That One Time: Golfed! A Climber Car's Short, Brutal, Traumatic Life

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Illustration Volkswagon Golf Rock Climbing Car stuck high-center

In 1994, I bought the only new car I’ve ever purchased, a gray VW Golf, using a bit of inheritance money my grandfather had left me. Day one, some spiteful asshole snapped the antenna off in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, parking lot. Being a skinflint climber, I didn’t pony up the $70 to replace it. And so emerged a pattern of cheapness and neglect that defined how I treated the car.

I drove the Golf across the West, along the backwater dirt roads of New Mexico and the Colorado alpine, where its low-slung chassis slammed into potholes, ground up slabs, and scraped over rocks. At 5’6”, I could sleep diagonally in the hatchback, which I did during Rifle summers until the “Golf Cart’s” interior took on a gamey odor. I pushed the Golf way past its limits, treating the poor, little city car like a combination RV/offroad vehicle.

There were foibles; there were shenanigans. Once, in August 1995, in the sweltering salt flats near Ibex, Utah, crossing the country with an Italian girlfriend, Chiara, who’d fallen asleep in the passenger seat after an all-night drive, I made the impromptu decision to go “mudding” on a dry lakebed beside the highway. The car bogged down after 20 feet in a puddle, sloshing to a stop. Chiara woke up, stared out at all that great, white nothingness, and said, “You eeedeeeyot.” In 1999, at Hueco Pete’s at Hueco Tanks, Texas, during a DIY tire rotation in the parking lot, I “forgot” to put cinderblocks under the front axle on the driver side as I moved the wheels around. When I removed the rear wheel on that same side, the car promptly levered into the dirt. As my friend Jonathan stood by and laughed uproariously, I used an ice axe to excavate a trench for the jack—problem solved!

You’d think I’d have learned to take better care of the Golf, but I never did. And so, in 2001 back at Ibex while pebble-wrestling at the Red Monster boulder with my friend Josh, I got the Golf stuck again, this time backing onto then high-centering on a lone, coffee-table-sized rock at the edge of the vast lakebed. Fortunately, another climber soon came along. “Boy, you pad people sure are stupid,” he said, hooking a cable from his Jeep to the Golf. “This wasn’t even the first time I’ve had to pull one of you out of here .…”

Flash-forward to 2006. By then the Golf had so many dings, rust spots, crumpled panels, and windshield cracks that cops tailed me whenever I was within 500 miles of an elementary school. After hundreds of stanky bivvies and 160K punishing climber miles, my Golf had become a hoopty. I sold it as-is to a mechanic in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, who needed a cheap family car. The price? $300—or roughly the cost of four brand-new antennas.

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