Big Red

After Christmas of 1992, my wife and I were returning from a family visit in Los Angeles to our trailer home in Libby, Montana. While we were gone our trusty Honda Civic had been parked in an outdoor lot near the Spokane airport during a particularly cold and snowy period in the inland Northwest.

When we returned to our car I allowed it to warm up while I shoveled a foot of snow off the vehicle. We drove away and got as far as the freeway on-ramp before the engine froze up and the car came to a sudden and final stop. Luckily, we were within walking distance of the local AAA office where we were able to rent a car and cruise home the next day.

We came back the following week to a Spokane Nissan dealership and test drove a red 4wd Pathfinder. We excitedly drove it off the lot and took our bright new machine back to Libby. A mile from the house with the car full of groceries and a wife impatient to get home; I made the bonehead decision to pull onto a narrow snowy lane to test the 4wd capabilities. Predictably, I got the sport utility vehicle stuck in an icy ditch. I had to sprint to the house and retrieve a shovel and bag of cat litter to get the car unstuck.

A short time later we were in ‘big red’ with a friend headed to Bridger Bowl for a day of skiing. At a stop sign near the ski resort we were rear ended by an idiot who couldn’t stop on the icy road. It took months to get a claim settled with his insurance company.

While living in Seattle, WA we let a friend borrow Big Red to go downtown and sample the grunge atmosphere. Left parked under the vandal prone elevated viaduct; our friend returned to find the number of the beast: 666 keyed into the hood.

It was also in Washington State that I loaded Big Red with three friends, our four bikes on two integrated racks, and all of our camping and hiking gear. This essential SUV motored us to the North Cascades for an epic six day adventure.

The first time I entered the gate to the storage area where we had a rental unit I tried to navigate the tight corner at the entrance and backed up into the swinging gate with my tail light. I never got it repaired because the light was not too damaged to work; however, there is still a puncture hole in the auto body that looks like it was done by a giant can opener.

More recently, I have relied on Big Red to get me to remote trailheads in my quest to bag 14ers. Following a successful summit of Uncompaghre Peak, I decided to try a shorter but more technical 4wd road back to Ouray over Engineer Pass. It started to rain as I reached the pass and as I began the treacherous, narrow descent my stomach started to churn. Tight hairpin turns, steep rocky drops, crazy tilted angles; over an hour and a half of adrenaline and anxiety where my entire digestive system from my throat to my anus felt fused into a tight ball of nerves. The feeling of relief that washed over me as I turned the last corner and saw the pavement of hwy 550 is indescribable.

With almost 20 years of reliable service over 180,000 scenic miles through the western United States, Big Red has been my familiar travel companion. We have experienced countless adventures together getting to various hiking, camping, snowboarding, bicycling and Search and Rescue missions. I feel a closer connection to this inanimate machine than to most of my human acquaintances. Long live Big Red.

(R. I. P. 2015)

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