Just a few of the things that I have noticed as we travelled, I am sure there are many more that I will talk about too and also there are those that I have now got used to and they no longer stand out.
After six months on the road I think I have got used to this driving lark – big (ish) rig, wrong side of the road etc. etc. There are a few things that stand out, some of which I still find difficult to come to terms with. Generally speaking I have found American drivers more forgiving and patient than the British, although towns and cities (lots of towns are called cities?) still have the tailgaters and boy racers. Driving Bree means I have to be more patient too, though I don’t think Betsy would agree that I am more forgiving J. On the highway or freeway or interstate (dual carriage way, motorway, major road?) it’s great to just clock up the mileage however it does mean contending with the huge trucks; semis, tractor trailers or 18 wheelers that are a huge tractor (cab) with a 53’ trailer.
I like 60 – 65mph, it’s comfortable and I get reasonable gas mileage, yes I call it gas now – it just got easier ‘cos you have to explain/correct the word “petrol”. The trucks seem to like 65 – 75mph so if I am doing 64mph and they are doing 66mph there is that forever being overtaken feeling as you concentrate to stay between your two white lines and hope they are doing the same – not always easy on windy days not to mention when you are in the middle lane and you get one each side! Don’t get me wrong I have had the opportunity to overtake them now and again J. However when it’s my turn I found out quite quickly to judge the moment I have actually made it past so as to indicate and pull back in before the car behind me takes that space and does a neat swerve into my space and proceeds to undertake – now that’s not uncommon, you get overtakers and undertakers all the time, people seem to sit in one lane even if it’s the outside lane (sometimes they may be taking a left turn a few miles on so they are just getting ready) I have learnt to “get ready” in this way too. Choosing a lane is a fine art, the inside one is not too great when there is a section with a lot of exits and on ramps, as many motorists fail to indicate that they are exiting. Quite often you are faced with brake lights as they just turn off, the other side of this are the ones coming to join the road coming along side you and staying there at the same speed as you until they run out of room and as you brake to let them in (because they failed to accelerate into that huge space in front of you) they brake too – where is that megaphone when you want it? – Betsy says I don’t actually need one L. Saying that, if there is room, it’s best to get into the next lane over and just avoid all this, I have found that when it’s my turn to join onto these roads those truck drivers are the ones that seem most aware and pull over for you J. All this said, it still amazes us with the number of drivers who just weave from lane to lane making their way, just slightly, faster than everyone else – quite often they find themselves in the outside lane when they want to exit from the inside lane – so over they go – sometimes across all 5 possibly 6 lanes!
It’s not unusual to have exits running off from the inside and outside lanes so middle for diddle is for me.
On the whole signs have been good with the system being that odd numbered roads run north south and even run east west. For instance we pretty well covered the journey from New Hampshire to Florida on the I.95 (that’s I for interstate) and Florida to almost California on the I.10. As the name says the interstates cut through the states and along the road there are mile marker posts these count down or up from one border to the next so you know how many miles you will be on that road to the other side of the state and so on. Even the exit numbers are very logical, for example if you want exit 98 and you have just passed exit 48 then there is 50miles to go. Talking of interstates there is a huge difference from state to state, county to county in the condition of the roads. OK they do take a hammering, there are a lot of trucks and they must be very heavy, some of the roads are concrete some asphalt (tarmac) some contend with huge weather extremes but at times the maintenance leaves a lot to be desired. Bree (and her passengers) have had to contend with huge potholes that cause a shudder sending oven shelves into a frenzy. Undulations causing involuntary dancing side to side – she has a lovely hip action! To the concrete bridge sections that are cast with a nice neat curve rising from each joint then falling down to the next, this causes Bree to set up a rocking motion that increases in height with each section as she comes down in a down bit to be launched higher on the next up bit, I grip the wheel tighter as I am lifted off my seat to a greater and greater extent each time whilst looking ahead to see how far it is to ride it out or try and brake without my foot jamming hard down as I come down from the last up! – if you know what I mean? I think it’s very similar to helming a yacht in the southern ocean, just a bit dryer J.
Road works are fun too, I have negotiated miles of traffic cones and concrete barriers, fine when the cones are well placed however most of the time there is literally only inches clearance and occasionally even that gets taken up by a cone out of line! Thankfully (so far) I have hit neither cone nor concrete barrier (guess which one I tend to be closer toJ – Betsy thinks it’s the concrete when it’s her side). The cones themselves vary too – from “normal” ones like ours through thin pole like spikes to huge 3’-4’ high barrels! There are speed limits – of course – and the fine for speeding is usually doubled in road work areas. Again, on the whole people seem to observe the speed limits, these vary greatly and can be down to 15mph in school areas. Quite often you will see two speed limits for the same stretch of road, one for day and one for night. It’s not unusual to have a separate speed limit for trucks too. The difference between these two limits is usually 5 or 10 mph and most “high speed” limits are 75mph. Anyway Bree gets very thirsty at 90 J – Toad and Betsy get very worried at 90 L. However I haven’t seen one speed camera J only the odd trooper/sheriff with a radar gun (think it was a radar gun anyway, or maybe that’s another reason why people don’t tend to speed?)
