Suby Tales


Once again, Outside Bozeman and southwest Montana drivers have teamed up to celebrate this most prized of Asian autos, the stalwart Subaru. Within the following pages are some of Montana’s most engaging Suby tales, as told by the proud pilots and passengers who rightly regard the Subaru as one of the finest—if not the finest—vehicles ever made.

This year’s tales span the spectrum, from impressive four-wheelin’ feats, to road-trip romance, to odes on Subarus’ famed Methuselean longevity. We also saw several common themes this time around—two tales involved herding cattle with a Subaru, three related unwelcome wildlife habitations, and four dealt with Subarus stuck in mud, snow, and water. And of course, there were the road trips. From Denver to Death Valley, Utah to the Oregon coast, Montana Subys roamed far and wide. Some tales involved mishaps and near-death experiences, while others paid tribute to Subarus’ famous reliability.

Other stories were just plain wacky: a Suby submerged in the Pacific Ocean, a monkey riding shotgun down California’s Redwood Highway, a desert rat holed up inside a Suby and refusing to leave. Oftentimes, the Subys’ names are as colorful as the adventures they provide: Blue Streak, Lola, Sue Bea, Sporty Spice, Mighty Mouse.

This round also introduces a small but vocal minority of big-truck-drivin’ Subaru haters. See page 38 for an amusing anti-Suby rant.

And so without further adieu, we give you the results of Montana Suby Tales 2007—last year’s best stories of high adventure, calamitous mishaps, car-bound camaraderie, and other notable experiences while driving this quintessential Montana vehicle. Enjoy.

Note: The stories published in this issue are only a sampling of all the Suby Tales we received. To read more tales, visit; also look for another round of tales in the Summer 2008 issue. Got a tale of your own? Send it to [email protected]

Suby Tale Rankings
Best Overall Tale
First Place: Blue Streak, Wendy Bianchini
Hon. Mention: Movie Car, Marjorie Smith

Funniest Tale
First Place: Rancher Suby, Page Dabney
Hon. Mention: Mighty Mouse, Jennie Birdsall

Best-Written Tale
First Place: Many Miles, Rick Bass
Hon. Mention: Redwoods, Melynda Harrison

Best Wreck/Stuck & Stranded
First Place: Scuba Driver, Julie Hanen
Hon. Mention: Suby Wreck, Kara Kuipers

Living In It
First Place: Stella, Liz Allen
Hon. Mention: Sue Bea, Sacha Charny

First Place: Suby 360, Daniel Kostelnik
Hon. Mention: Lola Sick Suby, Katie’s Sister

Cowboy Up
First Place: 16-Mile Creek, Ray Sikorski
Hon. Mention: Roundup, Lissa Barber

First Place: MacGyver, Tom Pick
Hon. Mention: Flathead Pass, Dan Carter

Road Trips
First Place: Road Trip, Brian Colleran
Hon. Mention: Wyoming, Paul Reichert

Best Hate Mail
First Place: I Hate Subarus, Clay Workman
Hon. Mention: Anti-Suby, Jason Wilcox

Best Artwork/Illustration
First Place: Road Trip, Katie Goodall
Hon. Mention: Mighty Mouse, Norma Irish

Suby Romance:
First Place: Sporty Spice, Brianna Randall
Hon. Mention: Wingman, Chris Lawrence

Best Photo
First Place: Pipeline Suby, Mike Haring
Hon. Mention: Suby Campers, Isaac Lee

The Rancher Suby

In the 1980s I lived next door to a ranch near Gallatin Gateway. George, the classic old cowboy rancher, used to let my wife and me ride our horses on his ranch.

One fall day we were riding through a beautiful part of the ranch: hay meadows dotted with aspen groves. Suddenly we heard a faint but growing sound we couldn't identify. Our horses started getting spooky, so we pulled up into some aspens. As the noise grew louder we realized it was a stampeding herd of cattle.

Suddenly the cows burst through a gap in the trees—maybe 50 Black Angus. Behind them, honking wildly, was a vintage '70s Suby wagon. As it passed us, it got momentarily airborne over a small irrigation ditch. The car had no windshield and there was an irrigating shovel tied to the roof rack with baling twine. Through the vacant windshield hole George gave us the two-finger rancher wave, an unfiltered Camel with a one-inch ash dangling miraculously from his lip under his greasy cowboy hat. He disappeared in a cloud of dust, still honking, with the cows bawling away into the distance. Now that's usin' a vehicle Montana-style.

