To the horror of our environmentally conscious friends, my husband and I just bought a big honkin' SUV. After spending 20 years with our pickup truck, which was working on 250,000 miles and its third rear-end gear, we decided it was time.
Our in-town car is 10 years old, with great ground clearance and room for the dog, economical to operate for daily chores. But it seems we're constantly needing a truck for dragging brush to the dump, or hauling firewood from the mountains, or carrying plywood and two-by-fours from the lumberyard. I don't see how people live any kind of do-it-yourself rural life without a truck.
We did our research and found the perfect vehicle: a truck with its hindquarters covered, also known as a sport utility vehicle. We bought it in September, and soon afterward my husband headed out for his annual antelope hunt, into the backcountry of Wyoming's Red Desert. The only other sign of human presence where he hunted was the constantly pumping oil rigs. The new vehicle must have felt as if it had returned to the mother ship, looking out at the desert at the source of its life's blood.
My husband saw only a few other hunters in the backcountry, but ours was probably the only vehicle in which new-car smell mingled with the scent of antelope blood and lantern oil. Typical hunting trucks look more like the one we replaced, with its rusted quarter panels and peeling paint. My husband got the SUV thoroughly dusty and full of gravel during his trip. It may not have looked good, but it certainly wasn't in danger of breaking down and stranding him in the desert, like the old truck threatened to do.
After we got the new vehicle cleaned up from the hunt and back to its show-room shine, we were eager to show it off. We visited a friend not long after the hunting trip, and took him some fresh antelope meat. He is a man whose life we admire. He's made a career of helping others and continues to do so even in retirement. His front yard is also a wonder of native plants. But when he saw the new SUV, his jawed dropped, and he peered at us over his black-rimmed glasses. "What on earth is that thing?" he wanted to know. "What does it get, like two miles to the gallon?"
"Better than that," I said, a bit wounded by his disdain. "But then, it's a truck." I emphasized the word truck so he'd understand it wasn't supposed to be economical or environmentally correct. It was supposed to be practical.
I reviewed the SUV's various features, downplaying the large engine and the towing package. I asked him if he'd like to hop up behind the wheel and he replied, only half in jest, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly. It would spoil my green image!"
We left our friend's house with a honk and a wave and headed out for a Sunday drive to the Medicine Bow National Forest. ("The great American pastime — driving someplace you don't need to go," our friend had teased.) We parked at the entrance to a campground closed for the season and took a short hike around a mountain lake. When we got back to the vehicle we tossed in a few pieces of firewood left behind at a campsite. Since this vehicle's interior is basically meant to be cleaned with a hose, we didn't worry about wood chips or chipmunk poop.
Driving along the highway near the top of Medicine Bow Peak, we noticed some vehicles pulled off of the road and did likewise. Strolling across the highway 50 yards ahead of us was a shiny black bull moose. He lumbered his way with ease through grass and fallen timber and disappeared in a stand of trees. Now there's an animal equipped for what it was meant to do. Not unlike our new SUV.
We'll endure comments about this vehicle's gas-drinking habits because we're using it for what it was built to do, not for driving one person to work, kids to soccer practice or shopping at the mall. We'll use the SUV the way we used the truck: to get us into the mountains and around the backcountry for 20 years and a quarter-million miles to come. I think it'll be worth the price at the pump.
Julianne Couch is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She lives and drives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at email@example.com.