One last road trip in the Eco-Warrior

I’m off on a harebrained excursion to nowhere in particular.

On this trip, I put four easels, three painting kits, one pastel kit, three chairs, three umbrellas, luggage for three people for eight days, a solo art show, three computers, and three passengers in the Prius.

When your adult child says, “do you want to go on a harebrained excursion to nowhere in particular, immediately, and damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” you should say yes. That child will soon be entangled in family and mortgages and too busy to be silly.

But if you ask yourself, where does he get these ideas, you already know the answer.

Blizzards? This car has known a few.

I like nothing better than long drives to far-off places, in the company of people I love. That’s how I ended up trekking 10,000 miles across Canada with my daughter Mary, and in a Land Rover tooling around the Hebrides with my family. It’s not why I ended up driving across Patagonia with Jane Chapin, but the net result was the same.

As you’re reading this, I’m gliding west in my youngest kid’s car, heading for Yellowstone. As with that fateful drive with Mary, I’m in a very tired car. In this case it’s the same 2005 Prius I drove for 16 years, now in his custody. That gives me a certain amount of confidence, because I know the car intimately. I’ve driven it in all kinds of places a low-slung hybrid sedan shouldn’t go–through tidal streams and down muddy back roads. Last week it was in the Adirondacks and had an unfortunate incident with a snowbank. My son reports that it shook itself off and continued on.

It was days like this that earned the Prius the nickname, ‘eco-warrior.’

“We could take my truck,” I ventured, but that met with a resolute no. The Prius is about to go over 300,000 miles, and my kid knows I want to celebrate that. Perhaps we’ll stop and buy the old dear a cupcake.

This car was one of the first 30,000 second-generation Priuses sold in the United States. I calculated that if gasoline stayed above $1.85 a gallon and I drove it 100,000 miles, I’d pay for the difference between it and a compact gas-engine car. It turned out to be a great wager. This model was designed and built meticulously to prove to American buyers that Toyota’s hybrid technology was reliable. It’s been remarkably trouble-free.

The back roads of Maine finally convinced me I needed a truck.

I always thought that I’d drive it to 300,000 miles myself, but my life changed. I moved to Maine, where I’m often on rough roads or, worse, no roads. The Prius is an urban and highway car. When Dwight needed a car, I bought a full-size truck, and he bought the Prius from me.

Unlike most young men’s first cars, this one came with welfare checks from the former owner. “Did you change the oil?” “That ‘check-engine’ light is serious; don’t ignore it.” “How are your tires?”

Roadside painting, using a large red canvas for a safety cone. Now I have a truck and a real safety cone.

With a car that old, you have to be prepared for trouble along the road. Mary’s Suzuki Gran Vitara should have been euthanized in Alaska, but we nursed it across Canada. We always knew that if worse came to worst, we could have it towed away and rent a vehicle to get home. The Prius is in much better shape, but it pays to be prepared.

And, yes, I’m bringing a sketchbook and watercolors, but I really hope to use my non-driving time writing and working on my website. Oh, and talking to the kid.