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A Professional Rally Driver Tried to Kill Me in a Polaris RZR

And yeah, it was f***ing awesome.

We’re rocketing across the dusty landscape, annihilating small bushes and sending gravel into the stratosphere, when I see the cliff. The rough two-track we’re following appears to end at the edge, and I’m just starting to calculate how we can possibly slow down in time as reality strikes with an awesome, terrible clarity: Chris Duplessis is not going to stop.

The Drive’s Mike Spinelli would later say that it was like we were recreating the final scene to Thelma & Louise, except I looked far less certain about my choices than Geena Davis riding shotgun. But when a former professional rally driver hops in a Polaris RZR XP Turbo and wants to show you “what this thing can do,” well, that decision is already made for you. You climb in, hang on, and brace for the landing.

Side-by-sides, which are basically two-seat ATVs on anabolic steroids, have evolved over the past decade from simple agricultural tools to the latest and greatest in off-road hooliganism. They come in all flavors from various manufacturers, ranging from utilitarian and bare-bones to energy drink X-treme. With its exposed, long-travel suspension and a 925cc turbo engine putting out 168 horsepower, the Polaris RZR XP Turbo falls squarely into the latter camp.

I thought I’d driven a RZR in anger before—the new XP Turbo Dynamix Edition, which adds a trick continuously adjustable suspension system to the already potent package—but with Duplessis behind the wheel in the woods next to Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York, I’m forced to admit my previous stint was more “mildly chagrined” than anything else. Duplessis is a former 2WD Rally America champion, with years of experience hucking Ford Fiestas and Scion xDs around the world at outrageous speeds. Put him in a 1,500-pound box with power going to all four wheels, and it’s almost unfair.

The rules of driving are completely re-written in a RZR. Time itself is compressed, with bumps and whoops coming and going faster than my eyes can register the terrain. It’s as if the physical world has been turned into a gigantic, terrestrial treadmill. Nothing matters beyond the next twenty feet, because that’s all the time Duplessis needs to make the RZR do as he wants, regardless of speed. Less than thirty seconds after I climb into the passenger seat, he’s hanging a back wheel over the edge of a steep embankment as we drift along at 50 mph.

Really, all you have in a situation like this is trust. Trust in the driver and, just as important, trust in the machine. When one side digs in and it feels like we’re about to roll, trust. When that bump looks like it’s really going to hurt, trust. And when the braking distance seems impossibly short, just trust—actually, that last one doesn’t always apply.

It’s a peculiar sensation, feeling the ground drop away beneath the wheels and understanding that you have just driven off a 25-foot cliff. Nothing in human evolution prepared our brains for the swirl of neurons lighting up the amygdala in that moment, and though it feels like minutes, all I can do is make a stupid face and brace for a hard landing. But the spine-compressing impact never comes. Almost as smoothly as we departed terra firma, the Polaris RZR XP Turbo hits the ground running, ready for more. Suddenly, I am too.