A rollercoaster ride has two general components: the track, and the train that runs along the track. The train is comprised of a series of connected cars, in which the riders sit; these cars are attached to the tracks in such a way that the train can move freely without flying off-course. The track can have climbs, drops, twists, turns, loops, etc. Its initial—and typically the highest—incline is called the lift hill. A chain lift—basically a hefty, metal conveyor belt spanning the length of the lift hill—tugs the train up to the top, where it is released one hook at a time as the chain gets pulled around the gear; once the last hook is off of the underside of the train, gravity takes control and the train is at its mercy. The first descent is typically pretty steep, so as to allow the train to build up enough momentum to “coast” along the rest of the track. If the train gets enough speed, it can travel uphill unaided, thereby allowing the addition of loops and wavelike sections of track. At the very end, when the train returns to the terminal, it is brought to a stop by brakes along the track.
If my life were a rollercoaster ride, then everything up until visiting Alaska would’ve been the tug ride up the first, highest lift hill. In other words, until Alaska, I’d had some form of assistance carrying me along—first my parents, then Mountain Man, then the competition between Mountain Man and myself—but after Alaska, the chain lift started detaching from the bottom of my train. I stopped caring so much about competing with Mountain Man; my future was, for the first time in my life, tangible—I could just see the top of the drop ahead, but I wasn’t quite in freefall yet. In fact, a lot of things still had to transpire before I was fully released from the chain lift.
Upon returning from Alaska, the first order of business was to plan a visit to Montana Tech of the University of Montana. Tech and the University of Alaska were tied for top pick in my mind at the time; I’d visited Alaska and felt I could live there, now it was time to visit Montana and see if I could live there. So, on Sunday, March 27th, 2016, I purchased plane tickets to Butte, Montana. I would fly into Butte on Thursday, April 14th and fly out on Sunday, April 17th. On Monday, March 28th, I scheduled a campus visit at Montana Tech for Friday, April 15th.
The next order of business was to finish up my application for the University of Alaska and then wait for acceptance or rejection letters from both Alaska and Montana. My application to Tech had already been completed, so I just had to finish the one for the University of Alaska, which I did on Tuesday, March 29th. I received my acceptance letter from the University of Alaska on April 1st, and from Montana Tech on April 11th.
Throughout the process of planning campus visits and filing paperwork relating to my education, I was looking to buy a car. I was still learning to drive by the start of April 2016, but I had my learner’s permit and was almost ready to take the driver’s license exam, so I began, with the assistance of my father, to search for a vehicle that could withstand either Montanan or Alaskan weather conditions. We scoured the internet, ran hundreds of license plates through CARFAX, and test-drove about twenty cars, but my dad couldn’t be satisfied. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he passed up a few vehicles that would’ve worked just fine, but I think he was nervous—his oldest daughter, about to get her first vehicle; it had to be just right, I guess. To make things worse, every time he turned down a vehicle, he would drop a subtle reminder that he had a perfectly good car sitting in the driveway that he was willing to let me “use.” This was not a lie—at the time, my parents had two cars: a 2015 Subaru Outback and a 2001 Subaru Outback Limited. He kept hinting that he wanted me to take the 2001 Outback, but I was adamant that it was a bad idea—it was a standard transmission, and I had learned to drive so far on automatic transmissions only. Besides, the one and only time he tried to teach me to drive stick was using that Subaru, and I almost drove us off a cliff into the Bay. If I were being completely honest, I was terrified of that car.
I did like Subarus, though. On Monday, April 11th, I replied to a Craigslist ad about a Subaru Outback of the same generation as the one my father kept trying to pawn off on me. I showed the ad to my father, and he mumbled and grumbled about it, but agreed that I should take it for a spin. He couldn’t go with me, though, because he worked weekdays and there was no weekend between the 11th and the day I’d be leaving for Montana (the 14th), so I took public transportation to South San Francisco to see the vehicle alone on Tuesday, April 12th. It was love at first sight. The owner was an artist and he and his wife had painted octopus tentacles on the hood, upon which were soldered nuts for the illusion of suction rings. The owner said they’d nicknamed her “Cthubaru,” and sure enough, on the rear, where it should have said “Subaru,” the “S” had been painted-over with “Cth.” It was so dumb, but so dreamy, and it drove beautifully. After the test drive, I hung out with the owner and found that we had a lot in common. We smoked weed and he gave me a Tool album. It was great. I was all-in.
My father was scheduled to see the car on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 13th. The owner and I had texted almost constantly since I went to see the car, scheming, trying to figure out how to get my dad to fall in love with it as quickly as I had. But my dad never got to see the car. On the way to the owner’s house in his 2015 Subaru Outback, he was T-boned by a kid-driver. He was fine, but the rest of the day was spent dealing with the accident. My dad seemed to take the accident as a bad omen, so he told me it was a no-go on the Cthubaru. I was devastated, but no amount of pleading and reiterating that its CARFAX report was clean could sway him. And so, when I flew to Butte, Montana on Thursday, April 14th, I was still without a vehicle.