Friday, April 24, 2009

Road trip

Our older spawn, a high-school junior this year, is looking at colleges. Right now he spends the first half of each academic day in an auto-mechanics program at a local career center, so some of his attention is devoted to tech schools.

Recently he'd expressed interest in the University of Northwestern Ohio, a respected institution in Lima which happened to be holding an open house today. The spawn's driver's license is still suspended, thanks to his second speeding ticket, and since his mom works for a living I got drafted into busing him up there this morning.

I was willing, if not necessarily thrilled, to make the drive. If nothing else, I decided, it'd give me a chance to gauge my success in improving the TrailBlazer's fuel efficiency. Strange as it sounds, in six months it's seen little more than short hops and milk runs.

We left the house early enough to escape metro Columbus before the height of morning rush hour. Once past Marysville, we had clear sailing all the way up US 33 and Ohio 117 to Allen County.

I seldom visit that part of Ohio and I don't know it well, but it didn't take long before I was seduced by its flatland charm. It sits at the far eastern edge of the plains, the kind of landscape where a single cornrow can stretch for miles. The Scioto River, broad and brown in Columbus, is but a trickle up in the burg of Roundhead, barely cause for a bridge.

It's the Old Midwest, the heart of the Heartland, a simple place with a slower pace. The good earth is salted with hard-working men and women. Patriotism is on display everywhere, American flags flying proudly from porches, poles and silos.

On this bright, windy and unseasonably warm spring day, the two-hour drive to Lima was a welcome vacation for me. I soaked up everything I could.

The spawn, of course, slept.

My take on UNOH may not match that of a 17-year-old, but I liked what I saw and heard. The 185-acre school sprawls between Lima's retail cluster and a typical industrial park, bounded on one side by railroad tracks and a huge grain elevator. The facilities are modest but well equipped, the curriculum impressive and the instructors I met engaging.

It's not Ohio State -- and that's the point. Our spawn has plenty of time to decide if UNOH, or any tech school, is for him. We'll see.

So how did the TrailBlazer acquit itself? To set the scene, since October I'd managed to increase its real-world range by 10%, to 330 miles -- not bad, but I'm looking to get at least 20 miles more from a full 22-gallon tank.

Over the course of 240 miles today, despite battling 30mph winds and including some maddening stop-and-go traffic in Lima, it achieved almost 21mpg -- that's a range of 450 miles.

If I'd checked tire pressures before the trip, and with fresh oil, it's conceivable that it would've performed slightly better -- but for an
everyday BOV, this'll do nicely.

With a short shakedown cruise in the books, now I find myself wondering how well my little white truck would do on a family trip to West Virginia -- twice the cargo and many long hills to pull. Sounds to me like a good reason for another road trip.