Another early morning with nobody else on the road, and more gratuitous sunrise pix. Okay, this is starting to get old, and there are probably many better shots on numerous other web sites about the park. One thing I did *not* manage to get a picture of was the black bear that lumbered across the road fairly far ahead -- long gone by the time I got to the spot. I should really say that it more *bounded* across the road, displaying surprising alacrity in scooting into the woods -- after all, a bear's strength-to-weight ratio is *way* better than one would expect to look at it. Soon I exited the southern tail of the park; the gate there was completely unattended with a sign saying "please pay on exit". Seems like the honor system is alive and well around here. Now the road turned seamlessly into the Blue Ridge Parkway, with slightly wider shoulders, better pavement, and the base speed limit increased to 45. Eep! That meant I'd have to boogie more if someone came up from behind until they could pass. Since this is the no-cost part of the road I'd expect to find more workday traffic on it, but as it turned out there were relatively few vehicles on this part too. Still, I picked up the pace a little and it was fun bending smoothly around the turns and trying to predict the ups and downs for best running efficiency. At any given moment my speed might have been above or below 42, requiring me to adapt on the fly to whether the engine was spinning or not. More about this later. I did a couple more sections [where that's defined as stretches between the ridge "gaps" where another road crosses], and then diverted off toward Buena Vista because I knew there would be coffee and food there. This of course involved another 2000-foot scream down the mountainside, well outside the energy capture range of the battery despite how low I tried to bring the state of charge before starting that run.
'Nuff said. This is something I've always wanted to do! I don't even know why they bothered building it here, though -- if a truck lost its stopping power down this road, it would be upside down in the woods about two miles before getting anywhere near this. Very steep and twisty. I lost track of how many times I filled and emptied that battery pack while on the ridge, in fact. Rises and falls were often on the order of a thousand feet even while still working along it, and I got to wondering just how much altitude the pack was good for without topping out and leaving me on physical braking. I took a seat-of-the-pants observation or two and later did a little research and wrote up a bit for the prius_technical_stuff group: On my run through the Shenandoahs last week I pulled a running tank average from 62.something to 63.5, with like three pips left on the gauge, so I must have been doing fairly well. RPM limit of 3000 on the up, and then trying to minimize regen current into the pack by judicious use of B, braking, and vehicle speed -- knowing that I'd top the damn thing a third of the way down anyhow. And that was with a couple of 2000-foot drops out of the park to go into a nearby town and then right back up into the woods. I also usually had the leisure to EV my way up and over crests, and clear out more regen "headroom" in advance of going down. Occasionally there were warp-neutral opportunities, when I could begin a descent under 40 mph and see all of the terrain/obstructions ahead and just let the car wail through it all reaching into the 50+ mph range before having to re-engage on the following up-slope. Not recommended practice during early dawn with deer all over the place. I found that the pack under optimal conditions is good for capturing about 500-600 vertical feet worth of careful regen before it's topped. Hmm, that's about a foot per available watt-hour within SOC limits. I know someone's done more careful math on the car's potential energy -- anyone have that handy? Assuming a certain load in the car [me, stuff, fuel], a quick grope around various conversion- factor sites allows me to pull the following from unmentionable places: 1 joule .0002778 w-h ~3200 lb * -------------- * --------------- ==> 1.2 watt-hours .73756 ft-lb joule per theoretical foot of hair-raising descent, which ballparks nicely into this observation and accounts for 70-80% efficiency. You certainly don't get that *back* for climbing, but gently pushing with 10-20 amps of all that nice green [trying to keep Peukert heating at a minimum] can go a respectable distance afterward. Since the roads were mostly empty, I was even able to play with seeing how far I could crawl up the next rise on 20 amps of battery alone. Not very fast or far unless it was fairly flat, but not burning any gas for a while. In general, if you have the leeway to let the terrain be your master as far as speed goes and largely dictate when to burn and when not to, fuel economy gets a big boost. Unfortunately, this is at odds with the way a lot of other people habitually drive.
I decided to duplicate part of a previous route and took highway 501 out of Buena Vista to stay in the valley for a little while. Two years ago a friend and I were traveling south in December, and after overnighting in Buena Vista, continued the same way but at the time we really wanted to try and do some Blue Ridge. No road salt can be used up there, so ice tends to form on the road and stay put. The roadside warnings are numerous, and there are several gates that can be closed by maintenance crews if conditions are too unsafe. But that day in December was a sunny one, above freezing, the highway was only officially closed along parts of its length but the rest was still open, so we decided to make an attempt on the part that takes off from 501 near Big Island even if it was likely to be a dead-end trip. Most of it looked clear and dry as we started up. We did find some icy patches but the Prius seemed to be clawing its way over them just fine like a little tank. As we climbed, the ice level increased but driving ability still felt fine. We managed to get up somewhere over 2000 feet and see a couple of overlooks. Then at some point we stopped midway up a mild but icy slope to look at something, and then I found that I absolutely could not get moving again no matter how delicately I feathered the pedal. Any time the front wheels pulled, the car would simply start sliding sideways toward the ditch.
