Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It wasn't that exceptional. Aside from a trip to the dry cleaner (ok I admit, the clothes are still hanging in the back window of the car because after working overnight on Tuesday when I got home from my final exam today I was too tired [ahem...lazy] to pull them out) and dinner and a movie with a friend this evening, my driving has only consisted of a trip to and from work and a trip to and from school. (Above: The Volvo at Gravelly Point Park. File photo)
The trip to school today, however, is well worth mentioning. My final exam started at 7 pm sharp this evening. If I was not in my seat at 7pm, I would not be permitted to take the final. I assumed leaving my house (30 minutes away with no traffic, 40 minutes in rush hour) at 6 pm would be plenty of time. Heading down 267 (Dulles Toll Road) was no major concern. Actually, I felt like that section of the journey went by quicker than normal. I breezed through the EZPass lanes and then traffic came to an absolute screeching dead halt. I watched the minutes tick by as I sat there hopelessly in queue to get on the beltway, fidgeting more and more as the time inched closer and closer to 6:30. 6:31. 6:32. Finally at 6:39 I pulled on to the beltway, again it went to an absolute dead stop.
I remembered then, it's the holiday shopping season, and I was sitting right in between the two exits to the largest shopping area in the entire DC metro region. Tysons Corner Center. 6:42. At this point my palms started to sweat. In perfect traffic, from where I was sitting it takes exactly 5 minutes to get to a parking spot on campus. At a near dead standstill, it could take 15, which would leave exactly 3 minutes to walk from my car (who knows how far out I'd be parking...) to my seat in class. Finally, at 6:44 I passed the 7/495 interchange. The final Tysons Corner exit and traffic was free flowing yet again. I didn't come to a stop again until 6:48 when I hit the light in front of my school red. By 6:49 I had pulled into a parking spot. Bookbag, check.
I was at a near dead sprint into the class, and digging through my book bag. Textbook, check. Notebook, check. Final paper, check. #2 pencil, check. Scantron form, shit. No scantron meant a bypass to the school book store on the way in, which is a 2 minute run from my seat in class. By 6:53 I was in line, 6:56 I was out the door running to class. I ran around the building, right into someone who was clearly also late for an exam, in the opposite direction. We picked ourselves up...no time for formalities, and continued on our merry way. my Blackberry said it was 6:58 when I hit the door of the building. It was just in front of me. I saw the classroom, my professors head was sticking out the door. I caught his eye, he walked out the door.
"The exam was delayed 15 minutes, go get a drink, I heard about all the traffic in Tysons and wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to get in."
Well, at least I got some exercise.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The nice thing about this, is you can decide when a car has paid you back, and when it hasn't. I use $.10 per mile because it's a nice round number, and very easy to calculate in my head. If I'd bump it up to $.20 the car would have already paid for itself...and up to $.25 the car would already be paying me back. At $.10 per mile any car over $20,000 would never pay back the person who bought it originally without keeping the vehicle for years. The reason for this is many of the repairs those of us have to put into an older vehicle. To give you an idea, I've put nearly $3500 into repairs and maintenance on the Volvo, which means I would have to drive the car 35,000 miles for the car to pay back those repairs. If you've already driven your car 200,000 miles, chances are you're not going to want to put another 35,000 miles on it just to pay back some repairs you made...and you're certainly not going to get $3500 for any car with 200,000 miles on the odometer.
If somehow I can make it to 200k without having to put any more money into repairs, the Volvo will end up paying me back $7500 over the course of it's life.
So, that being said, what method do you use to calculate when your car has paid you back?
So far the majority of my December has been spent driving back and forth to work, and fighting for parking spaces in shopping mall parking lots and garages.
Shopping mall parking garages are a nightmare this time of year. It's almost as if people forget that they drive in them five days per week for work, but forget how they work. If you're in a parking garage stopping at the first car that appears it is getting ready to leave and turning on your blinker is no way to make friends. In fact, in the time I spend sitting behind you waiting for you to pull into the spot for someone who may or may not be leaving shortly, I could have been on the next level in a spot that was, in fact, presently vacant. Two separate occasions of this made me late for work last week. Surprise! It's no shorter of a walk to the elevator on the fourth floor than on the 2nd. Just keep driving, you will find a spot, even if it's not on the first floor!
We got our first snow here in the DC metro region this month. I love how my car looks when it's covered with road salt. While I know in my mind it's not good for the paint, it brings the car to life, and gives it personality it otherwise wouldn't have had.
On the maintenance front I got the oil changed. New belts and hoses coming in January.
My December road trip has been postponed, however, because of my work and school schedule. Watch for the road trips to kick back in sometime in January.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Fact: most major repairs can be completely avoided with routine maintenance (oil changes, transmission fluid changes, etc...)
However, there are some parts of a car that maintenance will not prevent from breaking. Hoses and belts need to be replaced...as they wear out. Your thermostat eventually will fail regardless of how faithful you are to winterizing your car. Suspension components eventually wear out and break, the fan motor will one day burn out, your water pump will one day fail etc...
