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I Drove Edward Abbey's Truck
By Amy Brunwand and Gail Hoskisson

"How to Avoid Pleurisy: 
Never make love to a girl named Candy on the tailgate of a half-ton Ford pickup during a chill rain in April out on Grandview Point in San Juan County, Utah." 
--Edward Abbey

The auction of 4700-DN

Ed with truck. Copyright Jack Dykinga.

Ed with truck. Copyright Jack Dykinga.
Classic photographs
of Ed with his truck.
Copyright Jack Dykinga.

"I have come for two reasons. To get drunk and buy a truck." Gail told a news reporter as she walked into the upscale Metropolitan Restaurant in Salt Lake City Utah on the evening of August 18, 1998. The truck in question was a battered and rusty 1973 blue Ford F-100 with a bluebook value of $500. The reason Gail wanted it was that it once belonged to Edward Abbey, author of "Desert Solitaire", anarchist defender of wilderness. Ed’s widow Clarke Cartwright Abbey had attached a red silk carnation boutonniere to the hood and then laid the rest of the bouquet inside the jockey box before she donated the truck to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) to be the main attraction in a silent auction to raise money for the protection of Ed’s beloved redrock desert.

Gail, who works as a medical technician and is by no means a millionaire, found herself bidding against several people who are millionaires. She was planning to bid up to $6000 of her own money and had the promise of $2000 more from Edward Abbey fans on the Abbeyweb Internet Listserv.

"It was my once in a lifetime chance to be as generous as the millionaires for a cause I really believe in." Said Gail. This is how she explains what happened next:

"When I put $9525 down on that bid sheet my dear husband Wayne leaned over and said "Gail, we could buy a new Ford Ranger and beat the shit out of it ourselves." I looked him straight in the eye and asked "then why haven't we done that?" He just laughed and said "You're right." Then he went and got me a fresh glass of wine."

As the bids soared higher, she noticed the wife of one of the millionaires pulling on her husband’s sleeve and pleading:

"Stop. I could go to the store and buy that truck for $500. That truck isn't worth $25,000. Even Jackie O's truck wouldn't be worth $25,000."

Jackie O???? Gail’s evil twin took over and once again she upped her bid.

At the end of the evening, with Katie Lee singing conservation songs in the background, Gail who was by now pleasantly tipsy yet still elegant in her little black dress and girl shoes, posed for the news cameras leaning on the hood of her new truck. Mission accomplished. The final bid: $26,500.

"So strange." Gail described the experience.

" I'm driving Ed Abbey's truck through downtown Salt Lake City. There's 48 cents in change sitting in the ashtray. Forty-eight cents that probably fell out of his pocket. This is like make believe. This is Ed's truck. I'm driving it, unlicenced, unregistered and uninsured the twenty-one blocks towards my little house up on the east bench. I’m trying to find that switch on the floor to light the high beams when I see the dry lightning begin. Great huge flashes of light and electrons going every which way in the night sky. Shivers. All over, full body shivers. Ed, you are a legend. We'll do our small part to add just a little footnote to it."

A few weeks later I walked into the SUWA office for my usual volunteer night and there's Gail holding out a set of keys.

"Got your driver's licence with you"? she said "Start it in second".
VROOOOOOM VROOOOOOM <clunk!> vroom? vroom? vroom?
VROOOOOOOOM Screeeeeeeeeeeeeech.
Wheeeeeee! he he he he he he he he he he he he he he :-)

Buy Ed's truck --  support SUWA
I've been to visit The Truck, relic of Edward Abbey, patron saint of the redrock desert. Truly, it possesses the power of it's former owner and blessed are those who understand its message. It's a work of art, a physical expression in the spirit of Ed Abbey's words. What better representation of spiritual disconnection from the world of Nature than the automobile? What better symbol of spineless surrender to consumer culture? What better illustration of the power of the pork barrel to sway ideological commitment? Yet this same symbol has been sculpted and re-made by our hero into a mockery of a standard consumerist automobile. It is completely stripped of any envy inspiring glamor, guaranteed to renege on the promise of effortless convenient transport by breaking down at unpredictable times, obviously unsuited to speedy freeway driving, and subtly decorated with a delicate red carnation hood ornament that echos the famous image of a flower in the barrel of a gun. In the same way that low riders' absurd car modifications are an artful culture-jamming of middle class-suburban-open-road automobile worship, Ed Abbey's FordTM truck sculpture culture-jams the notion that automobile culture deserves or has ever deserved priority over natural values. It mocks every false hope embodied in automobile dreams, and at the same time, it demonstrates the unavoidable connection to Nature which inevitably underlies even the most artificial and dehumanizing of human inventions. Ashes to ashes, rust to rust.

Voyage of EDSRIDE, November 1998.

Salt Lake City, UT. It takes about 28 hours in airports and airplanes to get from Kathmandu to Salt Lake City, and I was barely back in Salt Lake even that long before Wayne threw my stuff into the back of EDSRIDE (imprinted on the Delicate Arch edition of the Utah licence plate, naturally) and our little caravan took off southbound on I-15. Destination: Abbeyfest II, Death Valley. A gathering of subscribers to the Abbeyweb Internet newsgroup, our imaginary best friends.

Salina,UT. We found Bill Viavant’s distinctive yelloworange truck parked behind Mom’s Café, and Bill himself inside eating a stuffed pork chop and scones with honey butter. Thus armed with a support vehicle capable of towing EDSRIDE, we confidently launched into the sagebrush ocean.

