Skyline Prius

Part one: Hybrid Deerstalking in the Shenandoahs
As if Hybridfest hadn't been enough driving for one summer, I decided to make
another road trip with the endpoint goal of going on the Toyota assembly plant
tour in Georgetown KY.  They don't build Priuses there but they do build the
hybrid Camry and a couple of other cars.  Bob Wilson coordinated a small list
of people for this, and evidently the first group visit was so successful that
he wanted to do it again and this round I actually had time to join in.  And I
figured that adding a leisurely tour of some more mountains and backroads would
be a nice way to unwind from Altwheels the previous weekend.  Skyline Drive and
the Blue Ridge has always been a tempting target, and wasn't too far off course
this time.  A little research at the National Park Service site showed the
minimal costs and guidelines and the fact that there are campgrounds with
facilities along the route, meaning I'd be all set for accomodations.

So I spent that Monday slamming around trying to make sure I was ready for the
long haul and I'd thought of everything, and then Mike wanted our transaxle
cranker-demo down at his house to make some mods for it so that altered my route
just a little bit, but at least I wasn't carrying 300 pounds of cinderblocks
this time.  In fact I would finally be running with minimal extra load, as
opposed to the preceding two events.  Bed installed, tires aired up north of
50 psi, all ready to hit the road and hopefully kick some MPG butt.

[As usual, most images are linked to larger versions. Use them for increased clarity.]

Day one

The first leg was to Doc Willie's place in not-so-upstate NY, aka Starbase
6, where we set to the problem of diagnosing his ailing impulse-power mode
control.  He had installed this a couple of circadian units ago when we
had both made planetfall in the Bostonia system to be part of the big
alternative space-travel exposition held there -- one of several mods done
to his craft that day.  This is a device that allows diverting more than
the usual amount of energy to the impulse thrusters, allowing a little more
speed and maneuverability without leaving warp signatures -- useful in close
quarters where ultimate stealth is needed.  It has limits, of course, and
tends to wind up using a little more dilithium reserve in the long run if
overused just for "impress them at the Academy" factor.  To compensate for
this, we had also installed an intermix chamber preheater, which is a small
interface coupling that allows transferring energy directly from Spacedock's
main reactor into the warp core on a somewhat temporary basis -- but which
definitely helps bring the system to full warp capability that much faster
and for significantly less dilithium-crystal depletion than usual.  And when
the outposts hail in saying "the Neutral Zone is crawling with Romulans, get
out here *now*" you don't want to waste any time before making the jump.

Anyway, the impulse controller appeared to not be generating the neutron-flow
bias that it was supposed to, so we got in there with the sensor array and
started scanning.  And even in these 23rd-century days of smart components that
are just supposed to do the right thing or register themselves as defective,
we sometimes have to go back to basic diagnostic techniques -- the unit was
getting all the right gozintas and we could duplicate the impulse-drive flow
by probing the coupling manually, so clearly the mode unit was not working.
And it was delivered as a sealed module from Coastal Propulsion Systems --
while it was tempting to start un-laser-welding it we figured Coastal wouldn't
take it back if it was all mangled up.  Unfortunately one of energy-transfer
attachments had made a permanent enough connection to the control link bus that
we couldn't remove it cleanly, and had to cut its connection short and
stabilize it in electromagnetic containment to avoid disrupting the nearby
field conductors.  Hopefully Coastal can just deal with this and attach a new
transfer fitting once they fix it [if they don't just send it out on the next
garbage scow -- not sure what their diplomatic policy is on these matters,
because they tend to be a rather taciturn breed].  In the meantime, given
sufficient crew on board, the helm can probably call for a manual polarity
adjustment from the engineering deck when needed.

This all took a while and it was time to clean up and turbolift to the base's
mess hall, after which a berth for me was kindly arranged and Doc and I sat
around accessing the library and navigation computers and comparing notes on
our travels.  After he went to sleep I spent a little while charting some of
my destination quadrant in Google Galaxy, but found that the resolution
available for where I was going came nowhere near matching what you could
find in regions of denser settlement.  That's okay, I was about to go out
there and collect lots of new data for the Federation.

