"I mean, this is amazing, right?" shouts SVT Vehicle Dynamics engineer, Ford Tier 3-certified test driver, and possible asylum candidate Gene Martindale over the din of 35-inch tires pulverizing desert gravel.
Amazing? No, this is utterly ridiculous. It's 106 degrees F, and we're streaking across the rock- and sand-strewn frying pan that is Borrego Springs, California, in August. It's absolutely miserable out here, so hot and dry the scorpions have taken refuge under the sidewinders. Word is, Blackwater mercenaries train in this unforgiving desert because it makes Kandahar look like Club Med.
You'd never know it from inside our truck. The A/C is blowing ice cold, and Gene keeps his right foot flat as we literally glide over whoop after whoop (an off-road-racing term for the thousands of beige speed bumps scattered before us). Whoops vary in size and composition, from small ones made of storm-piled sand to taller berms packed down by dirtbike and buggy tires, but all can seriously cripple a vehicle if taken at speed.
We're doing 100 mph. At half this rate, any regular truck would explosively dismantle as fast, hard, and repeated hits induce massive and comprehensive suspension or tire failure. Our truck simply strides over them, with some turbulence for us in the cabin, but without any gut wrenching, bolt stripping, metal-on-metal indications of imminent disaster.
Well, except for Gene. He keeps hollering and looking over to gauge my reaction. Because of my helmet, he can't see the big, goofy grin on my face, nor does he realize I'm not ignoring him. I'm quietly scanning the horizon for the next big hit. Apparently, he takes my stoicism as evidence that I'm not having fun, and since we're already at Vmax, he decides to show me what a little full-throttle opposite lock can do.
It's when we launch off a huge whoop while yawed at 45 degrees, that I realize I should let Gene know how much I'm enjoying myself. While I'd like to die with a smile on my face, I'd rather it not be in this godforsaken place. I let off a whoop of my own, and his response is an immediate and gleeful, "I know, right? You just can't do that in any other truck!"