We admitted defeat at that point, and that going any higher would probably just be worse. I had to carefully back down a bit and managed to do a very slow inverse K-turn in the middle of the road without going off either edge. Then the game became to get back *down* over all those ice patches in a controlled fashion. On the stock tires, yet. Yay, "B" mode.
During that somewhat hairy descent, my companion in between multiple assertions that I was trying to kill her captured one particular stretch by holding the camera out the window. Remember those shaded areas that stay wet all the time? In winter, they stay icy all the time, packed into armor-plate by the few vehicles that *can* reliably make passage over it. Note the chain tracks.
Compare the ice-chute to the same stretch of road as I found it now! Much more friendly, and this time I cruised up right past the old stuck-point without even noticing exactly where it had been.
There were some more overlooks, but sometimes with no view at all.
But gradually the morning fog lifted off the peaks as I journeyed on.
Finally, I made the last descent from the ridge into the Roanoke area to refuel and change direction toward Kentucky. Ending MPG average for the ridge run 63.1, and up to 63.5 a few miles later after some local noodling around finding a gas station. Not bad considering all the longish stops and forced use of hydraulic brakes.
The next leg took me up highway 311 over another ridge or two into West Virginia. More energy management games! Eventually this met up with I-64 but I'd already decided to take US 60 to sort of parallel that in a more leisurely fashion and see more backcountry. To get from 311 to 60 I had to go on I-64 a little ways. The on-ramp went downhill as did the rest of the highway following. I did that transfer as a glorious *three miles* of a soapbox-derby style warp-neutral glide at over 50 mph with the engine not turning at all, sailing gracefully off the US-60 exit which turned upward and brought me to a near-perfect stop at the overpass intersection. That was definitely one of those "prius moments". US 60 was a little more hairy; one of those two-lane country roads with a base speed limit of 55. That's sort of ridiculous for many parts of that road, and the stupidest thing is when they have a 55 sign followed immediately by a yellow-diamond warning of upcoming twisties with a suggested safe speed of 30. I mean *right* after, i.e. the 55 sign sometimes hides the curve warning. Despite moving right along through this, I picked up a couple of aggressive tails including, of all things, a *school bus* with kids in it that rode way too close but absolutely refused to pass even at perfectly safe opportunities. Later I had a Harley about a half car length behind me through some particularly bendy parts that *I* felt like I was going a little fast for; if this yutz with *NO HELMET* really felt safe that close behind a car, then he's certainly setting a bad motorcycle safety example. What the hell is *with* these people? I try to accomodate their perceived needs, but when they refuse a clear offer to fix whatever they think the problem is, there's not much else I can do. Some of that 60 stretch was a bit stressful in general, especially after the relatively beaucolic past couple of days.
However, another multi-mile warp-stealth glide down into the little town of Ansted made it all worthwhile. Here the road descended to meet and follow a river for a while, through another town with some interesting old mill type buildings. Partially to get rid of a butthead Caddy who wouldn't take the hint about following distance and partially from curiosity, I pulled an abrupt left into a little park called Kanawha Falls. In post I managed to stitch these two shots together into a fairly seamless panorama.
Shortly thereafter came a side road onto an interesting bridge across the river, so I turned and wandered across it just for a diversion...
and found the way to get down underneath it on the other bank. It's often interesting how different modes of transportation infrastructure are packed into these narrow river valleys, sometimes including the river itself.
