What Drivers Can Learn from Two Highly Unusual Cross-Country Road Trips

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Ever dream of taking off on the open road for a footloose and carefree trip around the country? Then don’t try to drive cross-country in an electric car. Don’t try to break the record for best gas mileage either.

Two teams recently completed just such journeys separately. While they may not have been the most fun of adventures, the experiences yield knowledge and insight that can benefit any driver. The trips also yielded some serious product placement for corporate sponsors Ford and Shell.

Cross-Country in an Electric Car
In the Men’s Health Electric Car Challenge, a team of five drivers (including MH senior editor Eric Adams, who came up with the idea) drove cross-country in a Ford Focus Electric.

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Electric cars, you may be thinking, aren’t exactly built for road trips. Because cars such as the Focus Electric can only be driven a maximum of 75 to 100 miles before needing a recharge, it’s the “road trip factor” or “range anxiety” that’s holding back many drivers from purchasing an EV, especially if it’s to be used as a primary vehicle—one that you could use for road trips and longer getaways, not just short commutes and quick errands.

The idea of driving cross-country in an EV may, in fact, sound like a stressful logistical nightmare, which is sorta the opposite of fun. The car could be driven no more than 100 miles before needing to sit idle for three or four hours while the battery recharged. Whoever was behind the wheel was encouraged to drive a bit like a Grandma—easy on both the gas and brakes—because driving otherwise would use up the battery more quickly. For parts of the trip, a logistics manager helped plan recharging stops. Multiple smartphone apps helped them locate places to recharge and track the car’s battery usage. For the entire trip, a support vehicle—a Ford truck—accompanied the EV, so that some of the team could drive ahead and catch some shuteye in a hotel before their turn behind the wheel in shifts that went through the night. A fun, carefree, serendipitous frolic across the country this is not.

One sample note from the MH blog, while the trip was still quite young:

At some points in Pennsylvania, it didn’t feel like much fun at all, frankly.

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But, as another early post in the MH Challenge’s blog notes, the point of the trip was to “establish a New York-to-Los Angeles ‘speed’ record for battery-electric cars, and also prove that slowed-down trips like this are more healthy and satisfying than obsessing over ‘just getting there.'”

The trip ended in Los Angeles on April 23—11 days, 9 hours, and 35 minutes after leaving New York City. Google Maps, by contrast, suggests that under normal circumstances the drive could be made in 1 day, 21 hours. Nonetheless, the drivers swore they had fun:

In the end, the task of driving a car across the nation in 50- to 100-mile spurts, with multi-hour stops in between, was not only not as tedious as you might think—it was actually enjoyable.

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How could this be? For a full explanation, we’ll have to wait to read the July/August issue of Men’s Health, when an article on the road trip will be published.

Around the Country with the “World’s Most Fuel-Efficient Couple”
John and Helen Taylor, a couple who claim the title of “world’s most fuel-efficient couple,” and who have broken 89 world records for getting the best mileage on the road, have just completed an unusual U.S. road trip of their own. Like the EV journey, the Taylors’ trip doesn’t necessarily sound like fun. But that wasn’t really the point.

The trip, sponsored by Shell, started on April 7 in Houston, and took the Taylors through each and every Lower 48 state in the country, over 9,000 miles total. They ended their journey back in Houston on May 2, while averaging a seriously brag-worthy mpg:

During their 21-day fuel-efficiency trip throughout the 48 contiguous U.S. states, the Taylors achieved an average of 69.985 U.S. miles per gallon in an unmodified hybrid gasoline vehicle.

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How did they do it? Naturally, Shell says that the way the Taylors incorporated the “Shell Smarter Driving Program” and exclusive usage of “New Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines” had a lot to do with it.

In the Taylors’ Tips section of the couple’s website, there are plenty of gas-saving strategies listed that don’t mention a specific brand of gasoline. Thirty of them, in fact, including subtle adjustments drivers can make, like this:

Conserve Momentum
Instead of coasting when you reach a downward slope, maintain steady engine revs. This will mean you pick up speed, and if you’ve then got a hill to climb, it gives you considerable added momentum to help go up it, energy efficiently.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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