Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The life of Geo

Today I took what feels like my last step away from my status as an Alaskan. I registered my car in the great state of Montana and acquired new license plates. The process was so painless it was almost surreal. I walked into a completely empty DMV, where six smiling employees all waved me over at the same time. I handed the smiliest guy my title and a check for $68, and five minutes later I had new plates, good for the next year.

The car also hits another milestone this month, in that I've owned it for 10 years. In October 2000 I paid the car's first owner $5,100 in cash for a 1996 Geo Prism. It had 29,000 miles, manual transmission, a tape deck stereo, no air conditioning, no power steering and a sweet tomato-red exterior that screamed "take me home!" Since then, Geo has set wheel in 29 states and six Canadian provinces. It's been smashed by a sycamore tree in New Jersey and broken into six times. It's climbed rugged jeep roads in southern Utah and plowed through feet of snow on a high bluff above Homer, Alaska. It's made four full trips between the states and Alaska, three on the Al-Can and one on the Cassier Highway. It's been as far north as Fairbanks and as far south as the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, as far west as Anchor Point, Alaska, and as far east as Bar Harbor, Maine. And in that entire time, I never had to put anything into it besides insurance, tires and brakes. In order to make the trip down to Montana, I had an Anchorage mechanic install a new clutch. I received a lot of crap from my friends for doing this. Geo has 186,000 miles on it now, an interior ravaged by years of hauling bicycles, a motor that gets grumpy in the cold, a blue book value of about $400, and a flaking, faded paint job that makes it look like one sick tomato. But it still gets 35 miles to the gallon, runs, and, well ... I can't help myself. I love this car. We've been through so much together.

Somewhere out there is a photo of Geo surrounded by police tape in a New Jersey campground, with a sycamore tree resting on top of a smashed roof. I eventually got that problem fixed, along with the body damage I caused when I side-swiped a parked car in March 2001, not to mention smashed windows from the break-ins. I don't know whatever became of the sycamore photo, but there at least a few images that remain of our good times together.

Geo and I after a backpacking trip in Sweat Canyon, Utah, sometime in early 2004. This was the go-to vehicle for an uncountable number of weekend trips to the desert. Geo has trawled a lot of rocky, sandy, rugged back-roads in its time. I even still have that hat.

Moving from Tooele, Utah, to Idaho Falls in October 2004, with the help of my (recently departed) grandpa, mom and dad. The bikes on top of the car are my Ibex Corrida and long-ago-sold Trek 6500 mountain bike. Also note the can of Pepsi on the hood.

Geo fresh upon arrival in Homer, Alaska, after I moved there from Idaho Falls in September 2005. All of my belongings where either wedged in the car or that canvas car-top carrier. The bicycles are my ever-present Ibex Corrida touring bike on the left, and my long-ago-sold Gary Fisher Sugar on the right.

We lived at 1,200 feet on a bluff above Homer, which is the coastal Alaska equivalent of living in a mountain town. Our house received upwards of 300 inches of snow that first winter, and Geo took it like a champ, plowing through the worst storms and gravel road ascents with nothing more than front-wheel drive and questionable studded tires.

There it is! Go, Geo, go!

In August 2006, I packed all of my worldly belongings into the car again and moved to Juneau. As an Alaskan, I received a lot of crap for not owning either a Subaru or a truck, but Geo and I made it work. It was especially good at hauling yard sale finds and hideous couches.

Geo spent three years not seeing much use in the city of Juneau, which is why its mileage is still comparatively low for all of the traveling it's done. In April 2009, I loaded it up again, this time with camping and biking gear for my summer on the Great Divide. This is the car outside Vancouver, British Columbia, during a road trip I'd rather have washed from my memory. My and my ex's Karate Monkeys are mounted to the roof rack. This is the last time they'd see each other.

In April 2010, it was time to pack up again and move out of Juneau (holy cow, was that just six months ago?) I mounted my summer car tires, Roadie and the Karate Monkey on the roof - a Beverly Hillbillies-esque junk show that also seemed to receive smiles from the friends in Juneau who were continuously pressing me to get rid of that car already (you know who you are, Brian.) This is Geo at the top of White Pass on the Klondike Highway: 3,200 feet of elevation gain in a mere 10 miles, on a narrow, icy road. I was so happy that it actually made it.

Then, in June 2010, it was time to make what was hopefully be Geo's last trip down the Al-Can, moving from Anchorage to Montana. This is Geo in front of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. I had four bikes along for the ride on this trip, with Pugsley and the Rocky Mountain Element stuffed in the back seat. Since I moved back to the "states," there have been a lot of trips to Utah and northern Montana. I'd like to say we're going to settle down someday, but who knows what the future holds?

