Designated Driver

Yesterday marked a historic moment in our personal timeline, given the 10-plus months since Leah and I have actively roamed the continent in search of new adventures and discovery in our Airstream. And yesterday’s achievement–seemingly overshadowing all previous accomplishments to date–will most likely define all others to come for the duration of our travels. While this statement smacks of grandstanding and hyperbole, the relative importance of this achievement cannot be overstated.

First some background and a confession. I never wanted a truck to pull our Airstream. Afterall, when the trailer is off-hitch, the truck would become our daily ride. And driving a truck around town wasn’t my style…er, I mean, I was somewhat intimidated by driving such a behemoth.

I fought the notion that only a truck could safely tow our 7200-pound capsule, and actively researched the specs of all late-model SUV’s that matched the appropriate torque and towing capacity for our trailer: I weighed in on internet forums to glean the best information relative to our Airstream size; I emailed with others who made similar trips, under similar conditions with equipment modifications; and we attended New York’s Auto Show in April 2016 with every intention of narrowing our options.

But browsing through so many choices in one place only muddied the motoring waters, and raised the level of my unawareness. There were so many considerations: fuel economy, gas vs. diesel, storage capacity, safety, reliability, comfort level, audio, GPS, and of course, price.

After test-driving a Grand Cherokee, Audi Q7, Infiniti QX-80, Nissan Armada, GMC Denali, VW Touareg, and Ford Expedition, I was beginning to have serious doubts about my original premise: SUV over truck.

When all was taken into consideration, I manned up, and went with the Ford F-150.

shiny and new

To me, it was the smartest choice of all available choices.

at the Jersey Shore

“I’m so excited for you, dear,” Leah pretended. “But you’ll never catch me behind the wheel of that thing. It’s huge. All I can say is, ‘You’re on your own.'”

If a man is measured by the size of his truck, then Leah unwittingly hit the jackpot. However, her driving abstinence left me blue.

Over time, the F-150 ride felt like any other ride. My reticence and apprehension soon melted away in favor of a solid understanding of the technology I relied on to negotiate the truck’s box-like bulkiness through traffic.

instrument panel

Or so I thought…

A close encounter with a concrete sidewall in a cramped Philadelphia parking lot while attempting to steer through a narrow exit ramp left me as crushed and broken as the aluminum door panel.

accident 1.jpg

While the front-end was willing, the back-end was not.

accident2

Fortunately, time, insurance, and $6,000 heals almost everything…except one’s memory and ego.

Even today, I believe that Leah delights in recounting my failure in Philly.

But that’s ancient history.

Time has lapsed, and 34,000 miles later–and true to Leah’s word–I can personally attest for every turn of the truck’s odometer. In the course of our travels, we have run into many couples who share the driving, and have discovered many women who drive exclusively for whatever reasons, but Leah seems to be the only one I know who tells me how to drive while never sitting behind the wheel, except to wipe the windshield…

…until now.

Having been incapacitated by a sinus infection and subsequent flu for the past two weeks, and with laundry by my bedside mounting to levels exceeding the ground elevation of the state of Florida, it was time to visit the washing machines. Normally, in all other instances, for convenience sake, I would schlep the top-heavy wire basket to the truck, and drive to the laundromat, whether down the road, or around the corner.

But yesterday, I was in no condition; I could barely move. While I was languishing in my delirium, I thought I’d heard the F-150 roaring awake. The 5-liter V-8 was growling through its idling phase, and maching on my migraine. I momentarily managed to pull myself from bed, and peered through the broken velcro bonds of the curtains just in time to see the F-150 cautiously backing out, and lunging forward into the lane.

truck thru window

In disbelief, I gathered my senses, and texted Leah, “I’m calling 9-1-1. The truck is gone.”

Twenty minutes later, I was stirred awake by the ping of my phone with Leah’s response, “Yup.”

“Thank goodness,” I noted to myself, before returning to my coma.

Hours later, Leah returned with a basket of folded laundry.

“You took the truck,” I asked/celebrated.

“I did,” she remarked. “No big deal.”

And that’s where I left things–not even a mention about the 300 feet distance from the Airstream to the facilities.

Today, when I awoke, there was little improvement in my health–all my original symptoms were still firing like a well-tuned sick machine (see: Quarantine Capsule). After more than two weeks of feeling lousy, I wondered if this was the new normal.

“We’re low on milk and you definitely need another box of tissues,” exclaimed Leah.

“Looks that way,” I managed.

Incredulous, “I can’t believe you went through a box of tissues in one day! Anyway, I guess I’m going to Publix on my own, since you sure don’t look like you’re up to driving me there,” Leah volunteered.

