Admit it. You probably just gave a little sigh, and started thinking about that feeling you get when you finally pull out of your driveway and leave everything behind. Road trip. Not the kind that’s a crabby, traffic-laden trek to your in-laws’ cottage; not the kind where you’re stuck in the back seat, trapped by parents who declared you not old enough to stay home alone.
No. Road trip. The real kind. When you know you’re going to have to figure out laundry, somewhere, maybe; when you’ve given more consideration to the music than the weather forecast; when rowdy images of Thelma and Louise flash before your eyes, and you shake off thoughts of Chevy Chase. Road trip.
You’re also probably thinking it’s a vestige of an era gone by. With gas prices zipping between exorbitant and insane on a daily basis, the concept of driving anywhere for no reason is like swearing in church. But if you’ve ever driven across Canada, you will know there is always a good reason. Canada is awesome: I’ve driven nearly every part of it, and yet still, when the opportunity arises, I’m jumping in that seat before you can say, well, “road trip.”
Because life should always be full of challenges and surprises, what if I told you I was going to be part of a team that plans to drive from Halifax to Vancouver – 6,300 kilometres – on six tanks of gas? It’s a normal car, very likely similar to the one you might have in your driveway. I do know that if I drove my normal, average car, it would take in the neighbourhood of 12 tanks of gas. This means I’m going to need some lessons.
Meet the world’s best hypermilers. John and Helen Taylor, an Australian couple, have set 88 world records for blowing fuel efficiency numbers out of the water. They recently drove from Houston, Texas, to Sterling, Virginia, in a manual 2012 VW Passat SE TDI diesel. They got 1,626 miles to a tank of fuel. Miles.
Their records have been set all over the world, in all types of cars. They aim for typical vehicles, so the tips they’ve learned can be passed on and used by anyone. Our team, sponsored by Shell Canada, will be a crazy cross-section from all over the spectrum. I’ll be joined by Alex Deborgorski, an Ice Road Trucker. I’m pretty sure neither one of us is famous for saving much fuel in our day jobs.
Representing the youth brigade, Simone Kitchen-Kuiack, a 17-year old from Whitehorse, will have some wheel time. Together with her family, last year she won a Toyota Prius in Shell’s Energy Diet Challenge.
Ed Whittingham, director of Pembina Institute, is actually using the experience to write up a white paper on “the cumulative impact of fuel efficiency in private, commercial and fleet transportation.” Pollution Probe’s president, Bob Oliver, will also be joining us for a leg. Pollution Probe will be using the event to continue their campaign on Clean Air Commute. The team will have a stopover in Toronto at the Toronto EcoWheels show on June 16, and media stops in Ottawa and Calgary.
So. Why this? Why now? It’s pretty simple. Most of us are still suspended in the netherworld between the car we own and the car we think would be better for us, our planet, and our future. Or no car. We tangle with a commute to work, we glance at the vehicle sitting in the driveway and wonder how expensive fuel has to get before it’s no longer a viable option. I’ve written frequently about the uselessness of handing out extreme, one-size-fits-all advice. Most of us can’t just make an expensive switch, and many of us are confused about what the change should even be.
I was intrigued by the work that John and Helen Taylor do. And it is work. But they are simply getting out the message that you can work with what you have, and see results instantly. Sure, they’re not setting any land speed records; I can bet I’m going to encounter situations where I will be on the receiving end of some frustrated drivers as I follow the Taylor’s Rules of the Road.
But what if incorporating the things I’m going to be telling you about over the next few weeks was the difference between seeing your folks in Saskatoon, or not? What if a long-delayed camping trip to the Maritimes could work before the kids are too old to appreciate it? What if what has become one of the most onerous costs of a car trip was lightened – considerably?
I am entering into this challenge open-minded and ready to learn. If I send back a picture of me crawling across the prairies with a rope in my teeth towing a car, you’ll know I’m serious. You’ll also know I’ll be on the next flight home.
The cynics among us might say the single best way to save fuel would be to just stay home. But Canada is spectacular. It’s ours; it’s gorgeous; it’s huge. And besides; who turns down a road trip?
Want to travel along on the cross country jaunt with Lorraine Sommerfeld? Check this site starting Monday for daily updates or follow her on Twitter @Globe_Drive.