-Page Dabney

My Suby’s Mouse Tale

“Mine is a long and sad tale!” said the Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing. “It is a long tail, certainly,” said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; “but why do you call it sad?” —from The Mouse’s Tale by Lewis Carroll

My Wild Woman friend, Kathleen, and I eagerly embarked on a spring adventure, vacating Bozeman in search of sun and skin (our own). This year’s destination: backpacking in Grand Gulch, Utah. Transport: my brand-new-to-me, used 1991 Subaru Legacy Wagon stuffed full of dogs and gear on its christening cruise. The nicest car I had and have ever owned. Still!

We got a fine start, cruising in my cushy car, belting out “waily-women” songs, all the way to Monticello, where we bought backcountry maps and left the pavement behind. Due to wet weather, we were warned that leaving the main road was ill-advised unless we wanted to wait until the dry season to reclaim our vehicle from the gumbo. Nonplussed, as good adventurers must be, We traveled onward and managed to find the perfect camping spot, complete with a reasonably dry pullout. With such luck, all was bound to go well for us!

I woke with the sun and noticed that the car door was open. In deference to my inner-city upbringing, I thought we had been robbed and was delighted to notice nothing amiss. At least until I opened the glovebox to return my flashlight. Was that a tail I saw disappearing into my dashboard? And a tail on what? It was huge! What kind of giant desert rodents live out here? With the vision of rodent baking inside my car, I thought of the Click and Clack radio program I had heard where someone thought an animal had died behind their dashboard and both Click and Clack agreed that the only thing to be done was to sell the car. No way! Surely this couldn’t be true! Only my shredded owner’s manual, reformed as a glovebox rodent residence, convinced me this was really happening.

Embarrassingly, I placed the fate of my Subaru before my Wild Woman friend and was less than cheery with her, even when she calmly proclaimed that we would simply drive to the visitor’s center and borrow some mousetraps, which would undoubtedly solve our dilemma. Sure, like a mousetrap was going to catch the MONDO RODENT I had in my Subaru! To top it off, it turned out that the visitor center didn’t have mousetraps. Apparently, this was a “feel good” kind of operation that did not believe in killing wildlife. Well neither did I—until it set up residence in my Subaru!

Our next choice was to either head to Natural Bridges, hoping there was at least one bloodthirsty rodent-killer on their staff, or turn around and drive the 100 miles of gumbo back to the nearest store where a killing device could easily be procured without even a background check. Kathleen voted for Natural Bridges since returning to civilization would consume so much time that further travels would have to be nixed.

As luck had it, Natural Bridges was considerably less PETA-oriented and supplied us not only with two mousetraps but a detailed protocol on mice-trapping. Who would have known that there are salt-loving and sugar-loving mice and that it was best to bait one trap with peanut butter and one with a Kraft caramel? After setting the traps, there was nothing to be done but go on our backpack, thus allowing our intruder lots of quiet time to come out and feast.

I can’t say that it was my most peaceful pack trip or that I didn’t run those last few yards back to my car. I had high hopes that the caramel was indeed the irresistible bait, but found only a sprung trap and no mouse. Oh no! Only one hope left. But the other mousetrap was gone. Vanished! I had visions of having a now for-sure dead animal in my dashboard, complete with attached trap. How could I sell my wonderful Subaru, especially without disclosing this information?

To avoid confronting this moral dilemma, I started searching for evidence of what had happened. I finally found the trap underneath the driver’s seat. The mouse had gotten caught in the trap by the nail of a single toe and had dragged itself under the seat, where it presumably died of starvation. It was a terrible vision and, like Alice, I tried to empathize with it being a long and sad tail and not just celebrate that I got to keep my Subaru.

My Subaru is grey and, in honor of its first great adventure, it’s nicknamed Might Mouse.

-Jennie Birdsall

The Blue Streak

I needed a new vehicle. I desperately wanted to make a huge change in my lifestyle, and a new ride was integral in this endeavor. My impulsive first choice, a brand-new Geo Tracker complete with high monthly payment and low value retention (and that was really embarrassing to drive), was not the right car for this transition.

So, thanks to some really good advice from the other dirtbag raft guides I was working with that summer in the Sierra foothills of California, I started looking through the newspaper for a used Subaru. I had no idea what I was looking for, but serendipitously, I’m convinced, I ended up meeting a guy who was trying to get rid of a 1986 Subaru.