I used US 60 to sort of cut a corner off where I-64 goes, and eventually got back on I-64 to head toward Kentucky. According to the GPS, I also bypassed a toll. Given that I was driving a hybrid, I somehow found this legend near the interchange amusing, as in what happens when you grab the orange wires the wrong way. I shortly exited again in search of food, into the podunk little coal town of Marmet, WV. I had seen several coal plants go by and many hopper-car trains on those tracks by the river, and the whole area smelled of burnt hydrocarbons or something fairly obnoxious. It was here that I had the misfortune to visit The. Slowest. Wendy's. Ever. The counter people were totally disorganized, and it seemed like ONE guy was preparing all the food and was clearly being very harried. It took me a *half hour* to get food and coffee and out of there -- I had to wait not only for them to brew a new pot of coffee but also to use the one-holer bathroom because some little kid was in there goofing around with the hand-dryer. Several more coal trains rumbled by outside while I was eating, headed out to feed the nation's insatiable thirst for fuel whether it's clean or dirty. Finally I got on the road again, did about an hour, and by sheer dumb luck happened to pull off again at the same place where I slept on my way back from Hybridfest. This is where I had given up on the truck stop as just too noisy and populated, and slipped into a spot at the motel across the street. So I did that again. Hung the privacy curtains to wall off the world, and briefly jumped onto the motel's wireless to see if the internet had collapsed in my absence [it hadn't] and fire off some mail telling people I wasn't dead, and then went to sleep for a while. No interruptions. At this point I was only 3 or 4 hours from Cincinnati, where I was headed. I probably could have even made it there that night, but I had told Jud I was coming in on Saturday so I decided to take one more half-day or so of noodling around on the roads.
Rolling at dawn again, and an hour or so later passed into Kentucky. This is the first thing I saw. Pretty funny-lookin' horse farm, huh.
I branched off the interstate onto another diagonal path on highway 9, a high- speed but fairly pleasant road. There were several foggy stretches, as one might expect in the area. There were many permanent "fog area" signs, so it's obviously pretty common. In fact, some of those horrendous highway pileups have been in Kentucky and Tennessee due to fog and inadequate following distance, right? Lesson not learned, apparently. Fortunately route 9 had plenty of clear dashed-centerline straight areas and some 4-lane sections.
Then I branched off onto 10, which led me up right to the Ohio river. Note the big-picture MPG average here -- it becomes relevant very soon.
This is what I saw upon reaching the river. The banks of the Ohio are *lined* with many large industrial plants of various sorts -- power, gypsum board, whatever. They've probably all had their day of dumping all kinds of nasty stuff into the water, and for all the EPA knows, may still.
While scrambling up the grass bank for the shot, I found a very cool spider. About two inches leg-tip to leg-tip.
I continued along 10 and then 8 for another 30 miles or so, playing in that elusive "mid-speed" range. This is the region just above 41 mph where most Prius drivers note a significant MPG falloff, due to the engine having to run much more than in lower-speed pulse-n-glide when it can shut down. If I do the math over the before and after figures for this stretch along the river at pretty much a constant altitude, I come up with 80 miles per gallon, and the collection of 5-minute bars here pretty much confirms that. This demonstrates the serious benefits of a higher-speed pulse-n-warp-stealth strategy, where one uses the engine to accelerate and then a little bit of battery to glide just like normal P&G -- with the difference only that the engine happens to be spinning, albeit not consuming fuel. The PSL was 45 for much of this run; I was pulsing briefly up as high as 51 mph at 1600-2000 RPM and WSing back down to 42, just above where shutdown would have happened so I would't go through numerous full start/stop cycles. The slight up and down terrain matched this quite nicely. Because of efficient fuel use alternated with *no* fuel use just like in normal P&G, MPG results in this operational regime don't have to take that big dive. This really should just put that whole mid-speed problem to bed forever.
I was having so much fun with this, in fact, that as I neared Cincinnati I realized I was sailing right past Jud's neighborhood, except that by coming up 8 I wasn't using his directions and there didn't seem to be any place *to* turn toward it! Only running on Navteq basemap here, with none of the smaller details available. Must have been that small county road back under the I-275 bridge ... which, in fact, turned out to be Jud's road, so I made a perfect midafternoon arrival at his place. After befriending the dogs, getting a shower, and settling in a little, I and Jud chatted about lots of stuff. Jud started up a thread on Priuschat for the weekend in general, where a lot of other pictures landed. He showed me some of the very in-depth mapping stuff he does. His wife created a very yummy dinner, and didn't seem to want help on the preparation thereof! FireEngineer and his family rolled in later that evening, and soon it was time to sleep. It was nice being in a real bed after three nights in the car, but I must say that the car rig is quite comfy in its own right with the only downside that the low-speed-fan hack doesn't dehumidify the incoming air so it can be a bit too warm/sticky in there sometimes. But in general, I'm really happy with my little 60-MPG RV.
The next day was Block Heater day, with something like 20 people expected to converge on Jud's place! First, we did Jud's car in the morning with both an EBH and an EV switch, which he's written up in some detail on the thread. Then a couple more Priuses pulled in, and a couple more, and it started turning into a real Gathering.
A whole lot of shuffling happened as some of the cars were run up into the garage to get their block heaters done, and other than that everyone had fun [despite the heat] ogling each others' mods.
