Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's the end of an era.

It makes me really sad that Americans' God-given right to throwing camping gear in the trunk and driving aimlessly around the country for days on end seems to be over.

Not that it's been very economical for two or so years now, but 4 dollars a gallon? Now the low-budget road-trip is a dying institution.

Tyson's been on shaving strike since school got out until he catches fish. He got as far as laying all the camping and fishing gear out in the living room, packing some of it in the motorcycle saddlebags, and, well, that was it. The official reason for the delay of tonight's scheduled departure to California's southern Sierra is the wind, which on our smallish bike in the middle of the night is certainly a legitimate concern. In a frenzied fit of cabin fever, he even proposed both of us taking the van. Consider the horrendous fuel economy (about 10MPG lately) and the fact that the a/c isn't working, and you'll see just how desperate we are to even entertain the notion of a road trip.

One of the best things about living in Vegas is the sheer variety of outdoor stuff within just a few hours--from the beach, to Baja, to the Sierras, to the Colorado Plateau, to the Grand Canyon, to great fishing and hiking and kayaking and climbing. Let's face it: Vegas is not the most interesting place to actually be if you're not a tourist, club whore, or rich. The huge appeal (besides not ever having to wear more than a jacket over a t-shirt in the winter) is in going somewhere else.

I can remember waking up one Saturday morning in the early fall having just gotten over a nasty, lingering cold. On an impulse, we threw all our crap in the Matrix and went west and north about 4 hours to the Alta Toquima wilderness. We hiked around through yellow aspens, and it was so nice to feel like I was finally over that cold. But the water was low and the fishing was not great, and it was still way too light out to set up camp and sit around until 11, so we drove about 4 more hours back east, making a big zig-zag across the lower half of the state to get to the Snake Range and Great Basin National Park, where we camped out and in the morning were practically assaulted by gangs of deer who just marched through our morning coffee and oatmeal. We hiked up to a bristlecone grove, then drove back home, stopping to look over to top of Cathedral Gorge and again for dinner at the old Caliente train depot.

All said and done, we drove about 800 miles in 36 hours, just to get out of our house. Driving the van right now, that's 80 gallons of gas, or $320. That's just not the kind of money regular people can afford to pay for no good reason.

But for people like me and many others in the West, there is a perfectly good reason to take trips like that. One of the reasons we moved out here was to explore and enjoy this relatively wild and empty part of the country. Impractical? Yes. Romantic? Definitely. Yes, I realize how whiny I sound, getting all bent out of shape about not being able to drive aimlessly all over the place. I know that my attitude is probably representative of stereotypes of American hubris and entitlement. But dammit, I'm done working for 10 weeks, and I want to go hiking in the mountains because it's 105 outside and it hurts my skin to stand in the sun for more than two minutes.

So anyway, we're about sick of dealing with the Matrix. We're waiting for a phone call from Toyota corporate tomorrow to find out if they're willing to help out with the $4000 engine replacement, but are not very hopeful. I think going about 14 months without an oil change is not going to help us out there. Our new Plan B is to trade the Matrix, and quite possibly also the van, for the smallest, cheapest, most fuel-efficient, best-warranty-having hatchback we can get (a Kia Rio5 or Spectra is looking good) and paying it off as fast as possible for approximately what we're paying now. Then, when that's paid off in about 3 years, we can get the natural-gas-powered Civic we really want. If we get things squared away in the next week, we can probably make it to the Sierras before Tyson has to be back for jury duty and I have to watch our neighbor's dogs.


Elaine said...

Yes, we are so very, very, VERY glad we did our big "Go See The Downies/Family Trip/Visit Disney" vacation LAST summer. I don't think we could have pulled it off this summer with gas prices more than $1per gallon higher. It was the best ever vacation. I hope we can do it again one day.

Tammy said...

You just gave me supreme wanderlust.

GREAT post, Erin.