The tires lift off a rise in the trail and 12 inches of atmosphere separates the H1 Alpha from terra firma. As the vehicle touches down, the front right coil spring absorbs the initial impact before it bottoms out on the next whoop-de-do. The body rolls left, sending unsecured gear to the driver's side rear seat. I glance at my mentor to check for white knuckles. With an ear-to-ear grin, my instructor says, "Nice, now ease up for this next turn, it'll sneak up on you." I heed his advice. It's not often you get the chance to steer a Hummer on the kind of terrain for which it was built, and expert counseling is welcome.
The H1 was purpose-built for the U.S. military, with the design engineers who did it given the task of creating a vehicle in which function and utility were job one. What they came up with was a profile so unique and recognizable, that it captured the eyes of the world. But like so many sport utility vehicles, Hummers spend a lot of time on paved roads. So before you take one into something dicey, you should learn to handle it. Autopilot is not a factory option, and maneuvering through Mother Nature's gauntlet of surprises can be intimidating (we won't tell anyone).
The good-life news—whether you drive an H2, the new H3 or the new high-performance Duramax-powered H1 Alpha—is that Hummer-specific events and driving schools will take you to the next level.
Available only to Hummer owners, the AM General Hummer Academy should be your first line of defense. The academy offers three- to five-day courses at its South Bend, Indiana, facility (www.hummer.com or 574-258-6622). Instruction covers vehicle function, driving technique, navigation, GPS use, medical awareness and essential gear needed for an off-road safari. The academy provides everything: a vehicle, lodging and a tour of the Hummer plant. Program director Tim Bonadies says, "Driving a Hummer is a totally new experience; our goal is to teach proficiency behind the wheel."
The Hummer Club Inc. (www.thehummerclubinc.com) also offers HCI members regularly organized outings around the country. Local Hummer dealers provide quarterly off-road excursions for clients as well. This year, Rod Hall, the 17-time Baja 1000 champion and Hummer racing team owner, invites owners and dealers to an event billed as the Elko Hummer Roundup (September 27 to October 1, www.elkohummerroundup.com). The mountain-side mining town of Elko, Nevada, chosen for its Wild West flavor, will host four days of trail rides, workshops and cowboy cookouts.