After 9 years of working as traveling Physical Therapists together, my wife and I have found cars a lot of interesting ways. When we started traveling, we would each drive a car cross country to get where we were going, but in time found road trips were a lot easier when we shared the driving in one car. This has led to us buying a lot of random vehicles on Craigslist when we arrive at our destinations… and later selling them on Craigslist. Throw in a handful of assignments in the 49th and 50th states, and the resume of vehicles we have owned is, from my viewpoint, impressive: A 1984 Chevy RV in AK, a VW Passat in Hawaii that broke down within 2 weeks, a subsequent 3-month rental car in Hawaii, and a Honda Civic in Maine that the entire exhaust system fell off of gradually piece-by-piece to be collected in the trunk and eventually sold to the next owner – so many memories too: the power back window of a 97 4Runner (best SUV feature ever), the Camry with the cockroach infestation, strapping 2 kayaks right onto the roof of that same roach-infested Camry, and living-in/maintaining/improving a camper all last summer back East on Martha’s Vineyard.
There’s so many vehicles, homes, and vehicle-homes, I can’t even remember each one. For now, I do want to share the two very different stories of the two vehicles we have right now in Hawaii.
We were working in our usual winter jobs in Colorado when we secured our jobs way out here in the Aloha State. Having worked previously on the rural island we’re currently on, we knew we wanted to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It can be tough to get a decent 4×4 here, because everyone who has one drives it into the ground. Lucky for us, we already owned the perfect vehicle for the trip. Our 2007 Toyota Highlander (“McLeod” – there can only be one Highlander), has been an awesome car, but we’ve started to pull more and more toys that are above its towing capacity. A Highlander is a great SUV offering a comfortable ride and good handling on rough road and in the snow, but it is definitely not meant to tow campers over 12,000 ft mountain passes – and we like to do that sort of thing. So, it was decided, McLeod would come to Hawaii with us, we would enjoy having a 4-wheel drive vehicle to access the off-the-grid mountains and beaches. We hope to sell McLeod here at the end of of our time in Hawaii – he will live out his retirement years in the islands. We will then return to Colorado and buy a truck.
A lot of research went into the logistics of getting McLeod over to Hawaii from Colorado. We (Kate actually) learned a lot about the vehicle shipping business. We have friends who shipped a car from Colorado to Florida for about $800 a few years ago, which sounds very reasonable to me – I’ve recently heard similar prices from other travelers. There’s a lot of different ways to try to find a good deal for shipping the car cross country. You can ship by rail which I think offers the best deals, but seems to be inhibited by the time it can consume in transit and the need to drop off and pick-up the vehicle at a major hub. It’s not unusual to have a narrow window of time to drop the car off with several weeks wait to receive your car on the other end. Shipping the car by truck is more common and, in theory, easier, but is didn’t mesh with our schedule. The way the trucking system works is that the shipping companies you contact simply act as brokers between you and the truck drivers. You set a price you are willing to pay as a bid, and truck drivers are able to accept or negotiate the price – there are numbers available to give you an idea of what a typical car transport from, in this case, Aspen to San Diego might cost. Basically, you submit a bid and if there’s a driver headed West that likes the price and wants to swing by and pick up your car, they will accept. Also, if you live in an isolated place, you can offer to bring your car to a place closer to a major highway and this will cost you less as it’s more likely to be on the driver’s route. Because of this arrangement, you can find a trucker to take your car on pretty short notice. It’s a great system, except that you frequently don’t know exactly what day the driver will show up to take the car, and you need to have someone available to drop off the car and then receive the car on the other end. For us, it just didn’t work. We only had one week between work in Colorado and work in Hawaii and needed to dump the car quickly and get out to Hawaii.
We eventually set a plan to drive to San Diego and ship McLeod from California out to Hawaii on a boat – it costed us about $1000 to Honolulu, another $400 for the transfer to the island we’re currently working on – reasonable as far as I’m concerned. A few days before we were set to wrap up work in Colorado and get on the road, our boat was cancelled (with our money already paid), and an alternate boat had to be scheduled. We ended up having to leave a little early and make a sprint straight from our last day of work in Colorado on a Saturday to San Diego for a Monday car drop off. We ended making the trip with time to spare and saw some of the South West which I truly haven’t seen a whole lot of. Then, we were off to Hawaii! Unfortunately, the car would take 3 weeks in transit, so we had to come up with another way to get around the island in the meantime.
We had considered having a second vehicle – for the time until McLeod arrived and for the occasional times we would want a second vehicle. Maybe just a moped or dirt-bike would do for traveling the short island distances. There’s some rental cars available on the island, but they would cost us $200-$300 for each week we had to wait for McLeod to arrive. By some stroke of fate, it turned out the PT traveler before us had been driving a car around for the last 7 months that he wanted to sell for $1000. Honestly, I didn’t need to hear anything else – a $1000 car that drives? Sold.
I spoke with the traveler on the phone about buying the car, a 1982 Cutlass Supreme. The traveler was a real relaxed guy who I would later get to know personally – he clearly fits in with with the island lifestyle. Side note, he would explain to me, “I like to get in the ocean at least twice a day.” He had bought the car for $2000 from a traveling RN, and after his 7 months of use, he felt he had gotten his monies-worth out of it, and he was willing to let it go for 1000 bucks. He had no trouble with car, it always started up. The windshield wipers could occasionally get stuck in the on position on a sunny day which could be embarrassing, but other than that, it was a great buy for $1000. The travel PT had told me that the car only had 25,000 miles on it, “after all, it’s been on an island its whole life”. Upon further investigation, there is no 6th digit on the odometer of this car, so who knows how many times it has been past the 100,000 mile mark. But this 1982 Cutlass Supreme does drive. It likes to go. It’s a Brougham edition – I’m not totally sure what that means, I think Brougham might be the company that did the interior of the car (upholstered front bench seat and all) – naturally we have named him “Brougham”.
Brougham has been a blast. Great beach/island car with real street cred. We know the local guy who originally owned the car for its first 20-or-so years. He occasionally stops me in the middle of traffic in town to harass me about taking care of the car. It floats like a boat around corners and over speed bumps – Brougham is pretty awesome. I was able to restore some original glory through re-attaching the hood ornament and some of the original insignias to the trunk that had fallen off over years due to rust and who-knows-what else.
After about 2 weeks of work, McLeod finally rolled in on the Monday barge – barges come on Monday and Thursday with all the supplies for the island, including everything you could end up buying at a store. The barge is a nice reminder of what an isolated place we live in, how all packaged food and supplies come from somewhere, and that the waste we produce has to go somewhere as well. McLeod has been the 4-wheel drive beach-and-mountain-mobile we have needed him to be. It’s also nice to have A/C on an 80 degree day. Even with McLeod here and offering a smooth, cooled ride, Brougham has not sat idle long. The Cutlass Supreme is just a fun car to drive and gets us enough puzzled looks that we take it out frequently.
We hope to extend this contract for another 13 week stint before returning to Colorado for the winter. If for some reason we can’t extend, then we need to get For Sale signs on these cars soon and let the cycle start over again. When we get back to Colorado, we’ll be looking to buy a truck – preferably something from this decade with some good towing capacity. Until then, McLeod and Brougham will keep driving us in circles around this island, up in the mountains and down to the beaches. I suspect we’ll create some good memories of each of these vehicles between now and then.
Aloha! See you out on the open road!