Along the way there are other hazards too, the “road ‘gators” things that look like big black alligators on the road that are actually shed tyres from those tractor-trailers. Thankfully the majority of them are off on the hard shoulder, though I have had to do the odd avoidance swerve and remember all this is whilst “Toad” diligently follows behind.
In the beginning I was very aware of checking every few seconds that he was still there and asking Betsy to check those odd few seconds that I wasn’t. Now it’s just like the odd glance now and again (I am sure Betsy is on top of this now anyway). The wing mirrors are the best tool, however I can’t see Toad in these, only in the dashboard monitor linked to a rear view camera. This is a great tool, however when driving in the rain it doesn’t take long before a dirty raindrop has found it’s way onto the lens and my picture becomes just a blur. Those wing mirrors by the way stick out a foot on each side, so when you get a truck coming the other way on just a two lane (one each way) road I am sure there have been times when mirrors have passed within inches at a closing speed of 120mph or more, however I have stopped moving my head out of the way as we pass now.
In towns/cities it’s Betsy’s job to look out for the signs and tell me which lane to be in whilst I look out for the traffic and try to get into those lanes – even if I do have to cross over 3 or 4 of them J – it’s not easy keeping quiet. I am confident enough to know how much room I need for a U turn now and have completed these a number of times to get back to the turn we should have taken – it’s not easy keeping quiet…
It is however very comfortable driving this bus; I like the armchair seat, huge windscreen and driving height – eye to eye with those truckers! So much so that I feel very vulnerable when driving “just a car” The one thing about the height is the great views, many of those blog journey pictures have been taken by Betsy through that large though sometimes dirty windscreen (I have just spent a few hours cleaning bug stains from the front of Bree)
Talking of size – and I know I have mentioned the length and width before J (50ft with Toad by 8’6”) not to mention those wing mirrors, how about this:
That windscreen is 4ft deep, nearly twice that of your average car.
The diameter of the wheels is 3ft, about the height of your average car bonnet.
The wheels are held on with 8 nuts, your car – 5.
On those bumpy roads I have needed the head clearance of 2’6” compared to your more like 4” in a car – I could have kept my Stetson on in Texas
Back to the windscreen, I sit a mere 55 inches away from it, over twice the normal car distance.
The height of my seat from the ground is over 5ft at 62” giving my eye level with those truckers of 8ft.
To get into Bree is four steps up – my seat is bolted to the floor that is 4ft off the ground – somewhere around the car driver’s eye level – that puts their eye level with my *@# or a bit lower.
When it comes to front seat romance there is 30 inches between us (however the backseat is a 5ft bedJ)
OK one downright winner for the car is that you will find anything between two and five doors to get in – Bree has just the one!
I could go on about; 2 TV’s a bathroom, kitchen etc. but then it has been our home for the last six months.
Oh and on that patience lark – I suppose another reason is; your average car; 0- 60 in about 10 – 12 seconds, Bree (pulling Toad) 0 – 60, sometime soon, as long as it’s not uphill J.
Facts and figures of our “tour”:
We have covered 8500 miles in Bree travelling through 23 American states and into our first province of Canada. That’s about 170 hours in the comfy seat.
We have also travelled a further 8500 miles in Toad putting another 170ish hours in a fairly comfy seat.
That would work out at just over two weeks of constant driving; non stop 24-7.
Making our total of 17000 American miles (well a few in Canada)
Oil and filters have been changed in both Bree and Toad and will be again on our return.
The cheapest gas was at $1.96 (though we did see it at $1.95) and the most expensive was $3.49 (though we did see it at $3.75) but for most of our trip it was around $2.20ish. The price rise has been the last 5weeks seeing the most expensive in California. However Canada is a bit dearer!
Bree has slurped it down at about 7.5mpg overall whilst Toad has given a more gentlemanly sipping of just 28.5mpg which works out at an average between them of 18mpg. This is probably about the same (or possibly better) as if we had one of those large 4×4 trucks pulling a 5th wheel then using the same vehicle as the “run-around”.
Our longest single journey was on day 2 at 336miles.
Our shortest journey was on day 104 at less than one mile, from a campsite to free “dry camping” down the road.
Yes, to coin a phrase, “there have been good times, there have been bad times” Would we do it again? Well of course – watch out for “Thornleys do Canada” (and back to the USA).
Lessons for next time:
I think we tried to cover too many miles and didn’t stay long enough in some places, it did show us the ropes very quickly and the learning curve has been steep. We have scratched the surface of just a few parts of this huge country. We will be able to plan the next trip better with the knowledge gained maybe travelling quickly with only overnight stops to ensure we have time to stay and explore/enjoy our chosen places.
Oh well, back to our frustrating "traffic jam driving" soon.
No pictures with this but don’t forget to check out the ones from last time as they are now uploaded – new month 🙂
See you all soon…