At least some of it. Probably. It has been over a year since our last cheap car challenge, where we bought cheap 4x4 and drove them overland through California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It was a blast and we’re eager to do another one. However, thanks to scheduling issues the next one can’t be until 2019.
Still, it is on the books!
The plan is the same as we usually do: we’re going to fly to a city, in this case Seattle, buy cheap cars, and then drive them 2,400 miles to Fairbanks, Alaska, in just under two weeks.
As some err
very few none of you may remember, our first cheap car adventure was in 2015 where we bought cars in San Diego and drove them to Seattle via the 1 and 101. At the end of the trip we were so in love with our cars and the journey that we’d joked that we should just keep heading north until we run out of continent. Well... now we’re planning to do just that!
Sidenote: We did toy with shipping the original three cars, as we all still have them, to Seattle and doing it in those, but shipping them back from Fairbanks is ruinously expensive. (~$3k/car)
As per our usual, we’ll take 2 to 3 days in Seattle to find, buy, and prep our cars for the journey. After that we’ll point them north and see what happens.
The route will be pre-planned, the sights not so much. We’ll be shooting for low miles per day with very few, if any, “days off” to minimize driving time and maximize sightseeing.
Once we reach the end we’re in a bit of a pickle. In the past we’ve either shipped our cars home, sold them, or junked them. (4, 1, and 1, respectively) I’m the weakest of the bunch and kept both of my road trip cars, a 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider and a 2001 Land Rover Discovery II, but on the last one both of my colleagues re-homed their cars at the end.
Anyway! I say all that to say, as mentioned about, shipping cars from Alaska is expensive, so I don’t feel like keeping mine this time is an option. I’m sure I’ll find a way, I always do, but at present we’re pretending that we’re going to go ahead and arrange to have them donated to the local NPR station at the end. We found out last time that doing so requires actually scheduling a pick-up/ drop-off with the station, so we hope to do that well in advance to ensure these cars get a chance at finding a new home.
In the schedule we do have the option of driving up to the Arctic Circle, just to say we did. Deadhorse/ Prudhoe Bay is, apparently, driveable and gets us tantalizingly close to the Arctic Ocean. The downside is the drive is 500 miles each way and estimated to take 14 hours each way. That is a big ask after having already just driven 2,400 miles. However, I feel like if we don’t make the trip we might regret it. We could also probably charter some manner of vehicle to make the trip for us, but that is sort of against the nature of these trips.
The plan is to head out in June. This should be just as the temperatures are getting good, the days are getting long, but avoid the rainfall that appears to come in July/ August.
Legal and Safety
Yes! I’m getting to that! Get out of the comments! Geez...
So legally we only have one outstanding question: How weird is it going to be to cross the border in cars we just bought and will not be registered in our names? I’ve done a lot of research and at best all I’ve found is the Canadians don’t really care as long as we assure them we’re not going to sell the cars there, which we aren’t, but crossing the US border may be tricky because apparently that is just a thing these days. This is the area that is going to require the most additional feasibility research and likely a few phone calls.
All other legal concerns like insurance and registration are fairly straightforward.
Safety wise... well we’ll have our usual assortment of spare fluids, emergency repair materials, first aid supplies, whiskey, spare parts, tools, additional whiskey, cash, tow straps, and boundless, naive optimism. We’ll also probably pick up some bear mace on the Canada side and do some research into other wildlife we’re likely to encounter. Also thinking we pick up some bear bells for hiking?
We’ll also review the route and try and be aware of any seasonal or road condition issues that may be present.
Looking at cell coverage and Verizon’s somewhat draconian international calling policy, I’ll probably pick up a cheap Canadian phone. We’ll also go ahead and rent a satellite phone again, just in case.
We’ll also need to make sure our radios are legal in Canada or find out what we need to do to make them so. Luckily they’re fully programmable, so I imagine we can avoid running afoul of whatever the Canadian FCC is called.
Every time we do one of these it seems like we ratchet up the difficulty and danger. In my opinion, this trip is no exception. That said, I would like to stress that we seem to be really good at planning these things. We have equipment, details maps and plans, contingency plans, emergency procedures, external coordinators, etc etc. I’m unbelievably exited.
This hasn’t been discussed extensively, but I think we’re all assuming the usual rules apply: Total budget of $3,000 for car plus improvements, cars “must” be bought during the trip, and there are no additional requirements. Obviously stuff like having up to date tags, a clean title, room to carry our luggage, and working heat is all a bonus, but for the right car we can always make things happen.
For this trip we’re considering working in a tire budget, because frankly all of us always end up with at least two new tires (safety third!) and that usually blows the improvement budget pretty comprehensibly.
I say “must” because the last two trips someone has cheated. On the first one, George remotely bought his 1991 Volkswagen Cabriolet several weeks before the trip and had it towed to a mechanic for some “minor” fixes that ended up costing the same as the car. He was punished by having many breakdowns.
For the second trip, Taylor showed up three days early so he could have the extra time to buy a car, preferably one of the ones George and I wanted. Sneaky bastard! This was deemed brilliant and he was not punished... except for that time I disconnected his coil.
So I guess that means it is my turn to cheat? Who wants to go look at cars for me? Or sell me theirs?
As for what cars we’ll buy... who can say!?
George and I have both expressed interest in a early 90s 4WD wagon (Tercel or Civic or equ) because apparently we’re those people, but I’d be a little surprised if one of us didn’t end up with another convertible.
I could TOTALLY do a Subaru Brat or a Volvo or some manner. My only requirement, again, is three pedals.
But probably not that one... Either way I will likely continue my tradition of buying something ambitious and unlikely to make it to the finish line.
Taylor will likely continue his tradition of buying a mid-sized, red, manual, high mileage, Japanese truck of some sort. When asked he responded “the kind with four wheels that goes that will get me there” followed by “standard transmission and vaguely interesting with four wheels that spin” which seems reasonable.
Luckily in Seattle there are a ton of vehicles to choose from and a fair number of friends and fellow Oppos in the area, so we’re well taken care of.
Less Top Gear, more our own thing
The first trip we made the mistake of trying to be Top Gear. We had challenges, there were points, and we were “required” to sell the cars. None of this added anything to the trip. When you think about it, the “challenges” in Top Gear are just so they have an excuse to do silly things, but we didn’t need that. We were on an epic road trip, so all that stuff was there for was to complicate things and possibly create butt hurt.
The second one we stripped all that out but kept the “sell the cars at the end” “requirement” and “kept score”. Why? What was the point? There wasn’t one. Once again this passive devotion to Top Gear only created problems. When I kept my Land Rover all “the rules” really did is generate ill will with my colleagues. And that isn’t fun.
What we’ve learned for that is that we’re not Top Gear. What works on TV doesn’t work in real life. Instead, we’re going to focus on what matters: getting from A to B while having the most fun possible.
Yes, there will be breakdowns and we’ll joke about losing points... but none of it matters. I’ll also brainstorm adding a “game” element that would encourage us to stop and do stuff too.
But yeah... no more challenges, no more points, no more winning. Just one long adventure.
No seriously. Once we get the bugs worked out, this is going to be an epic trip.
I cannot express how fun these trips are and how much I am looking forward to it.
I’ll keep Oppo updated as planning progresses.
And yes, I really do plan on getting back to work on the Overland video. We’ve had some technical and life difficulties but the 3rd episode is like 80% ready.