When Hobbit and Bob Wilson aren't butting heads on some technical point, maybe their cars are? It was great to finally meet Bob in person.
A not-so-good shot of the inverter Bob has neatly installed in his trunk, on a flip-down panel that completely hides it when not in use.
Hypermilers should *work* for that increased tire pressure, to better appreciate the rewards! Many people seem to think that a bike pump can't be used on car tires -- that's ridiculous, especially when you consider that you're pushing 80 - 100 psi into a bicycle tire and only 50 or so into a car tire so it's actually *easier*. The difference is just volume, but it's totally doable to bring Prius-size tires from 36 to 44 or more.
A couple more block-heater install shots to add to the collective knowledge. This was taken from behind, sort of up along the exhaust piping, showing the heater's retainer clip [left arrow] just about to click over the shaped metal boss behind the heater hole [right arrow] as it nears full insertion. I got Wayne to momentarily stop his process and move his hand aside until I could convince the camera to focus somewhere near the right depth for this. Wayne's got a neat method of greasing up most of the circumference of the heater but leaving an air channel along one side to prevent the "pistoning" problem in the dead-end hole. A little bit of rotation just before it is clicked home can spread the thermal grease around the rest of the way.
The EBH power wire arrives from above to its little orange rubber connector.
Days seven and eight
After a fantastic and well-attended dinner and another good night's sleep, we were finally going to do what we'd all been waiting and preparing for: the Toyota plant visit! This was about an hour south of Jud's place, so we all convoyed out early that morning. It was on that run where we met the first candidate for what has become my wall of shame -- trucks behaving badly around other drivers on the highways and refusing to heed simply-indicated requests to either shape up or please take that hazardous stuff elsewhere. This first one was being consistently bad enough with the tailgating nonsense that it really warranted hauling out the camera to document it, and the trend continued at various times on the way home. I didn't really get any pictures from the visit, but there are some on the Priuschat thread. I did squeeze one off as I got off I-75 and came over a rise toward the area, which as one might expect looks like a *huge* spread of industrial buildings. They occupy an awful lot of land, and the place has at least one electrical substation of its own if not more. Cameras aren't permitted on the tour itself, but a short thread landed on the prius_technical_stuff group summarizing some of what we saw: Date: Tue, 09 Oct 2007 01:59:52 -0000 From: "Robert J. Wilson"
Subject: [PTS] Georgetown Camry Plant tour, trip report Hi folks, On Sunday, Jud and Sonya Engles hosted a block party with Wayne Mitchell . . . engine block heaters. Well attended, we gathered together for a group photo after the Sunday cookout: http://hiwaay.net/~bzwilson/prius/pri_Georgetown.html (Thanks Hobbit for the photo, more to come.) The one hour plant tour was awesome but about eight hours too short! They take steel rolls and 22 hours later, roll out a fully assembled and running Camry, Solara, Avalon, or Camry Hybrid. That includes nine hours in the paint shop. Think of the most complex Disneyland animatronics, multiply it by three orders of magnitude engaged in a man-machine dance of incredible precision. The massive steel rolls are fed into stamp presses tall as a three story house to make the body parts. These are fed to robot welders to spot weld followed by robot MIG welds finishing the bodies and doors. From here the bodies go to the paint shop where they come out nine hours later. The doors are taken off and go via one route to later rejoin the body. Brake lines and pre-heated wiring (for flexibility) are installed. The wheel hubs are left dangling by the brake lines. Instrument and dash assemblies are installed, the engine and axles, head-liner, bumpers, bumper covers and eventually the doors arrive. Everything is operational and quality checked and finally taken to a train for shipping across the country. The car models are intermixed on the assembly line so there might be an Avalon followed by a Camry, a Solara, a Camry hybrid . . . One third of all Camrys from this plant are hybrids. Absolutely amazing. For me, seeing a car assembled makes disassembly so much easier. I don't know why but going from a pile of parts to fully working car makes going from a working (or broken) car to parts a lot less intimidating. ... Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2007 13:55:44 +0000 (GMT) From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: [PTS] Georgetown Camry Plant tour, trip report The tour is *very* whirlwind. The little "trams" they load everyone into don't stop nearly long enough [if at all] next to where the really interesting things are happening. Think "tunnel of terror" at your local amusement park, with more light and fewer things leaping out at you. In fact, the sample video at http://www.toyotageorgetown.com/vtour/tour.wmv minus the "kentucky quality craftsmanship" rah-rah gives a fairly good overview of a lot of the main features you see, as well as a feel for the *pace* at which you're whipped through it. It's still refreshingly different when you can *feel* the huge presses stamping out belly pans in one huge thump, though, and cruise past row after row of big heavy dies and molds where they're stored between uses. We didn't see the stamping die