My relationships, my bicycles, and my homes come and go, and through it all Geo remains. I think there's something to be said about unyielding loyalty, even in a car.


  1. What a wonderful post... Hope you have many more memorable moments with Geo!

  2. Excellent Blog! I really admire your thinking and the way you have put these information in this post. Thanks for sharing an informative post.

  3. As a car guy this post was touching. I have the same relationship with a Ford Festiva, no frills, just a car that is dependable. That is a rare thing. Loved the post as always. All those pictures of your car loaded up makes me really consider buying the Festiva a roof rack.

  4. That is awesome. My first car went through many adventures and memories with me, even if I didn't have it that long. I feel similarly about it as you do about your Geo.

    I love that there are bikes mounted to your car at every new stage!

  5. Oh Jill. I'll keep quiet on this one.

  6. Never posted before, regular reader. I had a 1997 Geo Prizm that made it to 180,000 before it rusted out. Lots of memories similar to yours - road trips, bike hauling, minor accidents, major dumps of snow on top, license plates from three states. Single life to married life too, in my case (and my husband couldn't drive it because it was stick). It is gone now but I had a certain attachment to it (and its 35 mpg, which fortunately, on my new car, I also get too). Weird how that works even though we are bike people - I guess the car reminds us of the bike and travel destinations.
    Mine had a/c though, but just the tape deck like yours. I bet yours too will rust out before the engine goes.

  7. Jill,
    You should send this blog post to the folks at Chevrolet. The marketing "gurus" (if there is such a nomenclature) simply drool over these stories. Even though the car is stale dated there is a powerful message contained in the text.

    We have a Jeep grand Cherokee that has been rock solid throughout our decade of adventure (Mexico, 28 states, 7 provinces), winter, storms, bad people/drivers. We seem to downplay the role a vehicle has had in shaping our outdoor soul.

    enjoy reading the blog, sat at table next to you at 2010 transrockies banquet, rode by you 3 times during race. Felt odd about chatting with you during banquet.

    keep the keyboard warm.

  8. Great post Jill! I get attached to all my cars...though to date haven't been able to keep one quite as long as you...but hoping my current 03 Jetta TDI wagon is that car (5spd, 50mpg diesel...I hope to keep it till I die!) It's not sexy, snazzy, fast, or anything else that 'car guys' like. I got it cuz of the phenomenal mileage AND I can carry 2 bikes INSIDE!

    I think it says a LOT about you that the Geo is your car of choice (in a good way I mean)...you are more interested in the adventure than the glitz and glamour. The fact that the Geo has stepped up and done everything you have asked of it without fail(which is a LOT) is quite admirable.

    I agree w/ Anonymous..you should get this story to Chevy. I would think they'd be impressed...and who knows what might come out of it. Just don't tell Geo whenever you DO start thinking about another car..it will break it's heart. Here's wishing you many more happy miles w/ your good friend!

  9. I think every american has a car like that in their life but not the photos to go with it! Great story and greater photo history! This post left me smiling thinking of several of my old rides!

  10. I have a Ranger that is drifting into that same lifestyle, though it does not yet have the mileage and geography of the Geo. It will get there. It currently has an Isle Royale sticker with a newer Alaska Cyclocross sticker next to it.

  11. What a great post!!! The couch on the Geo is a freakin' riot!!!

  12. Great story. Enjoyed the words and pics.

    My "bike hauler" - a '92 Nissan Sentra SE-R that I purchased new - blew up with a toasted motor last year (with only 118,000 miles). That's 18 years of use - long time with the same car.

    Being a family of four, but me the bike commute guy, we did the one vehicle trick for 6 months or so, using my wife's car.

    I did bite the bullet however, just picked up a '94 Toyota Camry wagon in really clean shape - now sporting a new Yakima rack as well. I hope to get a few years of out of it.

    Anyway - great blog!

  13. I had to share your blog with my husband... he's still got his parent's Volvo wagon that they bought new off the lot in 1985 when he was ten years old. It now has over 300,000 miles on it and still gets 32 mpg. The interior is falling apart, and the paint isn't great either. He'd be lucky to get a few hundred dollars for it if he ever sold it (which he won't). It has hauled his entire life's belongings (including bikes on Yakima racks, too) across country from CA to MA... its amazing how long things can last when they are cared for and put to good use. Long live the GEO! Never let it go.... its your trusty steed!

  14. Jill,

    My dad has a 1995 Geo Prizm with over 300,000 miles on it - they are not quite as adventurous miles as the miles you have on your Geo, but I think it is safe to say you can expect many more memories with this car!! Thanks for the great post!

  15. I loved this post Jill. I just hit the 100,000 mile mark and reminisced about the adventures we had been on as well. I will drive this car until it can't move anymore. Bess has been a good beast....


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