As my solo tour across country made its way into the heartland of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and into New Mexico, I quickly learned something about the route I had chosen for the trip. While it was quite nostalgic and interesting to ride this famous Route 66 (now called Interstate 40), what I didn't know was how windy the high plains could be. Nor did I realize that starting in Texas, there begins a slow but steady climb in elevation all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona, up to 7300 feet. I would have to say that this was probably the only error in judgement I made in the months of pre-planning and here's why... so you know not to make the same mistake.
First, the good news. It would have been far worse had I taken Interstate 70 across country into the Rockies as they are huge mountains with steep inclines, which would have been unbearable to drive with a loaded truck of furniture. Sure, cars passed by as if it were nothing but trucks do not respond as well to steep inclines as do cars. And it's not just my truck, it's all trucks. But let's get back to Interstate 40. The incline heading west on the 40 is miles and miles long, steady and slow, which seemed never ending. For a fully loaded truck, inclines use much more gas meaning you have to make more gas stops and spend more money. And, it exposes you more often outside the cabin of the truck adding the element of risk to your personal safety when traveling alone. It also leaves fewer choices in finding the best prices on gas as stations are far and few between along the 40 so filling up is absolutely necessary each time even if it means filling up at a high-cost station. In the small town of Needles, CA, near empty (both the truck and the town), the only gas station in town offered regular for $5.00 per gallon. There were no other choices so these are some of the traps you fall into that are to be expected.
Gas prices do fluctuate throughout the country so for the first half of the trip the truck did remarkably well on gas 'for a V10 engine' with thousands of pounds of furniture. I had budgeted about $1200 for fuel but did so unaware of the inclines and high crosswinds for the next thousand miles. Gas began to sift through then engine like water... sucking it down to make it up the inclines and fight the wind. And it got progressively worse the further west I headed. I asked a few natives along the way about the high winds thinking it was an anomaly but was quickly told that high winds are an everyday occurrence at this time of year in all the states I passed through. In my last hotel, the Hilton Gardens, a young woman in a baseball cap was delivering a pizza to a guest room. I asked her about the winds and how a woman keeps her hair in place if going somewhere special. Her reply, "you don't!"
What I found amusing when the headwinds began in Oklahoma was that there were no warning signs on the freeway to expect them. So I forged on but then when I hit New Mexico, there were signs everywhere that said severe crosswinds, which seemed too little too late. By then, I was in the thick of it with no turning back. It took two hands on the wheel to hold the truck steady against the buffeting winds, avoiding the swerve of passing 18-wheelers that were clearly fighting the wind as well. Cars seemed to fare a little better but those on motorcycles were in the fight for their life.
Signs began to show up that said if you see someone driving drunk, call this number... how funny I thought, how could you tell? The winds were so severe that everyone on the freeway looked as if they were driving under the influence with all swerving in unison as if to the rhythm of a slow dance. How much worse could it get, I wondered? It has to end sometime. It did not. It got worse in each state I passed through. In Oklahoma, the winds were head on at 30MPH, then by Arizona they hit 40MPH slapping the front of the truck with such force that the truck was pushed to the shoulder at times. It wasn't until I crossed into California that the winds and gusts were 50MPH... like driving in a bad storm with the sun raining down. From my hotel room, the howling wind sounded like a hurricane, but this is how it is here everyday.
The gas stops became more frequent and the gas prices higher as I approached the western states. My $1200 fuel budget quickly escalated to $1600. This is one of those lessons learned, to expect the unexpected. Be prepared for anything and everything.
One of the things that helped give me peace of mind was U-Haul's Green Gas Gauge that shows bars (like your cell phone) on when you're getting the best mileage. Unfortunately, driving uphill and in head on high winds showed the low bars, sometimes no bars, but when the inclines finally turned to declines, all 5 green bars showed up and often.
My goal was to provide you with an idea of the MPG the U-Haul Truck received overall but it wouldn't be a fair assessment due to the different weather and road challenges each day causing a significant variation in miles per gallon. So instead, next week, I'll provide a day by day MPG chart to demonstrate what a difference a day makes... due to weather and road conditions, inclines and declines, and all sorts of other unexpected surprises that can change your gas consumption from day to day.
U-Haul Fuel economy.
U-Haul rental trucks have a low profile, rounded corners and advanced chassis skirts to reduce wind drag and raise fuel economy 20%.
All U-Haul rental trucks use cheaper, cleaner and more convenient unleaded fuel.
Use the fuel-economy gauge to save money on fuel and reduce air pollution.
Our sponosrs U-Haul and Bridgestone Tires are committed to going green. U-Haul trucks offer a much lower center of gravity and sleeker design that its competitors, which makes their trucks more aerodynamic in the wind. After crossing the country, it was clear that most moving consumers knew this as there were more U-Hauls on the road than any other brand. The others, Budget and Penske, are built much taller with flat box-like trailers that likely fared much worse in the wind than we did so inspite of the high winds, I was thrilled to be in my U-Haul and not in a competitor truck.
Bridgestone has also made an environmental commitment with the development of their tires as well as their One Team One Planet program. It is an honor to work with companies that are not only female-friendly but care about our planet and are taking action to make a difference.
To read more about our story across country and one of the greatest young women in history, Sacajawea, who we honor with this trip, please click here.