Thursday, August 16, 2007

Survived the road trip

A few stats:

Distance: 2145.61mi
Day 1: LA to Flagstaff, AZ
Day 2: Flagstaff to Albuquerque, NM to Amarillo, TX
Day 3: Amarillo to Oklahoma City, OK to Springfield, MO
Day 4: Springfield to St. Louis, MO to Schaumburg, IL

Time: 28.7hrs
Spread over four days. Does not include lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, etc. 28.7 hours of pure driving time.

Avg Speed: 74.8mph
This is a pretty fast average speed. I was really going 85 whenever I could (which is really dang fast - at most five cars passed me the entire trip) but traffic, construction, starting and stopping at rest stops, etc kill your average.

Gas Used: 71.42g
Ouch. At least gas prices were cheaper than they were earlier in the summer. Still, that's about $200 in gas alone. I need a hybrid.

Fuel Efficiency: 30.0mpg
About as good as my 2000 Ford Focus 5-speed manual is going to do. The best fuel efficiency (31.5mpg) came on the second day as I descended from the high elevation of Flagstaff (~6000ft) down towards Texas. My car really needs a sixth gear for trips like this. At 85mph I'm hitting about 3700RPMs; I would've gone faster through the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico, but then my tach would be hitting 4000RPMs and I didn't want to stress the engine that much through the arid heat. Bear in mind that I'm sustaining those revs for possibly hours at a time. Comfortable cruising speed for my 2.0-liter/133hp engine is really around 3200RPMs so even 3700RPMs is pushing it. Oh and let's not talk about its ability to climb hills while fully loaded with lugage.

Play Hide-and-Seek with State Troopers!
I discovered that it's pretty easy to avoid state troopers on those two-lane highways. As long as you only use the left lane for passing and stay on the right side (as you're supposed to), it's pretty hard for them to nail you. There are enough trucks on the road that they provide a kind shield behind you. As soon as you pass a truck, slide back in front of it and no one can catch you from behind. If a trooper pulls out to pass the truck, you'll see him coming in time to slow down.

And really, they won't catch you from behind anyway--at least not when you're doing 85. They're generally setting the pace for the rest of the traffic so you're more likely to come up behind one than vice-versa.

Or they've already pulled someone over, at which point you really hit the gas and put as much distance between you and them as possible. By the time they finish busting the guy they pulled over and get back on the road, you'll be counties away.

There was only one trooper sitting on the side of the road watching traffic, and I think he was lying in wait for a particular truck that he got after as soon as it passed him. Besides most of the terrain makes it pretty easy to spot someone camping out with a speed gun. But really I don't think there's enough traffic to make it worth it for them to just sit and wait for someone to speed by; I think the state troopers are more on the move, patrolling up and down the highways (which actually makes it less likely that they'll cross your path).

Play the Unmarked Cop Car Game!
The other fun game - especially in Illinois - is to see if you can figure out the unmarked cop cars. At first this seems daunting; any sedan could potentially be a cop waiting to bust you for speeding. But no, not really. You can narrow the candidates down pretty quickly using some logic:

- A car with a Green Day or Hot 98.7FM sticker on the bumper is not going to be a cop car. Unmarked cop cars are trying to lay low and be incognito, but they still have a professional, proper appearance.

- A bright pink coupe will not be a cop car. Same reason as above. Thanks to all the gaudy cars on the road, you can eliminate a vast number of fellow travellers as potential cop cars.

- All foreign cars will not be cop cars. Think about it: what politician will approve state/Federal funds to buy Toyotas or Hyundais when they can buy American and waste more money on crappier GM/Ford vehicles? It's political suicide to not buy American. If you see a black Honda Accord with a guy dressed like a Secret Service agent driving, blow right by it; he won't be a cop (at least not an on-duty cop).

- Be wary of black Expeditions, Explorers, etc. Be wary of black GMs and Fords. The telltale roof rack of police lights is not a reliable indicator; the unmarked cars have hidden lights integrated into their front grills and on the underside of the roof.

- Look for extra antennas mounted on the car. Regular cop cars have a ton of extra antennas so I'd be wary about an unmarked car that had the same. Not a guarantee one way or the other though.

- When a suspect car is nearby, cruise up to it and take a peek at the driver. Most of the time it's an elderly couple (apparently they do love their road trips). Check what the driver is wearing. Just like the car itself, the officer's clothes will be professional (think about it, if a guy pulls you over and he's wearing a Homer Simpson t-shirt, how legit are you going to think he is?).

Now I don't know if my criteria here are accurate or not, but I did see a few unmarked cop cars who had pulled people over and they seemed to match the profile. I noticed this as soon as I entered Illinois. Illinois also has the slowest open highway speed limit on the route: 65mph. Only 65 while surrounded by nothing but corn on both sides? Fah! Maybe I was lucky or maybe there just happened to be no unmarked cop cars around or maybe something else, but all I know is that I was able to continue going 85mph without getting nailed.

Oh and I'm not endorsing breaking traffic laws or anything of the sort. Sussing out which cars were the unmarked cops was more of a mental game, an intellectual challenge to keep me awake and alert during the boring-ass drive through the Illinois corn. Obey the law and all posted traffic signs.