Search for the “Adventure Mobile”
A bit of background is in order. When I was a kid, among the Tonka trucks and Legos were a couple of vehicles that I only referred to as the “Adventure Mobiles”. One was a Bronco looking truck with knobby wheels that you could change out and came with a Steve McQueen-cool dude dressed in khakis, sunglasses, and a cowboy hat. The other “Adventure Mobile” was smaller and came with a couple of guys who had helmets and jumpsuits and general awesomeness. That truck came with a kayak and off-road motorcycle that were able to be attached. Many an hour was spent pretending to be those guys off on adventures, exploring the world, seeing amazing things, being general bad asses. My brother Mark, was also a big fan of the “ADVMOB”, and had several goes at putting one together, both with his work Tahoe (complete with kayaks on tops, bikes on the back) and his F-150. The F-150 recently rolled down to North Carolina supporting three kayaks, a inordinate amount of fishing gear, and what could be best described as a mobile-party-unit with chairs, tables, grills, tents, boogie boards, and a bunch of other awesomeness thrown into mix. Given that I purchase that truck, I was a bit envious that my Ranger (Hi Ho Grey Ranger… Away) was not also similarly bedecked with gear. Granted, at the time I did not own a kayak, but I did own a bike, the fishing gear, and I could rock a mean party (as witnessed during an awesome float trip/camp out prior to my other brother, Brian’s wedding. So thus, began the search for both more adventure and my own Adventure Mobile. I love my Grey Ranger, it has been a loyal, hard working, steadfast, reliable, and repair free truck. There are two slight problems. One is that I currently live in Duluth, where winter is long, cold, icy, snowy, and generally not conducive to small lighter trucks with rear wheel drive. The second problem is capacity. Rio (my dog) is generally my co-pilot and she travels well. Its not a big deal to put some stuff in the back and let her sit in the front seat or even take the passenger seat out so she can stretch out during long road trips. The problem arises when I would like to take a road trip with a second person. Rio kind of fits in the back area, but when she is back there, any luggage or gear must go in the bed, where it is subject to the elements. Given the climate and the propensity towards precipitation that can me some soggy drawers or gear. The answer could be to get a truck topper which might solve the problem somewhat, but that requires close to a $2000 investment in a truck with 120,000 miles. All of this leads me to today, where I am thinking about what would be entailed to create my own “AdvMob”. The internal debate rages between tricking-out the truck or purchasing a new platform upon which to build my dream. For the Grey Ranger the pros are that it is already paid for and it runs well’ the cons are the interior space, the need for a rack system and/or a topper. For a new platform the pros are that I can choose exactly what I want, it would be newer with less miles and 4WD or AWD; the cons are car payments. In the end, I cannot make a decision without researching all the options which brings us to “The Search for the Adventure Mobile 2013”.
As part of my resolution to get fit and get out more this year last week I got my bike tuned up and an made a down payment on an awesome kayak. This catalyzed the kick of to “Search for the Adventure Mobile 2013”. Over the weekend I went to several places to figure out costs and requirements for different aspects of adventure mobiling. I stopped into the truck topper store to determine what the cost would be for a topper that could hold a kayak and the answer was right around $2000 would do the trick. Since that is a lot of money to put into 9 year old car, I began to think about what new cars I might like to try. So I made up a list of requirements and thoughts to guide myself through the process:
- Must have a degree of awesomeness (AKA the anti-Subaru clause)
- Must be able to fit a dog, another person, road trip luggage, and gear.
- Must have 4WD or AWD and an automatic transmission.
- Must be able to be outfitted with at least one kayak and a bike, possibly two of each.
- Must be in my price range
- Must be comfortable and good internal layout for long road trips
- Mileage under 40,000
- Must not be a POS that will fall apart quickly (AKA the anti-Dodge/Chrysler clause)
- Would be nice to have auxiliary port for music and satellite radio
- Would be nice if it can tow a theoretical boat
- Would be nice if it can get decent gas mileage (at least what I get now).
- Unique in the family and in general (not an red Equinox or Escape/Mariner).
That may sound like a lot of guidelines for selecting a car/truck, but I want to get something that fits me and my needs, and not just a car that fills my basic need for transportation to and from work. To that end, yesterday I went out to give a cursory look at some cars. I went on line and found a few I could try out, to see if they fit the bill.
First vehicle was an FJ Cruiser. This was a big trucky looking SUV from Toyota. Even so it felt roomy and not cramped. The little side doors swung way open to load people and dogs, and the back had a lot of room. The roof had a nice rack, and the engine seems capable of doing things that I would require. I didn’t take it for a test drive, but I might in the future.
The second thing I tried was an awesome Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The price was right, the mileage was low, everything looked awesome till I discovered, I am not a Jeep guy. I really want to be a Jeep guy, plus the Jeep I was looking at was in my price range and was a ridiculous yellow color. It is a regular Wrangler, so just two doors. The problems for me began with the back seat, as in you would have to be a contortionist to get into the back and it would be hard to get Rio back there. The whole point of finding a new car is to have enough room for Rio, another person, and some stuff, making a road trip possible. So that was a strike against the Jeep, but was thinking I could work around it, use the tailgate to load the dog and stuff, keep seats folded down, no problems. Then problem 2 arose; I sat in the driver’s seat. While the seat its’ self was comfortable, it didn’t slide back nearly as far as I had hoped. Also, the windshield view was pretty narrow, particularly given that at eye level I was looking mostly at the windshield frame. The other weird thing was the pedals. In order to transition from the gas to the breaks it required a bit of maneuvering, not a quick transition and not one that would be comfortable on any sort of long drive. Another troublesome thing was that while sitting in the seat in relaxed position my knee hit and rested against the 4WD shifter. Overall, it was not good, and my “Adventure Mobile” dreams will have to use a different platform.
Stop three for the day was a surprise, dark horse contender: the Ford Flex. This thing looks a bit like a station wagon and Suburban had a baby. But that being said, it had some unique styling points that made it different from all the other things on the road. It had all the options I was looking for, it had a nice color (Kona Blue), and was very roomy and comfortable. It had lots of seating area, enough for at least 4 regular size adults plus another row of seats in the back. I again didn’t take it out for a test drive, but I’m really seriously considering the Flex as an option. I can already see its name being the Rambler. It kind of has that look of old style woody-wagon with surf board strapped to the roof (or in my case a kayak). I’m not 100% convinced, but it is making a compelling argument in my head.