The Cen­tral Florida Ex­plorer

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick Con­nolly Cen­tral Florida Ex­plorer

Pa­trick Con­nolly off-roads the trails of Ocala Na­tional For­est.

OR­LANDO – Dur­ing pre­vi­ous off-road­ing es­capades, I found my­self nearly get­ting stuck in mud or sand once or twice with my Honda Ac­cord. Need­ing some­thing that suited my ad­ven­tur­ous life­style bet­ter, in 2017 I bought a Subaru XV Crosstrek.

It’s no Jeep Wran­gler, but with 8.7 inches of ground clear­ance and all-wheel drive, I knew the car could take me off the beaten path if I asked it to.

I joined a few fo­rums and dis­cov­ered how peo­ple can go off road and mod­ify their wag­ons – lift­ing them, adding light bars, all-ter­rain tires and skid plates. The off-road­ing bug had bit­ten me.

While liv­ing in Las Ve­gas, I braved gravel trails with my un­mod­i­fied setup near Mt. Charleston and dusty desert paths. Then, I heard about this group called Mt­nRoo.

Af­ter join­ing the Mt­nRoo Las Ve­gas Face­book page in spring of 2018, I found my­self driv­ing to a gas sta­tion one morn­ing to meet up with a con­tin­gent of of­froad­ing Roos. My stock wagon looked a lit­tle in­ad­e­quate when side-by-side with the other cars, most of which had lift kits, skid plates and off-road bumpers.

Even with my fac­tory tires, my trusty Crosstrek held its own. I couldn’t wait to see where else my Subaru could take me.

Mt­nRoo founder Vic­tor May started the club by or­ga­niz­ing a few Cal­i­for­nia meet­ings lo­cally. Then, peo­ple be­gan ask­ing if he could do events in other states. In­stead, he helped other Subaru own­ers start their own groups.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion that started

in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia two or three years ago has now grown to in­clude 39 chap­ters as far away as Alaska, Puerto Rico and Queens­land, Aus­tralia.

May said it’s the cars that bring peo­ple to­gether, but also the love for get­ting out­doors.

“Subaru builds a unique car that seems to cap­ture some­thing in peo­ple – for most of us in the Mt­nRoo com­mu­nity, it’s the sim­ple, yet sturdy all-wheel drive plat­form,” May said. “Ev­ery­one is wel­come. We’re all there to en­joy the out­doors and help each other out when some­thing goes wrong.”

Liv­ing in Florida, I now fall un­der the broader Mt­nRoo South­east chap­ter, which en­com­passes a wide swath of land from Florida to Ten­nessee.

Last June, I went on my first trip with some off-road­ing Florida Subaru own­ers. Although my wagon is still largely un­mod­i­fied, I did get a wheel and tire up­grade be­fore the out­ing, slap­ping on some Method wheels and Gen­eral Grab­ber AT2 tires.

I had a great time driv­ing through the mud and sand of Ocala Na­tional For­est. I kept wait­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion for the next time we would get back out.

The first week­end in De­cem­ber, sev­eral ad­ven­tur­ers from South Florida drove up to meet us for a few days in the Ocala Na­tional For­est — in all, we had six Crosstreks, five Out­backs and one Jeep join the jour­ney.

That first day, we ex­plored nearly 100 miles of trail. The con­di­tions were dry and un­chal­leng­ing, and the only try­ing ob­sta­cle was some slightly deep sand. That is — un­til we en­coun­tered a real snag.

The line of cars in front of me came to a halt at a muddy ditch. It wasn’t crazy deep, but it did pose a slightly big­ger chal­lenge. I watched Joel in his Out­back bounce and strug­gle to get out of the muck.

But thanks to some ad­vice from my friend Dayan, I picked a good line and got through no prob­lem. One by one, the Roos be­hind me made it through. Nat­u­rally, the Jeep had no trou­ble sur­viv­ing the mud. He even did a vic­tory lap, re­vers­ing back into the ditch.

The rain fol­lowed us on the trail dur­ing part of the af­ter­noon, but let up by the time we were set­ting up the night’s ac­com­mo­da­tions at Big Scrub Camp­ground.

Then, it was time for some night trails. This was a first for me, but it proved to be a blast. It felt like we were driv­ing through the jun­gles of Juras­sic Park.

Back at camp, un­in­hib­ited by the light pol­lu­tion of the city, we glanced up to gaze at the mil­lions of stars above us.

That Sun­day, I woke up in camp, ready to con­quer the new day. Though we didn’t spend as much time on the trails, Out­back owner Keenan Har­grave took us to a muddy, sandy swamp he had been itch­ing to check out.

We took turns splash­ing through the pud­dles, with some dar­ing to cross some deeper wa­ters. We re­dis­cov­ered the play­ful en­ergy from more youth­ful years, but in­stead of play­ing with smallscale Hot Wheels cars in the back­yard, we’re now driv­ing full-size ve­hi­cles for ex­plo­ration and fun.

There’s no bet­ter feel­ing than es­cap­ing into the woods for a week­end. Whether that’s by foot, bike or ve­hi­cle, there are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for out­door recre­ation in the Sun­shine State. Es­pe­cially in the vast ex­panse of 387,000 acres that com­prises Ocala Na­tional For­est.

A car brand is a weird thing to bond over, but our off-road­ing out­ings are about more than just the ve­hi­cles. It’s about the fel­low­ship we share with one an­other while spend­ing time in the great out­doors. Our Mt­nRoos are sim­ply the en­ablers of week­end recre­ation en­joy­ment and a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our nat­u­ral world.

PA­TRICK CON­NOLLY PHO­TOS/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Off-road ready Subarus line up to hit the trails in Ocala Na­tional For­est on Dec. 1, 2018.

Pa­trick Con­nolly took his Subaru XV Crosstrek to the na­tional for­est to ex­plore the trails and take in the ex­pan­sive night skies.

PA­TRICK CON­NOLLY PHO­TOS/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

A con­gre­ga­tion of Subarus and own­ers in Ocala Na­tional For­est on Dec. 1.

Keenan Har­grave drives his Subaru Out­back through the mud.

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