The Ford Expedition Platinum Max turned what could have been a disaster into an incredibly comfortable experience.
This spring I had a problem. I needed to go to the Gulf of Mexico, but I didn’t know how I would get there, nor how I would get there safely.
Heading south wasn’t a matter of needing a vacation or escaping the dreary cold and snow of Northern Illinois. I needed to be on the beaches of Alabama so I could teach the Midwest Travel Network Writer’s Workshop. (Rough job, eh?)
Held in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, this would be the second workshop I’d taught for Midwest Travel Network, which connects destinations and content creators.
The first was an intimate event in a Hendricks County, Indiana, cabin in the fall of 2019. That immersive travel storytelling masterclass went well enough that Lisa (of The Walking Tourists) and Sara (Travel with Sara), the founders of Midwest Travel Network, asked me to teach another.
The second storytelling workshop would be longer, more robust, and with more dedicated classroom time. And, it would be on the beach. Heck, yeah, sign me up!
Originally scheduled for October 2020, I learned in August that I had breast cancer, and with a lumpectomy in September and axillary node dissection the next month, we began discussing whether or not I could teach the workshop remotely.
No matter what, I was going to make it work.
Then, COVID and hurricanes pushed the workshop back to Spring 2021. I could make that happen. Couldn’t I? Hold on – I better check with my medical team, because the new workshop dates sat smack in the middle of my second round of chemotherapy.
To my happy surprise, my doctor and nurse navigator said GO. I could take a week off from chemo, as long as I took all the precautions and, most importantly, didn’t push myself too hard.
(Obviously they don’t know me very well.)
But what about COVID? Chemotherapy compromised my immune system. Catching a cold could be deadly, let alone a deadly virus. How could I get from northern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, stay in a public place and teach a room of students, and then head back, and not get sick?
Keeping both of us safe was our top priority. That meant no hotels and we’d camp along the way. We had to limit our drive time to a few hours each day to make sure I wasn’t too worn out. Then we’d have to set up camp. We’ve got an instant tent that Jim can handle by himself; when we camp he handles the “bedroom” while I take care of the “kitchen.”
Like camping? You might like Best Places to Camp in the Midwest
This time, however, I wouldn’t be able to take care of much of anything besides me. Even though my side effects from chemo were surprisingly manageable, I still had to take it easy.
Fatigue was an issue and wearing myself down would make me more susceptible to illness. That meant that after driving, Jim would have to set up everything by himself while I did – what? Ate bonbons?
Talk about a recipe for disaster. He was already taking nearly two weeks out of his schedule to make sure I could teach this workshop. Then he’d have to do all the work – and I do mean all – to get us there and back. Not fair. Not fair at all.
Our proposed solution was to rent an SUV and sleep in the back. I’d done that last summer when I researched Illinois scenic drives for Midwest Road Trip Adventures. I packed everything I would eat and drink, threw a couple of comforters and a sleeping bag in the back, and took four days to drive around the state.
This was before I knew I had cancer and before I had the physical discomfort that comes with injecting poison into your body. For that trip, the Hyundai Santa Fe was fine since I was solo, but with Jim accompanying me to Alabama I knew we’d need something bigger.
I fretted as I searched for a vehicle. Most states were still in lockdown and few people were traveling so rental prices weren’t off the charts like they are now. Still, renting a full-size SUV for two weeks would have been several hundred dollars, much more than I could afford.
And then, Ford reached out to me about their #ShowSomeMuscle campaign. Designed to showcase the strength of women, this was an effort I could whole-heartedly support and I told them I’d be honored to spread the word.
An idea jumped into my mind and I pitched a partnership: if Ford loaned me an SUV to drive to the writing workshop, I’d write about it. I’d share on social media and mention the vehicle in stories that came out of the trip.
Ford said yes. Boy, did they ever say yes.
The morning of our trip, a beautiful burgundy Ford Expedition Platinum Max pulled into our driveway. I circled her, amazed that this would be our chariot for the next twelve days.
I investigated the spacious interior. Spacious? When I told my contact that we planned on car camping, she said the Expedition was basically a small house.
She was right.
We folded down the third row and a full-size futon mattress fit snugly in the back behind the second row bucket seats. We easily loaded our stocked cooler, portable stove, camp chairs, snacks, suitcases, computers, the materials I would need for the workshop, and everything else required for a road trip.
I plugged a powerstrip into the outlet behind the center console so I could work as Jim drove. We hauled ourselves up into the front seats and familiarized ourselves with the dashboard.
Well, we got the jist of it, anyway. Later we’d dig a little deeper into the many screens of settings and discover an amenity that blew our minds, solidifying our affection for a hunk of metal.
I always name our four-wheeled companions. We’re putting our lives in the hands of these automobiles and they’re an integral part of any road trip. A bad vehicle – one that’s uncomfortable, or unreliable – can ruin the experience. A good one only enhances it. It’s an intimate relationship.
This one, this beautiful, strong, complex SUV, and the adventure it made possible reminded me of my grandma. Grandma loved travel, especially road trips. She loved reading, she loved that I’m a writer, and she wanted me to live boldly.
She also survived breast cancer, and here I was in the middle of beating it while taking a big, bold step both professionally and personally. So, I christened our Ford Expedition Penny Platinum after this woman who meant – means – so much to me.
