Highway 60 up into the White Mountains hits grades of 7 percent. When we climbed into them, the truck downshifted smoothly, kept its place in the cluster of vehicles with authority, and allowed us to pass easily when the time was right. Running down the grades, we kept our foot off the brake. Chevy had engineered exhaust brakes into the system to work together with the Allison transmission, controlling our downhill coasting without heating the brakes. It worked well on the steepest grades, sometimes requiring a manual downshift.
Also incorporated into the drivetrain is anti-sway control, a mechanism that measures braking, wheel revolutions and other factors to check trailer sway before it gets out of hand. We didn’t attempt to test that feature, but keeping a steady hand on the wheel, we had no difficulty avoiding an unexpected road hazard or making lane changes quickly.
In Roosevelt, we stopped by the Tonto National Forest information office to speak with Jonathan McNeil, the ranger who’d worked so hard to help us complete our permit.
“I’ve been checking with people and get conflicting reports about the passability of Fish Creek Hill,” I said.
“The trail hasn’t been graded in a while,” McNeil said, edging toward that front door. “Wow, that is a big rig. You still going up Fish Creek?”
“Well, I know I can’t film there. But do you think we can make it?” I asked. McNeil never replied.
A mile or so from the Roosevelt Dam we found that the Apache Trail pavement ends in about 42 miles of ruts, washboards and dusty potholes. Maximum speed is 25 mph due to unexpected blind curves and oncoming traffic. We often had to stop in wide spots with two wheels in the cliffside ditch to let it pass. Sometimes, the traffic had to give way, but never did we find a dilemma we couldn’t manage.
The first thing we noticed when we crossed ragged washboard road patches was firmness of the frame. Chevy claimed a new, heavier box beam frame would give the vehicle more rigidity than in its previous vehicles and in some of the competition’s. We didn’t have either for an immediate comparison, but in this one, the suspension seemed to absorb the vibration and the truck bed stayed well aligned with the cabin.