According to Google Maps, there are 565 miles between my place in Austin, Texas and my girlfriend Eli’s parents’ house in El Paso. That comes out to an estimated 8 hours and 21 minutes of driving. The occasion? Our friend’s wedding.
We loaded our suitcases onto and under the rear seats of the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCrew and hit the road, ventilated front buckets on full blast. After a while, we were a giant streak of blue rocketing westward on I-10.
Although the Raptor is a niche vehicle laser-focused on off-road dominance, it was surprisingly comfortable on the road. The chunky tires didn’t go about their duties in total silence, but they weren’t loud enough to keep Eli from falling asleep. With such precious cargo aboard and such pricey hardware around me, I remained vigilant. Luckily, the adaptive cruise control kept me from having to worry about the gas-and-brake dance.
As the numbers on the odometer shot up, I occasionally glanced over at the gorgeous girl next to me whose love and inner beauty changed my life. I had country music from a satellite radio station playing just loud enough for me to hear it. I listened to plenty of love songs as Eli slept. Not one of them captured what her sweet, peaceful face made me feel at that moment.
Luckily, she woke up on her own before we had to stop for gas. Filling the Raptor’s 36-gallon tank gave me and Eli a chance to fill our tanks with snacks and water.
Hundreds of miles later, as the sun was going down, the Raptor’s windshield was a landscape painting. A thick black ribbon tapered down the middle toward the horizon of pinks and oranges and purples. Sienna buttes, roughly hewn by centuries of wind and rain, were as abundant as they were monolithic. The harmless giants rose from dry ground stippled with drab green scrub brush. I kept the center line steering wheel stripe straight and our speed high.
Eli and I eventually arrived at her parents’ place in El Paso. Her mom marveled at the Raptor’s massive dimensions and bold looks. Eli had assured me her father would be a fan of the beast. If he was, I couldn’t tell. He was a hard read. I trusted Eli’s judgement… and hoped his poker face hid a fondness for his only daughter’s boyfriend.
Eli’s mother knew I had photography to do while we were in town, so a few days later she packed a bunch of finger foods and drinks for a trip out to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It’s home to more than 800 species of animals.
When we arrived, I didn’t see any of them. Instead, I saw signs forbidding off-roading, written antagonism keeping me from mashing my right foot down and forcing the Raptor’s 450 horses to carry me, Eli, and her mom up and down the pristine peaks. Knowing there was nothing I could (legally) do, I slowly drove through the gypsum dunes and let their quiet calm me. Eli informed me clothing designers use White Sands as a backdrop for photo and commercial shoots. It was easy for me to see why. The seemingly untouched whiteness made the Raptor’s Lightning Blue paint strike my eyes even harder than it did in the polychrome world outside the monument.
The day before the wedding, I was able to take the Raptor off-road. The well-defined limits of the seemingly infinite White Sands no longer stood in my way. Paul, a friend of mine with a last-generation F-150 FX4, met me at an entrance to Red Sands, a sprawling expanse of shape-shifting dunes. After he had climbed aboard, I put the Raptor into its Sand mode and charged up the first gritty incline I saw. The Terrain Management System prevented me from getting the tires dug in too deeply too quickly. All I had to do was keep the wheel straight during ascents and descents, and keep the gas pedal down to stay in motion above the sands.
After a few blasts up and down the peaks of Red Sands, Paul and I stopped at the beginning of a long straightaway. I owed it to myself and the Raptor’s engineers to engage Baja mode… and paid in full. At 50 mph, everything inside the truck vibrated. I was not shaken, though. The Raptor was panic-proof, even over constantly changing terrain. If I felt the back end slipping out on me, I just input a slight steering correction and the Raptor kept rocketing forward, straight as a warhead-propelled arrow. Paul was thrilled. I was addicted.
The next day, it was time for the rehearsal dinner. Earlier that day, Eli had jokingly suggested that the Raptor serve as the “something blue” of their wedding by escorting the groom and some of his groomsmen to the church. At dinner, I mentioned the idea to Dan. He was on board.
The next day, I met Dan’s side of the wedding party. We changed into our formal wear as one of Dan’s favorite movies, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” played silently in the living room. After the wedding photographer captured Dan and his brother and pals for posterity, it was time to head to the church. Dan’s gang had arrived at his house in separate vehicles and drove away in them. That left Dan riding shotgun in the Raptor. During the short drive, we reflected on our past relationships and expressed our contentment with how our love lives had turned out. I also had a chance to put the Raptor into Sport mode and show Dan how quick a giant truck can be. He was impressed. About an hour later, he was a married man… and I was picturing how that would feel some day, and smiling.
Over the course of just a few days, a lot had changed. I learned just how good the Raptor is on the road and in its natural habitat. My friends went from being engaged to being spouses. The way I pictured my future was forever altered. Eli and I eventually traveled the 565 miles back to Austin. Although we went home, I didn’t return to the life I’d known before we headed out west in the Raptor. That was gone. Not even Google Maps could find it.