Mesquite, NV. "Nevada’s fastest growing community", said the sign, though it would probably be nicer there with more mesquite growing and fewer strip malls and "Adult Golf Subdivisions". EDSRIDE had not appeared in nearly an hour and we were imagining worst case disaster scenarios, so it was with some relief that we finally saw it’s crumpled front end coming down the road. Gail explained that the gas pedal had fallen off.

"Can you fix it?" she had asked Eric, the mechanic at the gas station.

A little bailing wire did the trick. Since Eric was a beer drinking man as well as a competent mechanic, Gail had tried to persuade him to take a Death Valley vacation. He remained unconvinced.

Swamp Boy

Photo: Christer Lindh

Las Vegas, NV. I was jet lagged into a state of space/time discontinuity that would make Hunter S. Thompson proud. Chuck the swampboy from Georgia had been pushing a luggage cart with an "AbbeyfestII or Bust!" placard around the ‘Vegas airport for nearly three hours ever since we called from Mesquite to page "Abbeyfest Chuck". We finally located him and each other at the Southwest AirlinesTM counter. It was approaching midnight, but Peggy said there was a faux slot canyon in a gift shop at the Luxor casino, and we felt the need to go hike in it. Once inside we were instantly lost. Nobody had remembered to bring a GPS or compass, not even a topo map. The nickel slots were singing a siren song of free drinks and money for nothing. Finally we found a janitor who said the slot canyon was removed a few years ago and replaced with a buffet. Defeated, we decided to find a camping spot for the night. The casino itself seemed like an unlikely campsite, so we headed on down the excessively electrified strip, past fake New York, faux Paris and falsa Venezia and out into the desert.

Indian Springs, NV. I was hoping to camp at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site for old time’s sake. Last time I was there, there were thousands of tents, and protesters in tie dyed shirts and flowered sun dresses, and we painted handprints on butcher paper to hang on the barbed wire fence, and I was in love with a tall thin dark-haired man whose memory still makes my heart ache. But one look at Gail’s face and it was obvious that this evening we were going no further than the motel in front of us. Bill and I camped out back in Old Yeller next to the idling semi-trucks. In the morning I found Bill in the casino breakfasting on the steak & eggs special ($3.45) and a bloody mary.

"I’ll have what he’s having" I said.

One by one the other sleepers crawled out of bed to the casino and all concurred with Bill’s menu choice, except for Wayne & Gail’s temperate, vegetarian daughter.

Beatty, NV. We had parked Old Blue at the general store so Gail could pick up yet another 5th of Cutty Sark(TM) when a shiny SUV with Nevada plates, but a driver with teeth too good to be from Nevada pulled up beside us.

"Joe Cox! I thought you were a middle-aged lawyer guy in a suit" said the always tactful Gail to the fresh faced young man coming towards us. He had spied the EDSRIDE plate and recognized us, despite that he only knew us by e-mail.

Panamint Springs, CA. Who was going to drive the truck into Wildrose campground to meet the group? Properly it should have been Gail driving "Gail’s Folly" to triumph, but she was tired of wrestling with the duct tape covered steering wheel. Joe was still traumatized from riding those mushy brakes down a 9% grade. Maybe it should be swampboy Chuck who hadn’t driven EDSRIDE yet? Chuck took a bottle of CoronaTM and spun it in the center of the group. It pointed straight at me, so I got the honors.

Wildrose campground & Abbeyfest II. You had to be there.

Zabriski Point, CA. "Have you ever heard of Edward Abbey?" Steve asked the other tourists, hoping to brag about driving around Death Valley in Old Blue.

"Yes" replied the self righteous old lady tourist "but I’d rather talk about that Darwin fish on your truck."

Stovepipe Wells, CA. By coincidence, all three Abbeyfest hiking groups converged at the gas station at the same time. Brian, who as still on his extra-high-cal bicycle fuel diet after a month in Mexico, went inside to buy yet another 1000 calories worth of Dove BarsTM and Chocolate Covered Cherry Bombs and emerged with an LA Times announcing the resignation of the evil Newt Gingrich. Polyester clad RV drivers stared disapprovingly as Gail danced a jig right there among the gas pumps.

Death Valley, CA. 

Photo: Christer Lindh

Steve lead the last hike of Abbeyfest to the sand dunes. Our Abbey inspired goal—climb to the top of the tallest dune and fling ourselves off. Enjoying the clear light and good company, we trudged along the crests of sand to the top. Steve was the first to fling himself, tumbling and somersaulting to the base of the dune. Joe rolled so vigorously he was overcome by vertigo. Chuck canonballed. Christer and Tim the Scandinavians demonstrated elegant telemark turns. Brian slid gingerly on both feet. Gail and Peggy ran, flinging their arms until Peggy tripped and tumbled into three nicely executed rolls at the bottom. Wayne swam down on his belly. With sand in our noses, our hair, our belly buttons, we hiked back to the cars and followed our fearless leader who said he knew of a good, though technically illegal, campsite. There was a glorious sunset and then it was dark. After a while, the lead car executed a perfect U-turn and we tailed along. Another U-turn.

"He’s lost".

Yet another U-turn.

"Let’s just turn off the engine and wait. They’ll be back" Said Dave.

The campsite was eventually located and was indeed good. In the morning, the park cops came and ran us off, but it only spared us the sentimentality of having to say goodbye after another perfect evening of too much scotch whiskey by the campfire.

Going north on I-15. "This is a great truck" said Wayne.

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