Blue Ridge Prius

Part 2: Slowly back to the real world

Day four

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.

Day five

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.

Day six

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:
   (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

   Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2007 13:55:44 +0000 (GMT)
   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
   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!

_H* 071013