Immediately following the 2011 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, my colleague Christian Williams and I were given the opportunity of driving cross country in the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid prototype. We drove the Plug-In Prius from Seven Springs to Lawrence, Kan., home of Bryan Welch, Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications.
Once back in Kansas, the plan being that Bryan would put the hybrid plug-in car through its paces and offer our feedback to Toyota. (See Test Driving Toyota's 2013 Prius Plug-In and Loving It.)
Being a farm kid from southeast Kansas and a city boy from Chicago, we never imagined myself driving an electric car back from the East Coast – that's part of what makes our jobs great.
Cindy Knight, public affairs manager with Toyota, offered us a quick tutorial on the inner workings of the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid:
We would become very familiar with recharging the car in the following two days:
The night before setting off, we’d looked at possible points of interest. The Flight 93 Memorial outside of Shanksville, Pa.; the mountains themselves in West Virginia; a coal mine museum and tour in Beckley, W.Va.; West Virginia’s state capitol building in Charleston; and various bourbon distillery tours offered just east of Louisville all appealed.
We were glad we made the decision to give the Flight 93 Memorial its due reverence, spend as much time as we needed to there, and then play it by ear from there. (You can read more about our time there in Visiting Flight 93 Memorial, a Moving Experience.)
It was in this national park that we decided that it might be cool to take photographs of the Plug-In Prius in front of recognizable landmarks, a sort of I’ve-been-every-where-man theme that might even make Johnny Cash proud; fitting since he provided our soundtrack for a portion of the drive.
From Flight 93, we could have hopped on I-70 and drove interstate the entire way, but neither one of us wanted to do that, and neither one of us had seen much of West Virginia before. We were glad we got to drive through the mountains there on a sunny 80-degree day in the fall. What a beautiful part of our country, and we couldn’t have asked for a better day to do it.
Once we got to Charleston, we were in need of a pit-stop, and what better place than the golden dome of the state capitol? Unfortunately, the State House and Senate had knocked off for the day, but at least we tried to sit in on a little bit of it.
The West Virginia Capitol’s beautiful golden dome is 293 feet high, 5 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol’s dome.
From there, we resumed our route and headed west on Charleston on Highway 64. By late evening, we were holed up in Louisville, and not all that road weary but at our halfway point nonetheless. At gas stations and various stops along the way, people seemed genuinely interested in Toyota electric cars, and we answered as many questions as we could.
One thing about driving the Prius we may not have articulated in the videos: Although this car’s ideal cruising speed might be a little lower than an interstate’s speed limit, even cruising at 70 miles per hour, we were able to drive five to six hours at a clip without stopping, which doesn’t happen in a Chevy Blazer. If you want to be more efficient, driving at 65 doesn’t necessarily kill you on a cross country trip as much as you might think because you don’t have to stop as often to refuel.
Before leaving Louisville, we needed another landmark to hit, and both being baseball fans, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the 120-foot-long “Big Bat” that stands at the entrance, was a natural fit.
Next up was St. Louis. It sure was good to see the Arch – the Gateway to the Midwest.
Speaking of Johnny Cash, it was fitting that his song was reverberating through the speakers the only time we had a brush with the law.
In all, we averaged 47 mpg on this trip, getting from Shanksville, Pa. (it’s further east than Seven Springs), to Lawrence, Kan., on $79 of fuel.
And we probably could have done it even more efficiently, but there comes a time in a cross-country trip, especially after a weekend away from home, when you just want to get home. We drove this car 75 to 80 mph in stretches, and the ideal speed is 62. It still performed at a 47 mpg clip.
It’s a trip we won’t soon forget.
Photos by Caleb D. Regan and Christian Williams