Day two

In the morning, we were up fairly early and actually thought about going out
and using the aforementioned warp-core heaters, so here we were hooked up to
the power coupling in his hangar bay while the crew was having coffee.  The
best route out was an easy left turn out of his neighborhood, and shortly
thereafter I was tooling along highway 208 through some very nice countryside
with surprisingly little harassment from behind -- surprising for just post
rush hour, but maybe the pace of life is a little slower in these parts.
Soon I reached I-84 and settled in for a fairly long, boring run down that
and I-81 through PA.

About an hour past Scranton I spotted a billboard as it zipped by, saying
something like "Waste coal ==> clean fuels".  Didn't catch the particulars,
but a little subsequent googling comes up with this description of a proposed
Fischer-Tropsch coal-gasification plant near Gilberton.  [Here and here are
another couple of articles on it.  Apparently Pennsylvania has a lot of old
coal-mining waste repositories scattered around that they need to get rid of.]
But soon my attention was drawn toward the energy management issues of getting
over that 1700 foot ridge that I-81 goes over in the middle of PA -- pulled my
running average down to 58.8 mpg on the upward grind, it did, so it was time to
concentrate on optimal long-duration warp stealth down the backside to try and
get some of that back.  This is one of the places where it's best to hold zero
battery current instead of landing on that +10A plateau -- to avoid drawing
the pack down and having the engine come back on but produce relatively little
power.  It's a very delicate little range, and can lead to stiff leg muscles.

Finally I reached Front Royal, and stopped here for some chow -- Andy Roberts'
favorite pizza joint, which I'd never been to yet.  The town is rather quaint
overall.  Meanwhile, I'd managed to work the average back up to 62.3 -- where
that lands in general, given consistent temperatures, seems very dependent on
altitude, so I couldn't give too much overall-average credence to any figures
that weren't taken at the same indicated elevation ASL which is less accurate
than lat/long on the GPS but certainly good enough for my purposes.  It
probably indicates that the driving techniques I throw at the problem have
become fairly consistent to maintain efficiency over varying terrain.  Two and
a half years of ownership, and I'm *still* learning.

Just getting into the park, late afternoon.  Obtaining the 5-day pass at the
gate was quite straightforward, and it came with a couple of maps and guides.
The PDF of the overall park map at wouldn't print quite right for me
back home, so having the big paper copy was really useful.

That 62.x MPG average promptly got a solid whack from the first climb up onto
the ridge, but the other rewards came along soon enough.

One of the many, many overlook pull-offs along the road.  Also useful for
getting rid of people who appear to be in a tearing hurry to drive through
the park -- fortunately, these were rare.

This one is aptly named "range view", looking south.

The tree shadows were getting pretty long in the valleys, so I figured I
needed to keep moving and find a good west-facing overlook before sunset.

I came out of a section of deep woods toward a southeast-facing overlook and
suddenly there was this weird tree right in front of me, very stark against
the fading sky light.  Kinda spooky.

Finally I pulled into Hogback Overlook on the west side of the ridge, and
decided it was the right place to watch the day's end.  In the trees, the
katydids were already starting up, even though it was still quite light, but
in the mountains, evening arrives at very different times depending on where
you're sitting.

As darkness fell, the dew was already condensing out of the very humid air.  I
proceeded to the Mathew's Arm campground, which had a surprising large downhill
on its approach road and was a little confusing to navigate in the dark by the
time I reached it, but soon I found a site and settled in.

At night, there were stars.  *Lots* of stars.  And that's how far they move
in thirty seconds; the camera was on its back on the car roof, drinking in as
much light as its poor little CCD could see.  Not much city-glow out here;
there was a tiny bit of local spill from the nearby restroom hut on the leaves
overhead, but that's about all.