I keep my mechanic honest. I use two of them, and neither one knows who the other is. If both mechanics agree about a repair that needs to be made, I make sure it gets done, and then I get bids from both of them. Don't hesitate to get a second opinion on any work that is suggested or recommended. Also pay attention to recommended service that comes attached with a brand name, such as BG. Some recommended service may really need to be done, which is why you get a second opinion. So far, I've had over $1200 worth of work that has been suggested to be done on my car, by both of them, which hasn't, in fact, needed to be done.
Sometimes, a less expensive fix can solve a problem quicker and easier than an expensive one. The most notable one was one of the two recommended replacing all of my front ball joints for approx. $2000. When I took it to the other mechanic, they took apart the front suspension and found I only needed CV Joints for $500. The CV Joints fixed the problem, the ball joints, while they should be done at some point, would not have solved the issue I was experiencing. Find your limit, and whatever it is, when a repair goes over that limit get a second opinion whenever a repair goes over that amount.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Total Miles: 384
Vehicle Expenses: $67.43
Generally speaking, this week was rather slow. I didn't have school because of the holiday, I was at work all but two days, one of which was a holiday, the other was spent on a minor renovation at my house. Because of this, I didn't rack on terribly many miles. If it weren't for the trip to Harrisonburg, I'd probably not even break the 100 barrier this week.
The next few weeks will be slow because of a heavy work schedule and finals. Watch for another road trip in late December.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Beginning Mileage: 123,737
Ending Mileage: 123,989
Total Miles: 252
Total Expense: $22.34
They say holiday travel can be miserable. They're absolutely right. Poor planning by highway construction crews, early rush hours and more can cause massive delays. Add that to our woefully inadequate Interstate Highway system, and out pops a mix for massive delays, and massive casualties. In 2008, for example, 389 people were killed on our nation's highways during the official Thanksgiving travel weekend. That's the equivalent of taking one of Airbus's new A380's and crashing it into the ocean.
Unfortunately for me, I landed right in the middle of an early rush hour, followed up with a healthy dose of poorly planned highway construction in Winchester, VA. The early rush hour in Leesburg, VA set me back about 15 minutes, the construction in Winchester nearly 45. When that was followed up with rolling waves of traffic dropping to a near standstill near every exit on I-81. All told, the drive which normally takes me just under two hours, ended up taking a good bit over three. (Pictured above: the Volvo just before leaving my house on Nov. 25th)
The trip started out rainy, which certainly didn't help the traffic out of Northern Virginia one bit. After sitting in traffic on Highway 7 for what seemed like an eternity, the break came just past Leesburg. Traffic picked back up, the rain cleared, I assumed all else would be smooth sailing over the mountain and down I-81. Only 3 miles off I-81 the moving traffic came to a dead stop. I moved to the other lane and pulled into a Sheetz gas station to refresh my drink. After a 5 minute break, I looked down the road to see that by pulling in to sheets around the traffic, I had moved up in line over a dozen cars. The truck I went around at the beginning of the jam was still far back in line, and people who I had passed to get in to the gas station were the ones letting me back in to line.
After what seemed an eternity, I discovered the root of the problem, a poorly planned inactive construction zone taking away the left lane of 7. Finally after passing the construction, I merged on to I-81 south into what appeared to be smooth sailing (Pictured above). Until, of course, I hit the first traffic wave, only 3 miles down the road. This was a continuing trend the entire way back to Harrisonburg. Traffic would clear out completely, and then all of a sudden, with no warning or reason, traffic would slow to a complete stop, and then take back off.
4 hours after starting on my journey, I was home for Thanksgiving dinner.
The trip back north was far less exciting than the trip down was. I left Harrisonburg at about 8 pm, and with a stop for gas, and a small side stop to drop off my nephew in Warrenton, I made it back in just over three hours. Exactly as long as it should take.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Price per gallon: $2.89
Total Cost: $45.09
Miles since last fill up: --
Avg. MPG: --
This is the first of my weekly price at the pump entries. So, because of this, there won't really be any comments :-).
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Ending Mileage: 123,677
Total Vehicle Expenses: $30.28
Total Miles Traveled: 456
The Week of November 15-21 was not only a good week for me, but it was a great week to be out driving the Volvo. The weather here in the Washington DC Metro region was perfect for late fall. No rain, clear skies, and the last of the autumn leaves falling off the trees.
November 17th was a very interesting day. I had to change my class schedule to attend the Tuesday and Thursday classes rather than the Wednesday class I normally go to because my work schedule wouldn't allow me to attend on Wednesday this week. I also needed to drive out to Middleburg, VA to return some borrowed equipment from a friend out there. I was a little late bringing it back (it was due soon after I got back from Toronto) but alas, it is now safe back in it's owners hands. . Unfortunately for me, the only time I could slip out there was when he was out on another assignment, so I did not get to see him while I was there. There is, however, a bright side, I got to take one of my favorite roads in Virginia back home because I had an extra hour to kill that I had not planned on. (Pictured above: the Volvo in Middleburg, VA).
