Sunday, April 30, 2006

Driving in America

Stanford University, California

Well, here it is - the post you've all been waiting for. I've returned the rental car and made it back to San Francisco after 8 days of driving all over the place. Here are some vital statistics:

Total mileage: 1794 miles
Average mileage: 225 miles per day
Gas used: 60 gallons
Price of gas: $3.15/gallon
Cost of gas: $200
Cost per mile: 9c (5p)
Miles per gallon: 30

As you can see, I wasn't hanging around. The car I rented was a Chevy Malibu, a 5-door hatch with all sorts of cool features. It had a 3.5l, 200bhp engine - when you put your foot down, it GOES; automatic gearbox, cruise control, remote entry, remote engine start (!), air-con, CD player and genuine fun. Having never driven on the right before or an automatic, it was a bit of a culture shock to get used to: a good job then that I only rented it in downtown San Francisco during Friday morning rush hour... for the first 10 minutes I just stayed in my lane with very little idea of where the corners of the car were!

It was surprisingly easy, actually, to get used to the car and the driving. American drivers are pretty docile and law-abiding, although they have an annoying lack of observation to see that they're sitting in your blind spot on the freeway.

So where did I go? Well, from San Francisco I hit the 101 south to Monterrey, and picked up route 1 - the Pacific Coast Highway - from there most of the way to Los Angeles. That was the most fun I'd ever had driving - empty roads, twisty yet well-built and awesome scenery. It took me 11 hours to get to LA and I was pretty knackered by the time I got there, 500 miles on the clock.

In LA I had a pretty easy time with the infamous freeways: I didn't get stuck in any major jams and found it quite easy to navigate around the city. I even found a roundabout to drive around at Venice Beach! I put on another 150 or so just driving around one part of the city, which gives you an indication of just how big it is...

On Monday, as I've already blogged, I left LA and drove up to the Sierra Nevada mountains for a few days. Leaving LA on Interstate 5, the road had to climb over the mountains surrounding LA, and reached over 4000ft! Surely that's pretty high for a freeway, I thought. For one section the carriageways actually crossed over while passing through a valley, presumably because they built one originally and then when they widened the road it was easier to use the other half of the valley to build on.

The Sierras were just fantastic fun to drive in. There was so little traffic I wondered whether something was wrong! Driving up to Sequoia NP the road is wide at first and with lots of high-speed curves, but inside the NP it gets narrrow and very twisty, climbing to over 6000ft. Unfortunately, my fuel gauge light came on as I was driving up, so I had to turn around once I reached the main forest and drive back. Nursing the car down the hill in "L" (mainly in first gear) I only touched the throttle about four times in 20 miles before reaching a beautiful gas station. I don't know exactly how much further I could have driven, but when I turned the ignition on again after filling up, the engine didn't start right away. Could the spluttering be because it was right out of fuel and had to bring the new stuff straight in? Who knows - either way, I was very fortunate to not run out of fuel.

After a night in a Motel 6 (getting into John Urry's auto-culture with its supporting industries...) in the city of Fresno, I headed up into the mountains again to King's Canyon NP and then to Yosemite NP. As I wrote earlier, those were both spectacular (and so they should be for $20 each!) and the driving was once again a lot of fun. Cruise control really comes into its own when you have a lot of miles to cover and no traffic to regulate your speed.

I never got around to buying a map of California, instead relying on Alamo's rather small-scale attempt that didn't always make the grade. Yesterday afternoon, killing time before returning to San Francisco, I drove around the Napa and Sonoma regions which are very hilly. I ended up driving round in a circle for about an hour and finishing where I started! D'oh. I got the car back to the garage - via the Golden Gate Bridge [$5 toll!] and twisty Lombard Street - 2 minutes before the stated time. Poifect. Overall it was a great week and although it cost quite a lot of money, it was worth it.

Driving? It's so hot right now. Driving,


Son of Man said...

Chris, this is so cool. Where are you now? I'll be leaving on Thursday (may 4th). If I don't speak to you before then, peace out brother; Serve your King.

Anonymous said...

Cool guestbook, interesting information... Keep it UP
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