plant itself although it's on site; that would have been fascinating too. I talked to the tour guide about this a little, and she went into how they're very lucky to be let in there to do tours at all, and had to fight to set up the capability and get permission from the people who run the assembly floors. Apparently no other Toyota plant even does it at all. I could sort of see why, because things are always flowing and moving and being transported from here to there either in human-driven or automated carts, and the tour trams have to be really careful how they navigate the "roads" and obey all the intersection rules like everyone else who's working in the space. I mumbled something about how if they've designed flows so carefully and efficiently they could probably do so and include accounting for longer tour stops and/or path optimization that wouldn't hold up workflow, but at this point the tours apparently just get in where they can safely and that's all they can do. For all I know that's just a party line to make us feel special, but it was hard to tell how sincere any of them are since everything they do is clearly so canned and routine. But it was all very cool. The funniest sign I spotted along the way read "mutilation avoidance". They also pointed out the special area where the hybrid parts come in and get checked out and then added to the cars, although didn't really mention that the transaxles arrive already assembled and I think the base engines do as well. As the promo video shows, they've evidently designed and built a lot of special jigs on-site, including motorized chairs on swing-arms that an assembly worker can use to just scoot in under a car to the right position to install things and then right back out -- all within that 57-second window that each station along the line gets to complete a task. They placed particular emphasis on the "just in time" aspect of parts stocking and delivery, and it's clear that a lot of thought has gone into workflow and accounts for diverting the few parts that don't pass inspection.
After the tour we all got on our respective roads to home. I was about 18 hours from mine, and headed back up through Cincinnati and continued northeast across Ohio and jumped on I-80 into Pennsylvania. Evening fell soon thereafter, and I overnighted in a rest stop shortly before another routing decision point -- whether to just burn home on 80/81/84, or take yet another detour up onto US 6, aka the rather pretentiously-named "Grand Army of the Republic Highway" that goes almost all the way across northern PA and rejoins the rest of my route in Scranton.
I opted for the backroads again. After a bit of up-and-down in the dark while getting up toward 6, there was some nice early-morning scenery through the Allegheny area and then as the road started hugging the river valley a little more, lots of fog. Occasionally I'd catch a glimpse of the sun, huge and orange through thinner patches in the mist, but it stayed obscured for much of that morning. Occasional little spits of rain threw a few drops on the windshield in midafternoon, but the roads remained largely dry.
I needed fuel just before exiting PA, and the only option where I decided to divert for it seemed to be a Sunoco station that was a bit farther off the highway than I expected. That should have been my first clue, but evidently I didn't learn my lesson about Sunoco permanently enough the last time I tried fueling up at one. Back then I had said to myself "I'm not going to patronize these idiots anymore" and then failed to heed that self-advice until this unmistakable confirmation now. Their nozzle's shutoff was faulty, and gave me my first actual dribble-down-the-side "burp" event from the tank bladder. Their gas is crap, with less energy content than most. The people inside were surly, although the visiting daughter of the cashier at least expressed interest in hybrids [while, however, she put her *baby's ass* down on the counter where people prepare food]. The restroom was out behind the building and filthy and had no paper towels, and the lady at the desk started with an attitude about "we don't provide those" when I mentioned that they were out. And they had wretched coffee. So Sunoco is now definitely on the "five year plan" of avoidance whenever possible, if not the lifetime plan at this point.
This was only the start of a somewhat hellish rest of the run home. Late afternoon traffic on I-84 through western CT was more frenetic than I think I've ever seen it, with some really extreme tailgating-trains going on over in the left lane -- we're talking less than a car length at 75+ mph. I thought I was going to run out of aft photon torpedoes while attempting to just mind my own business in the right lane. On that stretch of road there are occasional uphills where a slow lane opens up on the right -- but what good are they if some excessively-proximal butthead yanks it over there to pass on the right before I can even reach for my blinker? Politeness has evidently gone by the wayside in that part of Connecticut. Things improved a bit as I got past Hartford and neared home, with the only remaining problem being that my right knee felt like it had a permanent twist to the right as I worked the car as best I could trying to make up for the Sunoco pisswater. Arrived home only showing 58.something, but at least I was home! With that song by Foghat, "Eight Days on the Road" running through my head. In general, I got totally lucky on weather -- hot, but at least not wet. The relatively cool nights made up for that. After I got home, it pretty much rained for the entire rest of that week. Whew!