Earlier this spring, during my loop through southeast Utah, it became apparent to me that my trusty Subaru’s miles were numbered. The Raven has towed the Rattler for many miles – all the way to Alaska and back, last summer – but I could feel it getting tired and I didn’t want to drive it into the ground. So I started looking for another car.
I searched all over for a good used Subaru, but couldn’t seem to find one with fewer than 200,000 miles for much less than 10 grand and, in keeping with my no debt, no credit lifestyle, I wasn’t willing to take on monthly car payments. If I was going to buy a new (used) car, I wanted to buy it outright.
Then, on a whim, I did a search for my dream car: an older, manual Land Rover Discovery. And I found one at Pikes Peak Rovers in Colorado Springs, only a couple of hours from where I was camping near Salida, Colorado. I showed the ad to Drew and said, “Please talk me out of this.” And he said, “Why would I talk you out of it? That would be awesome!”
Of course, it was love at first test drive and I bought outright, in cash. My new chariot, my dream car, is a 1996 Land Rover Discovery. One owner, low miles (for its age), well maintained, in beautiful condition, for under 3 grand. The best part? It’s a stick shift! For some reason, manual Land Rovers are a rare animal.
If you think it sounds too good to be true, you’re right. Three days after I bought the Rover, it stranded me up a mountain road. The morning after climbing Grey’s and Torrey’s Peaks, it wouldn’t start. I suppose there’s not really a good time to learn to roll start a car, but three days after you buy it, on a steep, rocky mountain road is less than ideal.
When it comes to car trouble, my mantra is, “It can always be worse.” So I unhitched the Teardrop, pointed the Rover downhill, put it in second, got a Herculean push start from Drew and popped the clutch once I was rolling over 10 mph. And it worked! I rehitched the trailer and drove 3 hours straight back to Colorado Springs, without stalling out, where the guys at Pikes Peak Rovers installed a new starter at cost.
But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Less than a week later, bumping down another mountain road, smoke started pouring out from under the hood. Turns out the coolant system had sprung a leak and coolant was pooling on the hot engine, creating clouds of noxious smoke. Fortunately, I carry a spare jug of coolant (and several jugs of oil) with me at all times so I refilled the coolant system, let the Rover sit overnight and limped into Leadville the next day for a fix.
My experience at the garage in Leadville was classic “take advantage of the damsel in distress.” I’m no engine expert, but I do know when somebody is trying to scare me into unnecessary repairs. I could see the leak in one of the hoses and it looked like it should be pretty easy to patch. But the mechanic kept trying to talk me into replacing the whole cooling system.
I asked him to draw me up an estimate and he came back with a ridiculous list of numbers that almost exceeded what I paid for the Rover. Parts would have to come from California and I would be stranded for at least a week. Without all the repairs and replacements, he told me I was unlikely to make it off the lot.
I stood my ground and told him I would take things one step at a time. I wanted him to repair the active leak with a patch and then pressure test the system. If it held, then I’d be fine. If it didn’t then we’d start talking about replacing more parts. He grudgingly agreed to make the patch and test the system for me that day.
Two hours, a short length of hose and $107 in labor later, the Rover passed all the coolant system tests with flying colors and I was once again a free woman, at the wheel of my dream car. It’s now been a month since I bought the Rover and we haven’t had any more hiccups. In my experience, all new travel partners require some adjustments and while the Rover and I do have some trust issues to work on, I’m not going to give up on this particular dream.
So why is a Land Rover my dream car? Because it represents the ultimate in rolling freedom: a Rover, properly dialed, can take me anywhere I want to go. For example, one of the entries on my epic life to do list is: Buy a Land Rover, live in Utah! All those back dirt roads leading to far off trailheads are calling my name.
The downside to this particular dream, of course, is gas efficiency. So far, I seem to get around 20 miles per gallon towing the Teardrop, down from 25 mpg in the Subaru. My gas budget hasn’t increased so that means driving fewer miles, which is just fine by me anyway. I got the long-haul out of my system last summer, on my journey to Alaska and back.
My goal for this summer was already to spend less time in the car and more time on foot and chilling at sweet free campsites. Instead of moving somewhere new everyday, I’ve been spending several days in one place, then moving a little ways down the road and setting up shop again in another free site. Colorado is so endlessly ripe for exploration, I haven’t felt restless yet!
Stay tuned for a post on my first successful 4WD adventure in the Rover: a 30-mile rocky, rooty, rutted journey to the Wheeler Geologic Area in the La Garita Wilderness. I’ve been wanting to check this place out for years and last week, thanks to the Rover, I finally made it! No roll starts or coolant triages necessary! I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…