Monday, November 14, 2011


"A good pickup is a thing of beauty and a joy forever." John Keats

At one time I drove a pink Cadillac, but it disappeared to the Kidney Foundation. Renting a car for every road trip has cost me a ton of cash. So! On my recent road trip through the West, I decided to buy a car in Salt Lake City, and spent two days on at my brother Tony's house looking for the perfect vehicle. First, I checked out Subarus; I drive one in Alaska, they have all-wheel drive, hold up well, and seem to be one of the two cars of choice for outdoor types like myself. The other choice is a Toyota Tacoma, however, I'm not really a small-car type guy. My last truck was a diesel, so I checked out all the diesel trucks and found a beauty, a long-bed, extended cab 1992 Chevy with a new engine. It drove like a firetruck; I wanted someone to steer the rear wheels around a corner. Harumpf!

I've owned several Ford F150, 6 cylinder, single cab, long-bed pickup trucks, ranging from 1967 to the mid-1980's. I know that engine intimately. After two and a half days searching I found almost the perfect vehicle, except it was a short-bed. I decided that it had other redeeming features, like a short wheel base for driving over desert roads, and a 5-speed on the floor transmission. Perfect!

It was in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a 45-minute drive south. So, my lovely sister-in-law, Shelly, hopped in her Jeep and drove me south to check it out. There it sat amid a pile of broken glass, trash, and weeds behind a store in the middle of town. It had been sitting for five years, so the tires were hardened and flattened on one side. However, it was otherwise in pristine condition. The guy selling it had put in a new battery, so it started instantly. I checked it out, examined the engine, took it for a test drive and listened to all the sounds it made as I drove it, and knew I had a winner. I do all my own mechanical work; this baby was in very sound condition.
The New truck stares at me from Tony's garage

The price was super cheap! After emptying the ATM at the local bank, I handed the guy a stack of $20 bills (about 75 of them) and drove down the road behind Shelly. Once on the freeway, the set in the tires rattled the truck all the way home. Only one fix: new tires. There was still time that evening to buy them, so for a few more bucks, I had a brand new ride. Awesome.
My new baby!

This would be my new 'home away from home', so I needed a cap to contain all my gear: my 1975 Stella French racing bicycle, a gigantic tub of climbing gear and ropes, a box of tents, sleeping bags and clothes, my stove, a box of cooking gear, and a grub box. These were stored between Tony's garage, and my friends, the Donini's basement in Ouray, Colorado, my next destination. Back to I found the perfect cap; unfortunately it was also in Pleasant Grove. Bummer! Back on the road with Tony. On the way we stopped at an auto parts store to score four C-clamps to hold the camper on. It was night when we arrived at the home; the fellow called his son, "I just sold the camper top. Where's the key?" The son arrived, we lifted the cap onto my new truck, exchanged a hundred bucks, and I was off.
The cap on the bed of the truck.

Insurance next; a phone call to my agent, then to an agent in Salt Lake, decided to register it in Utah; I know Alaska plates are cooler, but Utah is great, too! I dreaded the visit to the DMV, but it was smooth as could be. The clerk ushered me through the whole registration process which turned out to be cheaper than at home. Then she wanted to know about traveling to Alaska for a fishing trip. Now we were bonded.

A trip to Home Depot found the basic tools, and for $19.88 I bought a 4" foam pad for the back so I could sleep in the truck while I went climbing in the south-west desert. A 5-gallon bright orange Home Depot water jug, and a big tarp completed the gear. My brother lent me his huge 5-day cooler, and I was pretty set.

It had taken a week to get the whole rig together, but now I was a happy camper. Sunday Morning was special for Tony and Shelly: the LDS church conference was in session, so they invited Shelly's father and wife to brunch. The two spent the morning making crepes with two kinds of filling: fruit with cream, whipping cream and yummies, or sausage and onions. I had two of each. Now that I was fueled, it was finally time to hit the road.

The previous week I'd flown from Anchorage to Portland to meet my son, Thor, and daughter-in-law, Sarah, ridden south to Lake Tahoe with them (on a wild mountain biking and camping trip), and then hitched a ride with Tony to Salt Lake City. I'd been on the road only a week and had covered about 1,500 miles already. The second half of my road trip was about to begin. My friends Jim and Angela were expecting me in Ouray, Colorado, a 6-hour drive from Salt Lake.

Memories began to fill me as I flew south on I-15; I felt so free, so full of life. One of my favorite books is Jack Kerouac's "On the Road", a volume that has spoken to me many times since I first read it at was age 14. As soon as I got my drivers license I began driving north to the Tetons to go climbing. Then far south into the desert to Shiprock, New Mexico, with my friends Milt and Dave to climb the famous volcanic plug "Shiprock". My parents likely didn't have a clue about my road adventures. During the '60's I drove across the country at least twice a year to attend graduate school in Baltimore, rarely stopping for rest on the 44-hour lightning push before the advent of the 55 mph speed limits set by the Nixon administration. In those days, neither Nevada nor Montana had speed limits, and my 1959 Chevy Bel Air ate up the road on 25 cent/gallon gas. I turned up the radio, searching for good rock and roll music. Today life was good, and I was going climbing.

The old Ford cruised past American Fork, Orem, Provo, then up the Spanish Fork on US 6, over Soldier summit and down the long glide to Price where the great coal mine disaster took place a few years ago. I turned off and grabbed lunch for the road. Another hour and we were past 9-Mile Canyon full of petroglyphs and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and turned east on I-70 towards Green River. I wondered if the truck would make it to 75 mph; no problem! I searched for a station playing rock and roll, but it's tough in this part of the country to find anything but country-western.

I had my sights set on Ouray, but the hour was getting late, and I'd gotten a much later start than I'd planned. By the time I reached Grand Junction, it was dark. Angela had wondered if we would be having dinner together, so I called and said I'd likely not arrive till 9:30, so I stopped in Delta, Colorado, and choked down a McDonalds, but not the whole thing--what wretched fare. It was pouring rain. The wipers afforded me a changing screen of the black road littered with deer at this time of night. Flashing signs told me to slow from 65 to 55 from Oct 1 to May 1 for deer on the road. I know; they are everywhere from Montrose to Ouray. I turned up County Road 14 and into the driveway. The Donini's were in bed, so I slipped into the guest house and lit the fire. The old truck had done a days work and we were both ready for a rest.


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Connie Dworak Rus said...

It's very enjoyable to read your blog and catch up on your escapdes! I'm at an Ops Eval @ CUVA this week... interesting experience.

Clorinda Disimone said...

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Tyra Shortino said...

Fascinating story! I think the F150 looks in great shape. The paint job is scratchless, and it looks ready to go. I think you made a good decision to go for a truck. Trucks are pretty useful. In fact, I use one for my delivery business. I love the fact that I can do so much with it, from delivering equipment to bringing my kids to school.