The Sequel

At the end of the roadtrip, reflecting upon our absurd yet triumphant quest to travel the entire Pacific Coast in Craigslist-sourced cars, George put it best:

At first, we thought we’d be be crazy to try this. But somewhere along the way, we realized we’d be crazy not to do it again.

After refusing to abandon our cherished rides where we should have in Seattle, (which, out of bewildered embarrassment, I neglected to mention in this blog) we had plenty of work on them to keep us entertained. We’ve spent the past year and half fixing Bumbles, uncovering the true nature of the Alfa’s quirks, and rocketing around in the still-not-broken Pickup back at home. We even had a reunion last fall in Oklahoma:


But time has come to get back on the road.

Going Overland

Our first roadtrip adventure took us up the Pacific Coast on The Pacific Coast Highway and US 101, a glorious ribbon of coastal pavement that weaves up nearly two thousand miles of rocky shoreline. No highway will ever be as precious to us as that was, so we’ve decided that our next roadtrip should simply avoid them.

How hard could it be?


For this adventure, we’ll set out from Sacramento, headed for Salt Lake City by way of Las Vegas. We will pass by Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire State Park, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Capitol Reef.

The route we’ve planned prioritizes BLM (Bureau of Land Management), Forest Service, and park service roads which are largely unpaved or listed as “primitive.” Further, Yosemite will likely still be covered in snow with its primary pass road closed, Death Valley is largely unpaved, and the roads into the northwestern part of the Grand Canyon are described by a Park Service website that could be summarized simply as, “please don’t try to drive here.”

So we’re thinking off-road capable vehicles for this undertaking. Bumbles, the Alfa, and the Pickup will have to stay behind.

Naturally, we’ll be doing another Top Gear-inspired “Cheap Car Challenge” to find the perfect companions for our antics: buy used cars over the Internet for a pittance, drive them over a long distance (meandering routes preferred) while being hilariously abusive to each other, and competing to see who got the best deal (measured largely on strength of personality).

The second Great Roadtrip begins the evening of Friday, May 12th. Yet again, I’ll be documenting the whole journey here. We’re excited to have you along for the ride.

What am I going to wind up with?? How did you people DO this last time? I think at this point last trip, I was already negotiating for the Bumblebee.

George. 23 days to departure.

More Window Shopping

Last time this was simple. Evan wanted an exotic convertible. I had my heart set on a truck. And George bought the first Volkswagen he laid his eyes on.

This time, we have an unavoidable competition. We know we need four wheel drive, a high clearance, and something that fits in the budget restriction. So that narrows the field. And we all want the same thing. Basically this:


(If I’m honest, perhaps less this specific vehicle than the assurance of a vehicle that could do this without needing to call in a tow truck.)

I dream of a Wrangler. There’s just something strikingly whimsical about a car with no doors.

A soft-top Wrangler would make me incredibly happy, but they’re built to last so availability is low and prices are high. And if there is one, we’ll all be clamoring for it.

 Or if not a Jeep, we all swooned at this option:


Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Izuzu, and Geo all made very acceptable little toy off-roaders in the 80s and 90s. Creature comforts are few, but they’re reliable, cheap, lightweight, and combine sufficiently high clearance with a short wheelbase.

We have seen a number of agreeable rides, but again, each seems to come with a few caveats:


About which the seller offered: “It’s a clean title nephew got dui vehicle was impounded I bought it back from the tow yard for him and now he will be in jail for quite sometime so I’m selling it to get back a portion of the money he owns me. It’s a nice vehicle.” It’s that last bit that really sells it.


George does seem to be on a Montero kick, here’s another he found that shows modest promise: “Runs great fog lights are bent only one works because ex crashed into a pole, there is a t.v but doesn’t work and no stereo. Small leak in rear differential and car makes noise when heater is on.”


“It ran when it was parked about 10 years ago.”


Or there’s the classic option! George and Evan both are excited when they see Nissan Hardbody trucks. So am I, but if I bought a second one I know I’d never hear the end of it. But in true D21 fashion, this is one of the more mechanically promising options.

Huh… that seems suspiciously good. Like, “Free Offroad Recovery” is code for “Secret Murder Club.”

Charlie. Looking at an offroad recovery (rescue) group I found on Craigslist.

Today in, “As seen on Craigslist

Runs and drives, body and glass ok except crack in windshield tires good. Bill of sale, no title, last registered in 1999. Not sure what year it is.

Which is a shame because it would be perfect.

My False Start

(Editor’s note: written Thursday, couldn’t be published until Friday, lest the boys find out that I arrived two days early.) 

