In the summer of 2000, I was living a teenage fantasy: I was living all but unsupervised, had a job at a carpet installation shop, a T-top Monte Carlo to bomb around in, a girlfriend, a couple of good friends, the city of Colorado Springs as my playground and the world by the throat. I did whatever I wanted, and for the most part managed to not wind up in hot water, unlike earlier that year when I was given a vacation from high school. Looking back, it’s amazing that I managed to survive my teenage years…but don’t we all think that from time to time?
I was wrapping up a half-day shift at the carpet shop’s warehouse in the southwestern corner of the Springs on a summer day, waiting for one of my friends, Josh, to come pick me up. The Monte Carlo was getting brakes and we were going to hang out the rest of the afternoon, doing jack-squat. As I clocked out I looked across the street, I took notice of the empty pit of land across from the warehouse, where a couple of trucks where doing some mild wheeling:
You can see most of this open, gravelly goodness in the southwest corner of the map, and back then that encroaching neighborhood didn’t exist at all…it was open, with sand and gravel roads, hard packed dirt elsewhere, and some small scrub plants here and there. When Josh and his baby-blue Chrysler LeBaron finally appeared, I pointed out the pit and suggested that it would be the perfect spot for some Dukes of Hazzard-like hijinks. I don’t clearly remember how we came to the conclusion that putting a low Chrysler with no power in this pit was a great idea, but the next thing you know I’m teaching my friend how to do sand-assisted power slides and e-brake spins. It was a riot, right up until we sank the LeBaron up to it’s axle in soft sand. Luckily, a couple of guys in a lifted Toyota yanked us out after laughing at us and we decided that we needed to get a truck with four-wheel-drive and come back to play.
Here’s where the bad decisions really start: we hosed off the LeBaron, picked up the Monte Carlo from the brake shop, left his car at his parents’ house, and picked up our friend Adam. From there we went to my uncle Benjamin’s house and made a convincing case to borrow his Bronco II. It was lifted, it was four-wheel drive, and it wouldn’t get stuck, right? Within five minutes we were heading back down Interstate 25 towards the gravel pit across from Floor Craft’s warehouse, and we were going to have some fun, come hell or high water.
Adam and Josh were psyched up for the adventure, but as I drove, I began to have my doubts about this plan. If you have never driven a Ford Bronco II before, to say it’s top-heavy is an understatement. To drive on on 35″ tires with a body lift was the fastest lesson I ever got for having respect to the laws of physics…this thing felt like it would roll over at the slightest crosswind, and semi-truck blasts were enough to make this thing switch lanes. And we were going to drift it in the dirt? By the time the tires left the pavement, the idea of drifting and scrambling this monstrous little utility were far out of my head…instead, I was picturing this:
For about ten minutes, Josh and Adam were placated as I did some unnecessary 4-Lo hill ascents and decants, and found rocks to test out the suspension’s articulation. But after a few minutes, Josh, a sheltered kid known for slamming Jolt soda at inopportune times, started to get upset with me. “Dude, I thought you were going to drift it!” Next thing you know, Adam, another satisfied Jolt consumer, was on board and they were doing the chant: “DO IT. DO IT. DO IT.”
Recap: It’s a beautiful summer day, I’m 17, and free as a bird, with two caffeinated idiots egging me on to have a little fun in the dirt with a borrowed NHTSA safety film waiting to happen. I finally say that I will do it, but since I was honestly worried about what the Bronco II would do, that they would have to watch from the outside. Adam grabbed his camcorder and they both hopped out, and I drove to the “end” of one of the gravel road sections and did a quick donut to assess how screwed I was. The verdict: hosed. However, the ground was loose enough that I might get away with kicking the tail out, so if I just rolled into the throttle enough to get the back to step out, that’d be enough, right?
The plan was to do the slide in the top part of second gear, so I started my run. As I was coming around the left-hand sweeper I was planning on drifting, two kids on ATVs appeared in view. Shit! I swerved left to avoid them, which took me off of a trail and before I knew what the hell had happened, the Bronco was airborne. I landed before my brain processed everything, and I just stood on the brake pedal until the engine stalled and the truck stopped. As I was making sure that I was still alive and in one piece I could hear two voices: Adam, who was screaming like he was at a rock concert, and Josh, who was screaming just as loud, but in a much more angry tone of voice.
I had my fill of the Bronco II to last a lifetime, so with Josh and Adam inside (and Josh punching me every few seconds) we made our way back to the north end of the city, and that’s when I learned what went down: the kids on ATVs really did come out of nowhere, and this is before cell phones, so it wasn’t like I could have been warned. When I swerved left, I found a small berm that went up a couple of feet before falling off into a pit, which I hit somewhere in the middle of second gear. Josh had been standing there, and once he put two and two together, he did the only thing he could do: he hit the deck as fast as his skinny frame would let him, and I ended up jumping over him with just enough room to spare.
I don’t know what happened to the Bronco II…I last saw it in 2000. Josh went into the Army about the same time I did the next year and last I checked is living in Texas, and Adam is still somewhere in the Springs. It’s amazing that everybody left that incident in one piece. It’s more amazing that it happened, and it would be an amazing feat if anyone, myself included, would believe that the “Bronco II incident” is one of the mellower stories from that year. Remember, kids, don’t be dumb…take the advice from the people who were dumb and lived.
(note: not one of these Bronco IIs is the actual vehicle. I promise. Though, the green one is very close.)