“I think the road is over – I see skiers ahead.”
As Robert Frost once said, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” Imagine if old Bob had a Subaru, and you'll get some idea of the two ladies behind Team Offtrax, an adventuring pair that seems incapable of sitting still for five minutes. Having gone on expedition to the Arctic Circle last year and having just returned from a ski tour of the Alps, I caught up with them by phone as they shook the snow out of their boots and made plans to head off on a multi-week trip down the coast of France and eventually towards Morocco and the fringes of the Sahara.
Corinne Copreni and Jess Watt have been traipsing over the globe for nearly a decade now, having passed through fifty-five countries in the last eight years. Copreni is the Italian-born dynamo that seeks out these adventures; Watt is an experienced photographer and the “queen of the detour,” capable of ferreting out side-roads that lead who-knows-where.
In the past, they've travelled by every means possible, from foot to train to auto-rickshaw (the pair once drove from the Southern tip of India to East of Bangladesh in a tuk-tuk with an average speed of 35 km/h). For their past three adventures – and their latest, upcoming expedition – they've been using an unlikely machine. Not a Jeep, not a Land Rover, but a compact crossover from Subaru.
Their first trip in a Euro-spec Subaru Crosstrek XV was a nearly 34,000km odyssey from London through to the far East. Along the way they became the first and only female members of the Mongolian Subaru Club, and were often the first women drivers many countries had seen, certainly the first engaged in a long-distance rally. But, as Copreni says, that was always their intention, to encourage other women to get out there and give rallying a try, as well as showing what was possible with minimal equipment.
Their first Crosstrek, which they'll be returning to on their Moroccan expedition, was an entirely factory-spec car, right down to the tires. A skid-plate was fitted to project the oil pan, but otherwise the little lifted Impreza was the same as you could buy in any European Subaru dealership.
The same was true of the Subaru that Team Offtrax used on a trip closer to home, travelling up from Victoria to North of the Arctic Circle. This time they used a bone-stock Sport-trim with a manual transmission, loading it up with camping gear and a couple of extra spare tires. Thanks to some careful Tetris-like packing, it all fit.
Most of the way up to the Yukon is paved, and a more sensible route might have stuck to the well-travelled tarmac. Team Offtrax spent as little time on the beaten path as possible, using logging routes wherever they could and finding everything from curious four-by-fours to hidden lakeside campsites in the process.
As you'd expect, the best experiences came far away from the madding crowd. From bathing in Liard hotsprings to cruising through Hoodoos in Farwell canyon, the pair got a good look at the best BC has to offer. Then they ventured even further North, crossing the Arctic Circle and even going for a quick swim in the Arctic Ocean before taking refuge in a lonely nearby RCMP outpost.
Having returned back to Vancouver with the glutinous mud of the Dempster Highway still crammed in their little Crosstrek's wheel arches, the duo almost immediately headed back towards Europe to winter in the Alps. “More time was spent on events than in the car,” Copreni says of their four-week excursion, ticking off paragliding, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, ice-climbing, and an 800 m zipline running down the slope of a ski-hill. Also axe-throwing.
“The funny thing is that everyone was saying there was no snow in Europe, and it snowed heavily the day before we arrived, everywhere we went,” Copreni says, “We like to think we brought the real Canadian snow with us!”
The next rally will be more suited to the pair's style, a long-distance event covering more than 10,000 km with a much less pre-planned route. It'll also see them reunited with their original Crosstrek, the one that saw them to Mongolia and back again, covering a year and a half worth of mileage for your average Canadian owner in just a few weeks.
“We like to say it's been to Hell and back,” Copreni jokes, and as the Subaru's been right to the Gates to Hell in Turkmenistan, she's close enough.
The Maroc Challenge, Team Offtrax's latest expedition, is a low cost desert raid, populated mostly by Land Cruiser, Land Rovers, Jeeps, and Nissan Patrols. Copreni and Watt plan to reunite with their Subaru in Brussels, then spend a week or more travelling down the French coast towards Spain, before taking a ferry towards Morocco – all before even starting the rally.
“We're not going on vacation here,” Copreni says.
There are three categories of entrants, Rally, Adventure, and Classic. Offtrax will be in the middle category, as they haven't participated in the Maroc Challenge before, and as such will be expected to travel around a maximum of 350 km of offroad per day. “Although nobody will stop me from doing more if I want to,” Copreni interjects.
Once again, they've chosen to go with their shoestring equipment loadout, packing for simplicity and keeping their Crosstrek showroom stock. A jerry-can for extra fuel, some beef jerky, and a couple of tow straps are just about all they need.
The idea, as they say, is to point out that adventures like this are within the reach of the average person; that you don't need some Dakar-prepped desert-crossing monster with twin auxiliary fuel tanks and portal axles. All you need is a peppy four-cylinder boxer engine with all of 148 hp, decent ground clearance, and the will to get out there and explore. It helps too, if you think your Subaru looks best when it's dirty.