“So, are you thinking about taking the truck?” I posited.

“I don’t think I’m ready to take the truck out in traffic yet. So, maybe I’ll ride my bike to the store, or just walk,” she confessed.

And that’s what she did.

I suppose my role as the dominant driver is as secure as ever.

Notes:

WPC–Variations on a Theme

Hiking Hat Trick Completed

Tracking back through Lajitas and Terlingua into the Maverick Junction entrance of Big Bend National Park took us an hour, and put the time at 3:00 pm. Opting for a backcountry tour of the Chihuahuan Desert, we turned south onto Old Maverick Road, and turned up the dust behind our wheels on our way to scenic Santa Elena Canyon.

Two miles into our 13-mile drive, a Chevy 4X4 approached us head on. Rather than play a game of off-road chicken, I pulled over to allow him right-of-way. When the truck stopped parallel to me instead of passing, and the driver, a middle-aged graying male signed his interest in communicating, I lowered my window to satisfy my curiosity.

“I wouldn’t go down there, if I was you,” he advised.

“Is there something wrong with the road?” I asked.

“Well let’s just say that I been on this road for over an hour already, and I can’t wait for it to be over. It gets much worse down there, and I don’t know if you wanna do that to your truck. This here Chevy is for work, so I don’t give a shit what happens to it, but it’s your call,” he said.

“Thanks for the warning,” I said, and he drove away.

After the encounter, Leah and I sat in silence for a brief moment. “Wow,” I exclaimed, “Do you believe that? He thinks we should turn back.”

“I’m not gonna say,” Leah offered. “I’ll do whatever you want to do. At least we know how long it will take”

“Then fuck it! We’re moving forward,” I declared. “I’m not turning around because of him. Let’s see what this truck can do! All I ask is that you turn off the alarm (see: Ouch! and Ahhh!–Part One).”

“I can do that,” Leah promised. “But we’re on a mission and we’re running out of time, so you need to limit your stops.”

I wanted to agree in principle, but it seemed so unreasonable to pass up so many photo opportunities.

peak with cactus

desert

cactus flower

prickley pear blossom

However, Leah had a point. We still had a canyon hike ahead of us.

The road was as pitted and rutted as expected, but not the deterrent we anticipated. The truck suspension was very forgiving, and handled the rocking and swaying without a slip. What took the Chevy over an hour to travel, took the F-150 only 45 minutes to complete. (This testimonial should in no way be considered an endorsement for Ford, unless Ford is willing to pay me. I hope you are reading this, Ford!)

We arrived at Santa Elena Canyon parking when most visitors were leaving.  A slotted boardwalk led us to the river flats where the canyon opened into an expansive arroyo,

Santa Elena Canyon opening

where only a trickle of the Rio Grande diverted around a sandbar merging with the Terlingua Creek.

canyon wall

The hike into the canyon along the northern wall follows an observation path of concrete-slab switchbacks outlined with occasional handrails. The vista at 100 feet is sufficiently rewarding to most visitors who tend to take a few snapshots before returning to their cars.

observation trail

But the true reward awaits the hiker who takes the trail deeper into the canyon for a more immersive experience,

Leah and SEC

and a greater appreciation of the scale of the 1500 feet sheer walls,

cliffs

and the house-size rocks that have tumbled from the clifftops.

fallen rock

We took shade whenever we could, and drank the requisite gallon of water per day to avoid dehydration, yet we always seemed to be thirsty. By the time we reached the trailhead out of the canyon, we had drained our resources, but felt confident that the 13 miles to the store at Castolon Visitor Center—on the way to Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive—would allow us to resupply…or not.

The store was closed more than an hour before we arrived.

Disappointed and thirsty, we climbed into the truck, and drove the 22-mile route around the backside of the Chisos Basin to admire the ever-changing landscape. If we weren’t so parched, we might have lingered longer to take in the views, but I drove as fast as the hairpin turns would permit.

Not that I was completely indifferent to scenery. There were a few occasions that demanded I stop and allow the natural beauty to wash over me.

far view

mules ear

what a butte

Another 13 miles past the junction intersection, and we finally completed the western loop around the park. While Leah napped, I struggled with the final 20 miles from the park gates to Lajitas. It took every last bit of will power to make it home, knowing that a well-deserved ice-cold Dos Equis would be waiting in the fridge, demanding I “Stay Thirsty”.

It was 7:00 pm when we finally opened the Airstream door, only to collapse.

We had completed 10 hours of non-stop activity, gratified by the experience, overwhelmed by the grandeur, and elevated by the notion that two old farts could still last the whole day.