As an advertising photographer, it is important to make sure you update your portfolio with work you are excited about. It is equally important to have projects in your book that free a creative director from the work of imagining their client’s product swapped in place. So I decided to create another lifestyle/adventure project of the automotive variety, as shooting cars and people are my passion.
A friend of mine owns fifty acres of property east of the Mackinac Bridge in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I figured that would make a great place to set the adventure shoot. Because this was a personal project, I didn’t want to pay models to make the trip and pay further for their accommodations and meals, so I forced my family to come along as my talent. My two seven-year-old daughters have never been camping, and fifty acres of pristine wild land on the shore of Lake Huron would be a hell of a place to have their first camping adventure. My wife, Whitney, is not much of a camper but is a good sport.
For the vehicle, I just wanted something that made sense sitting on the rocky beach of Lake Huron with the beautiful canvas platform tent in the background and hopefully a starry sky above. Seyth Miersma suggested the new Ford Expedition Timberline. I said, “what the hell is that?” Despite its name, I’d never considered the Expedition to be much of an adventure vehicle, but in the Timberline trim, it makes that argument.
With dark green paint, blacked out wheels, knobby tires, and orange accents on the front fascia and green leather seat stitching, it looks the part. I was actually surprised by how much I liked how it looked street-parked in Midtown, Grand Rapids. A hulking absurdity. I knew it would look even better in da U.P.
The Expedition, with the third-row seats folded down, just fit everything we needed, which was a bit surprising. The only items we packed that were not part of the original checklist were two totes from the land owner, one with a rolled up queen-size air mattress and the other with its bedding. Both important totes. Along with my camera gear, our usual two-night-stay clothing, and a cooler, we could barely fit the groceries we bought in Cedarville, 8 miles from camp. Whitney had to ride those last 8 miles with a pile of firewood on her lap.
What the Expedition lacks in storage, it makes up for in passenger space. Everything is bigger and farther away. My kids loved having the extra room – our usual daily drivers are a couple of Outback wagons and a Toyota 4Runner. Whitney said she felt like she was riding in a school bus and I felt like I was driving one. The thing is big. Like, really big. And on the highway, it feels like it has the aerodynamics of a brick. But, overall, the Expedition is a really pleasant space to be on a long road trip.
The seats are comfortable, the infotainment is easy to use, the screen is massive (one of the only times a screen of this size didn’t bother me), the charging ports in the back were a luxury for my kids, and the B&O sound system was loud enough to drown out the sounds from their tablets – as well as the road noise from the Timberline trim’s agro tires. I understand why people want these big things. Once we got across the bridge, the rugged Ford blended in perfectly. We arrived comfortably at the gate to the property after four and a half hours, all still in good spirits.
Through the gate, we found ourselves on a gravel road, maybe a quarter-mile long, that leads into the heart of the property. The road ends and becomes some sort of bushwhacked two-track, lined with dry logs on either side, at the mouth of which sits a somber metal wagon for hauling your things in multiple trips to the platform tent after abandoning your car or crossover, which doesn’t dare go further. But we had the Timberline trim. All we needed was the wagon we drove.
The truck ambled over the roots and rocks on the track with ease, and I started having fun immediately. The girls giggled in the back with the kind of excitement you get when what you’re doing feels wrong but it’s Dad that's doing it, so it’s good. The two-speed transfer case’s four-high was plenty to get the great chunk of metal and technology over the rocks and branches, and I didn’t even bother with the different drive modes.
In short time, the tent appeared. We parked just behind it and departed. The truck looked appropriate sitting among the pines and rough shrubbery, unfazed. The girls apprehensively asked if they could go play after surveying the beautiful landscape. I told them there were 50 acres there, that as long as we could hear them if they were in the woods or see them if they were by the water, they’re free to adventure. Off they went.
The main image I needed was of the truck parked on the rocky beach, so I needed to make sure I could get it down there. This was certainly less straightforward than the two-track. There were a number of rocks higher than the truck’s ground clearance that would undoubtedly damage the underside of this $70,000-plus truck. I wish I had known about the Expedition’s Trail Turn Assist feature at the time, as it would probably have helped through some of the sharp turns I needed to make, though I may have been too nervous to use it on the rocky surface.
I dropped the T-case into low range and bumped my way down, keeping the paintwork unscathed. The 360-degree camera system came in handy, though it kept switching to trailer mode unprovoked, which was frustrating. With little effort and without much event, the Expedition found its way down onto the shoreline, where it looked tailor-made for its rugged, remote surroundings.
After an hour of test-shooting, I brought the Timberline back up to the tent. I made a fire pit by the water and built the girls’ first campfire so we could cook their first campfire-roasted hot dogs and s’mores. Shortly after I had the fire going, we realized the hot dogs were the one thing we forgot to grab at the little grocery store. I hopped back into the Expedition, ripped down the little dirt road, and popped onto the highway. Aware of the price of gas and this truck’s propensity to burn it – it’s EPA-rated at 16 miles per gallon city, 19 highway, and 17 combined – I drove the 220 miles to camp with an eco-foot.
But I had hungry kids keeping a fire going and a 16-mile round trip ahead of me, so I dropped the hammer on the empty northern highway. I was surprised by how aggressive the twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter V6 sounded bouncing off the tall pines and even more surprised by how well its 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet picked up the behemoth and shoved it forward. I procured the tubes of meat and made equally great time on the way back with the windows down, enjoying the cool northern air before we watched our girls annihilate an entire pack of hot dogs and three s’mores apiece.
As planned, we spent the following day photographing the truck and adventuring around the property. What made me happiest about this trip was the fact that my kids wanted – no, loved – to be outside on that land. They wanted to climb the rocks, discover the forest, and play in the water. I think they even forgot they were there to be talent for my project and just acted natural in front of the camera. They didn’t even mind doing their business in a bucket with a toilet seat on it. Actually I think they kind of liked that part. That night, Whitney and I sat on the porch with drinks and were forcefully reminded of the Milky Way’s beauty.
The following morning, we packed up the truck after a few photos on the two-track before the sun got too high, then made our way back to the bridge and south after a quick lunch in Mackinaw City – on to Grand Rapids. The more time I spent with the truck, the more I liked it and the more it made sense. As popular as these “outdoor lifestyle” packages have become, this one is more than a badge and some colorful trim. Really, this was the perfect vehicle for our adventure.
It held all of my photo gear and our overnight things and camping accouterments, as well as a couple of unplanned totes; it was a very comfortable and pleasant place to spend the four and a half hours or so there and back; and it’s got the off-road bona fides to make it’s way effortlessly over rocks, roots and ruts down to the wild rocky beach of Lake Huron. There’s even some truly fun straight-line speed.
The truck has it’s faults. The road noise from those tires isn’t great and the lane keep assist was among the worst I’ve used. But, the more I thought about it, I couldn’t really come up with anything I would rather have for this type of adventure. And I’m pretty sure none of them have green leather seats. I looked in the rearview mirror with a smile at my two comfortably sleeping children who had a riot on their first camping trip, thinking how nice it would be to do this again – and already missing the Expedition Timberline.
Gallery: 2022 Ford Expedition Timberline Feature
2022 Ford Expedition Timberline