What’s the Most Stressful Driving Experience You’ve Ever Had?

2008 Subaru Forester

Photo: Collin Woodard

In a perfect world, nothing bad would ever happen while you’re behind the wheel. Unfortunately for us, we live in an extremely imperfect world, and bad things could happen at any time. Especially while driving. And while most of the time, driving is a relatively low-stress activity, sometimes you find yourself in a situation where your stress levels shoot through the roof.

For me, the most stressful driving experience I’ve ever had came as a result of some general stupidity. I’ll admit right out of the gate that I was an idiot, but we’ve all been idiots at times, right?

Anyway, a number of years ago, I was camping in Joshua Tree with my then-wife, and we were trying to kill a few hours, so we decided to do some exploring. At one point, we noticed a sandy road that looked interesting, so we figured why not explore it? It was unpaved, but we had a 2008 Subaru Forester, so a little sand probably wasn’t going to hurt us even if it was completely stock. Also, how bad could it be? I mean, there was even an official sign with the name “Old Dale Road” on it. There’s no way Old Dale would do us dirty.

Even without Googling the name, I’m sure you can see where this is going. Old Dale Road turned out to be a pretty serious off-road trail. Maybe we should have guessed something was wrong when the Jeep drivers gave us such confused looks when they passed us. Apparently, you’re supposed to use something more capable than an all-wheel-drive station wagon when you explore Old Dale Road.

If we’d known how long the road was, how rough it was going to get, or how many hours it would take to get to the paved road at the end, we would have turned around. But instead, we stupidly kept going — foolishly thinking it would take just as long to head back. Apparently, I’m the kind of guy who digs himself into a hole and then keeps trying to dig his way out.

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But you know what? That stock Forester made it. We didn’t die or get stranded in the desert hoping someone would find us before we died. There were a number of situations where I wished I’d had more ground clearance, but it did surprisingly well as long as I took things slow and was very intentional about my line. Sure, the experience probably took years off my life and gave me these white hairs, but at least I never have to do that again. Not that I actually needed to do (or should have done) it in the first place.

So what about you? What’s been your most stressful driving experience? Share your harrowing tales in the comments below.


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