Hyper-Miler-Zen-Driver

This week I accomplished something rare in my world:  I made the light at the intersection of Routes 77 and 80.

Big deal, huh?  Let me explain.  I play a driving game called hyper-miling:  you maximize your car’s gas mileage by making changes in the way you drive.  You become more aware of the traffic dynamics around you.  You tune in to the machine you are driving.  And yes, you become one with the road.

Call it intelligent-non-aggressive-eco-conscious-zen driving.

Who knew that there are a gazillion websites devoted to exposing “the driving habits of the ignorant and the wasteful”?  It’s thoroughly mainstream.  Check out Hypermiling.com for example–loaded with car ads.

The basics:  maintain a consistent speed; no jack-rabbit starts; no slam-braking.  Accelerate slowly, coast into stoplights.  Drive as far as you can without coming to a complete stop.

Twice a week for the last year, I’ve commuted 35 miles each way from Guilford to Newington CT.   For a hyper-miler-zen-driver, it is a route filled with perfect challenges.

I think of it as a cross-country course with three legs.

The 1st Leg:  Over the river & through the woods

50 yards from my driveway is a sign that reads Scenic Road 13.9 mi.  Rt. 77 begins here and takes me straight north on one of the most quietly beautiful stretches of road anywhere.  It criss-crosses the West River to its source at Lake Quonnipaug.  Past frame houses built in the 1820s and 30s, past a barn sign that reads “Insulting Manor.”

It’s a fun road to drive.  It undulates and winds, dips and climbs.  There are three hair-pin turns. It cuts narrowly through rock outcrops and perilously close to 100 year-old trees.

Then there is the place where Rt. 77 rises up sharply and drops down to the intersection at Rt. 80.

It’s the best spot on the game board.  Heading north, you  get a split-second glimpse of the light from a quarter-mile away.  If it’s yellow or green,  you won’t make it.  If it’s red, you’ve got a shot at the green.  This was my week.

The 2nd Leg: Quonnipaug to Durham

The road crosses Menuckatuck Creek and a couple of miles later, I’m hugging the shoreline of Lake Quonnipaug–a classic New England pond.  Through four seasons I’ve seen it in every humor: glistening with sunlight, draped in mist, defined by ice.

Then the road climbs the shoulder between Bluff Head and the Broomstick Ledges.  The Mattabesset hiking trail crosses there–part of Connecticut’s fantastic network of trails marked and maintained by the venerable Forest & Park Association.  You’re in a higher-elevation valley now, with  pastures and cows, bringing you into the town of Durham.

Durham is strung along a ridge line.  Brenda’s Main Street Feed is there.  So is the Moses Austin House–father of the founder of Austin, Texas.  And don’t miss the Durham Kitchen restaurant:  “Come in and sit around our table.”

The 3rd Leg:  14 stop lights in 4 miles

The last leg on my hyper-miler gameboard skirts Middletown and joins the mighty stream of commuter traffic converging on Hartford.  The last 4 miles of my trip is on the Berlin Turnpike–a commercial strip that runs me through 14 stop lights in 4 miles.

I haven’t kept a log, but more often than not, my hyper-miling skills serve me well and I can drive it without stopping, say, more than once.

Am I annoying you?

It’s important to say that driving under-speed is not part of the strategy.  So, what about that BMW driving up your butt?  Pull over, let him pass.  My karma ran over your dogma.

Who’s the most fuel-efficient driver in the world?

Find out at the annual Green Drive Expo:  “The place to explore technology, fuel efficiency, cost savings and eco-conscious transportation.”  The event keeps growing, and this year it’s in two locations: July in Madison WI (my old home town), and September in San Francisco.  It is where you go to compete in the annual “MPG Challenge.”

For a hilarious account of a ride-along with one of the “kings of hyper-milers”, see the post on Mother Jones “This Guy Can Get 59 MPG in a Plain Old Accord. Beat That, Punk.”

The 30% Pay-off

Pump prices have skated north of $4, and hyper-miling is undeniably a skill game with real-life benefits.  MoneyTalksNews.com put up a survey a few days ago based on research by the car site edmunds.com.  Which of these strategies will improve your gas mileage?

a)  Use your AC minimally

b)  Maintain proper tire inflation

c)  Drive less aggressively

d)  Use cruise control

What does the research show?  The answer is c).

Proper tire inflation and minimizing AC use have a negligible effect.  Using cruise control increases fuel efficiency about 7%.  Driving less aggressively–aka “calm driving”–can increase fuel efficiency by a whopping 31%.

Kramer’s Way

My twice-weekly drives up and back on Route 77 came to an end last week.  I no longer need to make the commute to Newington CT.  I will miss it.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is obsessed with how far he can drive with his gas gauge on Empty?

In my life I’ve watched exactly 3 episodes of Seinfeld.  3 of 180.  And one of those was a repeat of that episode.  

Weird, huh?

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About John Wackman

A writer since I learned to hold a pencil (no, not like that...hold it like this!). Long-time writer/producer for television, now organizer of Repairs Cafes in the Hudson Valley (13 & counting!) -- Program Manager of Solarize Hudson Valley, non-profit, state supported, community sponsored renewable energy program. We're all re-inventing ourselves. It's a sci-fi world, isn't it?
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3 Responses to Hyper-Miler-Zen-Driver

  1. susanklaus401 says:

    John,
    I very much enjoyed reading this piece; it was like going on a very pleasant road trip. You are a gifted writer. Did you know that in some areas they actually time the lights for traveling without hitting a red light as long as you are driving the speed limit? Geary Blvd., a major east/west thoroughfare in San Francisco, is one such road. I wish more of the city planners of traffic control around the country could figure out how to do the same thing.
    Susan Klaus

  2. Scott says:

    31%, wow! I also make a game out of some of these hypermiling techniques. It takes a lot of extra focus, though, which I don’t always have, especially on stressful days. At least I have a hybrid, so some extra efficiency is automatic.

  3. Hey…I thoroughly enjoyed reading this…felt as if I were riding shotgun while you made the trip. Didn’t know anything about hypermiling, although I play this game anyway( in my 4 cylinder , old Tacoma), perhaps w/ more awareness since reading this. Thanks!

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