Snickersville Turnpike is a very picturesque winding, hilly country road, that doesn't even have a painted yellow line for the majority of it. It's a great driving road because there are a few long stretches where you can see for about a mile ahead (which also makes for great pictures because you can see cars coming for quite awhile...see above). This road is one that has either caused me to fall completely into love or completely out of love with every car I've owned since moving to Northern Virginia. Believe it or not, it caused me to fall out of love with my previous car, a 2006 BMW 325i. While that car was great, this road, which completely excited the senses in both cars previous to the BMW, seemed absolutely boring in the car. In order to make the road fun in the BMW, I'd have to push the car to a point where I was no longer comfortable. The Volvo, on the other hand, was very much at home on this road. I did not have to push it beyond the point of safe driving to have a good time. The turbocharger kicked in at will whenever I saw a long enough straight that building speed wouldn't be an issue. The tires chirped just plenty around each of the tight corners. The brakes performed magnificently when a deer wandered into the path of the car right near the end of a straightaway.
It is probably this trip which caused my brake rotors to warp...because before it, they were smooth, now they're warped. That'l be a repair for another week.
Since it had been awhile since I'd traveled Snickersville Turnpike, I forgot that at the end to get on Hwy 7 you have to turn right in the town of Bluemont, VA. Also, I had forgotten that when you look to the right after making the right turn onto 7 you have a magnificent view. Due to traffic, and nowhere to pull over, I unfortunately do not have a photo of this. It was quite rewarding just after sunset. 35 minutes later down 7 and I was home for the day.
Aside from my tour of Horse Country, the entire week consisted of driving to and from school, and to and from work.
*Update July 6, 2014. Changed font color to make it more readable on a white background. It had been awhile since I got back this far in the archives!
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Rule #1. Know your limits. If you cannot work a full 8 hour shift, don't plan an 8 hour drive. Generally I don't recommend a longer one day drive than one would be able to handle behind a desk, cash register, etc... If you aren't used to working long shifts, I'd say plan on driving as long as you typically work plus or minus an hour or so. Arriving at your destination exhausted only takes away from what you can do on your trip.
Rule #2. Know where you're going. While I don't heavily research my trips ahead of time (you never know what you're going to find on the way) a general idea of how to get to your final destination is always a good thing. Looking over maps on Google Maps or on Mapquest will give you a good idea of how to get to the hotel/resort/restaurant, or whatever you're planning on ending up at for the day. This rule became very important very quickly on my recent trip to Toronto which leads me to rule 3.
Rule #3. Update the maps on your nav system. Make sure your GPS unit has the maps for your destination loaded before you head out. As soon as I crossed the Canadian border, my GPS unit told me Navigation to my final destination was ending. It accepted my final destination when I left but didn't know how to get there. Needless to say, if I hadn't followed Rule #2, I would have been hopelessly lost.
Rule #4. Don't be afraid to try new things. Not every restaurant is worth going back to. Not every roadside attraction is worth spending the money on. However, if you never stop at the gem you passed you'll never know. I'll never forget one day I stopped for lunch at a diner that looked superb from the outside. When I got in, the sheer volume of the army of cockroaches astounded me. Needless to say I didn't stick around to wait for my food. I ended up heading two doors down to a biker bar that did not look so appealing and ended up having some of the best value road food I've ever had. I am not going to name either restaurant as the last time I passed through both had since closed.
Rule #5. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses. If you see a nice view, or a cool building. Stop, take pictures, walk around a bit. Not only will it keep you refreshed but it will also make you look forward to your next trip even more!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The most surprising thing about my entire trip was by far the final morning in Toronto. I had not been to Tim Hortons yet as instructed by my Canadian co-worker (rather strongly instructed in fact...) So, I got up, packed my bags and walked around the corner from the hotel to the closest Tim Hortons. I walked inside and stared at the menu board. A lady was behind me so I told her to go ahead and order, as I hadn't come anywhere near deciding what I wanted, as I'd never been to a Tim Horton's before. "You must be American." Little did I know those words would begin a two hour conversation.
The final morning absolutely flew by. I had spent the previous night downloading the Toronto maps because the Toronto Marathon was running downtown and many streets were closed for it. Rather than spending two hours wandering the city to try to find my way out, I realized the $40 for the Toronto maps would be well worth it.
At around noon I called for the bell staff to come bring my bags down to my car. The valet pulled around, and I realized then the damage that eight hours of highway driving in the rain did to the car. It was by far the filthiest I'd ever seen it. I was a bit disappointed. You'd think that after spending $40 per night for Valet parking the hotel would atleast run some water over the car. I guess my expectations were slightly out of line, however.
The route home from Toronto was slightly different from the route up. On the way home I bypassed most of I-90 in favor of taking highway 5. Highway 5 is a spectacular two lane road which passes through Pennsylvania's wine country and winds along the shore of Lake Erie. I couldn't see any significant difference in time between 5 and I-90, so from now on my rule will be on good weather days I'm taking 5...bad weather 90.
