Perhaps it was during a relentless rainstorm at Mount Rainier National Park while sitting in the backseat of my Subaru Outback with my son, when he was 4 months old, when I first realized my grateful attachment. Or maybe it started years before, when that same car carried my husband and me over snowy mountain passes and along rugged forest roads time and again.

Road trip after road trip, I’ve realized how reliable and necessary the family car is to successful outdoor adventures. Of course, there’s the gear it carries – camping supplies, bikes, alpine skis, double kayak (not all at once) – thanks to various roof-rack systems and a cargo box as well as a hitch-mounted bike rack. When tent camping, the car becomes a storage container. We took trips with two large dogs in the back before kids came along. Then the dogs stayed behind to make room for five-point harness child carseats and baby gear. How my husband expertly loads our car for big trips is a skill that still astounds me.

Dependable in any weather and with five-star safety ratings, “Subie” earned my respect and, dare I say, love through the years. Its trustworthy performance boosted my confidence, especially when driving on snowy roads. But it was more than that. It was where we listened to our favorite songs. Where we shared contented silence. Where my husband and I had uninterrupted conversations. The family car felt like home away from home.

It surprised me to realize how much a car became entrenched in my family’s narrative – a background character in our travel stories. Yet it was the constant element as we ventured to various Pacific and Inland Northwest destinations and back home again, whether it was to western Washington’s San Juan Islands or Sisters, Oregon, or Montana’s Glacier National Park. Subie was a conduit for adventure. With its dents and scratches, eventually it started to feel like part of the family – a team member fulfilling a valuable role. So much so that when it came time to get an upgraded, newer model, it was bittersweet after 10 years to say goodbye to the “family car” – the one we had from the pre-newlywed stage of life through early parenthood. But of course a different car only started the next chapter of travel memories when we returned to parks and campgrounds and ventured to new destinations.

Perhaps it’s silly to feel this way. It’s just a car, a machine, a piece of utility gear. Yet there it is, heavy with memory. My family car became a symbol, a catalyst for nostalgia: “Remember when we went to …camped …skied …biked …kayaked…?” And don’t we all get emotionally attached sometimes to certain gear? Bikes, boats, skis, lake cabins – these all hold memories.

Ultimately, though, what’s most important is the family inside the car. After an exhausting day of recreation or during a long road trip, I like to look at my children sleeping peacefully in the back seat. It’s these quiet moments of reflection when I better understand that the journey, however long, is always good. //

Amy Silbernagel McCaffree writes our Out There Kids column. She enjoys sharing stories that inspire people to be more active and adventurous.