Four on the Floor
Padre Island is just south and east of Corpus Christi. After passing through miles of soul-deadening industrial complexes and commercial strips, Route 22 South abruptly turns into a narrow two-laner surrounded by undeveloped, pristine dunes. No condominiums, no beach bungalows, nothing. Just a long untamed strip of land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre, the bay separating us from the mainland. The first five miles are accessible to anyone-we pass a Hyundai, for God's sake-but after that, it's strictly four-wheel country.
"Put the pedal to the metal, Tex," Dave instructs, as we pass a "4 Wheel Drive Only" warning sign at the five-mile mark. I happily oblige, pressing the button that locks in the front wheels so we can maintain our 30-mph speed as the hard-packed sand turns softer by the second. The Hummer flawlessly handles the shifting terrain. It was literally made for this. We're not any less comfortable than we were on Route 22, still grooving to the songs blasting from the XM Satellite Radio-some lowdown dirty country music about a truck-which two city boys now easily relate to.
The intense Texas heat breaks a little with some help from the sea breeze. We roll down the windows and open the sun roof for a cross wind, and suddenly life is good. The music, the beach, and the chance to go boating.
We run about 15 miles before we have the first opportunity to test the Hummer. Yarborough Pass, a steep, curving cut through the dunes, is the first transverse from the Gulf to the Laguna Madre. This is a world-renowned spot for redfish and speckled trout fishing, bird watching, and generally getting skinny in a boat.
The Pass would be easy to rumble by and miss, barely wide enough for a car to slip through. It's not marked and we drive by it twice before we find it. Finally, Dave sees a brief interruption in the grassy dunes and spots what he thinks is it, a winding uphill climb through drifting sand. I ask him to step out and test the terra firma. He immediately sinks to his ankles. "Nothing firma 'round these parts," he assures me.
Not one to get held back by a little sand, Dave yells out, "Let's get deep into the heart of Texas, son" (or something equally cheesy). We line up the Hummer with the Pass and switch the beast into 4-Low. The 325-hp engine, with its massive 365 ft-lbs. of pulling torque, rumbles like a bull bursting at the gate, and we're set to ride it through. I stomp the pedal and we vault forward, building up a head of steam. Sand flies all over the place as we slip and slide and bound through the narrow pass. The H2 gets its footing and forges ahead, and we emerge from the chute as proud as champion bull riders as we catch the first glimpse of the vast bay.
The Laguna Madre is teaming with life. I haven't set foot off the running board when I notice that the water's mirror-flat surface is bubbling like seltzer. Baitfish pop everywhere, with herons wading after them. "When you're looking at water that's knee high to a bird," I say to Dave, "it's probably not a good idea to launch there." Dave tips his cowboy hat in agreement, grinning in the knowledge that we'd have to hammer the Hummer back through the pass, and this time it would be his turn to drive.