Once I was back on I-79, the trip home ran like clockwork. Two hours on 79, two hours on the turnpike, two hours on I-70, and then I was home!
Next entry in this series: Tips for a long road trip.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Beginning Mileage: 122,959
Ending Mileage: 123,064
Total Miles: 105
Total Vehicle Related Expenses: $16
Originally Wednesday was not planned to be a very busy day. I had a breakfast appointment with a friend, a lunch appointment with another, and class in the evening. Overall, it wasn't a very busy day, it just involved a lot of driving around trying to find parking, and a few hours spent just waiting.
I left my house at 7:45 to meet up at a local 24 hour diner for a breakfast meeting with a friend of mine. It's not a far drive...it usually only takes 10 minutes, since I was supposed to be there at 8...I pulled into the parking lot at 8:05. The killer is that rush hour wasn't even that bad, I just forgot to allow for the light timings.
After breakfast, I left to head back home and get ready for my lunch meeting. Lunch already? Yes. Here in DC there are more good restaurants than there are days in a year. Our town is a foodie's heaven. Since lunch was in the Arlington, VA neighborhood Rosslyn at Ray's Hell Burger, I had to allow time for travel down to Rosslyn at lunch hour (we have a third rush hour every day...11-1) as well as allow time to drive around and find a parking spot.
I arrived at Ray's Hell Burger right on time. Of course, there was no parking available in their lot when I arrived, which meant laps around the block until a spot opened up. As I was pulling out of the parking lot a left-hand parallel spot opened up. Aside from tearing up my rims (pictured above) and using all my quarters on the meter, it was a perfect spot. Left hand side parallel spots are a product of the devil...especially for left hand drive cars. While parking, I actually physically ended up on top of the sidewalk at one point, which not only inspired rounds of laughter from passersby, but made me decide to completely pull out of the spot, and attempt it again. The second attempt (pictured above) atleast I stayed within the lines...I just couldn't tell where the car ended. When the tire finally lodged itself into the curb I just let the car sit and fed the exceptionally hungry meter.
Lunch at Ray's is quite an experience that anyone who has never been before needs to try at least once. First of all, they serve (in my humble opinion) what has to be the best beef burger known to man. They grind cuts of steak into their burgers, therefore, you can have it cooked properly, at about Medium Rare or even less. Next, they add whatever topping you would like, whether it's as simple as chedder or as complex as foie gras and white truffle oil. Rather than napkins, they provide each table with a (very necessary) roll of paper towels. At first it is a bit off-putting, however soon after my first Ray's burger landed on my table, I was greatful for the paper towels rather than the wimpy paper napkins used by most takeout joints. Also, be warned, they only accept cash. No cash, no burger. It's well worth the ATM charge.
My friend Meta arrived about 10 minutes after I did. Unfortunately, she had a much more difficult time finding a spot than I did. She also burned all her quarters in a meter, only to find out when she returned to the restaurant that there were three spots open in their parking lot. Needless to say when we got our change, both of us asked for quarters.
Lunch ended at around 1:30 PM. I crossed the street and headed southeast to the Crystal City neighborhood, where I was supposed to meet up with my friend Matt at about 3 pm. I killed a lot of time at Gravelly Point watching the planes land. (Pictured right)
At about 2:50 I left the park and headed in to Crystal City to find a parking spot. At first I found one, and fed the meter, only to find out that I wasn't expected at his house (as I had thought but a quick review of my text messages revealed I was incorrect) but at Pentagon City Shopping Mall. Unfortunately for me that meant all of my quarters were gone, and there was a parking meter in Crystal City with three hours of time remaining for some lucky person who happened to run across it.
The trip to Pentagon City was uneventful with the exception of...again...parking. Finding a spot wasn't a hassel, leaving was. Somehow when I was in the mall, my parking ticket managed to disappear. The parking company only accepts cash, I had $5.00. The lost ticket fee is $16.00. I showed the lady proof that I had only been in there for an hour (a reciept from the meter I had bought earlier would do the trick...or so I thought) she didn't care. Eventually after I threatened to block the entry of the parking lot until she either took my credit card or let me out for $5.00 the lost ticket fee suddenly became $5.00. Still fully $3.00 more than what I should have paid to park there, but significantly less than the $16 I was going to have to pay.
After leaving Pentagon City, I headed directly to class in Annandale, VA. With the exception of a badly marked detour which ended up getting me lost on the way home, and slight rush hour traffic on 395 on the way to class, both legs were uneventful.
Finally, at 11:30 I returned to my house. No issues with the car all day, only issues with parking!
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I pulled into Erie PA at about 10 AM. Like I said in the previous post, I made very good time by leaving at 5 AM. While the drive up I-79 was incredibly boring, what I didn't know is the drive along I-90 would be just as bad, only due to the fact that the sky was incredibly cloudy, and it was still raining in torrents.
