So this is what frostbite feels like.
I’ve just climbed out the passenger side of a 700-horsepower off-road truck and am struggling to unfurl my right hand from the death grip it has around my GoPro (pics or it didn’t happen). Somehow, in the rush to strap on my helmet and get secured in the five-point safety harness, I forgot to put my gloves back on. Now I am realizing that I don’t have any feeling in my digits. The thing is, I can’t get the smile off my face. And it isn’t because those muscles have also frozen.
A few moments earlier, I was drifting around corners and flying through the air in a Pro-2 off-road truck piloted by Luke Johnson. If you’re familiar with these so-called trophy trucks, it’s probably because you’ve seen them ripping around dirt or through desert in races like the Baja 1000. The one I rode in is on snow.
Red Bull Frozen Rush is a one-of-a-kind race held on the slopes of Maine’s Sunday River ski resort. I’ve been invited to watch the race, meet the drivers, and—best of all—go for a ride along. In Frozen Rush, drivers compete head-to-head on a course packed with jumps, berms, and gates.Ricky Johnson, who won the inaugural Frozen Rush in 2014 and was runner-up this year says, “it’s pretty cool that at this stage of our career you can find something that actually scares you. You’re dealing with the unknown.”
The trucks have been modified to race on the snow-filled course. By modified, I mean they have things like special BF Goodrich tires loaded with hundreds of spikes for added traction. I do not mean, they have things like windows or, heaven forbid, heaters.
When I pull my rental car into the parking lot that has been converted into a figure-eight course for the ride along, it’s cold. Like 14-below cold. The ink froze in the pen I used to sign the waiver that said I wouldn’t sue anyone in the event that I died doing this. (I’m assuming that’s what it stated. It was really long, and it was too cold to be reading legalese.)
My desire to motor around the course is tempered by my desire to keep my core body temperature elevated. Fortunately, the spirit of adventure wins out. I put on a fire suit, which feels slightly strange. I can’t imagine going up in flames in these freezing conditions. Once I’m geared up, I wriggle my way into the passenger seat of the truck. No heated seats here. Fortunately, I’ve got my snowboard boots on to keep my toes less cold. (I won’t go so far as to say “warm.”) A crew member secures my harness and asks me to let him know when I can’t breathe. This is going to be good.Then the truck comes to life and all is right with the world. This is power on a whole other scale. Apparently the day before they took the car for a test run on the track and sheared the axle. Can you imagine how much torque it takes to do that? With new parts procured, I fist bump Johnson and we are off.
The truck explodes from a standing stop and throws rooster tails of snow high into the air. It’s all a little disorienting. I’ve watched others go around the course from afar, but once inside the car, it’s tough figure out where I am. The weightlessness of a 3,000-plus pound truck as it gets airborne though is unmistakable. So are the G-forces I feel as the car winds it’s way around the ends of the figure 8. I’m careful to keep my limbs close to my body. The cockpit is tiny and with all the jostling around it would be easy for my arms to bang into the hard roll cage.
Then with the final flourish of a donut, it’s over. I get a final fist bump from Johnson and slither my body out the window, Dukes of Hazzard style. All told, the whole ride along didn’t last more than a minute and change. But like any good drug, it left me wanting more.
Once I regained a modicum of sensation in my hands and shed my fire suit in favor of insulated pants and jacket, I climbed back into my rental car. I tried a meager power slide as I came out of the parking lot, stepping on the gas hard as I wheeled around the corner.
It wasn’t the same.
Here’s what the experience was like for me:
And here’s what it was like for 2015 Red Bull Frozen Rush champion Bryce Menzies on the actual course: