Essay: Trucks and bikes – dreams of the off-road

I finally got myself a truck.

I didn’t really “need” a truck, nor does its lightweight rear end make it the most practical vehicle in snowy Colorado (doth protest my loved ones), but hauling things like fatbikes and riding gear and sometimes camping stuff and often the dog in a cramped, low-riding hatchback had proved time and again to be a hassle. I can just toss my fat bike in the truck bed without removing a wheel or needing to dry it off after a snowy ride. Holy cow; you have no idea how exciting that is.

Besides, I hail from south Texas. Despite my white-collar suburban upbringing (my mom has owned a succession of practical vehicles with uninspiring names like “Passat” and “Accord”) and a respectful fear of both horses and guns, I am—at heart—a southern girl who appreciates a truck.

I’ll get to mountain bikes in a bit; just hang with me.

In Texas, whether it’s your old diesel pickup or someone else’s, you end up spending plenty of time sitting on a tailgate with friends, cowboy boots swinging in the thick air of warm summer nights. The first boy I ever fell madly in love with was a fellow teenage airplane pilot who drove a black, Harley Davidson edition Ford F-150 with a sumptuous leather interior that he kept in pristine condition. Every time he picked me up to go out for Chinese food, it smelled like Armor All and Abercrombie & Fitch cologne with faint hints of aircraft-grade gas and 15W-50 engine oil.

You can understand why trucks are favorably embedded in my memory. And, since I’m being honest, I hate country music, but I can appreciate its lyricists’ love of their trucks, their beer and their dogs.

Tacoma Yeti-1

What my modest budget got me is a 2004 Toyota Tacoma with 178,000 miles. If you, dear reader, neither know nor care anything about cars, I’ll give you this: Tacomas are highly coveted vehicles and lose almost no value here in Colorado even when they’re teenaged rust buckets. They’re also generally good for 300,000 miles or more, so don’t worry, mom. My “Taco” features a custom desert khaki paint job, a handful of things that needed fixin’ and an outrageous battering ram on the front end (we call ’em “cow catchers” in Texas) that my husband rolls his eyes at but I somewhat adore. And—joy of joys—it’s a manual.

In my initial days of wedded truck bliss, I have noticed a few commonalities between mountain bikes and trucks (or whatever you drive). In some ways, we choose our bikes and our vehicles based on who we are: sensible and nonchalant about the things (“Does it do the job?”) or as outward manifestations of our inner selves.

Whether our ride is something that we use to show the world who we feel that we are, or we simply require a personal reminder not to lose one’s true, inner identity, a unique and ostentatious bike build or a not-always-practical vehicle can provide enjoyment far beyond its usefulness. (Like how I put a leather Brooks saddle on my rigid singlespeed because I appreciate a little style.) Those are the bikes/cars that feel like winking companions; they are the ones that grab us emotionally because they help us hold onto our core selves. They are the bikes and the vehicles we enjoy—in every outing—as much as we did when we first got them.

Yeti Moab-1

The other link between the two is possibility. My longtime trail bike has been a Yeti SB-66. It’s far more capable than I am and woefully over-built for the local trails I ride from my front door—trails I also frequent on my rigid singlespeed, which should tell you something. But it’s ready for a return to Moab or another trip out east where my favorite thing to ride—rooty trails—are in much more abundance.

Similarly, just like I don’t need a full-suspension bike with 140 mm of travel on a daily basis, I did not really need a truck. I work from home, so it’s going to sit idly in my driveway most days, deserving of the ire some spit when a truck is not used exclusively for bloody-knuckle manual labor. I am also well aware that I could have paid a few hundred bucks for a newer, fat bike-compatible hitch rack and a few hundred more for a roof-top box and called it good with my little hatchback.

But there’s just something about the pull of what is possible.

Years before I knew him, my husband owned a boxy Jeep Cherokee that he essentially bought for the one or two serious off-roading trips he took each year. The thing liked to die on him on deserted, West Texas highways and provided an awful road-driving experience; its nickname was simply “Damn Jeep!” (the exclamation point is important). In short, it was woefully impractical for his big-city suburban existence, but it kept the door open. Every time he got behind the wheel, the possibility of expedition was there, stretching before him somewhere beyond the traffic-snarled road that led from home to work and back again.

The more I find myself spending long hours staring into the mind-numbing glow of a computer screen, between a full-time job and graduate school, the stronger my imagination endeavors to thrill me with adventure ideas now made even more possible by a 4×4 truck with a bed long enough to sleep in and a personality much more bad-ass than my own.

Philosopher Alain de Botton observed this phenomenon in his book “The Art of Travel.” He wrote, “[People] who would have been capable of skepticism and prudence in other areas of their lives reverted, in contact with [certain] elements, to a primordial innocence and optimism.”

The “elements” he wrote of were perfectly composed travel photographs that enticed him to pack up and fly at once to a remote island. The elements rendering my deeply ingrained practicality moot are the Yeti and the Taco. They are conspiring against me—tormenting my stable existence with dreams of Edward Abbey-style ramblings.

Or, at least, of getting the hell out of Dodge on occasion.