I’ve always anticipated that the three of us would be stepping on each other’s toes because we’re all in the market for the same kind of vehicle. So I decided the most practical course of action would be to enter a false itinerary into TripIt and go quietly two days early.

Despite having arrived in Sacramento in secret late Wednesday evening, I still had work Thursday. So I got up at 7, choked down half a cup of monumentally bad coffee, and got to work. But if I’m honest, my heart was elsewhere. Perhaps the brightest spot of Pacific Daylight Time is that the office is two hours ahead of me, so I had plenty of time after work to get started on my mission.

Despite my enthusiasm for a Jeep Wrangler with no doors in a previous post, upon further consideration, driving through a dusty desert in a car without walls seems unappealing. So I’ve shifted my focus to 4Runners and Cherokees, both of which I’ve always had a soft spot for. With a list of three in a region just north of Sacramento, I set off in my little Rental Chariot.

The Black Grand Cherokee of Roseville

Roseville has a strange neighborhood of about a dozen small used car dealers along what looks like a square that longed to one day become a bona fide boardwalk. It is not. In the center was this perky Grand Cherokee.


I spoke briefly to the salesman, but he left me about my business to poke around. It’s a pretty good looking vehicle in most respects. There’s some damage to the back gate around the window which doesn’t bother me much. I didn’t ask to test-drive or really dive in under the hood. I honestly hadn’t expected to like this vehicle, but it did seem pretty fun. I’m still holding out hope that I won’t have to deal with a dealership, though.

Josh with the Red 95 4Runner

I took a caffeine break at the 7-Eleven next door to check in with the boys (who still think I’m in Austin) and make some calls. I was excited about the Red 4Runner because it seemed to be in the best shape, but it is also stoutly over-budget. I found out that he was working late tonight and wouldn’t be able to see me until tomorrow. I had a couple more options on my list in this part of town, so I drove to a nearby park where I could stop for a little longer and try to set something up. I found out that several more of my options had already sold, but I did have one promising conversation:

Grey 92 4Runner in Citrus Grove

The other 4Runner I pulled from Craigslist was much less expensive. The ad was light on detail, the only thing I didn’t particularly like was that it’s grey. I put in a call and the guy was willing to show it to me in short order. He sent me his address. Then he said that his brother would be there but that he was on his way.

I did a slow drive-by of the vehicle because it was parked on the street, and from a distance it looked good. So I parked down the block and walked over.


I remain unclear as to whether I met the seller or the brother, but was given a key and told to go poke around while he smoked on the porch. For a vehicle he said had been sitting for some days, it sure was warm enough to indicate that it had recently been running at least at an idle. Everything under the hood looked at least okay, coolant was full and clean, but oil was very low. Something just felt a little off. There were mild to moderate rust spots on the body, but not the frame. There was no spare tire, and the tires on the vehicle were in terrible shape—one was flat—even though I anticipated replacing tires, these were undrivably bad. Also, there’s no flap over the gas tank, which is an easy junkyard find, but one of those things I saw and thought, “yep, that seems about right here.”

Then I discovered my first true red flag. The key, the only key I’m told, is a very worn Home Depot key-copy key, and it doesn’t fit any of the doors, only the ignition. There is no other key, he just never locks the doors. “Used car stuff, ya know?” he explained. Also, the driver door and rear gate have both had their locks smashed. This, of course, means there is also no way to open the back gate, though its window does roll down. Half-way.

Getting inside, the steering and the clutch felt like they would be okay, but shifting through the transmission was like stirring a big ol’ pot of gear soup. Ultimately, I had a good conversation with the guy, but I told him I had another vehicle to see tomorrow and took off. I didn’t particularl want to test drive it.

George’s Red Jeep Cherokee 

Yes, our George. Getting back in my car after Grey-no-Locks, I was a little disappointed. So I decided to cheer myself up with some good old fashioned subterfuge. George had located the perfect red Jeep Cherokee and was stupidly talking about it in the group chat. Providence! And it was conveniently located about half way back to my little extended stay hovel.

I put in a call to “Diana” (from the ad) who turned out to be a bewildered gentleman who was insistent that he had just spoken to me and that I had said I wouldn’t be available to see the vehicle until Saturday. Gee, I wonder who that could be. I did worry for the vehicle that he couldn’t conceive of multiple callers for it, but after we untangled the confusion, he invited me over.


Photo borrowed from the ad, because:

I arrived at the house. The vehicle was not at the house. The gentleman from the call  greeted me and said that the Jeep was being used to transport someone either to or from the nearby hospital. (How could that have been a point of uncertainty?) Then he asked, “did she tell you what happened with the vehicle?” … “No…?” Nor had I spoken with anyone else.

