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Bob Oliver, hoisting our morning rocket fuel. (Lorraine Sommerfeld for The Globe and Mail)
Bob Oliver, hoisting our morning rocket fuel. (Lorraine Sommerfeld for The Globe and Mail)

Drive, she said

Hypermiling through Canada: The final push through the Rockies Add to ...

Lorraine Sommerfeld hypermiled her way across Canada: her aim was to drive across the country on six tanks of fuel or less. Get the full story by clicking here and read her full wrap-up of the trip in our Globe Drive section on 6 July.

First, some corrections. Day Seven, Toronto to Wawa, was a distance of 868 km.

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And Day Eight, Wawa to Winnipeg, was 1,167 km. We’re not time travellers, and we didn’t get to Medicine Hat until the end of Day Nine, logging 1,023 km. Wonky WiFi at several places has been frustrating, and you know your nerves are shot when a blog disappears in front of your eyes at midnight, and you cry.

Those errors on my part actually remind me that we are sometimes driving too long each day. There has been a big adjustment in reading an itinerary. Generally, I see an 800 km drive day, and I calculate that in my head as eight hours. But the goal of attaining the best fuel efficiency means some compromises, and it also means it takes longer. Depending on weather conditions, road conditions and the driver, it can take a lot longer.

Day Ten was 296 km. Medicine Hat to Calgary. A short drive day that was very welcome.

Day Eleven was 975 km. Calgary to Chilliwack, B.C.

Our final big driving day began in Calgary. Alex Debogorski is our morning drive man. By now, we’ve settled into our roles. Different drivers have joined us at different points on the journey. For Debogorski and me, the only two driving steadily from Halifax to Vancouver, it’s nice to get out from behind the wheel. But a funny thing happens on the way to a nap in the back seat of a support vehicle; you worry who might be messing up ‘your’ numbers. Debogorski’s years as an ice road trucker means he’s accustomed to long, solo hauls. The idea of teamwork is something the Taylors have long advocated; when they’ve had people, companies, and communities join in and adopt efficient, safe driving methods, their results have left a legacy. Debogorski and I still trade stories that reveal a bit of the wheel hog in both of us.

Helen and John Taylor swap in and out of the co-pilot seat in the competition car, the VW Passat. Under their tutelage, drivers learn their system of achieving maximum fuel efficiency from the car. The Passat is an automatic. As a rule, you can get better economy out of a manual transmission, but the decision was made by both Volkswagen and Shell Canada to have us drive a car that is truly representative of what most people would have in their driveway. It makes sense; but I’d still rather have a stick.

Smooth, gentle pull-aways from a standing start are the first bugaboo for a new driver. Because the fuel consumption number is always on display, you watch the number jack to 26 or 30 litres/100 km. When you’ve been listening to old drivers talk at dinner the night before about how close to five we can keep it, it can be a little startling. It settles back down, obviously, but it’s easy to see where surges of fuel occur, and recognize it is attention to these details that have led the Taylors to their 92 world records. It is their intention to set another one with this trip, and with their hands never touching the wheel of the competition car, it falls to us – the drivers– to carry through the plan.

Every inch of this trip has been calculated to reach a goal of using less than six tanks of gas to reach Vancouver. John Taylor managed to cram just over 75 litres into the Passat (advertised as having a 70 litre tank), and every drop is precious. As we barge into beautiful Banff, Alta., word of a rock slide closing the road ahead reaches us. Detour. Helen Taylor remains calm. John Taylor smiles. I find a map and announce we will have to go five centimetres out of our way.

Debogorski is behind the wheel for the start of the steep climb through the Rockies. We drive similarly to the big rigs, and he soon establishes a rhythm that maximizes his momentum to keep a steady pace. I’m glad he’s doing it. It’s tough.

We’re in the middle of some of the best ski areas in the world. Where once I would have been revelling in the majestic beauty of these powering peaks, now I groan inwardly and picture pedalling a Passat to the top. In truth, the fact that we’re encountering this at the conclusion of our run rather than the start is a blessing; we’re ready.

I high-five Bob Oliver, CEO of Pollution Probe, who has joined us for this leg. He hands the wheel over in Revelstoke, B.C., telling us what we all have experienced: once you start keeping an eye on your fuel consumption so closely, it’s hard to think you’ll ever drive the same way again.

The day has a home stretch feel to it. Once (or if) I conquer the monstrous Coquihalla, we will spend the night in Chilliwack. The next morning we will do the final 98 km into Vancouver, and find out if we’ve been successful. We’re tired. We’re crabby. We’re exhilarated. And every one of the team is determined to lay down a record.

The next morning… Mission accomplished! Our results were released within 30 minutes of landing in Vancouver. The Passat averaged 1,352 km to a tank of fuel, and we used 4.69 tanks to cover 6,340 km. Details will follow when my final wrap-up runs in The Globe and Mail’s Drive section on July 6.

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