Road trips are all about the journey — not the destination. The memorable moments that occur between Point A and B tend to resonate the most, especially while rambling in a pickup truck.
That proved doubly true during a recent weekend excursion through the grand parks and majestic expanse of Colorado in a fleet of Nissan Titan XD trucks. The journey began in metropolitan Denver, wound west toward the posh resort town of Breckenridge and cruised downhill into the lush grounds of Colorado Springs.
Adventure beckoned in the wide-open spaces between cities. Before journey’s end, the trucks proved worthy enough to stand atop 2-mile high peaks, claw up and over boulders, duck under abandoned mine shafts and discover rushing river waters under blue summer skies stretching the horizon.
The pack of pickups were well-prepped for the expedition. One Titan XD sported twin Jackson kayaks holstered to a gleaming new Thule rack in the in-bed railing. Another carried two boats on its roof. A third was strapped with camera gear and emergency supplies. Each truck had a Yeti Tundra cooler inside the bed stuffed with water and snacks. For a beginning adventurer like myself, this could accurately be described as the Colorado Starter Pack.
Thanks to recreational companies marketing to novice outdoorsmen and affordable prices at the pump, the wilderness has never been more accessible. Perhaps as a result, consumers are committing to more time behind the wheel. Over the Memorial Day weekend, 1 million more Americans drove to vacation destinations compared with the same period the year before, according to AAA.
And manufacturers that build vehicle equipment for outdoor recreation are benefitting. Sales in the bike rack and carriers market rose 27 percent between 2012 and 2016, according to Fior Markets. Companies like Thule and Yakima are introducing racks, standup paddleboard accessories and rooftop tents that appeal to a new generation of explorers (and not incidentally, look great on Instagram too).
Nissan is eager to prove its Titan XD can stand up to any challenge posed by an adventurous owner. Colorado is a veritable playground for pickups, and early into the trip, the caravan of trucks scrambled off-road at the Boreas Pass. Kicking up plumes of dust, the trucks traveled along 19 miles of narrow trails engulfed by forests of golden aspen trees, passing fellow off-roaders in Jeeps and even a Prius.
The Titan XD is fully capable. But in the cutthroat full-size truck segment, blemishes stand out. On the road, its steering is loose and the brake pedal lacks feel. The infotainment screen is outdated, and there is an obvious gap in modern luxury features — materials that may be made of leather or chrome in other heavy-duty trucks are simple hard plastic in the Titan XD. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available.
But Nissan is not as dependent on truck sales as rivals in the segment such as Ford, General Motors and Ram Trucks. The automaker has invested only a fraction of the research and development money its competitors spend in the pickup segment.
Through the first nine months of 2017, Titan and Titan XD sold more than 35,000 trucks combined, an increase of 223 percent compared with the same period last year, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
While the figure is small compared with the 650,000 F-Series trucks Ford sold through September, the increased interest in Nissan’s full-sized contender is big news for the company because pickups are among the most profitable segments in the auto industry.
The Titan XD was in its element when it hit the dirt: good fun in 2WD and drama– free in 4WD High. Its 5.0-liter Cummins turbodiesel engine barreled forward with the momentum of a supertanker. Though its maximum towing is only 12,640 pounds and maximum payload is 2,910 pounds, the truck makes an interesting case with a segment-best five-year, 100,000-mile warranty. It’s starting price also is $3,000 less than competitors for a Crew Cab and turbodiesel engine.
When we reached the end of the Boreas Pass, I wanted to turn around and drive it again.
Later we ventured onto a rock-crawling trail, where every demanding inch led deeper into dense forest. The surrounding boulders presented steep, challenging approach angles that tested the Bilstein shocks, all-terrain General Grabber tires and undercarriage skid plates — all standard on the Pro 4X off-road trim. The aggressive transfer case worked with the Cummins engine to muscle the Titan XD onto level ground.
The next day began with snow, which is not ideal for a fishing trip. The trucks left Breckenridge behind and caravanned through quaint mountain towns like Alma — at 10,578 feet, the highest town in North America. Soon the highway turned to side trails of dirt and gravel. The hills opened up, unveiling a lush valley. There was room to stretch and run through a fly-fishing practice session in the grass before our guides led the short march to the South Platte River.
The clouds gathered and the water temperature dropped. The trout hid away and weren’t biting. Once our group fanned out, I sent cast after cast into the air and watched the lures settle on top of the river. Nothing stuck. But I kept casting, listening to the soothing river as its current pressed against my puffy Patagonia waders just below the knee.
“You’re hooked!” one of our guides said.
He pointed to the patch of water where the lure had been dragged beneath the surface. I yanked back on the Redington rod and reeled in what had to be the tiniest trout in Colorado. Tip to tail it wasn’t even as long as my cellphone. But a small fish is better than no fish. After another hour of unrequited casting, the group trudged back over the badger burrows and deer droppings to where the Titan XDs were parked.
The truck beds became changing rooms where we traded waders and boots for jeans and sneakers. After eating lunch under the shadow of a 143-year-old brick courthouse, we drove back through Garden of the Gods National Park and its scorching orange rock formations.
The park’s paved loop is becoming more crowded, as are nearly all public lands. The same applies to rivers, lakes, slopes and forests across America — anywhere made more accessible by capable vehicles like the Nissan Titan XD that can go nearly anywhere. People are drawn to the outdoors by some itch that can’t be scratched in the city. Sometimes their reward is a selfie, other times it’s a breathtaking view or surmounted boulder. Sometimes the reward is simply the journey itself.
And sometimes it’s the tiniest trout in Colorado.