Roadtripping the national parks in my Forester

Since its purchase in 2006, my Subaru Forester—named Betsy—has been a constant companion in my quest to visit every national park unit. The vehicle has transported Kim and I on some of our best road trips, whether that’s our Great American Roadtrip in 2007, our wedding post-wedding roadtrip in 2008, or many others. There have been a great many memories produced in the vehicle—the mystery rodent that chewed through our backseat fabric in Glacier, attempting to sleep on far too thick of air mattresses in the back of the vehicle at a random rest stop somewhere in California, or enduring a gauntlet of 70mph wind, dust, rain, hail, and snow on a drive to Utah with my kayak strapped to the roof for the very first time, to name a few.

Last week, I took what is probably my last national park road trip with Betsy: a long overdue visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park—one of the first places we had intended to go once we got it. It was a last minute change of plans that had me take the Forester on that trip, but it was great to bring her out one last time, and especially to a remote park that requires a significant drive on dirt roads to access.

With 175,000 miles on her, and several significant repairs I’ve been delaying, and only one long national park road trip to the Pacific Northwest remaining (I’ll fly to the northeastern parks from now on), she’s likely finally retired from her road trip career. While I’d love to do some more long roadtrips with her, I’m also happy shuttling around my kayak and mountain bike around the state. Thanks for all of the lifelong roadtripping memories.


Roadtripping without our Forester

Our Forester in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

It feels like we’re being unfaithful.

In less than 72 hours, Kim and I will be departing on another of our national park roadtrips. It’ll be the first time we’ll be roadtripping sans Forester since we got her. It feels a little weird.

It’s the right decision to leave her at home – she’s in need of new tires, struts, and her check engine light has been blazing for a month or two now. And we’ll save some serious gas money on the trip, too. But we’ve created enough memories with her that it’s odd to plan a trip in a different vehicle.

Not that it’s been uncommon for us to take a trip in a borrowed vehicle. Our first trip together, to Las Vegas in March 1997, featured us rolling down Las Vegas Boulevard in my dad’s Cadillac (we didn’t even own a working car back then). We borrowed Jessica’s old – well, I forget what it was, but it was old – car to get to Mt Rainier National Park in 2002. And we’ve put nearly as many highway miles on my mom’s Highlander as she has. We enjoyed roadtrips in our Altima years ago, but even then, we often opted for my mom’s SUV.

This time, we’re borrowing my dad’s Prius (thanks Dad!). It’ll save us about $300 in gas on the trip, and well, its check engine light isn’t on. But it won’t be without its challenges. Our favorite cooler doesn’t fit in the trunk, and I’m not even sure our backup cooler will. It doesn’t have an auxillary jack for the iPod, or amazingly, even a cd player (I guess we’re back to using those cassette tape adaptors). It “features” golf-related bumper stickers. Worst of all is that we won’t be able to add to our (incomplete) collection of photos of the Forester in national park units. Or capture a shot of the odometer as it digitally rolls over to 130,000 miles. Or…well, you get the picture.

It’s funny how attached you can get to an old friend…

Fun with time lapse

Above is a time lapse video I made on Monday night with the aid of an external webcam and a couple of friends (thanks Terry and Victoria). After a failed attempt to drive up to the summit of South Mountain (closed due to an accident) and a longer drive out to the Bush Highway and back, we tried driving through Old Town Scottsdale and past ASU to Mill Ave. The resulting video, which starts slow but gets better, isn’t too bad for a first day’s attempt. I’m hoping to do another test or two before deploying the time lapse webcam on our upcoming roadtrip and at our wedding reception.

40,000 miles

Well, it took only 58 weeks for us to hit the 40,000 mile mark on our Subaru Forester. While I’ve certainly been using it quite a bit for work, nearly 12,000 of those miles came from three road trips we took.Check out the entire album Last April, we headed up to Utah to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, among other locales. A few months later in July, we put on about 6k miles during our summer road trip, ending up as far away as western Nebraska. Then in December, we made our way up to the Washington-Oregon border and back down the coast.

All in all, we’ve been pretty darn happy with the vehicle. While we still would have preferred something with a bit higher clearance so we’d feel a bit more comfortable tackling some tough dirt roads, we’ve definitely appreciated the size (I love the turning radius!) and gas mileage it gets. And besides, it probably makes more sense to get a beat-up pickup or SUV to bring out on those roads instead of your “good” car. We’ve yet to encounter any mechanical problems, though we did need to replace all the tires recently, as bad alignment ruined two tires; as an AWD vehicle, it’s best to replace all four tires when you have a problem. OF course, we managed to race through the entire warranty – only 36,000 miles – in the first year, so if anything goes wrong from here on out, we’re in the hook for it. Luckily, the Forester line has a pretty darn good reputation for reliability, and has been the reigning Consumer Reports Best Crossover SUV award winner for several years now.

Check out the entire album We knew when we bought the vehicle that we’d put on the miles, primarily because of our roadtrips and other outings. During our April trip to southern Utah, we also stumbled on a new project: documenting some of the cool places we’ve taken the vehicle. While we haven’t done a stellar job of taking a picture at each cool place, we have managed to take at least one on each of the trips we’ve taken. I suspect that we’ll get better at this with time. Anyway, feel free to check out the set showing where our Forester has been.