When I was seventeen, I wanted to lift my Jeep. Because a complete kit would be out of my price range (bagging groceries didn’t pay very much), I researched and figured out how to cobble together the parts I needed to achieve what I wanted. I bought longer suspension coils, coil spacers, and adjustable control arms for the front. For the rear suspension, I bought drop shackles for the leaf springs which I would fasten to the existing shackles to get the height I wanted. Finally, I purchased new shocks for both the front and rear suspensions. Every component was a different brand.
Once everything came in, my brother and I got to work in our driveway. Armed with a Haynes Repair Manual (no YouTube back then), instructions from the parts I had ordered, and all the tools we could find and borrow, we began removing and exchanging parts. We wrenched on seized-up bolts, busting our knuckles as they finally released. We sweated and got coated in decades of road dirt. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but had no fear of screwing it up. All we could think about was how great this was going to look. That decade-old, scratched up silver Jeep wasn’t worth the value I gave it, but seeing my Jeep sitting a few inches taller made me proud. It looked great, and I did the work.
Back then, I was sure I was going to be an author, have a small camper and a jeep, and travel around the country. I would write about my adventures for Jeep and travel magazines. I imagined being in a convoy of off-road rigs snaking its way through Moab or crawling up rocks on a wooded mountain trail. I would be snapping pictures and taking notes about how it felt and smelled and sounded.
My brother and our friends used to sneak onto power line trails and other property around the county to test out what our Jeeps and trucks could do. Technically we were trespassing on government and private property, but that didn’t factor into our brains. We were living out our dreams in real time, crawling up rutted out hills, ripping through mud, and cutting-up over our CD radios.
Once, my friend got the front tire of his K5 Blazer twisted the wrong way down a bill. His whole truck started to roll forward. I was sure it was going to flip. But it didn’t. Instead is settled with the back left tire elevated about two feet in the air. He was freaking out because he was in the truck, but once he climbed down and could see the whole situation, he was excited like the rest of us. It was a new adventure—a problem to solve.
We hooked up tow straps to a winch of another Jeep, hooked the rear bumper of that Jeep to a tree, and started pulling the Blazer back. Once free, the Blazer was able to try again. My friend could have hurt himself badly. We were trespassing on government property. We could have destroyed our vehicles, which were our daily drivers, and we had no money to fix them. But I am so glad I have that experience in my memory bank.
What happened to that kid? That guy embraced unconventional thinking, tried things he had no idea how to do, and focused how incredible something was going to be instead of being scared of what bad thing could happen. He felt fear, sure, but in an exciting, want-to-know-what-that-is-like sort of way.
As adults, we look at teenagers and shake our heads in disgust at their utter disregard of risk and consequences. “Do they even think?” we ask. Older generations project their insecurities, fears, and regret at younger generations until they eventually wear those things themselves, like a cheap suit and tacky necktie. And we do the same thing as we get older.
Sometimes when get I angry at my fourteen-year-old for his lack of judgment, I make myself stop and think about what I was like at his age. I realize that what I express as anger is rooted in jealousy. I am envious of his passion for adventure and experience. My anger is not because I am disappointed with him. I am angry at myself.
How have I allowed myself to get old at such a young age? Why do I let the fear of risk overwhelm my desire for experience? Where has my sense of adventure and wonder gone? The older I get, the more I believe the voices that tell me, “play it safe,” or “that’s not how it works.”
As adults, we look back fondly on our younger years? “Those were simpler times,” we say as we recall our dearest memories. Like when my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I lived in a tiny brick house built in the early eighteen-hundreds. We were nineteen. She was pregnant. We worked at a restaurant, busting our butts to pay for our home and food, and save up for medical bills. We drove old cars (I still drove my Jeep) and had hand-me-down everything. We didn’t have any kitchen stuff when we first moved in, so we went to Big Lots and bought the essentials. The griddle we purchased lasted over 15 years, and I cried when it stopped working. The house hid in the woods in the middle of a busy suburban area. Thousands of commuters sat in traffic just two hundred yards away, but we were surrounded by trees, deer, and birds back in our little paradise. I miss those days. We had nothing except love and hope. Most people thought we would fail, but not us. We knew our future was sure to be amazing, and we focused on the adventure.
Any way you look at it, we had more to fear back then than we do now: lower income, stressful jobs, no education, no margin. Today, with more stability and a comfortable lifestyle, we find ourselves in protection mode and scared of what might go wrong. We want to protect everything we have collected and achieved. That makes life more stressful and less enjoyable. We make things more complicated than they need to be. Why?
My Jeep ultimately broke down in an apartment complex parking lot. It was almost 15 years old and needed a new motor. I sold it for parts. By that time, I was driving a family sedan, something more practical for my new son. I regret selling it now. Especially when I consider how just four years earlier, I would have embraced the adventure of fixing it myself.