We loaded her up and headed towards US-45, a route that runs in almost a straight line from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico through western Chicago. We picked it up near O’Hare Airport and made our way south.
While I’m all for following original routes, and we did that as much as possible when we drove Route 66, we could have skipped the first hour and a half.
However, that stop-and-go did give us time to get to know Penny a little better. We had comfortable seats that could heat us up or cool us down, plus individual climate control. We had a panoramic roof and a windshield for days.
We towered over every other car on the road except for semis. It felt…powerful. Grand. When a tiny little Toyota tried to cut us off, I said “Watch it, Mister! We’ll squash you like a bug!”
(Not like he could hear us, nor would we actually run over anyone, but there was a distinct sense of safety in the sheer size of this vehicle.)
With a car that big – so big the back end would have stuck out of our garage – I thought she’d ride like a semi. Rough. Bouncy. Difficult to maneuver.
Nope. The Ford Expedition handled like the luxury vehicle it is. With an $80,000 base price tag, one would hope it would be a good ride, but I was still mightily impressed with just how smooth it was.
Penny Platinum’s real benefit was evident that night. By the time we arrived at Fort Massac State Park along the Ohio River, it was 9:30pm and pitch black. There were a few RVs in the mostly empty campground. We picked our spot and I imagined setting up a tent – or, more accurately, watching while Jim set up the tent – in the mud created by melting snow.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to do that. Our set-up for the night involved moving the cooler, camp stove, and other items to the front seat, spreading out the futon mattress, and dressing it with sheets and quilts.
This was, dare I say it, comfortable. Pockets along the windows served as our “nightstands” and we stored flashlights, water, a battery-operated lantern, etc. It was the end of February and still chilly, so when we got too cold, we used the remote starter to turn on the engine and heat things up. Later in our trip, in Mississippi, we did the same to turn on the air conditioning.
Could we have done that in a rental? Unlikely.
The next day, I think it was the next day, we discovered that this magnificent vehicle had a decidedly unexpected feature: massage chairs.
That’s right. The driver and front passenger seats are massage chairs.
This was like discovering that Santa is real and cheese fries have no calories.
We could set it to massage our legs and our backs and change the pressure. Talk about a game changer, especially on the way home.
We’d originally planned to take three days to get back to McHenry County, but after sleeping in a luxurious condo on the beach during our stay on the Gulf, one night on the futon was enough. Sure, it was comfortable for car camping, but I was fighting cancer and would be resuming chemotherapy as soon as we returned.
Plus, teaching the workshop and the accompanying exploration of the area was exhausting. My medical team had admonished me not to overdo it, and I hadn’t exactly paid attention to them.
We left Rickwood Caverns State Park in Alabama (where, coincidentally, workshop attendee Lori Helke also camped) shortly after the sun rose. We crossed the Ohio River as it was setting, and decided to keep going the final five hours.
Jim could do this because he was getting a massage the entire time. It didn’t make him tired; it meant he had no aches and stiffness.
I cannot overstate the impact the Ford Expedition Platinum Max had on our experience.
Frankly, I don’t believe I would have been able to teach if we’d had to pitch a tent along the way, or if we’d been in a smaller, less comfortable vehicle, and a hotel was never an option.
While I was tired when we arrived in Orange Beach, because how could I not be mid-chemo and after five nights in the back of an SUV, no matter how big it was, the trip was manageable. After one night on a fluffy king-sized mattress I was up at five in the morning and filled with the energy and passion required for the workshop.
That entire experience was transformative. I pushed myself physically, professionally, creatively, and emotionally, and I was only able to do that because Ford made it happen.
I am forever grateful for their generous loan. I’m also slightly salty because I’m now forever ruined for any other road trip vehicle, but I’ll get over it.
Ford Expedition Platinum Max: The Details
The 2020 Ford Expedition Platinum Max is a full-size SUV (understatement) with a list of standard equipment that rivals a Cheesecake Factory Menu. Here are just a few of the amenities:
- Panoramic Vista Roof
- Rain-sensing Wipers
- Power Deployed Running Board
- Wiper-activated Head Lamps
- 2nd Row Heated Seats
- 2nd Row Power Folding Tip-and-Slide Seats
- Heated/Ventilated Front Seats
- 110v/150w AC Power Outlet
- Heated leather wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio controls
- Multicontour Seats with Active Motion® – a.k.a. MASSAGE CHAIRS
- Powerfold 3rd Row Seat
- Tri-zone Auto Climate Control
- 360-Degree Camera
- B&O Sound System, 12 Speakers
- Class IV Trailer Tow Prep Package
- Enhanced Active Park Assist
- Enhanced Active Noise Control
- Phone Wireless Charging Pad
- Voice Activated Navigation
- Remote Start System
- Perimeter Alarm
- Personal Safety System
Penny Platinum was also equipped with second row bucket seats and a heavy duty trailer tow package, although we didn’t tow anything.
The base MSRP was $80,110 with add-ons totaling $2,560.
The only downside was the fuel economy. At 18MPG combined city and highway, there’s nothing economic about it. It was a definite trade-off, but for the comfort and amenities, it was worth it. Ford’s big on lessening their vehicles’ environmental impact, so I’m hopeful they’ll find a way to improve the mileage on this big beautiful beast.
Do you want your very own Ford Expedition Platinum Max? Visit Ford.com for this year’s model, pricing, and how you can purchase.
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