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PAUL SMITH: It’s tough to beat a pickup

Trucks are great for mobile fishing camps, and getting a tailgate face wash.  —
Trucks are great for mobile fishing camps, and getting a tailgate face wash. — Contributed

What’s the best all-around vehicle for an outdoors person to own?

One person might answer confidently with Subaru. Yes indeed, and Subaru sure markets with the outdoors in mind. Have you seen the TV commercial with the family dog drifting downriver in a canoe? It’s a good one. It’s an SUV to the rescue.

Subaru certainly can claim the best all-wheel drive system in the industry, at least without paying a small fortune for the likes of a Range Rover. They say Subaru is the very best on snowy roads. I’ve been tempted to buy one. But you can’t haul a moose in the back of an Outback, at least not easily, or without a huge cleanup afterwards. Goldie would not be happy with me transporting a moose in the back of our family SUV.

The market is flooded with SUVs, and for the most part they are much better for outdoor pursuits than an ordinary car, especially a sedan. They come in all sizes, from tiny, all the way up to the Chevy Suburban and Ford Expedition. You could certainly go on a long-range adventure in one of those beasts.

But even the smaller ones are quite capable. They all have more ground clearance for bumpy side roads, and many have some sort of all-wheel, or four-wheel drive system for better traction in mud, dirt, and snow. With a roof rack for your kayak or canoe, you could certainly do some outdoor stuff with a SUV. There would be no problem doing a car camping trip including a couple of kayaks on the roof with either a Subaru Outback or a Jeep Cherokee. Those are both capable vehicles with a stellar woodsy reputation.

I had a great set of offroad rubber on my 2004 Chevy Silverado.
I had a great set of offroad rubber on my 2004 Chevy Silverado.

But you know what? It’s damn tough to beat a good old North American-style full-size half-ton pickup truck when it comes to serious outdoor stuff. I’ve owned a truck ever since I started driving in 1976, and it’s not going to be easy for me to ever give it up.

The way I see it, there is only one downside to a truck. Trucks burn lots of fuel. That’s why I also own a small car for when I don’t need a pickup’s capability. The car and truck combination has worked well for me over many decades. If I were to have just one vehicle I guess it would be a smaller or mid-sized SUV. Truck only would make for a mighty expensive gas bill, and maybe my own private hole in the ozone layer. I know some folks who certainly must have one.

Often comes in handy

I suppose what vehicle you need for the outdoor life depends on what exactly you are involved in. If I’m just going for a hike to the Brigus Lighthouse, or blueberry picking, the car works just fine. But many of my pursuits are quite pickup needy.

There’s moose hunting of course, with the obvious truck advantages. Every June my buddies and I haul a tent camp and canoes to the Pinware River in Labrador. The trucks are very full. I haul my ATV around from time to time. I tow my boat on a trailer and launch it into the ocean with my truck. Then there’s the construction and repair side of things. I’m always building sheds, working on cabins, fixing stuff, cutting firewood, repairing bridges and wharves, and the list goes on. My truck is at the very core of my outdoor life. I’m sure many of you out there feel the same way.

I still remember the very first time I drove a pickup, well steered it, I should say. It was an old Fargo and I steered it along our driveway in Happy Valley, Labrador. I was four years old and I sat behind the wheel on my father’s lap. He let me shift the gears, too, the traditional three speed on the steering column. Dad worked the clutch, of course. I was a proud boy. Mom was on the front porch ginning and waving. That was one of my big days.

My buddy and I slept in the back of that truck for a full week by the side of Gander River, near the old railway bridge in Appleton. We’d sleep in the truck and eat our meals sitting on the tailgate by the side of the river.

Fast forward a dozen or so years. Now my feet could reach the brakes and gas pedal, and I was about to get my licence. Dad bought a 1977 Ford F100 Explorer Edition in brilliant blue. It had white stripes and lots of chrome. I think it was the last year for Ford F 100 round headlights. I loved that truck. It essentially became mine, because Dad had a company truck at the time, a green Chevy, if memory serves. The company gave him a new one every few years.

That’s me washing my first truck, a 1977 Ford F100 Explorer.
That’s me washing my first truck, a 1977 Ford F100 Explorer.

I’m not sure why he bought a truck instead of another car, but I’m sure glad he did. I got started out in the mobile world of hunting and fishing just right. I suppose that was Dad’s intention. He was a smart and kind man.

I could write a book on my adventures in that truck. I drove it endlessly over all the woods roads in Conception Bay North. I was always on the hunt for something, whether it was, trout, boatbuilding materials, salmon, rabbits, moose, ducks or blueberries, whatever was on the go at the time. I built a plywood flat-bottomed boat that just fit between the wheel wells in the truck box. Now I had a mobile trout fishing operation that I have never since duplicated in esthetic appeal. It was beautiful.

Did I mention that my truck had a one of those fibreglass caps? The box was a full eight feet long, so it was perfect for camping. My buddy and I slept in the back of that truck for a full week by the side of Gander River, near the old railway bridge in Appleton. We’d sleep in the truck and eat our meals sitting on the tailgate by the side of the river. We caught salmon and ate well.

What more could a 17 year old possibly ask for? Those were carefree happy days.

I’m still driving a Ford truck, although I have owned a few Chevys in between, and they can all tell great hunting and fishing stories. One of my Chevys got shot. Did I ever tell you that story?

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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