As noted before, I had mapped out my stop in Erie before I had even left my house in the DC Suburbs. I pulled in with a full 1/4 tank left to re-fill the Volvo, exactly as I had planned. The drive along I-90 was exciting knowing that if the sky were clear, I would be able to see north to Canada. At this point in my trip, I had never even seen Canadian soil, much less stepped on it. I kept looking left, without any luck, because according to my GPS unit, there was a large body of water (Lake Erie) within a kilometer to the left of where I was sitting. As I was driving along, I noticed on the GPS screen that not only was there a body of water to my left, but there was also another road that drove along the lake shore...NY/PA 5. I decided right then that the trip home was going to be a lot more interesting than the trip up. I kept debating getting off I-90 and on to Hwy 5, but at every exit, I opted to remain on the interstate rather than getting off and driving on a secondary highway, which was probably a good decision considering the weather, and the fact that I wanted to be checked into my hotel before rush hour started in the 5th largest city in North America.
I pulled in to Buffalo almost exactly at noon. What was surprising to me about Buffalo, is how incredibly depressing the city is. What was at one point clearly a wealthy town, is starting to show a good bit of wear. What were grand early 1900's homes, now have flaking paint, rotting wood, and broken windows. It seemed that for miles, all that was visible from I-90 were abandoned warehouses and factories. When I pulled off I-90 and headed downtown, evidence of the town's vibrant past was everywhere: from the ornate street lamps to the still well manicured parks. A few quick turns, and a navigation-system guided trip through what was clearly not one of the safest neighborhoods in the city landed me in the main parking lot of Anchor Bar, home of the Buffalo Wing. The most interesting thing about sitting at that bar, is it was the mother of my server who invented the damn things. Aside from stopping at Anchor Bar one more time and any future drives to Toronto, I really don't foresee a trip to Buffalo again in the near future.
After lunch, I drove through town and crossed the Peace Bridge. The Canadian border crossing was easier than I had expected (one of my friends did not have as easy of a time crossing as I did just a week before me). I officially touched Canadian soil for the first time at 2:00 PM.
Once on the QEW, I was rather surprised with how different but at the same time similar Canada looks to the USA. It was a lot like New York and Pennsylvania, except without all the trees and hills. The drive between the Canadian border and Toronto was only about an hour, about as expected.
What was not expected, is that even though my GPS unit recognized the address of my hotel, it didn't know how to get there. The lady in the box piped up almost as soon as I crossed the border with "Map information unavailable...please proceed to your destination." Fortunately for me, I had spent about a month studying maps of Downtown Toronto, and knew approximately where I was going.
As I continued on the QEW, I kept scanning the horizon for the CN tower. Finally, I saw it, somewhere near St. Catherines, Ontario. The bridge across the bay in Hamilton proved to be tricky, as there was enough wind that it treated my Volvo like a piece of paper. After cresting the bridge, massive waves were visible crashing into the shore. It almost made me forget I was on a lake.
After the trip in, I decided my time in Toronto would be better suited by leaving my car in the Hotel Valet rather than trying to figure out parking in the city. Parking, as it turns out, is not cheap, nor is it easy. After spending a good amount of time driving around the entertainment district trying to find some place to land his Saab, my friend Kevin decided he would valet his car at my hotel rather than trying to find other parking near the hotel, and we would take public transportation everywhere. Which ended up being a very, very good plan.
Part III- The trip home will be posted tomorrow :-)
Friday, November 6, 2009
Ending Mileage: 122,676
Please be advised: the trip to Toronto will be posted in three parts over the next couple days. It's far too long to post all at once. A fourth part of the series will detail advice for long road trips to places you've never been before. Specifically things I learned on the trip to Toronto.
While I'm generally not a huge advocate for planning road trips well in advance (spontaneity is part of the charm of a road trip), my trip to Toronto certainly qualified for some more in depth preparations due to customs, auto insurance, cell phone charges, vehicle inspections, border agents, not to mention, vast stretches of road which I'd never traveled, including large parts of two US States (Pennsylvania and New York), and one Canadian Provence (Ontario). Basically, by the time I left my house on October 15th, not only did I know how far I expected to get on each tank of premium, but I knew exactly where I was stopping for lunch, which gas stations (I only use one brand of fuel...once they decide to sponsor the blog, I'll tell you who) I would fill up at, which Service Plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike I would get breakfast at, which restaurant I would get lunch at, and predicted within 5 minutes what time I would end up crossing the Canadian border. (Above: The Volvo, Stock image. Because the weather was so lousy, I didn't take many pictures on the way up. Apologies all around).
Even with the dreary, cold, rainy weather the entire way up, road construction projects taking up one lane of highway the entire way through Pennsylvania, heavier than expected traffic in and around Erie...and having my Nav system's battery die in Buffalo on my way to get lunch, I still made it across the border right at 2 PM which is what I had originally planned. My goal of beating rush hour in Toronto appeared met.
