log cabin building in the world.
As we leave the gorgeous Kenauk Preserve — a 100-square-mile stretch of postcard-perfect lakes and forests — I realize, my venture beyond the blacktop is the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel in a long time. And it only reaffirms the fact that I really, really want a Range Rover.
For more information about adventures in the Outaouais Quebec, visit tourismeoutaouais.com.
Le Château Montebello
392 Notre Dame, Montebello, Canada
**Trails are open April through November.
**My trip was sponsored by Outaouais Tourism, however, I’m free to write whatever I want.