I tucked in for the night with only one minor worry remaining: where to get
coffee in the morning.  There was purportedly a "camp store" a little farther
down the road, but I didn't know anything about it.

Day three

I got going again very early in the morning, drifting out of the campground on
electric power.  There were deer everywhere!  As discovered on my Hybridfest
return trip, this is totally the perfect car for deer spotting since it
doesn't make appreciable noise when stopped and the deer [which around here
are quite used to humans by now and fairly fearless anyways] go right back to
eating, which allows sneaking up closer and trying to nab pictures using only
the flash and aimed mostly-blind in the darkness beforehand.  The deer almost
always seemed to be in pairs.

Sometimes the deer do silly things with their feet.  Which they probably
wouldn't be doing if they were actually scared of me slowly advancing on
them with a camera.

One reason for starting out again so early [besides the fact that I was done
sleeping] was to catch the sunrise, which I did from the [undocumented!]
Thornton Hollow overlook.  Can you see any difference from the sunset, other
than the fact that the southward-bound car is pointing in the other direction?

Finally the sun actually made its appearance.  The fog was still layin' in
the hollers down below, though.

Find the Prius in this picture.

I decided to reach highway 211 and drop down into Luray for breakfast, since
the "camp store" offered no hope of available coffee until 9am.  This lost the
2000+ feet of altitude, and of course the stock hybrid battery was hopelessly
topped up about a third of the way down.  After getting some food I of course
had to grind all the way back *up* that again.  But the morning sun through
the mist in the trees was gorgeous, and the road has a truck lane so the locals
intent on proving something about their vehicle's climbing prowess could just
zip on by.

Re-entry to the park via the Thornton Gap entrance gate, where I only had to
show my receipt.  All the park rangers were quite friendly, and seemed glad
I was having a good time there.

This is how those pesky hypermilers block traffic.

So today, I decided that I was going to get my lazy ass *out* of the car for
a while and take a short hike.  On the map are a couple of peaks/outcrops
called Stony Man, which I could see up to by pulling into this parking lot.
The "man", although not as prominent as New Hampshire's Old Man used to be
before his great gravitational challenge, is presumably the indicated shape.

Farther along was the actual Stony Man trailhead parking area.  I put the car
where I figured there would be shade in another hour or two and headed into
the woods, two-fisting it with the camera and the GPS.  The trail immediately
doubled back above the parking area, and just as I was walking past where
I could look down at the car, a park ranger pulled in and got out and started
eyeballing it.  Then a motorcycle pulled up and chatted with the ranger for a
bit, making too much noise for me to be heard over, but finally after the bike
left I yelled down through the leaves asking if there was any problem with me
parking there.  Her answer was rather surprising.

	"Well, I saw what looked like a note on the car -- we get a few
	suicides up here."

I replied to the effect that if anything, I was feeling more full of life than
usual that morning because here I was out enjoying the park and its little
challenges, and by the way I was trying to encourage more awareness about
hybrid cars via the website listed on those pieces of paper in the windows.
But there wasn't any problem with parking, so up I continued.

The trail first passes by Little Stony Man, the first outcrop.  Here's the
vertigo shot: it's a looong way down and mostly vertical.  Yup, you probably
would die if you threw yourself off.  I actually heard something thrashing
around in the foliage down near the bottom of the cliff, but couldn't see
if it was human or animal.

Swinging the gaze back northward a bit shows some of the road, and that
long parking lot off in the distance that I'd pulled into before.

Now, make this amusing comparison: later I realized that the same view is
on the outer cover of the park guide.  I guess they liked that scene too.

Soon I came to a major intersection of trails, including the Appalachian [that
I was already on] which runs the length of the ridge and various others leading
to the visitor center and the real summit.  They've got these really nice
nature-resistant concrete and brass trail markers all over.  I had another
.3 miles and about 300 more vertical feet to go...

Never mind "selective availability", I *know* exactly where I am!

