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A Wild Horse in the Oregon Dunes

Last week, I traveled to Sherwood, OR for several work related meetings and the Ironman 4x4 America Anniversary Event, held at the Ironman Flagship Retail Store. While it was still work, the benefit of my new job is that a lot of the stuff I do for work is actually fun. The anniversary event was a huge success. Not only did participants get offered free food and beer, they were able to spend some time with Rachael Anderberg (@rachs_wildlife on IG) and meet Faye Hadley from “All Girls Garage.” I was there too, but I kept it low-key so I didn’t steal all the media attention. You know how it goes. After a full Saturday of raffles and “Bush Toilet Corn Hole” (my new favorite game) the team took the next day to unwind and let off some steam.

Another benefit of my new job is the fact that I work for a company that has several epic vehicles in their fleet. Our entire company is based on upfitting vehicles and outfitting people to be better equipped to go offroad and experience adventure. Somehow, I convinced someone to give me the keys to the 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands. I saddled up on the wild horse and made the two-hour drive west from Sherwood, OR to the Sand Lake Recreation Area on the coast of Oregon.

Let’s start with the drive; As a California kid, born and raised, the “forest” consists of 14 trees spread across 25 acres and you can still see a cactus hiding in between them. I have spent a lot of time in the San Bernardino National Forest, but still, they are nothing compared to the dense greenery of the Pacific Northwest. Once you get out of the metro area and on to the two-lane roads that lead you to the Pacific Ocean, you have a whole new understanding of what a forest is. There are “creeks” that are wider and deeper than anything we have in SoCal. There are cliffs and mountain that look like they belong on a postcard. And, the trees are so big and packed together so tightly, all you see is the leaves. You can’t discern one tree from the other. It is breathtaking.

Once we arrived at Sand Lake, we connected with the rest of the group, aired down, and had a quick discussion about the events of the day. Basically, go play on the sand, come back for lunch, and then go play on the sand some more…..I was vibrating with excitement and couldn’t wait to get started. Now, if you are a SoCal native and you are picturing Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis), don’t. Glamis is about 128,000 acres (200 sq mi) of sand dunes with no water in sight. Sand Lake is closer to Oceano Dunes (Pismo) in its feel because they are both along the Pacific Coast and you can drive right up to the water. Pismo is about 3,500 acres (5.46 sq mi) while Sand Lake Recreation Area is only 1,076 acres (1.68 sq mi). In comparison to the dune areas I have been in before, Sand Lake was small. You could get from one end to the other pretty quickly. With that said, it was no less fun than any of those bigger areas. A big difference in the terrain was that the edges of the sand dunes blended into the forest, creating some really cool winding trails that weave in and out of the treeline. You could spend an entire day in these areas on a bike or a quad and have a really good time.

However, I was not on a bike or a quad…I was in a big, bad-ass, muther-buckin’, Bronco! If you have listened to the The Trailchasers Podcast at all, you will know that I was really considering replacing my 2019 Ford Ranger with a Bronco when it first came out, but held off. I have been stalking the Bronco ever since, like a creepy ex-boyfriend, following you on social media, to see what you are up to and making sure that you are not happier without me. I absolutely love the way the Bronco looks, but I have not had any real world experience with them. This was the perfect opportunity to get some seat time in an offroad environment to see how the vehicle performs. I’m gonna cut to the did not disappoint.

With a lot of experience in the driver seat of my Ranger, I expected the Bronco to have a similar feel. To some extent, it did. All of the things I love about the Ranger drive train carried over to the Bronco; Immediate power when you need it, the transmission finding the perfect gear at all times, the confidence to attack any obstacle. The difference was, the Bronco did it even better. More power, better gearing, and more confidence. I did not expect it, especially considering how the Bronco is equipped. The vehicle is outfitted with 37 inch BFG KM3’s, an Ironaman 4x4 Swift rooftop tent sits on top, the full size spare and Ironman 4x4 Treds are mounted on a custom carrier on the back, and there are several goodies inside, including an Ironman 4x4 refrigerator. My Ranger has about as much stuff attached to it, but it is only sitting on 33 inch tires. I was certain that the 37’s would have a negative impact on the power delivery and performance of the rig, but I was wrong.

Driving the Bronco on the sand was as close to “point-n-shoot” offroading as I have ever been. It was fast enough to run down all of the other vehicles there and nimble enough to maneuver through the terrain with ease. As a test, we lined up a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (on 37” tires and no rooftop tent) against the Bronco. When the super sexy VP of Sales dropped his handkerchief, we both took off on a short, flat run then up a sand dune hill. The Bronco took the checkered flag with no problems. Before any of you accuse me of being a “Ford Fanboy,” which I am, I did spend some time driving the Jeep Wrangler. When I took off on the first run with the Wrangler, I could feel the difference. The drive train on the Jeep wanted to get up to speed, but it was working harder and it took longer. The Jeep was not as “snappy” on the turns and it was not nearly as “fun” to drive, primarily because of the power delivery from the drive train to the tires. There has long been a heated discussion about solid front axles vs. IFS in offroad vehicles. For me, the IFS on the Bronco seemed to have a clear advantage in the sand over any of the Jeeps I have driven in the past. I recall having to pull off the throttle over the whoops in Glamis so that I didn’t bounce violently and suffer kidney damage in a solid front axle Jeep. The Bronco’s IFS was able to navigate the rough patches at higher speeds and without jumping off the ground. This made it easier to carry momentum from the flat ground onto the hill climbs. It also gave the Bronco an advantage on anything off camber. It felt like the Bronco had less rollover tendencies than any comparably equipped Jeep I can recall driving. I didn't get enough seat time in our Ironman equipped JL to really compare the suspension performance. If I'm being honest, I just wanted to get back in to the Bronco and have more fun. It would be very interesting to compare the suspension of the Bronco to a Wrangler JL in stock form and with some aftermarket upgrades, but we didn't get the chance to do that. Maybe I can convince someone to let me "conduct some testing" on the next trip. I know that a lot of my observations are anecdotal and subject to opinion, but I have owned and/or driven enough different vehicles to be able to identify the nuanced differences in the way they handle.

So, what does this mean for me? It means I desperately want a Bronco now. No joke! I didn’t think I wanted to get back into an SUV, but the offroad performance of that Bronco far outweighs any negative aspects of losing my truck bed. I spent Monday and Tuesday searching the interwebs for a Bronco. Unfortunately, I would have to sell my remaining functional organs to afford it. If I thought people would subscribe to an Only Fans page to see my toes (or anything else), I would absolutely do it to get one of these rigs. I have absolutely no self respect at this point and I am willing to do just about anything. The reality is, I am just going to have to wait for a while. I know I can sell the Ranger for a good price right now, but even with equity in my truck, it isn’t enough to bring the monthly payment of a Bronco down below my mortgage. The cost of both new and used Bronco’s is a lot. My plan is to monitor the market and keep an eye out for a good deal. This will give me the time to identify exactly what I want and work towards getting it. I am still very interested in the 2023 Ranger, so I expect to hold out until late next year in an effort to get my eyes on the Ranger before making a decision. I would hate to get a Bronco and fall in love with the new Ranger 2 months later.

Look, I know all of this is a pipe dream. With the current inflation, the lack of vehicle inventory, and the impending global apocalypse only a few months away, I doubt I will get the chance to experience the sweet, sweet joy of the Bronco Badlands again any time soon. Until I hit the lottery or the world comes to an end, I will just spend my free time searching the internet for the diamond in the rough, hoping I can make my dreams a reality.

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