The story was almost too good to be true. He was a mechanic and had supposedly bought the car off a little old lady who took meticulous care of the car and drove it very little. I wasn’t supposed to fall for stories like these, and I had already made one really stupid car decision that year! But It had low miles, the price was right, and it was a cool shade of blue. I was able to unload the Tracker and the car payments on my mom and was ecstatic as I drove away from the gas station where I took ownership of my new car. I immediately thought, "This is it. This is exactly the car I need."

I discovered that this type of Subaru doesn’t really have a good name or way to describe it. It wasn’t a station wagon; it wasn’t a sedan. When I looked it up Subaru described it as the "GL 2-door hatchback." A bit of a cumbersome name for such a little car. So when I pulled up to the guide house, one of the old-timers and my main Subaru adviser immediately said, "Oh, it’s a Blue Streak." A much more fitting name.

From that point on, my life went in a completely different direction from the suburban Californian lifestyle in which I had grown up. That summer I spent on the river, living out of the Blue Streak, and at the end of the season I followed the river rats on their migratory trek to ski towns around the Rockies. Over the next four years, I learned how to drive on snowy roads and through blizzards, got stuck in ditches, beat myself up trying to figure out how to ski, navigated whitewater, and explored mountain-bike trails around the West. I also fell in love, got my heart stomped on, and learned how to tie a mean trucker’s hitch. And during all this the Blue Streak was my most trusty companion, almost unfailingly getting me where I needed to go, securing all of my belongings in the world, and giving me shelter to sleep.

In 1999 the Blue Streak took me to Bozeman for graduate school in counseling. We got in trouble once for driving a client who was having a panic attack and couldn't breathe to the emergency room. This was a big liability issue for the university, I was told. They said, "What if your car had broken down while you were in route and the client had died?" Apparently they were not familiar with the steadfast and utterly loyal Blue Streak.

Eventually I graduated, not just from school, but I suppose from the dirtbag world as well, and it was time to grow up. Part of the new transition was to finally buy a new car. The Streak wasn’t as reliable as it used to be and didn’t quite have the professional look that I was told I needed to establish. I was torn about getting rid of my beloved car, but my roommate’s boyfriend told me that he would love to buy the car. I was excited that the Streak would still be in my life.

Over the years, I heard about the Blue Streak being passed between friends, the time it almost ended its days on the road forever, and its miraculous resurrection. I lost track of it for a few years, and then I got a call from a friend one day telling me there had been a Blue Streak sighting on Beall. I checked it out and saw my beloved car parked on the street, with a brand-new white racer stripe painted down the front. At first I had to do a double-take to make sure it was the same car. But as soon as I saw the distinct dent on the driver’s side door from the first storm of that first winter in Utah all those years ago, I knew the Blue Streak was still alive and well.

Recently I saw it parked around the corner from my house, filled with what looked like everything someone owned. The car didn’t move for a few weeks. I imagined that the current owner was off on some international trek, continuing to live the life of adventure. I felt a surge of pride knowing that the Blue Streak could continue to provide transportation, or at least storage, for one more dirtbag.

-Wendy Bianchini

Subaru Bashing

I hate Subarus. If I am behind a slow car, it’s a Subaru. What is it, are all the bumper stickers too heavy? I don’t even like capitalizing the word "Subaru." Even though I don’t have a Subaru tale, I think I know what your winning entry will be like. It will go something like this:

I once got my Subaru up to 45 miles per hour; I almost fainted. We got to the ski area by noon (which was a new personal best) without getting shot by all the people who drive normally but who we wouldn’t pull over for. We parked crooked.

-Clay Workman

The Greatest Show on (Very Muddy) Earth

It was March 1993, and the weather had been getting into the 70s. An early spring! At least that’s what it looked like to this freshly transplanted New Yorker. Me and my nifty 1990 Loyale wagon eyed what looked to be a scenic backroad loop: north from Belgrade along Dry Creek Road, then Sixteenmile Creek Road east to Ringling, and then south on Highway 89. Not even a patch of snow was visible along Dry Creek Road; it looked like it would be smooth sailing all the way.

But looks can be deceiving. After Maudlow, the road became narrower… and muddier. Gaining elevation, traveling became slick, then sloppy. No problem for the Suby’s four-wheel drive, of course—slathering through the muck was nothing but fun.

But then, gumbo. The more the wheels turned, the more mud got picked up—the tires had mud instead of traction. I dropped the Suby’s automatic transmission down to low 2, and then low 1. I considered turning around. But the road couldn’t get any worse, could it?

