I first met Pito when he offered to bring a friend's LS powered Mustang out to a shoot. I was wrapping up edits on a build video for The Mutt Stang and Cinemauto and Justin (the owner) was unavailable. He tagged his buddy Pito in to drive the car to anyplace I wanted to shoot. "Wait.. Any place?" I asked.
"Any place." Pito responded. From that moment, I knew he was going to be easy to work with. Living in the middle of the country, with the flattest land you'll ever see, finding the ideal spot isn't always easy.
For the next year Pito messaged me off and on, updating me on his 4Runner build. Showing me headlights, bumpers, wheels, and everything else us lowered car enthusiasts typically overlook when we act like we understand off-roading. I wasn't biting. Not because I didn't love his vehicle. It was actually the complete opposite. I felt it was something that deserved far better than Kansas had to offer. You can't properly capture something like this just sitting in a parking lot downtown. After all, nothing crawls malls better than a Jeep.
Then, a couple months back, it hit me.. Any place? Any place. Suddenly, I remembered this crazy fashion shoot I did for a local magazine years ago. It was out at the most random rock formations you can imagine in flyover country. It's called the Castle Rock Badlands and to say it's breathtaking is an understatement.
Plans were made and the date arrived. We loaded up 4 extra people, because who doesn't love a road trip, and we hit the highway. I was thrilled to be taking a vehicle to a real location. While I've photographed a lot of cars in various areas across the Midwest, this kind of thing was definitely a first. We had plenty of water, extra memory cards and batteries, lighting equipment, a drone.. You name it, we had it.
Leading the pack in my Explorer, my crew included another three photographers with different backgrounds and experience levels. We all chatted about equipment, ideas for the shoot we were headed to, and how terrible my taste in music is. All was well and we were nearing the halfway point. It was then that I cast a quick glance to my rear view mirror, just to make sure that Pito was still hanging with us as we neared our exit. I'll never forget that moment.
I can't be sure how long I stared at the mirror while I continued to barrel down the highway but it felt like an eternity. Once I tore my gaze away and flipped on the hazards, I filled the group in. "So uh.. I think his wheel just fell off." The momentum of 3 extra bodies in the car, all quickly shifting at once to look out the rear window was noticeable. Many things were said between here and the moment we finally pulled over.. but I couldn't tell you what any of them were.
Parking in the median (it's just a big ditch, honestly), I hopped out and started jogging the highway shoulder back towards the 4Runner. I was so focused on his vehicle as I moved towards it, it took one of my passengers yelling at me to soak in what was about to happen. "His wheel is going to hit you!"
Suddenly I realized that his wheel was, in fact, headed right for me. I moved out of the way, thinking I'd let it pass. "It's going to hit your car!" informed the same passenger.
With only seconds to evaluate the situation, I decided I didn't need this off-road throwing star destroying the back of my Explorer. Having recently seen a video on Facebook where a rogue wheel found its way over the median and into the front of another SUV, I opted to not jump in front of the wheel but, instead, to attempt to kick it off balance as it passed me by. (If it's not yet clear, I may be talented behind the lens but I don't hold any awards for being brilliant in other areas of my life.)
I kicked the wheel. An off-road rated wheel and tire assembly, traveling at nearly 60mph toward my car (and potentially oncoming traffic), and I kicked it. My leg goes full fettuccini on me. The wheel wobbles and loses speed.. but not enough. It hits the car with a sound my passengers later tell me sounded like a body being thrown into a parked car. Heck, they thought it was my body.
I hobble my way back over to the Explorer to inspect the damage. It's not terrible and definitely less than it would've been had I let the wheel hit it in full force. Pito meets us halfway between his 4Runner and the Explorer to tell us what happened. The wheel is actually from his trailer and it looks as though the brake had locked up while driving. The good news is that we could ditch the trailer and keep going. The bad news is that the median about half a mile back was now on fire and it was growing.
Hopping back into the Explorer, we flip around in the ditch and prepare to join the ranks of volunteer fire fighters. Much to my relief, driving a relatively new Ford Explorer in the color of white, oncoming traffic opts to slow way down as they see us preparing to re enter traffic. Providing us with the window needed to relocate to the small grass fire, we take it and we make it.
Remember my earlier brag about plenty of water? Praise be! Passing out bottles of water to a couple of my passengers, we run through the grass and begin dumping water on the areas yet to be ablaze. After several bottles disappear quickly, another passenger suggests stomping out the flames. With a shrug, I sacrifice my year old Nikes to a better cause. Minutes later, it's done and we've won.
Once the entire situation is under control, local law enforcement arrives on the scene. After 45 minutes of questions and a few photos, the Saline County Sheriffs officers let us return to the highway to complete our mission. We load up, we ship out, and we finish off the trip with some incredible views, plenty of laughs, and some fantastic content for Tread magazine.