Saturday, January 23, 2010

One Year! (part 5)--The Homewrecker Tour!

Finally, after months of tweaking and poking, adjusting and sleeping late on weekends, I got to takemy little critter out for her first proper road trip. That's the Big Thing for me, since there's a lot out there on the road I want to explore. I've got that '92 Tracker, yeah, but it doesn't really work well on the highway--the engine howls above 55 mph or so, it's loud as hell in the cabin, and crosswinds are white-knuckle events. But that little yellow bugger has been along I-10 from New Orleans to Jacksonville, and it's never been unreliable. Even after it sits for a few months (because I'm driving the X-11), I can hop in, turn the key, and it starts immediately.

35 mpg on the highway doesn't hurt, either.

On Jan. 10th, I decided to celebrate the X-11's first year by taking her up on the highway and winding it out. Acceleration is smooth and effortless from a dead stop all the way up to 80; the engine growls, the transaxle whines, and there's only the light vibration from the front tires to mar that smoothness. The cockpit is comfortable and quiet.

The first leg of the trip: Fort Gaines, on Dauphin Island in Alabama. It's about 90 miles and I'm looking at less than a quarter tank--about 28 mpg highway! Considering that this is a carbureted motor, nearly 30 years old, neglected for 4 or 5 years (I'm assuming the previous owner didn't run it much after 2004, the last time it was registered--and given the stuff I had to fix to get it to run, it's a safe assumption), and running with the "High Output" cam and heads, that's pretty damn good.

There was only one snag on the way. Just over the Alabama line, some guy in a big Ford pickup went roaring by in the inside lane (I was cruising at about 70 in the outside). He had one of those plastic playhouses and some other junk in the bed. A pair of smaller trucks are behind him and there's a car a few hundred feet ahead of me. As Truck Guy is getting close to side by side with that car, a gust of wind blows over all of us...and picks the playhouse out of his truck like Dorothy's tornado. The thing flies apart as soon as it clears his roof, four walls and two roof sections blossoming outward. Two walls and a roof panel fall straight behind his truck, knocked down by turbulence, and they land flat on the road to be rolled over by the two followers. There's an impressive shower of splintered plastic and a loud "Cruh-CRUNCH!" from each truck.

But I'm busy.

One of the remaining wall panels spun off to the right, did a lazy roll and a flip, and settled down in my lane, spinning like a sawblade, leading me like a hunter sighting down on a duck. I hit the brakes and aim for the emergency lane...and it follows suit, spinning, spinning, and there's nowhere else to go. Another spray of splinters and my own "Cruh-CRUNCH!!" I didn't feel the big jounce I was expecting, or hear any expensive grinding noises. The only gauge that twitched was the speedometer, needle going lower. I sped up, passed Truck Guy (now pulled over in the median), and pulled over at the rest area to look over the car. No new dents, no leaks, no problem!

On to the fort. It guards the west side of the channel into Mobile Bay. Nice place, hadn't been there since 2007. I'll write about it sometime. I looked around for maybe 30 minutes, making a circuit of the place, then I saw the ferry coming.

Every 90 minutes, the ferry completes a round trip from Fort Gaines to Fort Morgan and back (or vice versa). It'd been a few years since the last time I took the ride either way. Why not?

It was cold and windy, but I had a blast, weaving from one part of the deck to another with a camera, trying for dramatic shots of the seagulls that swarmed the ferry's rear ramp. The other passengers were boring and safe: they stayed in their cars, missed out on the sea smell, the cries of the gulls...that's what the ride's supposed to be about! Cold and windy, yes, but that's what a jacket's for. I got my 16 bucks worth. All they got was a ride.

Fort Morgan sits at the east side of the channel into Mobile Bay at the end of a long finger of criminally overdeveloped rich peoples' land that gets redistributed whenever a hurricane comes sailing through. It's a nice place, too. Hadn't been there since 2006, either. I'll write about it, etc. etc.

Taking the ferry cut about 40 miles off my trip home. Mileage wasn't as good, though, since much of the trip has traffic lights. Call it 24 mpg. But the car handled the whole trip without falling apart, and I think we can call that the crowning achievement of the car's first year.

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