Apparently, it had been in a rear-end collision this morning, which would have been useful information to have received on the phone, but clearly the vehicle was still operable because it was at the Emergency Room. He wasn’t sure the extent of the damage, so he offered to sell me the station wagon that was idling in the driveway. When I passed on that marvelous opportunity, he instructed his grandson to take my number and they would call me when the Jeep returned. They offered to let me wait with them, but I didn’t want to impose.


So while I did get a head start today, I didn’t get anything for my troubles, so I meandered my way home.


I stopped by the Tower Bridge, the first drawbridge I think I’ve seen in person. Then I stopped by the California State Capitol which reminded me that everything’s bigger in Texas.


Friday should be an interesting day. I hope to secure a vehicle before the boys arrive, but that’s a tall order. Whatever I do, I have to be back at the airport by 7pm, pretending that I’ve just arrived.

The Victory of the Early Bird

(Editor’s note: Written Friday, but not published until Saturday.)

Friday started out slowly, tying up a few loose ends at work before checking out of my hotel. Evan and I both stumbled onto a listing for a blue Izuzu Trooper that looked promising. He wasn’t sold on it because he very much wants a manual transmission, but I’m starting to waiver on that preference, so the Trooper caught my eye. And it’s blue. What’s not to love?


It was for sale at a dealership not too far away, and I had time to kill, so I went and kicked some tires. After a thorough poking around, this became my solid second choice. Had I not been pining after the Red 4Runner, I would have been happy in this vehicle. It was cheap! One thing that did worry me was the potential to deal with a dealer. They would have to file for the title on my behalf, meaning I would likely be without one when time comes to sell in Utah.

I spoke to the dealer and said I’d call him back in the morning, then went over to grab a bit of lunch and hunt for more cars. Reams of Craigslist ads later, I was still unattached. I longed to hear from Red 4Runner, but he didn’t text me back.

We’d discussed the possibility of meeting up in Roseville after his workday, so I headed up early to beat the traffic and be ready. While I waited, the other three departed from Tulsa, though Charlie ended up on a three hour delay in DFW with engine troubles. I surely hope that isn’t going to be a theme of the next two weeks…

Finally, I just called the guy. Josh answered and was clearly at a job site. He apologized profusely and asked if we could meet up tomorrow, and I agreed, nervously. That left me nothing to do, but the AirBnB was ready for check-in, so I drove off. On the way, I passed by the Roseville Auto dealer to look in on the black Grand Cherokee from yesterday. I was pleased to find it still there, in case I needed to take another look. Then I headed over to the house and took a nap.

At about 8, Josh texted me and apologized for “being the worst salesman ever.” I can’t blame him, he’s workin’ 14 hour days. He asked if tomorrow would be okay, and I confirmed but added that I really need to wrap this up tonight or tomorrow. That was my attempt to weasel him into inviting me over now. Heart pounding, I waited.

Wanna come check it out now?

A million times yes. So I sped over there in my Rental Chariot that I longed to be rid of.


We met outside and I started poking around. This was exponentially better cared for than Grey from yesterday. Josh is definitely a little younger than me, but not by much. We had a great conversation while I looked everything over. Though previous sellers and dealers I’ve spoken with didn’t get too personable, I learned that this 4Runner was this kid’s first car. I ended up telling him our story (though I didn’t correct him when he assumed the group would only be taking one vehicle).

Finally, this was a car I actually wanted to test drive. We hopped in and went around the block. He lives in an area that has some long wide roads so I got it up to decent speed. The transmission is less of a gear stew than Grey, but I’m really glad I’m not new at it this time. And it’s a 5-speed! (My truck is a 4-speed.) I remain unsure what faults lay in the depths of this vehicle, and I did inspect it in late twilight with my little theatre flashlight, but driving it just felt good. I had to do it.

So we went back to his house. I asked him how much he wanted for it, and he said he’d take $500 less than his asking price. That was not a strong negotiating starting point for him because that was lower than I’d assumed he’d be willing to go. So out of bewilderment, I accepted his first offer.

So I hopped in my new 1995 Red Toyota 4Runner and drove off, leaving the Rental Chariot on the side of the road. (I should go back for that…) I’ve just arrived back at the house, and the other three are on their way over from the airport now.

So I’m a little sad I didn’t poach someone else’s ride, I think that would have been fun. But this worked out even better than I’d hoped. Now how should I rub their noses in my victory when they get here?