A Jeep Runs Through It

Tom Bodett

Tom Bodett | Jul 10, 2012

Our long anticipated trek from Vermont to Montana and back is now history. Not history in the sense of the Annals of the Bozeman Trail or Custer’s Folly. Our history will not be written by scholars looking for truth and lessons learned. Ours will be written by me. Like, now.

The first challenge of our epic journey was deciding upon the means of conveyance.  We early on ruled out horseback, Conestoga wagon, oxen and Greyhound bus with equal amounts of sureness.  That left us with a Volvo V70, a Toyota Sienna minivan, the staff favorite, and Delta Airlines.  The Volvo was eliminated by its comparable lack of cargo space.  The van and AirBus A320 fleet were both far superior in that regard though the airline had a distinct disadvantage in the legroom category. This left the contest between two oxymoronic candidates -- a mini-Van or an air-Bus.

Safety being our primary concern because we are after all Americans – we studied the security measures in place for both the AirBus and the MiniVan. There was no security screening for the van at all and unless we were to allow ourselves to racially or otherwise profile – something we would never do – all travelers would have to be background checked and made to produce a valid birth certificate. As we do not know where the boys’ birth certificates currently are, that was a big strike against the van. Passenger security on the airline was much higher. In addition, the chances of dying in an automobile crash are eight times higher than an air plane crash. Advantage: Delta.

In-route entertainment options were a wash. Both means of transportation provided, oddly enough, the same lame collection of DVDs, Sudoku puzzles and endless lectures about inter-sibling fistfights. License plate spotting would be more practical by the land route for accuracy, but you can’t beat the view from 35,000 feet for quantity.

The final deciding factor then came down to rates of speed. Five-hundred-sixty mph average for the airline, 56 for the van. For those of you not as adept at inventing convenient mathematical comparisons as I am, that’s 10 times faster on the airplane. Therefore we could spend most of our trip to Montana driving there and back, or we could fly there and enjoy the visit. (I have purposefully left relative costs out of this report as the credit card bills have not yet arrived and I’m determined not to think about them until they do.)

Some activities required actual walking. And hats. (Tom Bodett)

I learned something about cars immediately upon arriving in Billings and loading up our rented Chevy Traverse – Chevy makes a car called the Traverse. It is a non-descript mid-sized SUV painted red. I don’t know if they are all painted red, but ours was and I was glad of it. It was the only distinct or remarkable thing about it and allowed us to find it over and over again. I remember almost nothing else about the car, which is a sign of a good rental. If everything fits and everything works and the windshield wiper control is in an obvious place and you don’t have to pull over to study the manual in order to set the cruise or adjust your mirrors, then it is unlikely you will remember your car. Travelers, myself included, have the keenest memories of the things that go wrong.

Once we reached our destination – a 12,000-acre working ranch owned for the last hundred years by the family of good friends – the means of transportation became downright sporty. We were a group of 14 souls, including six children. We all more or less fit in and on two four-wheeler ATVs, a Kubota RTV and a 1975 Jeep sans roof and windshield.

16 children and under is the recommended number of passengers on this ATV. (Tom Bodett)

We made our way up gullies and down washes with children clinging to roll bars and gas tanks. [Author’s note: The best place for a child to glom onto a four-wheeler is near the big sticker with the picture of a child and the number 16 with an ‘x’ over it. I understand this is the manufacturer’s recommendation, but I have to say that 16 children would be far too many for safety’s sake. Four to eight is far more reasonable, and you will find if you use that as a rule of thumb that you will lose very few children along the way.]

The Jeep was another story. The engine and power train are perfectly synchronized to drive too fast on lousy roads. Small bodies, such as those of children, are easily launched from the rear seat if they’re not holding onto the roll bar, but they soon learn about that. If the dips and large rocks are spaced properly you can set the children to spinning like Nadia Comaneci. Fun for everybody!

It would be insane to let young children drive this Jeep. Better they cling to the roll bar shown above. (Tom Bodett)

There were many more highlights to our Montana trip far beyond the joys of our motorized accessories, but this is Car Talk, which implies at least for me that we talk about cars. There were rodeos, hikes, grizzly bear sightings, rainbow trout and even a cattle round-up. But that was all horses and nature and stuff. Yawn. What I remember most? The gear box on that Jeep. And Chevy makes something called the Traverse. In red.

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