Here are answers to some FAQs about our Escape from Berkeley experience:
How did you get fuel?
The competition was a simulation of a Mad Max-like future — no petroleum and no money. Other teams had different techniques, but we got our fuel through a combination of begging and bartering. Enough people thought our mission was worth supporting, or wanted to read the latest Mother Earth News, or liked our t-shirts to keep us oiled all the way.
Here's Julie (on the left), a camp store manager on the way to Tioga Pass, giving MAX's navigator Sharon (right) her entire stock of cooking oil. As a small token of our appreciation, we gave her a copy of Mother Earth News and an “I helped the Prisoners of Petroleum Escape from Berkeley” t-shirt.
Isn't barter the same as buying?
Not hardly. We had to engage people in our project; nobody gave us oil because they needed a shirt or it was easier than subscribing to the magazine. Sadly, bartering clothes for fuel is not without precedent; it happened during the Great Depression.
But mostly we wanted to scatter memorabilia along our path. By the way, if you ever see one of those t-shirts, it's on somebody who helped us on this trip — there's no other way to get one and we aren't going to do a second printing. For those who say our giveaways were worth more than the oil we got, well, that last pint of oil was worth $5,000, so I think we did all right.
How was your mileage?
Am I spoiled, or what? I was going to say “horrible” because the mid-50s are way under MAX's potential (we got about 55 mpg), but there were some special circumstances at work:
1) Vegetable oil has fewer Btus per gallon than dino diesel. It takes a little extra veggie oil to make a horsepower, 5 percent to 10 percent more.
2) We were running late in a timed event. We were pushing hard. Not the best scenario for fuel economy.
3) We had hills and headwinds. We climbed about 20,000 feet total on that trip, and while we got some of that energy back driving down the backside of the passes, you lose more than you gain driving in the mountains. And man, the wind in the desert was brutal. There were rivers of sand blowing across the road. Some of the whitecaps were tall enough to blow into our car; we're lucky the judging didn't include points for neatness.
4) Those fenders, though stylish, are draggy as the dickens, and that's only an estimate. Next week I'll get started on aerodynamic testing and we'll see what it takes to get MAX's mileage up where it belongs.