Does the Outdoorsy Vehicle Make the Outdoorsy Man?

I’m on the market for a new car. But as a
card-carrying outdoorsy man who bleeds singletrack dirt and climbing chalk, it
can’t just be any set of wheels. My future automobile must further entrench me
in the clichéd outdoorsy culture. But while trolling the interwebs and dealer
lots for the most dank-gnar, Thule-rack-covered car that can be found, I
wondered, does it have to be this way? Does the outdoorsy vehicle make the
outdoorsy man?

It’s not as if my current ride, a ’99 Nissan
Pathfinder, was born from an uber-modern econo-car commercial lousy with
animated neon nightmares and a dub-step soundtrack. The Pathfinder is just fine
for commuting up the Cottonwood Canyons on a powder day, and gets a perfunctory
wave from the Unified Police officer stationed at the canyon entry on the
lookout for Honda Civics trying to sneak by without chains. But lately my
tried-and-true SUV has been lacking, causing me to think in my mind (which is
where I try to do most of my thinking) that it’s time for an upgrade.

The Pathfinder pegs me squarely in the stereotype of
mountain-town dude complete with trucker hat, winter beard and flannel shirt
firmly dialed in. Hell, my look is so overused in these parts that simple eye
contact with a similarly-dressed stranger at the Patagonia Outlet is rewarded
with a nod that signals a novels-length of unspoken exchange that says, “hey
there, we’re both on the same bro-brah wavelength and probably climb the same
crags and bike the same trails while drinking the same microbrews on the same
mountains with our hot ourdoorsy wives who hopefully are not the same.”

Over ten years, the Pathfinder has served me well,
not only by getting me to the goods at Alta, but also taking me places like the
San Rafael Swell, slot canyons in Escalante, and a mecca of microbreweries in
Bend, Oregon and Fort Collins, Colorado. I’ve leaned against her side-panels to
look at the night sky in Capitol Reef, slept on her folded-down seats before mountain
bike races at Snowbasin, and pondered over a plethora of life’s great questions
while tipping back a cold one on her tail gate. So why exactly do I feel the
need to trade her in for wheels even more mountain manly? It’s because I tried
winter camping, and hated it.

Ok, I admit that despite my outwardly appearance,
I’m actually a poser. Yes, I’m adequate at skiing, biking and climbing, and my
work schedule allows me to “get after it” more than a typical weekend warrior.
But as soon as the sun goes down and the wet cold creeps into my zero-degree
sleeping back, I become a shivering ninny and lament the lack of indoor heating
and dry ski boot liners.

As a result, I’ve been enjoying the pleasure of my
friend Adam’s truck camper which has been dubbed the “Yurt on Wheels.” It’s
heated, has soft beds, and provides enough electricity to run a DVD player for
one movie a night. Plus there’s a beer fridge. We’ve been traveling around
Utah, parking at trailheads in remote mountains while backcountry skiing as
much as we can in one season. But then the truck broke down… big time.

Here’s another digression that totally relates to
the thesis of this story, I promise. See, Adam tried to take the Yurt on Wheels
on a ski-resort-odyssey-road-trip to Canada, but the engine threw a rod on the
Utah/Idaho border on the first day, which completely destroyed the motor. To make
a bad day even worse, Adam ended up cuffed and in the slammer because of an
unpaid speeding ticket when a UHP Trooper happened by and ran the plates on the
yurt (but that story would force me to digress even further.)

So the yurt was dead, my buddy was incarcerated, and
the thought of sleeping in the back of the Pathfinder during 6-degree winter
nights, or humiliating myself by paying for a room at the local La Quinta
during backcountry ski trips (decidedly not mountain manly) made the
brain-gears turn toward the notion that I needed my own vehicle. Preferably one
capable of towing a badass camper that I could cover with outdoor-company
stickers to show anyone speeding by on the highway how absolutely un-poser-like
I am.

Really, I could simply tow a new camper behind the
Pathfinder, but my aforementioned hot outdoorsy wife backed into someone years
ago which bent the bumper to a point that a hitch couldn’t be mounted without
costing more than the car is worth. So my only decision now is which car should
I get? What is the current Utah outdoor-vehicle-of-choice in 2013?

A Subaru Outback is an obvious option, but I fear it
would further bury me into the hole of outdoorsy dude clichés, and I’d never
find the thing when exiting Whole Foods because it would be lost in a sea of
identical Subaru Outbacks. A newer Pathfinder might be nice, but current models
look more like a high-end SUV hybrid wagon instead of a utility vehicle meant
for charging through sand and slickrock on the White Rim Trail. So I decided my
ideal setup would involve a small pickup truck like a Toyota Tacoma towing an
A-Frame hard body popup that has propane for the winter and is luxury enough
for my afraid-to-pee-outside (yet outdoorsy) wife.

In such a rig, I could imagine a simple life of
traveling the western United States, bedding down at riverside camp sites on
the edge of brewery-swollen towns in search of places to standup paddleboard
with the dogs like the cover of a freaking REI catalog. But an online search
revealed that this dream setup would cost about a year’s wages. Turns out the
simple life is actually quite expensive.

So I’m back to the classifieds, on the search for a
mountain vehicle that complements my outdoorsy exterior, is capable of towing a
cheap camper trailer, and allows me to continue living without a monthly
mortgage-sized car payment. I hope it’s a dilemma that all high-country dudes
like myself struggle with, because the car really does make the man. Whatever
mode of transportation I end up with, I’ll be happy as long as that Unified
Police officer keeps waving me by on my way to an Alta powder day.

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