I left my house at 4:00 AM sharp on October 15th. It was heavily overcast, but not raining. By 4:20 I had left Virginia and crossed the bridge into Maryland. I made very good time through the hours before the sun came up, crossing the Pennsylvania state line by 6:00 AM. I stopped at the first rest area in Pennsylvania to stretch my legs a little bit, and discard my already empty diet soft drink bottle. Surprisingly enough, I was around two hours outside of what is generally considered the Washington DC Metro Region but was still picking up the local NPR station (WAMU 88.5) crystal clear. At the rest area I decided it'd be a good idea to switch to my MP3 player rather than continue on with the radio, knowing all too well that the station would not last too much further into Pennsylvania.
By 6:10 I was back on the road, watching the miles tick by. I didn't get terribly far, however, before it started to rain. The first drops started hitting the windshield soon after I left the rest area, and picked up gradually. It didn't stop raining until almost 30 minutes after I crossed the Canadian border. About 15 minutes out of Breezewood, PA I hit the first construction project of my trip. I've not seen as much road construction on a road trip before as I did on this one. There were several work zones on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, on I-79 and on I-90 as well.
I usually stop at Breezewood for a quick bathroom and food break, however, when I came through, nothing was open yet, and my first scheduled stop wasn't until the Midway Service Plaza on the Turnpike.
By 6:30 I had pulled through the toll booths and on to the Turnpike. My nav system told me I should get off only a mile into the turnpike, however, the route it recommended me to take included many back roads, and Pennsylvania is notorious for not marking roads very well off the interstate. So, ignoring the lady in the box, I continued on the Turnpike, blowing past the I-99 exit without even looking twice.
By this point, rain was absolutely pouring down, and the thermometer in my car precipitously dropped below 40. The outside temperature was only 33 degrees when I pulled into the Midway Service Plaza. A bit worried (it was still raining...and it was 33 degrees) I went online with my blackberry to check the weather ahead of me. I decided that taking a quick break for some Cinnabon would be a good way to kill a few minutes and let the temperature rise a few degrees. Midway was where I had originally planned on getting breakfast, however, the only thing open was Cinnabon and Starbucks. While I enjoy what both companies offer, neither offers anything substantial enough to carry over on a day of heavy driving.
Fortunately, after some research, I concluded the temperature had not dropped far enough overnight to cause any issues with ice, so after a cinnamon roll and my second diet soft drink of the day, I got back in the Volvo and continued westward.
An hour later, I ran across the New Stanton Service Plaza, which advertised a Burger King on site. By this point I was ready to chew off my right arm I was so hungry. I was not the only person on the Turnpike with that idea. The line at the burger king was easily two dozen people deep as it is the first place I'm sure anyone had seen open that morning, and I didn't feel like waiting, so I pushed ahead, and didn't stop again until about half way up I-79.
I-79 was probably the least well researched part of my trip. Because of this, I know on my next trip, Cranberry, PA is the last worthwhile stop after getting on 79 before Erie. There is absolutely nothing on I-79 except for an outlet mall and about two exits with a McDonald's. So, that being said, if the tank is low, fill up in Cranberry: the next easily accessible gas station isn't really until Erie. One of those two McDonald's was where I finally found breakfast.
In Erie I picked up I-90 East. I noticed my tank was down around a quarter, so I watched for the exit for the service station I had mapped out on the way up. After finding the station and filling up with premium unleaded, I continued on I-90.
My next stop: Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Overall in those four months I spent a total of $465.44 on fuel, $36.27 on repairs, and $56.32 on maintenance. The vehicle was driven a total of 4692 miles between my June entry and my trip to Toronto which will be posted at some point in the next 24-48 hours...it still needs a bit of work.
The next few months will be significantly more interesting. I've already got road trips planned to Wilson, NC; Hauppage, NY; Harrisonburg, VA; and a return trip to Toronto, as well as many short day trips (like my trip to Pittsburgh, PA) from the Washington DC metro area which are still in the very early planning stages.
So stay tuned, plenty more is on the way.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Ending Mileage: 116,748
Total Mileage: 1,639
June was a very unexciting month, mostly filled with commuting and moving. Moving kept me busy enough that I didn't get a chance to run off anywhere exciting. Stay tuned for July!
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Ending Mileage: 115,109
Total Miles: 1,352
Total Vehicle Expense: $436.86
Total Cost per Mile: $0.32
Overall for being a partial month, May was not too costly on the Volvo even with the unscheduled repair. When all things are considered, if you deduct the average car payment from what I spent, I only spent $36.86 to run my car for an entire month. That's not bad for any stretch of the imagination...because it also includes all gas, all maintenance and all repairs. Aside from the one repair, of which $0 would be covered under a typical new car warranty, someone making payments on a newer car would have had on average a total of $836.86. Stay tuned for June, there are two exciting road trips planned, as well as the biannual state emissions inspection for Virginia.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The final few days of June were surprisingly busy, but uneventful. I spent most the final few days driving back and forth to work, and getting things ready for my move next week.
Overall, the last few days of the month were not nearly as calm as I had initially thought they would be.
Most of the past several days were spent driving around getting things ready for my move and commuting back and forth to work.
