So, Ryan (from BackroadVentures) had an extra ticket to watch our alma mater play football last Saturday and I got invited. I hopped in the Kia and made my way to Chapel Hill, looking forward to what was expected to be a good game. As it turns out, the Big Guy upstairs apparently isn’t fond of the idea of me having too much fun and/or good luck at a time, lest I become… I dunno, ungrateful or something. Therefore, while pulling off the highway at Ryan’s exit, the engine temp needle pegged in the red zone and the engine compartment started billowing like Krakatoa. Turns out it was coolant steam, which subsided. Since that exit is awfully busy and Ryan’s house was only a few hundred yards down the road, I was able to limp to Ryan’s place. Ryan came out, took a look at the whisps of steam still rising from the engine, and—as only a best friend could—offered to take it somewhere and set it on fire for the insurance money.
Au Revoir, Sorento
Turned out there was a pretty significant coolant leak, so I was not driving my car anywhere. Ryan got a car trailer hooked up to his Tundra and carted the Kia to my mechanic back home. This was emotionally difficult for me for two reasons. First, I love my Sorento, have driven it for 15 years, and have no idea what to do if it ever dies because there really isn’t any other car I’m interested in. It has become something of a trademark, a consistent part of my life, and now I was watching it get towed like a patient on a gurney.
Second, it was being towed by Ryan’s truck, which I gave him a ton of grief for buying (“You sold the Jeep for this?!”). Ryan was kind enough not to rub in my face the fact that his truck purchase was further justified by my misfortune, although I suspect he wrote about it in his dream journal that night and contacted the Franklin Mint to make a commemorative plate.
Seeing as how I was going to be sans vehicle for at least a few days, Ryan was also kind enough to loan me the BackroadVentures 4Runner to get back and forth to work. And that is how I, for three days, became the driver of… AN OVERLANDING RIG.
The Rig. Can I Call it That?
Now to describe the rig… It’s a 4 Runner with the requisite lift, tires, and various accoutrements bolted on. The tires and wheels are appropriately caked with mud, although they have been that way for so long I wonder if it’s secretly a type of lumpy paint. As I slid behind the wheel, I knew I was in a different automotive world. It wasn’t the height or the giant hood: I coach at the high school where I teach and have been driving an activity bus for years, so I find talk about the view from a lifted 4×4 to be adorable. No, it was the extra buttons for lights, the added shifter for the 4-wheel drive, the extra power outlets, the radios, and stuff I’m not quite sure the purpose of and am afraid to turn on for fear of calling in either a rescue team or an airstrike. I’ve been driving for 29 years and I had a momentary panic that I wouldn’t be able to find where to turn on the wipers. Luckily that subsided and I got on the highway for home.
Being an overlanding rig, Ryan’s 4 Runner has the requisite roof top tent, a big and boxy Hi-Vis job. Aside from making the car look vaguely like someone walking around with a book on their head to improve posture, the altered aerodynamics create an interesting sound. Ryan had warned me of this but I thought nothing of it. I once spent a month driving my wife’s Focus with a Thule rack on top. The Thule sounded like the drone of a WWII bomber from an old movie, which I rather enjoyed because despite being middle-aged I apparently still like to pretend I’m on a bombing run over Dresden. But enough about that sound. This sound was more of a little whistle. It didn’t set my teeth on edge, but I noticed dogs weren’t around when I drove by.
Can We Keep It, Daddy?
I pulled into the driveway and my wife had a moment of panic, thinking perhaps I had lost my mind and emptied the savings account to buy a new toy, but I reassured her that it was just borrowed. My oldest daughter stuck her head out the front door and uttered a loud “whoa,” sounding like a tween Keanu Reeves who just discovered extreme skill in Kung Fu. My younger daughter went outside, danced around the 4 Runner in some ceremony only she understood, and came back in to announce that it was “the best car EVER!!!” The Sorento-loving part of my soul died a little bit with that one, but I was able to control myself and not scream, “The Kia carted your newborn @$ home from the hospital and everywhere else you’ve needed to go, you ungrateful snot!!!” Because that would have been excessive. Way excessive. After riding in it for a few days, the girls further informed me that I needed to buy one, because A) it’s cool and B) “Your car is kind of old, Dad.” Sigh.
As I drove the 4 Runner to and from work and errands, I
slowly came to the realization that I was getting looks that I never—EVER—would have gotten with the Sorento. Apparently the sight of a proper overlanding rig has an effect on spectators. Random strangers on the road, especially at stoplights, turned to stare. The lifted-truck contingent in the student parking lot rewarded my new automotive choice with highly appreciative nods. A few Toyota Bros (Or are they Toyota Bruhs? Broyotas, maybe?) did the same and a few even waved. I never get waves in the Kia, even from people who know me. One guy in a lifted pickup kept grinning and nodding as I drove past him.
The 4×4 Effect
Driving it also had an effect on me. I have never had much interest in off-roading, but I found myself looking for an obstacle—anything—I could use as an excuse to throw the rig into 4 Low. “Look, a tree has fallen in the road! A boulder is on the edge of this parking lot! Playground equipment!!” Fortunately, I was able to fight this impulse and avoid lawsuits from angry parents of terrified children who don’t realize that sometimes a man just has to test the flex of his 4×4’s suspension on the see-saw.
And it wasn’t just the off-road capability I wanted to try out. I wanted to pop the awning out so I could… well, I couldn’t actually figure out exactly what I wanted the awning out for, but I’m sure it would have been impressive. Use the lights to help guide planes in for a landing! Open the tent and spend a night camping in the driveway! And the winch! I should winch something! Like a stump, a car stuck in a ditch, my wife’s van!
Well, all things end eventually and after a few days I was informed that my Sorento was fixed with a brand new radiator. Ryan got his rig back and I returned to the comfortable, frayed upholstery of my beloved Kia. All is now right with the world. Except that now I am plagued with the following: How do I justify lifting the Kia and putting a winch on the front bumper?