If you’ve been following my ramblings here, you may have noticed that my collection of vehicles doesn’t stick to one vein of the automotive experience. I like having vehicles that somewhat focus on a niche while still being versatile enough to use at any given time. A few years ago I started getting more into off-road shenanigans with my friends, and while being a half decent spotter is a good trait, I wanted my own backwoods beater.
At the time, my cohorts had beasts such as an early ’80s Bronco and a Jeep Grand Cherokee. That’s two out of the “Big Three” represented at our campsite, so obviously it was my duty to represent “The General” and get myself something from Chevy or GMC. Should be easy right? The answer is of course – K5 Blazer.
Well at least I thought so. Living in northeast PA means any Blazer I was looking at didn’t even have floorboards, much less body mounts thanks to rust. Something a bit more modern then? They did make tw0 door Blazers and Yukons in the mid ’90s, and a short wheelbase would be pretty handy on the tighter trails of Northern Pennsylvania’s national parks. My two door obsession was fairly rapidly shot down as prices for “just okay” versions put them well out of reach.
A friend of mine pointed out that having the four door could still be practical. Since we only go out in the woods a few times a year it would mostly be seeing road use. I trawled through Craigslist looking for a not-to0-beat-up but also not-too-clean Tahoe or Yukon. I figured I would stick to the later ’90s models as they had more power, and port fuel injection.
Lo and behold, just down the street from my friend who pointed me towards the bigger trucks, was a 1999 GMC Yukon SLT. It had 160,000 miles, one original owner, nearly no rust, plenty of work already done with receipts, and BARN DOORS! After a preliminary once over from my friend, I was off to check out the truck for myself.
We pulled into the parking lot and there in all her most beige ’90s glory was Donna! I didn’t name the truck, but the original owner had her name pinstriped onto the front doors, so how could I not call it that? Donna was CLEAN! Cleaner than I wanted, considering my plan was to hoon through fields and beat around the woods with it, but the price was very much right.
Donna broke all kinds of personal records such as “newest” and “only OBD II vehicle I’ve ever owned,” “most luxurious” with heated seats and auto dimming mirrors, as well as “most expensive.” So I was pretty excited! After a quick test drive around the block we made a deal. I had driven my own car there, so I ended up following my new truck home on the first day of ownership.
Buying a new vehicle is always a group event with my friends, so the trip home consisted of Donna being loaded to maximum passenger capacity along with two dogs. May as well test it out to the literal fullest on the first day, right? So off into the fields on the farm we went. 4X4 High and Low worked just fine, and there was already a hitch receiver installed. I was ready to do truck stuff.
Immediately, I ordered a two-inch lift kit, pulled off the running boards, and snagged a beefier set of used wheels and tires from a coworker. All of this came just in time for our yearly 4th of July camping trip. I loaded the truck with a spare chainsaw, two coolers, and Logan, our 130 pound chocolate lab, to head out into the woods. Donna cruises the highways like a mobile living room. Quiet, comfy, decent stereo, and plenty of room for the dog to sprawl out napping in the back seat. What more could you ask for? Well, I was set on finding out. I knew I wasn’t in a purpose built, high articulating, off road rig, but I was repping “The General,” dangit!
Remember back when I was worried about how big one of these would be? Well I wasn’t wrong, I have perfected the three-point don’t-hit-that-tree turn when snaking my way down drivable trails. I recall being told to take the lead down one particularly fun trail, spending about an hour in first gear in 4 Low creeping between tight trees and down steep inclines. Halfway down this trail I hear over the walkies that my buddy had been told not to even try taking a full size truck down this particular trail.
“Well I guess I just gotta put that brush guard to the test.” There was no room and no point in turning back, so we took the scratches and bumps the best we could. Honestly, the ride is still pretty well controlled on rough trails so long as you don’t try and go too fast. “Too fast” being the speed at which Logan wakes from his nap to give me a narrow-eyed look and a huff of discomfort.
Off road testing complete, Donna and I returned home and stuck to more “regular” daily truck activities. Folding the seats down reveals a cavernous six foot bed space perfect for sleeping in while camping as well as moving belongings for various friends (it always pays to know a guy with a truck).
Winters have come and gone and a 4×4 vehicle with dedicated snow tires has proven invaluable not just in keeping my E30 BMW safe from the salt, but in being a truly fun vehicle to thrash around in the snow. Who wouldn’t love slinging an apartment-building sized-vehicle around in the odd parking lot or around the farm? Towing the project car to and from paint in the dead of winter without complaint, eating whatever weather conditions I throw at it, Donna is the machine to have for all occasions.