You Don’t Need the Instagram-Worthy 4×4 to Explore the Outdoors

In the Summer of 2017 I made the executive decision to leave home for good. I was 22 at the time—a rather immature age if we’re being honest—when the overwhelming sense of wanderlust I’d heard so much about began to set in. After traversing much of New England’s finest peaks, from The Whites of New Hampshire to the rolling inclines of Vermont and Maine, I found myself eager to explore the assorted terrains that called from beyond my proverbial backyard. 

I threw together an improvised list of the many things I’d need along the way if such a journey of self-discovery were really to take place: a packable tent, assorted kitchen supplies, and a small repair kit sat high on the register amongst other various needs and wants. But one object on the list was principal, paramount even—the sole thing I’d need to ensure my trip was a true success: a 4×4 vehicle.

Overlanding lords and innumerable Instagram accounts had me convinced that a 4×4 was the only way I’d see the country in proper utilitarian fashion; my 2006 Honda Accord just wasn’t going to fit the bill with it’s low clearance, limited cargo space, and lack of locking differentials. So I jumped on the interweb and perused the automotive pages of Craigslist and Ebay, furiously searching for the 4Runner, Land Cruiser or Conversion Van of my dreams. But it quickly became soberingly obvious that a recent college graduate with student loans and a dishwashing job wasn’t prepared to invest in such a financial undertaking, i.e., I was essentially broke.

So I went back to the drawing board and reviewed my options, of which there were very few: I could save money now and invest in a vehicle eventually, or instead make use of the car sitting in my driveway that still ran like a dream. As impulsion, restlessness, and impatience took hold, the internal conflict was settled in a few minutes’ time; “eventually” wasn’t an option, and the Honda Accord would be my home away from home as I embarked on novel adventures.

Astonishment took hold as I discovered that a wide assortment of tangibles could pack into one of America’s best-selling sedans for over a decade with relative ease (years of investing in Tetris gameplay finally paid off as well). My entire wardrobe (thanks to Space bags), an antique trunk, a small filing cabinet, too many shoes, and outdoor essentials occupied space with room to sleep semi-comfortably in the backseat should a campsite fall through. Mileage was decent, an aftermarket receiver blasted The Dirtbag Diaries without fail, and accelerating on lonesome stretches of road was an illegitimate delight. The only hiccup took place while powering through the nothingness of Kansas, as an afternoon stint in a remote AutoZone parking lot to repair what I diagnosed was a broken thermostat landed me a two night’s stay in a motel as I patiently waited for a radiator replacement.

Some of the fondest memories I’ve made during my limited time on Earth have stemmed from that cross-country road trip, and from that unassuming car. I recall sitting on the tailgate each morning as the sun rose and brushing my teeth as I donned voguish bedhead and wrinkled attire. I look back on the night I spent camping under the stars in Utah’s Southern Desert outside St. George on a slice of BLM land with fondness and admiration. Or the first time I passed through the Rockies with sweaty palms as 8% grades required every ounce of concentration and steadfast brakes. Every single moment was formative in its own way, be it a test of personal grit or celebratory instant in which the world felt as if it were my own; and oddly enough, my car was there for it all.

This journey began in Massachusetts and made its way through upstate New York, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada (amongst other locales) before reaching an unsung conclusion in Portland, Oregon, where I’ve lived for over two years now. The car that sits in my driveway is the very same Accord that got me here not so long ago. I’ve since discovered it can house an 8’ surfboard, drive over 400 miles on a single tank of gas, and even ascend the mountain pass to Hood in the dead of Winter. The odometer reads 206,457 miles, and those miles continue to climb.

The stoic 4×4 is intrepid, undaunting, even fearless. It goes where no other vehicle can, traversing vast expanses that would otherwise remain inaccessible. I’d be remiss not to mention that I still peruse Craigslist in search of the imposing 4Runner that can go anywhere, that can conquer the world and do anything. But my humble sedan has shown me the world, and it’s done so without fail. Don’t waste your time planning for “eventually” if the stars don’t perfectly align, be it a car or other worldly desires. Life won’t wait for you to explore it. And life certainly doesn’t care what car you drive when you finally do.

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