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.