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March 19, 2009

News & Features

Off the grid: Local clubs let you leave the highway and test your off-road skills

Special to NWautos


PNWX member Charlie Sulcer climbs a rockface near Cliffdell, Wash. (Photo by Mike Vandewall)

We who live in the Northwest are not the kind of folks who form friendships at the drop of a hat. It takes a strong common interest to bring us together -- like a love of dodging trees, boulders and body damage in a 4,000-pound truck.

That's what unites the members of the 10-year-old Pacific Northwest Xterra Club (PNWX), a group of Nissan Xterra owners from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. They get together on weekends spring through fall to tackle terrain that might be rugged and rocky one day, steep and snotty the next.

Armed with maps, tow straps, CB radios and cameras, they caravan like camels in search of water -- but their thirst is for adventure, camaraderie and spectacular scenery. They find all three at imaginatively named destinations like Funny Rocks, Shoestring and Tripod Flat.

Wanna try?
If you have the desire to test your vehicle's mettle far from the highway, consider joining one of these local off-road clubs:

By day, they have varying interests and lifestyles, but on the trail, their differences melt away. "With such a diverse crowd, we've managed to form friendships out of our mutual interest," says product designer Ian Gilliland, 43. "We get together, enjoy the trip and share stories at the campfire."

Off the trail, members keep in touch via an online bulletin board, which they use to plan runs and get-togethers, share photos and video clips, and chat about mechanical problems, politics and movies.

They're aware that some think that off-roading enthusiasts trample fragile ecosystems, and they work hard to negate that idea.

"It only takes one person tearing up a wetland to put a black mark on the entire sport," says Gilliland. "That's why I enjoy our club, because we educate each other and encourage responsible off-roading and 'tread lightly' principles."

Charlie Sulcer, 29, recently doled out burlap bags painted with the PNWX logo so that members would have a handy way to pick up and haul out trash on the trail.


Mike Vandewall tackles "The Golden Crack" during a PNWX excursion to Moab, Utah. (Photo by Ian Gilliland /

Another stereotype smashed by PNWX is that four-wheeling is for men only. Club member Diane Levy, a 33-year-old marketing manager, joined because "I felt that if I hung around those educated and experienced with Xterras, I could learn about my truck and its capabilities."

Levy recalls the moment when she conquered Moon Rocks, a run that can be pretty intimidating for beginners. "I was helping others get down the rocky descent, and it felt good to know what it took to make it through," she says.

Levy met her fiancé, insurance agent Mike Vandewall, in the club. They are the third couple to have met and married because of their membership in PNWX.

While wedding vows may be permanent, club membership is not. PNWX President Marc Mosiman (who met his wife in 2001 while attending an Xterra event) encourages anyone curious about off-roading to take the plunge. "It's not a marriage," he says, "so you may as well try it out."


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