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road test

I'm originally a prairie kid and, whenever Sting's Fields of Gold blasted through the radio as I drove the rural Saskatchewan roads during my high-school years, I always felt smack-dab in the middle of the song – surrounded by a patchwork-quilt of barley, wheat, canola, oat, mustard and lentil fields in shades of green and gold.

Many years have passed, but that old feeling returned when I returned to southern Saskatchewan recently. I left the Prairies when I was a teen, but go back each year to visit. This time, rather than rely on family to chauffeur me, I roamed free in a 2017 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT All Terrain X. To be clear, this is a substantial truck. I'd driven pickups on my stepdad's farm, but at 7,200 pounds, nothing quite like this. And I was about to have many of my truck stereotypes challenged.

With a bright crimson-red four-door crew cab that seats five, and a large bed-mounted tubular sport bar, I was certain I stood out when I began my journey at Regina's historic Hotel Saskatchewan. Constructed in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, it was the city's first major hotel and remains a prominent landmark and social hub.

As I pulled into the hotel parking lot to stay the night, a telecom worker in his own truck nodded approvingly. I climbed down from the cab to talk and asked whether he was surprised to see a woman driving it.

"Are you kidding? No way," he replied. "Twenty-five per cent of truck drivers in Saskatchewan are women. If you want to get noticed, maybe you should take that thing to Toronto."

I encountered this unexpected ambivalence wherever I went. Later, I tried popping the hood to check the oil. I thought for sure someone would come to help a woman with a big truck. Nothing. That's when I began to shed my preconceived notions of women and trucks. Later, I was pleased to discover a woman, Jully Burau, was vehicle chief engineer for this generation of Sierra (and sister, the Silverado).

The next morning, I sped west down the Trans-Canada Highway to spend a few days in Moose Jaw. Trucks were everywhere; at any time, there were at least five double-cabs idling in Tim's drive-thru, and more in the parking lot. But there's a big difference between many of these trucks and those I grew up around. Those were work trucks, these are luxury.

Once the domain of farmers and ranchers, pickups are now family vehicles, too. And that's the point: $62,255 is a lot to outlay for a vehicle that might get banged and bumped on the farm. There are lots of bells and whistles here: leather interior, a six-speaker Bose sound system, wireless charging, 10-way power driver and front passenger seat adjusters, built-in OnStar 4G WiFi hotspot, eight-inch colour touch-screen navigation, 110-volt AC power outlet, and voice-activated technology for phone and radio. In the city, the rear park assist is a necessity for navigating tight spaces.

Not that the power of this beast was without merit. The four-wheel-drive 5.3-litre, 355-horsepower V-8 could be an asset on the vast agricultural plains where my stepdad makes his living. While he harvested canola near Mortlach, I proudly crossed his adjoining hay field to show him my toy. With the ease of a tractor, the Sierra All Terrain X performed without any strain. With 9,200 pounds of towing capacity, it's true home may be out on the land hauling livestock and farm equipment – despite its external flash.

And, impressed as I was by the high-tech gadgets and fancy extras, four of my nephews reminded me of the simple joys of life. A picnic on the prairie quickly turned into playtime in the box, the rear corner-step bumper key to a continuous game of up-and-down.

As my journey neared its end, I thought I had assimilated into the world of pickup trucks. I was brought back to reality by a gas station attendant who sensed some form of unease, and tried to reassure me.

"Relax, Miss!" he bellowed.

Maybe I really do stand out in this thing.

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