Ending mileage: 115,109
Total Miles Driven: 398
Total Vehicle Expense: $36.02
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Beginning Mileage: 114,243
When I first sat down to write this post, I had not seen the photos I took during the trip. 500 miles behind the wheel in one day is quite a feat for anyone, or any car for that matter. Even with all the running around, the Volvo seemed to ask for more as I was running the engine to allow the turbo cool off. Any way you cut it, 9.5 hours behind the wheel in one day is about my limit...possibly even a little beyond what I'm capable of.
I got on the road a little late today. I had planned on leaving my house by 9:00 AM so I could get to the first planned stop, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater by 1:00 PM. The goal was to be able to tour the house, then have some time to take some photos before heading in to Pittsburgh for dinner at 5:00. As it happens, I didn't get on the road until 10:30 which means I didn't get to Fallingwater until 2:30. Basically, I had time to get lunch there before taking the tour, and no time at all to explore the grounds and take photos either before or after the tour.
The day was absolutely perfect for a nice, long, drive. The trip out took me Hwy 15 north to I-70 in Frederick, MD to I-68 in Hancock, MD (Pictured above). I-68 between Hancock, MD and Cumberland, MD is very hilly. I counted nearly 12 mountain passes that I crossed in that stretch of highway. On around number 10, I decided I would be taking the Turnpike back to Virginia even if my GPS told me not to. Somewhere soon after Cumberland, MD, I-68 and US 40 part ways, my GPS unit instructed me to take 40. The sky in the Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands is big. Very big. (Pictured Below) You don't realize it until you've driven through on a perfectly cloudless day. Near every peak of every mountain, the horizon appears significantly lower than it does anywhere else I've ever experienced. At points of the drive, the only thing I remember seeing in the windshield was just a solid, deep blue wall. The richness of the color was striking.
The Laurel Highlands could be a trip just inside itself. There was so much I would have liked to stop at if I would have had time. For me, the prime attraction would be all of the roadside Mom and Pop restaurants. It seemed that every couple hundred meters...for the entire trip between I-68 and Fallingwater, there was another. A month wouldn't be enough to experience all of them, even if you were eating at a different one for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late evening libations. Since I didn't have time, however, I'll spare the details. It leaves a good excuse for me to return.
Fallingwater ended up being better than I had originally thought it would be. They offer two tours, I took the basic $18.00 tour. If you plan your trip well in advance, there is another, more in depth, $55 tour, in which you get to go in restricted areas of the home, and take photographs inside. A word of caution on the $55 tour, you must book it several months in advance. When I tried to get a same day reservation on the tour, all I said was I was looking for the In-Depth tour. The lady on the other end of the line informed me that the next available date would be well into July. I decided the regular tour would be just fine for my purposes.
If you are only going to visit one Frank Lloyd Wright building in your life, Fallingwater is the one to go to as it is only one of his buildings known to exist with all of the original furniture in tact. The home is decorated exactly how it was in the early 1950's...down to the paintings on the walls, the liquor on the coffee table and the books on the shelves. It is as if you are a guest inside a home someone's living in, except there are very strict rules about touching anything at all.
The cafeteria on the grounds on Fallingwater is where I had my late lunch. The food served is spectacular. I'd recommend waiting and eating on the grounds, rather than getting a bite at the first place you come to. It's well worth what they charge.
After leaving Fallingwater, I followed 381 North to Mill Run. Soon after Mill Run, the road starts to wind down off the Highlands. Be very careful. Follow the speed limit as closely as possible. Not because of police presence, mind you, but the road is extremely curvy, and there are no guardrails. If the need arises to brake suddenly, you want your brakes cool(er). I overheated the brakes on the Volvo on the way down even though I was extremely careful to use a lower gear and to stay off them as much as possible. Near the bottom I had very limited stopping power, which necessitated a stop in Connellsville, PA for a re-fill on my diet pepsi, and a few circles around the car to make sure the brakes had cooled.
Aside from the braking incident, the trip into Pittsburgh was rather uneventful with the exception of hitting rush hour traffic on the Turnpike, and leading into the tunnel on the 376. Once past the tunnel, traffic flowed freely all the way until I got to Station Square. A bit of advice on station square. It's just like any other tourist trap. In fact...that's all it is. The restaurants look like they should be local (with the exception of the Hard Rock Cafe...which by the way is a chain I detest, and will not go to even if it's free) most of the places are little known chains. I got trapped by that. Where I could have ridden one of the inclines up to the top and gotten a real local restaurant, I ended up eating at a chain I had never heard of, that while the food wasn't bad, it was still a chain, so I will not mention the name. However from my table at dinner, I did have a beautiful view of Downtown Pittsburgh across the river (pictured). It was almost worth breaking principle for. Trains flew past on the tracks that were between where I was sitting and the river two to three times while I was having my dinner. Interestingly enough, you can feel the trains approaching well before you can hear them.
Parking for the length of stay I was at Station Square was $4.00. I could have gotten it validated, however, you have to spend $50.00 on tourist-trap stuff at one of the multitudes of gift shops in the shopping center. I'd rather just pay the $4.00. The restaurants do not validate. While I enjoyed my time at Station Square, it would probably be more fun had I been there with someone else. There is plenty to do in and around the center...you just have to know what is going on.