Yes, it could. I was swerving left and right, flooring the gas pedal in a desperate attempt to maintain momentum. Finally, I left the road—drove it right off the side, onto the unfenced pasture. Cows looked on curiously. Surprisingly, this worked very well. The road was crap, but the side of the road was not bad. Not good, mind you, but the little car found enough purchase to roll onward.

Finally, the road began to descend. Ringling would be mine! But not quite yet—inexplicably, a massive snow berm completely blocked the road.

I knew what I had to do. Full speed ahead! It would be like the Dukes of Hazzard, except with snow. In a Subaru. Yee-haa!

With the full forward thrust of its petite four-cylinder engine, I powered the Suby straight up the berm. Alas, it was not to be. The Suby did not become airborne; it got high-centered midway through. I was stuck, and good.

How far was it to Ringling—four miles? I had no jacket, no water, no food. I said goodbye to the Suby and headed out on foot.

I didn’t see a soul the whole way, but I knew where to go: the bar. Walking in, I shamefully confessed my fate to the crowd of ranchers. The cheerful response: “You’re the third one this weekend!”

Apparently, Sixteenmile Creek Road has high entertainment value for Ringlingers. They told me to use the payphone outside to call a tow truck in Livingston. How much would that cost? Dejectedly, I went outside and picked up the phone. It was dead. Was this part of the fun?

I went back in. One old rancher said, “Well, I can give you a pull, if you give me a hand taking in my cows first.”

Sure, why not? He probably just wanted me to hold the fence open or something. Getting out of his truck, he pointed to two four-wheelers and said, “The right hand’s the gas, the left hand’s the brake.” He fired one of them up, and, taking off, yelled, “Don’t mind the one’s that’re calving, I’ll get those later!”

He was kidding, right? I climbed onto the seat, switched the key, and turned the right handlebar grip. It roared to life. I took off after the cows.

How does one herd cows, anyway? Watching the man, it seemed like you just head straight for them and yell a lot. I wasn’t much of a yeller, but I was OK at running straight at them. They generally moved, although rarely in the right direction. And how was I supposed to know which ones were calving? It would be nice if they had a big “C” painted on their side or something.

Eventually, the man took pity on me and called it good. We drove to where my Suby was waiting for us at the snow berm—which, I learned, was the barrier so that no one from the Ringling side would be foolish enough to drive on the road. No such luck on the Maudlow side, but then, what else would Ringlingers do for fun this time of year? The Superduty diesel made short work of it, plucking the Suby off the snow like popping the head off a dandelion.

It was smooth sailing from there on out. The Suby was covered in thick clumps of mud, but it was no worse for wear. Me, on the other hand… well, I’d had a good walk. I learned how to drive a four-wheeler, and how to herd cattle. I learned my car kicks ass in mud.

But most of all, now I know where to hang out in March when I’m looking to make fun of some Flatlanders.

-Ray Sikorski

They’re Gonna Make a Big Star Out of Me

Last summer, I signed up to be an extra on a movie being filmed for HBO in our area—just because it was something I'd never done before and it sounded fun. (It was.) We were asked to describe our cars if they were also available to be in the movie and to my amazement, the director fell in love with mine. "What does he like about it?" I asked the woman from Big Timber who was negotiating use of the car. "The crack in the windshield or the Polka for Peace bumper sticker?"

"He loves the color," she said. My Suby is a Legacy station wagon, pale green, and it is the most common car in the Gallatin Valley as I am vividly reminded every time I can't find it at the mall. The car coordinator said, "Ross is from New York. He likes it." My station wagon ended up playing a role designated "the sedan" in the script, but what the heck, the director is from New York.

However, they wanted to use my car for longer than I could let it go since I intended to jump in it after I finished my assignments in various crowd scenes and drive to extreme western Washington where I was to be a bridesmaid in my childhood friend's wedding. This was not a problem for the filmmakers. They rented a car for me to use for a week and I had a great time, putting 1,700 miles on someone else's sporty black Malibu while my car—wearing its own license plate which says YOKOI to everyone's puzzlement—did whatever it did in the movie.

All I know is it only went about 250 miles, earned $100 for four days' work, and came back to me with a full tank of gas. As to what else it was up to, I'll have to wait until April when Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon, is set to air. And yes, if you are a devotee of the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," you can plug in my name or my car (it's generally known as the Yokoi-mobile) and really stump your opponents, since our invaluable participation in this project has yet to be listed on the Internet Movie Database.

-Marjorie Smith

The Scuba Driver

It was 10 pm and we were beginning to relax for the evening. We’d been working on an archeology project in Astoria, Oregon for nearly three weeks without a break. Each day we scraped dirt in search of the original foundation of the fort that Lewis and Clark built to spend the winter of 1805-06 in.

