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The sealed-over gas tank. (Lorraine Sommerfeld for The Globe and Mail)
The sealed-over gas tank. (Lorraine Sommerfeld for The Globe and Mail)

Drive, she said

Day Two: The darker side of hypermiling Add to ...

Lorraine Sommerfeld is hypermiling her way across Canada: aiming to drive across the country on six tanks of gas. Get the full story here and follow her progress with daily updates on this site and via Twitter @Globe_Drive

Day Two: 1,017 km

I deliberately hadn’t asked many questions about the actual things we would be asked to do on the road before this trip. I was determined to receive information with an open mind. I agreed to a fairly standard set of regulations: I would wear the appropriate shirts, I would participate in media events and I would drive as I was instructed to.

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There was a sin of omission there on my part. I knew full well there would be things I would refuse to do. If you’re already familiar with the term ‘hypermiler,’ you no doubt know some of the things that spring to mind. That’s probably why Helen Taylor grimaced slightly when I used the term. She’s well aware of the associations people make. I made them myself.

I knew I would refuse to draft behind trucks – the act of tucking your car into the space behind a large transport and being tugged along in the draft created. It puts a drag on the truck, saves you gas, and it’s dangerous. Very dangerous. I knew I wouldn’t do it if asked.

I knew I wouldn’t break traffic laws. I stop at stop signs. I obey traffic signals, and I will only merge onto the highway at a safe speed. Most of all? I don’t want to be a nuisance on the road. That’s dangerous, too.

John and Helen Taylor don’t advocate any of these techniques. I see why they resist being lumped into the category of aggressive efficiency hounds who consider all of these fair game.

Was I pokey at first? A little. We had that part of the Trans-Canada Highway outside Halifax more or less to ourselves; we’d planned our departure to give us some space to adjust. I was keeping a keen eye on fuel consumption numbers, learning to adjust my throttle according to upcoming road conditions and topography, while being constantly aware of what was behind me. It becomes a journey to establish a rhythm with the car and conditions and me, the driver.

It doesn’t take long to establish this is all about smooth. Smooth is efficient. When you master that, you can bring speeds up; was I being passed? Yup. I wasn’t going over the limit, but I was always close to it, if not bang on. And no way were you going to find me in the wrong lane, still a major annoyance on our roads that has little to do with fuel-efficient driving.

We’re making a point, testing theories, and using Canada as our canvas. I’m learning as we go, but I’m pleasantly surprised at both the seriousness of the undertaking, as well as the freedom I have to make decisions within that framework. Helen said cruise control was my decision; I still like working the throttle, but the prairies might change my mind.

Early on Day Two, I came to the parking lot to find Richard standing by the cars. Richard is a security guard. I learned that not only are fueling stations strictly witnessed by independents, each night a security detail is hired to guard the cars against tampering and vandalism. And Richard didn’t just watch from the lobby: he sat in the car next to it. His whole shift. These heavily decaled cars (we have two Touaregs as support cars) can be targets, and one muck up destroys the entire event. The gas tank is sealed over between stops, and Helen and John cannot drive at all. It’s a Canadian challenge.

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