The top is at 4011 feet, apparently the second highest peak in the park but
not by a large margin, although I only had to do about 800 vertical feet from
the parking lot to get here.  The cluster of buildings down behind me is the
"Skyland" visitor center a little ways further down the road.  The hike wasn't
hard but it was very *hot*, and I like an idiot had forgotten to change to
shorts before setting out.  I took a slightly different path for part of
the way down, seeing a little more of the northern outcrops.

Skyland's little restaurant was open by the time I returned to the car and got
rolling again.  After refreshing the coffee situation I continued south in a
leisurely way, pulling into various overlooks as the impulse struck.  Traffic
was still pretty light, and about half of what I saw were RVs and camp trailers
of various types.  Also many of those big road-sofa cruiser bikes, whose riders
were clearly out to play on the curves.

A hawk floated lazily on the mid-day thermals over the western ridge.

After quite a while in the woods, an open area like this was sort of a
surprise.  The sign ain't kiddin'.  And apparently some Very Canonical
Clouds had formed over the last half hour, or maybe they just always pile
up over the open area like that.

This is sort of an in-joke.  eek!  ok!

There are places that stay damp all the time, even though it hadn't rained
for days.  These deeply shaded areas are the ones that quickly get nasty in
the winter.  More on this later.

About midafternoon I pulled into another overlook with a Very Canonical
Valley under it, and found some out-of-the-way shade to park under.

It was a little too early to head for the next campground, and here was a
spot with great scenery and a nice eastern breeze that was apparently keeping
the otherwise ubiquitous clouds of gnats away.  So I decided to set up the
little "mobile office" in the car and while away an hour or two by starting to
process some of the pictures herein, with a brief chat with the line-painting
crew that rolled in for their afternoon break.  They were apparently pleased
with their assignment to mark some recently-repaved sections of Skyline and
didn't get up here too often, because they were taking cellphone shots of
the view and looking out at it for a while.

Later I headed on toward Loft Mountain, with a stop at the little restaurant
across from the campground entrance.  While I was getting food this deer
randomly walked across the parking lot outside, strange for broad daylight --
but the eatery staff said it shows up around that time every day, begging food
and being a picture target.  No, you're not supposed to feed any wildlife...
It wandered down under the deck, where I finally managed to snag a shot of it.
But the critter has become so bold around people that there's really no
glory in this.

I continued onward to the camground.  In contrast to Mathews, one must go
*up* a considerable way to get into the Loft Mountain area.

This area had *showers*, which I really needed after the Stony Man effort
despite some extra imposed costs.  Loading four quarters into this ...

evidently connects the 24V [red] to the solenoid valve [blue] for 5 minutes.
That isn't spray around the head, it's spiderwebs.  I discovered quite to
my surprise that I *can* finish a functional shower in 5 minutes, including
waiting for the hot water to arrive.  Usually it takes me much longer.

The registration procedure was the same here as at Mathews, but this time I
could do it in daylight and see what the heck I was doing.  These stations
are mostly unattended -- the idea is that you drive around the campground and
find a spot, and leave some item in it to mark it while you return to the
entrance hut to actually register and claim it and drop a money envelope into
the collection slot.  Now, I didn't have any object with me that I would have
just wanted to leave on the ground and drive away from.  Finally I realized I
had some rope, and simply stretched a length of that across the front of my
target campsite.  Not like it was particularly crowded up there -- apparently
the season was already falling off peak in a big way, which is why most of the
spots were empty and I was meeting relatively few cars on the road in general.
This seemed strange because the fall colors period was just starting to kick
in, but maybe all the leafpeepers were waiting another week or two.

But eventually I got comfortably bedded down in C58 for my last night in the
park.  One of the "host" rangers wandered by around dusk in a golf cart to
scribble my departure date on the occupancy receipt.  Loft is fairly near the
south exit, so it wouldn't take long to reach that in the morning.

Go to Part 2

_H* 071012