Introducing “The Tank”

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, July 31, 2011

After such a hectic fast moving 2 months we had already long decided that we would like a decent stop and break before setting off around the US. Fortunately, we had some very conveniently located family in the form of Gordon's aunt and uncle, Jacky and Ping, who live in Tucson, Arizona a mere 80 miles from the border with Mexico. They were even able to pick us up from the border and whisk us back to their beautiful house on the edge of the desert (complete with Saguaro cactuses by the pool).

It was fabulous to completely unpack our bags and spread our stuff around the room (and the house for that matter-sorry about that guys!) knowing that we would not be carrying it all around on our backs any more and relax in the lovely house and pool, making use of the kitchen and BBQ to practice our rusty cooking skills. Jacky and Ping had warned us that only mad dogs and Englishmen would come to Tucson in August as it’s ridiculously hot and monsoon season but to us it felt like heaven  – and some of the thunderstorms were pretty impressive.

Not being sure how long it would take to buy and sort out all the boring details for a car in Arizona we set to the very next day scouring the local dealerships and car websites for cheap cars that might last the 15-20 thousand mile journey we had in mind. We had fairly loose criteria. It had to:

1.       Be big enough to carry 4 people for some of the time in at least medium comfort

2.       Start without coughing or spluttering

3.       Have A/C (long drives in 35-40 degree heat without it didn’t bear thinking about)

4.       Be younger than us

We soon determined that even with these loose criteria the choice of cars for around $3,000-4000 in Tucson was pretty limited. You essentially could buy a pretty old and ugly sedan/estate/oldsmobile type thing or, for the same price, an even older SUV/jeep type thing.

Having decided that we weren’t going to mess about but just buy the first car that broadly met our very criteria and seemed to start and drive normally we soon made a decision. Within 24 hours of our arrival in Tucson and with the minimum of fuss (and the help of our new credit card which we don’t have to pay for 12 months) we became the proud owners of a big, slightly dented in places with a few patches of sun-bleaching, Gold 1997 Ford Explorer SUV purchased from, appropriately enough in the middle of the desert, Cactus Autos. We named it "The Tank" as, despite being maybe only just above medium sized for the US of A it was easily the largest car we had ever driven.

It was in fact, but quite bizarrely, the first car we had ever owned.  A few hours later we had registered the car with the DMV, taken (and passed) a driving test to get a US license (even parallel parking The Tank), found an insurance company foolish enough to insure us and driven it home. Fantastic, we thought. All sorted. We now have the rest of the week to chill out and maybe explore area a bit.

Then a light on the dashboard starting blinking. Uh-oh. A quick look in the manual was not promising as the solution was to “get the car serviced”. A further look on the internet indicated that usually this meant the entire transmission was gone and would need to be replaced sooner or later. Double uh-oh. Back to Cactus Autos it went. There then followed a nervous day while we waited for news. Finally, they called back to say that indeed yes, the transmission was totally screwed and would need to be replaced. Triple uh-oh.

Fortunately, although we had only been vaguely aware of it at the time of our purchase, the state of Arizona mandates something called an Implied Warranty of Purchase for used cars. This essentially means that if anything major or safety related goes wrong within 500 miles of purchase you can take the car back.  Thankfully this meant that it was up to Cactus Autos to repair the car or give us another one – if it had happened a few days later we’d have had to foot the bill! So, back to Cactus Autos it was for another trawl around their lot to look at what else they had available.  After testing out a couple of duffers (one of which broke down during the test drive) we were slightly amused to find, lurking in a corner of the sun-baked parking lot, another Gold Ford Explorer. This was, we determined after a quick check to ensure they weren’t trying to sell us the same car again, one of the 1996 vintage and was, despite being a bit more scruffy inside, almost identical to the 1997 one right down to the sun-bleaching and little dents here and there. It even had a few extras like a sunroof and electrically operated leather seats. It was also (amazingly) about $1,000 cheaper than the 1997 Tank 1. Despite being a little bit nervous after our first, rather brief, Ford Explorer ownership we were running out of time and options and decided that we would take the plunge and buy the 1996 - much to the chargrin of the guy in the dealership who not only had to send us off with another of his cars (leaving a broken one behind) but also refund us a big wadge of cash.

We named the new car, it goes without saying, the Tank 2.                                                                

Next job was then to gear up with lots of items that we really wanted but probably didn’t really need for our road trip. The hyperstore “Target” became the place of choice for this as it seemed that whatever you wanted to buy in there the price was the same: $16. Camping chairs? $16. Camping table? $16.  Little BBQ? $16. Camping plates & cutlery set? $16. 2 large driving cups? $16. American-sized coolbox? $16. Competition standard Frisbee? $16. Set of bean-bag boules for the beach? $16. $16. $16. Now, we are fully aware that we did not really need all of these things (the last 2 in particular) but... well it was fun and we were giddy with the idea of being able to buy stuff that we didn’t need to carry on our bags. And we had that evil credit card.

Somehow during the various trawling around Target and other shops for our stuff the trips to used car lots, registering cars at the DMV, spending time on the phone changing insurance details it had got to Thursday night and our time in Tucson was coming to a close. This realisation was counteracted however by the fact that we were really looking forward to welcoming our friends Debs and Isa who were coming to join us for the first couple of weeks of our epic roadtrip around the sights of Southwest USA.

Having not managed to see any of the surrounding area, the morning they were arriving we headed out for a quick trip up the nearby Mount Lemmon via some incredible cactus fields for a short hike up on the mountain where the temperature was more amenable to hiking! Having hiked for a bit and scrambled out onto an exposed rock looking out over the plane we were having a nice picnic when suddenly a massive thundercloud seemingly appeared out of nowhere behind us complete with crashing thunder and lightning. Pretty soon, the rock area next door to us was getting hit by lightning and we beat a hasty and slightly panicked retreat down the rock (these things are always easier on the way up than down) away from the storm and hurried back to the car just ahead of the rain and in time to go and get Debs and Isa from Phoenix airport.

After lovely final BBQ on the Friday night with Jacky & Ping we packed the Tank 2 to the rafters with our essential new equipment headed off on the 1st leg of our US roadtrip amid much excitement. Car hassles aside we had had an awesome week with Jacky and Ping and were really excited to start the next stage of our trip (we have our own car!) and were doubly excited to have friends with us to do it with.
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Marion on

Exciting stuff! Looking forward to hearing about your adventures with Tank 2, Debs and Isa including any new Target purchases (all entirely justifiable I am sure!). Lots of love from London. The Majous

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