In June of 2008 I made the decision to go back into the US Army. 2008 started as a shitty year for me (and pretty much everybody else): I had left the US Army in April, leaving a nine year career as a helicopter mechanic, with plans to get a civilian job and enroll in college full time. Thanks to the crap economic times I couldn't find anything that paid more than minimum wage: I was an aircraft mechanic looking for a job weeks after American Airlines and Delta had laid off tens of thousands of their wrench turners; we were worth a dime a dozen.
Brand new Forester exploring the hills outside Salt Lake City
What saved me was that America was still waging two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thanks to the surge the Army still needed as many civilians they could mold into soldiers. Without a job in sight after two months of searching I headed to the nearest US Army recruiter office, and seeing that I had just left the service I was told I could return right now without losing rank: as soon as I went back into active duty my pay would be the same as in April. For my duty station I chose the Great North: the Army would take me to Alaska.
At the moment we owned a brand new Toyota Prius Touring (more on this car on a later installment of Cars Of My Past). We had bought the car because my wife liked the hybrid car, and while it was comfortable and very economic, it was as exciting as a dishwasher: a true appliance in the best sense of the word. Have you ever gotten excited about your Maytag? Me neither. Being that we were headed to Alaska I was thinking about two things: how would the Prius batteries cope with the extreme cold of the Alaskan interior, and perhaps I would be better with four wheel drive.
(North) 'Murica, Fuck Yeah!
I headed to Mark Miller Subaru, thinking of trading the Prius for a Forester. The 2008 Forester had also come out, and that car looked like a RAV4, not as wagon-like as the pre-2008 Foresters, so i was really disappointed. I asked the salesman if he had any of the older ones in the used car lot. He told me no, but followed it with "but we have a brand new one, last one left on the dealership, $6,000 below MSRP". Manual transmission? Yes. Color? WR Blue. My eyes went wide. I wanted to see it.
When I saw that big blue wagon I instantly fell in love with it. It didn't have the turbo engine, but every thing else was perfect. The color beautifully clad the tall wagon, and I could see me braving the sub arctic winters driving it. The price talk was very quick: the dealer wanted to get rid of this car, their last old Forester in the dealer lot, and I wanted to buy it from them. There was no doubt i was getting a good deal. I ask that they install a battery warmer, engine block heater, rear differential protector, and rubber floor mats,all Subaru dealer-installed extras, and that was it. The total price came up a few dozen dollars over $20,000.
Somewhere off the beaten path in Wyoming
Trading the Prius was the cherry on the cake: when I bought the Toyota there was no wait time for a Prius, but when I sold it some suckers were waiting six months for this car: gas prices were nearing $5 in Salt Lake City, they were even higher in California, where I bought the Prius. The dealer paid me $3,000 more for a Prius with 20,000 miles then I paid for the same car new. Money in the bank! I picked up the Forester from the dealer the next day, and spent a few days exploring some off road trails outside Salt Lake before leaving for the Army a week later.
Moonlit in Alaska
The first road trip on the Forester was from Utah to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where I would head to in-process the US Army. I camped in Wyoming, and enjoyed my new Big Blue, a car much more exciting than the Prius. In Missouri the car was like a UFO: there were no Foresters anywhere, the only Subies I saw were WRX. One day I was stopped at a gas station in some podunk town and some older guy in a pick up truck, seemingly interested in it, even asked me if the car was American. His interested vanished when I said it was Japanese. Oh well...
Taking a break on a non-paved portion of the ALCAN
The next road trip was five weeks later, from Missouri to Fairbanks, Alaska. This was an epic road trip: three days from Missouri to Bellingham, WA, a four day ferry ride to Haines, Alaska, then a two day drive through Southern Alaska, the Yukon Territory in Canada, and then back into the US via the ALCAN border crossing.
Arriving in Alaska, carrying along good part of my life
The Forester was carrying good part of my life inside it: 600 pounds inside it, plus a big load on a roof rack above it. The long trip was easy for the Forester: even loaded that car felt safe, drove very well, and took the biggest potholes then ALCAN could deliver in stride. It was one hell of a machine!
In the Alaska Interior the car proved it was a good purchase: Fairbanks is the largest per capita market in the US for Subaru, and there were loads of other Foresters, Imprezas, Legacys, Loyales, etc. I got some used Bridgestone Blizzak tires for the car, and enjoyed the confidence of supreme traction for the freezing winters. I have driven the car down to -62 Fahrenheit, and while it groaned and drove slower, it survived. In foot deep snow the car charged forward. Soon I bought a 1991 Subaru Loyale 4WD Wagon to join it at home, and had a two-Subaru home.
Forester in Alaska Exploration Mode
In 2010 however that Jalop bug bit me, and the wife wanted a car with an automatic gearbox, and the Forester was sold to an Airmen in the Air Force. With 42,000 miles and two Alaskan winters under its belt, the Subaru was sold for $16,500. Not a bad sale after all! The car had however left an impression in my mind: it's one of those cars I regret ever selling.
Somewhere near Delta Junction, AK