Sunday, May 31, 2009

May Month End Recap

Beginning Mileage: 113,757

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

Beginning Mileage: 114,711

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 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

Beginning Mileage 114,186

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

Beginning Mileage: 114,012

Again another combined post. The time had come for me to renew my Virginia State Inspection on the Volvo. Between running back and forth between work and errands, I did not get a chance to go to my normal location to get the car inspected. It failed. While I haven't yet gotten over to get the new tire, and the headlight alignment, I still spent $16 to be told my car needed yet more repairs. I spent the day today driving around with the big yellow rejection sticker on the windsheild (see picture).

The most interesting driving of the past couple days came from hanging out with a friend of mine with no car. He lives in Leesburg, about 12 miles from my house. He wanted to come down, so as always, I gladly jumped in the car to go pick him up. He is a painter with some rather impressive work. I'll be adding a link to that soon.

On Wednesday morning this week, however, I decided I was going to go out for breakfast. I have a general rule of thumb that I don't eat at any restaurants with more than two locations. I drove around for about an hour. All of the places I used to go to for breakfast have either closed down, been sold, or stopped offering the service. If you would have told me a week ago that I could drive around for an hour looking for some biscuits and gravy, I'd have never believed you. Part of the side effect of moving means that I cannot make my own food. All of my dishes have been packed...including all of my pots and pans.

So all that being said, including my two days of commuting, and my two round-trips to Leesburg, I totaled 174 miles. Rather impressive for a solid old car.

Ending Mileage: 114,186

Total Miles: 174

Total Vehicle Expense: $16

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beginning Mileage: 113,936

Now that I'm off of my weekend, my driving habits are considerably more, shall we say, boring.  Other than commuting and errands, I'm rarely venturing out of the daily routine.  While it does give the car a nice breather, I certainly do not have a short commute.  The miles are still piling on.  

I got gas yesterday, which has become a bit more of a shock to the wallet.  Since the Volvo was made in 1996, it's fuel economy isn't quite what it would be if I were driving a newer vehicle.  However, I would have to fill up my car 61 times per month to make up the cost difference between the average car payment, and the miniscule $7.00 extra it costs me to fill the 16 gallon tank from what a 12 gallon tank would cost.  Right now I'm at four.  I'd have to drive an additional 21,000 miles per month in order to be there.  I don't think that's very order to pull that off I'd have to average 90 miles per hour for eight hours a day, every single day of the month.  It's just not going to happen. 

When you drive an older car, a couple quarts of oil should be a constant companion.  I realized today when I was filling the car with gas, I was out.  So, on top of the $37.18 for gas, I had a $9.01 expense for oil.  Just before I started this blog I had a complete upper engine rebuild done.  Since that was done, I'm down to losing about 1/5 of a quart every 1500 miles.  Before I was losing a quart every 600.  Like most older cars, I assume if my car isn't leaking oil, it's probably out.

One part of my commute in particular is exceptionally rough on my, and everyone else's car who drives that stretch of road.  US 50 in both directions between the 7100 and VA 28 is a barren strait of 1970's strip malls, extremely poorly timed stoplights, and even more poorly maintained road surfaces.  The potholes on this stretch of road have their own potholes. It's torture for any suspension.  I got the Volvo aligned last month, only to have it knocked out of alignment on this road three days later.  

My recommendation is: if at all possible, avoid roads such as this at all cost.  It will cost more to get your car realigned once a month than it will cost in gas and time to go around.  

Ending Mileage: 114,012

Total Vehicle Expenses: $46.19

Total Miles: 76

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beginning Mileage: 113,873

After yesterday's whirlwind tour of Northern Virginia, today the Volvo got a bit of a rest.  All it did was run a few errands with me and commute.  We still racked up over 60 miles! Sorry... no pictures today.

Ending Mileage: 113,936

Total Vehicle Expensie: $0

Total Miles: 63

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

The Idea behind the blog...

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.  
First off, my car doesn't have all the crappy electronic gizmos that are going to render most of these cars worthless in the long haul (used cars with a nav system are typically less valuable than an identical car without one several years down the road...not to mention, more electronic goodies = more to break over time). 
Second, my car has a lower carbon footprint per mile than most any of the vehicles that were sitting around me on the road.  Think about it, between 40-50% of all of a vehicle's mine to recycle carbon comes from the production and recycling process.  Therefore, the more miles you put on ANY car, the less carbon per mile you have used.  Therefore, my 1996 Volvo with 113,000 miles has a lower per mile carbon footprint than that shiny Toyota Prius sitting next to me.  Even though, while sitting next to me, the Prius is emitting zero carbon.
Third, and finally, my car is paid for.  If shit were to hit the fan, I'd get to keep the car.  Not to mention, I'm not dumping more interest into the cost of the vehicle over the long haul.  Sure I don't have a warranty, so all repairs come out of pocket, but if you replace the engine in a car once every five years whether it needs it or not, you actually save money over financing a $20,000 car for five years.
Regardless of the situation, however, my goal is to run this car from today, to 213,000 miles.  Through this blog I intend to chronicle my journeys throughout the country on a day to day basis.  Each entry will be headed with the mileage when I get up and completed with the mileage when I go to bed.  So, watch tomorrow for the first entry :-)