Our group had a camp set up about a mile from the beach. Adam, Jen, two dogs, and I slept in a large tent and drove to and from the archaeology site in our “trusty steed,” a 1988 Subaru wagon. That car would go anywhere.

One night Adam had this great idea (in his eyes) to rally the Suby on the beach. Jen and I were less than enthused, but finally gave in to his persistence. We loaded up the car and headed for a nearby beach access where we could drive out onto the sand. I was behind the wheel, Adam sat in the passenger seat, and Jen was in back with the dogs.

As we cruised through the darkness, waves crashed along the shore and fog crept in, reducing visibility by the minute. I followed some tracks in the sand of a car that took this route earlier. “Go faster! Go faster!” Adam taunted.

Suddenly, we were hydroplaning across a skiff of water. I wondered how water could possibly be underneath us as I had been diligently paying attention to our direction. As we came to a stop, my winter snow-driving techniques kicked in and I went from first gear to reverse and then first gear to reverse, as if we were stuck in the snow. Glug glug, glug glug… our car began to sink. I hit the buttons to roll the windows down and just in time—seconds later the engine took in salt water and stalled. There was no other option than to climb to the roof of the car with the dogs.

On the roof, I pondered our predicament. If we’d been traveling south, waves on the right, sand on the left, how could water have appeared in front of us? I focused my eyes; we were about 25 feet from the beach. The car continued sinking. “Go!” Adam yelled.

We jumped off and swam to shore, surrounded by cold Pacific water and bright, sparkling, phosphorescent algae. Once on shore, we focused our eyes on the car and could see, just barely, the roof still perched out of the water.

A wave crashed at our feet. Suddenly realizing that high tide was coming and the ocean would have the car, we took off running toward camp.

After a mile of adrenaline-induced sprinting, we flagged down an approaching car. Inside was a woman in her fifties with long, graying hair. We frantically explained our situation and asked if she would take us to our camp. She took one look at our dogs and shook her head, nodding toward the back of the car where five cats squirmed about. It took a few minutes but we finally convinced her to let us sit on the trunk of her little sedan. We grabbed the dogs and hopped on, trying to hold on and not scratch the paint at the same time.

After a few minutes, we hopped off the little Honda and ran the last half-mile to camp. There was something strangely funny about standing outside our boss Mark’s trailer, huffing and puffing, while Jen ran inside saying, “The car is in the ocean, you have to come now!”

We piled into the truck and drove out toward the site in complete silence. Eventually we found where our prints disappeared into the water. Focusing our eyes through the darkness and fog, we could barely make out the submerged Suby’s roof. Every few moments a wave would curl over top of it. It just sat there, bobbing ever so slightly in the sea.

Mark took one look at the car and decided to go get a tow truck. He grabbed Adam and took off, leaving Jen and me to mark the site. Suddenly, I looked at Jen and asked, “Were the cameras still in the back?”

We stripped down to our skivvies and swam out to the car. Inside we found floating coffee cups, a Frisbee, and an unopened beer… and it was cold! Relieved that the cameras were not present, obviously removed earlier in the day, we grabbed the beer and headed back to shore.

Cracking open the cold brew we started to get the giggles. How many people get the chance to sit in the sand in the middle of the night, in the fog, sipping a cold one and staring at a Suby sunk in the ocean?

An hour later we saw headlights off in the distance and in another hour the car was hooked up to the tow truck and pulled out of the water. By then we were freezing and ready for our sleeping bags, the adrenaline having long since worn off. We dropped the car in the parking lot and headed for bed. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow”, was all that Mark said.

Wincing, we went to sleep, assuming we’d be fired the next day. To our surprise, we awoke to a quite chipper boss. After breakfast and some organizing around camp, Mark came to inform us we were all going to the beach.

As we approached the location of the accident, we saw a massive sandbar running parallel to the beach. It was like a huge peninsula, three car lengths wide and about 100 yards long. Suddenly it all made sense. We’d been following the low-tide sand and had drifted out on to the sandbar without realizing it. The end of the sandbar was where we ran out of beach and sank the Suby.

Adam, Jen and I stood there in disbelief, yet relieved to have solved the mystery. Mark disappeared but came back a few minutes later, handing us each a beer with a big smile on his face. He smiled, raised his beer, and said, “Here’s to life-learning experiences, eh!”

*Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

-Julie Hanen