All-wheel drive to freedom
We met in a Safeway parking lot in Anacortes, Washington. I was a recent college graduate—homeless, transitory, ready to explore the West, and in need of some wheels. She was a middle-aged emerald-green beauty with a moonroof. It was the Fourth of July. I named her Lola America. I wasn’t sure I could actually afford the monthly payments, and I didn’t know where I was going to be in a matter of months. But at that moment in time, behind the wheel of my first car—a healthy Subaru with all-wheel drive—i thought anything was possible.
It felt that way for a while. Our first winter together we lived at Alta, Utah. Lola got buried by all 800 inches of snow that fell that season. Over time, we storm-chased through the Cascades, Sierra, Wasatch, Rockies, Tetons, and Sangre de Cristos. It wasn’t always easy—all that gallivanting led to a lot of self-doubt and a lack of direction, not to mention a dearth of cash. I broke down crying in that car more than once. Sometimes, I couldn’t make the payment. On one particular low point, I crashed Lola into a Douglas fir after hitting some black ice on a snowy forest road, breaking my hand and a good chunk of her body. Another winter, it was past midnight and I was driving a rural highway on my way to Jackson Hole, took a turn too hot and put her in a snowbank.
We have a tendency to romanticize our automobiles in America. I’m leery of overstating her personification, but Lola did become more than just a car to me: She was the symbol of my reckless indepedence in pursuit of a life in the mountains.
For a summer in 2007 and a winter in 2012, I lived out of Lola—but for most of our time together, I had a physical address, too. Lola and I moved into 12 houses in six states. Each time, all of my stuff fit entirely in, and on top of, the car. Throughout this time, Lola was my constant and most consistent partner. Then, one summer day, after surfing, I stood alone in an empty parking lot in a drenched wetsuit in the waning evening light, confused. Lola, I realized, had been stolen. A week later, I found her parked behind a CVS one town south. All of my things, with the exception of a pair of beat-up boat shoes, were gone.
At that point, she wasn’t worth much—but I was angry that something important to me was taken away. Plus, getting a new car is a pain in the ass. It was some combination of an emotional connection and stubbornness (and sure, frugality) that kept Lola and me going well past 250,000 miles on the odometer, despite the fact that she was permanently dusty, rusty, and sandy, the A/C had long stopped working, I couldn’t get the rearview mirror to stay on, the windshield had a crack from one side to the other, the left blinker didn’t work, the alarm went off at random times, and the tires were completely bald.
But hey, we were both getting older. After 11 years and 160,000 miles together, I loaded her up for one last move. I had met a woman—a partner the likes of which I had never before thought possible. Lola and I were traveling across statelines again to move into the house that my fiancé and I had bought. Midway up a mountain pass, I pulled over on an access road and slept in the dirt for the night. The next morning, Lola and I successfully made it to the downhill side of the drive. Soon after moving in, our country home came to necessitate a country truck. I got Lola detailed—damn, did she look good!—and posted a few photos to Craigslist. We didn’t need her anymore. As I was cleaning her out, I found a bottle of wine and the Canterbury Tales I had stashed years earlier just in case I broke down somewhere and needed to entertain myself. I sold Lola for $800.
Two days later, I got a call from the new owner. The Subaru had broken down and needed a new engine. Had I noticed any problems? No, I said earnestly. She had been my rock. John Clary Davies was the Editor of Powder from 2015 to 2018, and is now the Executive Editor of New Mexico Magazine. The Powder staff does not miss long, hot road trips in Lola.
Photo: Mike Schirf