After dinner, I crossed E. Carson St, to ride the Incline up to one of the many overlooks. A word of caution to anyone who A) is positive they have a fear of heights, B) has a limited fear of heights, or C) thinks they could possibly have that fear residing anywhere inside them, take a cab. The incline feels rickety. I was assured by the lady running the thing it was perfectly safe, but it still definitely got the best of me. I stayed up on the hill only long enough to take 1-2 pictures of downtown (see below), before climbing on the Incline and riding back to the foot of the mountain.
When I got back down, it was nearly dark, which meant it was time to climb back in the Volvo and drive the four hours back home. I decided not to go I-68 back to Virginia as I had tortured the poor car enough for one day, but rather to take the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The first way station outside of Pittsburgh is nearly an hour and a half on, so get gas before leaving Pittsburgh if you're concerned about fuel level. Ironically, when I got back to Breezewood, I ran into a tour group who was staying at my hotel in the days before. They recognized me, I didn't recognize them.
The only issue on the way back home was just south of Frederick on US 15. They were resurfacing the road between Frederick and Point of Rocks, MD which means 15 had gone from one lane in each direction to one lane in one direction. After about a 5 minute wait I was moving again, and ended up pulling back in the driveway promptly at 12:20 AM.
It was a spectacular trip. There's a lot more in Pittsburgh to do that I didn't get to do, which means that a return trip is already in the works!
Ending Mileage: 114,711
Total Vehicle Expense: $69.74
Total Mileage for the day: 468
A link to the route taken is here.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Today was spent mostly sitting around waiting for my car to get out so I could get that nasty rejection sticker removed from the windshield.
It ended up costing $252.16 to get one tire, and the headlights adjusted so I could keep driving for yet another year. Believe it or not, in 20,000 miles it's going to be time for new tires all around anyway. So this single tire I purchased is somewhat of a band-aid. The good news is since I replaced that one tire, the ABS/TRACS light has stopped coming on around corners! Maybe that was the issue rather than the ABS sensor (read: VERY expensive) that my mechanic said needed to be fixed.
After retrieving the vehicle, I went to Embassy Auto Wash here in Sterling and paid another $7.75 to get the car washed. It was clearly time. The only thing I'm upset about, now that I've finally washed the car it almost guarantees rain in the near future.
Finally, I had a round trip commute today. Not a good day for photos, but we'll get some up tomorrow!
Ending Mileage: 114,243
Total Mileage: 57
Total Vehicle Expense: $259.91
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Today’s Starting Mileage: 113,757
Today was a relatively busy day for an older, high mileage car. I started out at about 1:00 AM running out to Leesburg to my editor’s house for a quick consult about his restaurant review website. I returned home at about 4:00 AM to continue working on packing for my move. In case you wonder, the 24 hour McDonalds location in Leesburg, Virginia starts serving Breakfast at 4:00 AM sharp. If you want French fries at 4:01, you are out of luck.
I slipped over to the Target store near my house to get some more tape at 7:40 AM. Target opens at 8:00. I had to kill about 10 minutes before the store opened.
I had a lunch meeting in Reston, Virginia at 11:00 AM, followed by another meeting in Alexandria, Virginia at 2:30. The person I was supposed to meet with in Alexandria was late. Two hours late. I had to spend $9.00 to park in some underground parking lot who wouldn’t take a card. I had to drive around to find an ATM machine because the attendant would not let me leave the car while I was looking for cash.
After the meeting, I was supposed to go to a campaign event, but since the meeting ended up finishing at 5:00 (2.5 hours behind schedule), and the political event started at 4:00, I had to skip out on that. After listening to WTOP Radio’s afternoon traffic reporter I decided that rather than sitting for hours in Washington DC Beltway traffic, I should take the scenic route home on the George Washington Parkway and Georgetown Pike with a short stop at Gravelly Point to watch the planes land (Pictured).
Gravelly Point is one of my favorite places to go in the Washington DC Metro area. Planes landing at Washington’s Regan National Airport fly merely meters above your head as they touch down. Not all of them get it in one try either. One Delta MD-80 in particular had to go around four times before finally settling in.
After leaving Gravelly Point, I drove north on the GW Parkway to the Capital Beltway, continued one exit south to 193/Georgetown Pike, and followed that west all the way to Hwy 7. The weather today was perfect for open-sunroof, wind in your face driving. I briefly considered another pit stop at Great Falls National Park in Great Falls, Virginia but realized at that point it was 7:00 PM, my energy level was fading fast, and I had a review deadline to meet.
I arrived back in my parking lot at 7:23 PM.
Today’s ending Mileage: 113,873
Total Miles: 116
Total Vehicle Related Expenses: $9.00
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
On the way home from work today, I was thinking strongly about what I know well enough to write about. As I sipped my Grande Skim Latte, I looked around at all the shiny new vehicles around me, and realized my 1996 Volvo 850 T5 Station Wagon (pictured) has many benefits that these cars did not.