I’ve heard it all my life, felt it pulling at me from the dark and lonely places behind my ribs. It’s there when my mind goes quiet a second, when the distractions and noises I’ve painted all around me bed down. There, in the last long minutes before dusk gives up the dance floor, when the stereo lulls and there’s nothing in the air but the soft smell of her hair from the passenger seat and the spice of roadside eucalyptus. It wells up, that old echo. Run. Run. Run.
It’s gotten louder. Maybe it’s turning 30, finally accepting the quiet truth that there are a finite number of hours in my life, and knowing I’ve squandered so many. Maybe it’s having a daughter, watching her grow and learn and assemble the universe around her, deep brown eyes carnivorous for everything new and exciting. And me never wanting to miss a second of it, but having to anyhow; knowing for certain where I want to be and how I want to spend my time, and being a continent away for no reason beyond needing a paycheck. Working constantly to feed the pretty little American Dream I built, trading time for cars and motorcycles and appliances and a green half-acre.
If the things I own are what keep me away from my family, bolted to a desk, I’ll burn them all.
Last month, I quit a fine-paying job at a major automotive magazine to sell everything and convert our 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 into a long-term camper. The truck has nearly 300,000 miles on the clock. I spend my time oscillating between terror and excitement, overwhelmed by the staggering number of questions ahead of us. Where will we go? How long can we stay in the wilderness? Is this the worst decision I’ve ever made?
If feels like falling. I expect to wake up any day now.
We’re committed. Two months ago, I was the proud owner of a tidy stable of eccentricity: a KTM 950 Adventure, a third-gen Miata, a Fiesta ST, a bastard Fox Body Mustang, and the old Dodge. Each machine had its own story. Each was a thing I had worked and scraped and saved for, sweated over and wrenched on. Each key on my ring a source of pride. The bike went first, sold to a friend of a friend so quickly I didn’t have time to wash it. It was a machine I’d wanted for nearly 10 years, a thing that had pushed me past my riding ability, made me sharper and more patient than before. It was, in many ways, the perfect motorcycle—a big, stupid V-twin engine and enough suspension travel to plow over trees and sidewalks. My daughter burst into tears as the new owner rode it out of the driveway. It stung, but not nearly as much as I thought it might.
All the things that could go wrong with an ancient, high-mileage Austrian motorcycle were no longer my concern. It’s a weight, carrying the “maybes” around, those mental fuel pumps and water pumps, the timing chain tensioners and the slave cylinders, the inexhaustible list of services required to keep Europe’s unique brand of mechanical entropy at bay.
The Miata was harder. Maybe the only great car I’ve ever owned, it helped pull my wife and I closer when we needed it most. After 50,000 miles, it never required anything beyond basic maintenance. What work I did, I did out of guilt and habit. I cleaned it and posted it for sale, then covered it with a sheet in the garage in an attempt to forget what I was doing. It sold on the last gorgeous day of the year, the blue November sky a perfect reminder of why convertibles still exist. Watching it leave the driveway might as well have been an interpretive dance titled, “Regret.”
It’s just a thing, I say. Part of me means it. The other part is glad to have the cash. It’s a wide gulley between paychecks, and the Dodge needs surgery before it’s ready to huck us around the country. A steering box. Injectors. All the other bits and pieces that wear and vanish over the course of 300,000 miles.
The Fiesta ST is the last big hurdle. When we found out Beth was pregnant last year, none of the five vehicles we owned could seat more than two people. We needed something more practical—or at least legal— to bring a kid home from the hospital. We drove silver Accords and a beige Volkswagen, then bought a Slimer-green Ford instead, shirking figures like cargo capacity and rear legroom for something with a pulse. The Miata had taught us how to travel by car, how to be honest with ourselves and take only what we need. The ST was an easy transition, even with a burbling redheaded girl and her galaxy of necessaries in tow. It has been the perfect family car, and now we’re selling it.
When I am honest, I know I’m materialistic. I have loved machines all my life. As gorgeous and loud things, as escapes from shit jobs and a long procession of family implosions. As ordered systems in an orderless world and the only language spoken by the patriarchs in my family, the consonants of carburation and the vowels of open headers. As the last socially acceptable way to bat my eyelashes at death. I can’t tell if selling the one’s I’ve chosen and loved is a betrayal or a gift. Either way, it’s paving our path forward.