Monday, July 25, 2011

July Road Trip Report

Last July six families (and their cars) descended on Lake Tahoe for a little family reunion. You discover a lot about how some people travel when you watch them unpack their minivan.

The July Road Trip to which I refer in the headline took place at the beginning of the month for the Fourth of July holiday (I'm a bit behind in my posts again - blame it on summer vacation & kids running around this time). Right now I'm baking in Las Vegas and don't anticipate having any car-related posts come out of this trip. I'm parking myself at the pool every morning and only getting up to dress for fancy dinners out with my husband and friends. Everything else falls under the "What happens in Vegas..." heading and I'll only share restaurant reviews. (Although I do have some insightful thoughts on the Chippendales show and how the iconic Cowboy remains the most popular sex symbol of the American male.)

On the last day of June, 19 of my husband's extended family members descended on Northstar-at-Tahoe in California for a small family reunion. It wasn't one of the huge, take-over-the-town reunions of my youth (and my mother's huge family), and therefore it was very manageable and tons of fun. Families traveled from Minnesota and Washington state via car & plane and those of us who live in California had to drive to the cabin we rented. Once we were all assembled, I naturally took note of the six cars in the driveway. Here is a rundown on what went into and came out of hauling around 19 people for a few days in the mountains.

Audi Q7

I drove my Q7 with skis loaded on top and two bikes on the rack in the back. (Yes, we did ski on July 2nd at Alpine Meadows and the snow was surprisingly plentiful and in good shape.) My daughter and I had a fun, quick drive up to Northstar on I-80 without the guys who were in the Subaru Outback. My Q7 is easy & fun to drive and is very comfortable for all passengers. I am in love with how stable the ride is and how safe we feel. The Q7 fulfills my need for safety, comfort, speed, and tight handling. Over the course of our vacation, we utilized the bike rack and all three rows of seating several times. Plus, we looked like a family of extreme exercise fanatics with skis on top and mountain bikes on the back.

Subaru Outback

We're only a family of five (four humans, one Golden Retriever), so we could have all fit in my Q7, but we had three coolers full of food (including husband-made Mario Batali meatballs & sauce which is very precious cargo -- and a weeks' worth of other goodies), plus ski helmets & poles, two more bikes & bike helmets.  In addition, the puppy doesn't like to stay in the way back so he spends 3 hours on my son's lap in the backseat. The Outback is great for hauling people, dogs, and all the related junk. The bonus for us is the Outback's carpet is easy to clean up after the Furball (a.k.a. Buster) blows his coat.

Toyota Solara Convertible

My in-laws have a Toyota Solara convertible that took a Road Trip on Steroids this summer: Northern California to Minnesota and back with a stop at Northstar. It's remarkable how much stuff they fit in that 2-door. But the best was the parting picture in my mind: my mother-in-law behind the wheel of a loaded Solara with the top down and a Burley bike trailer on top of the load held down by my father-in-law's left hand, a miniature poodle in his lap, and a bag of garbage in his right hand. How the heck were they going to get from Northstar to King's Beach without causing an accident? But they did it and got home before us. I see proper packing as key to their success. And my father-in-law's supernatural grip on that bike trailer.

Honda Odyssey

My brother-in-law and his family of four live in LA and have a Honda Odyssey and our old Saab 9-5. They drove the Odyssey van to Northstar and had it so perfectly packed, they should have won a prize from Honda. (Dang, I should have submitted a photo of how much came out of that minivan.) And they would have fit in the Burley bike trailer if my in-laws weren't so kind and willing to risk a ticket (and their lives) for their youngest son. Basically, they packed up the baby's room (including a changing table), the 3-year old's room (including Thomas the Train toys) and drove it north. Visibility and passenger space wasn't compromised - there was even room for a potty chair for the 3-year old. Maybe my brother-in-law missed his calling as a puzzle master. Or magician. Or a magical puzzle master.

Toyota Prius

The family with the tallest 11-year old (at 5'5" he's taller than me) drove the smallest car from Bellingham, Washington. Their Prius was also expertly packed and I didn't hear of any complaints from the tall kid in the back seat, but I do need to consider that he isn't much of a complainer to begin with. And they had bragging rights for best mileage having averaged 45 MPG the entire trip. Their Prius is acclimated to an elevation of 6" above sea level where they average 50 MPG on the highway, but it handled the mountain passes with only a small reduction in mileage. The smaller size of the Prius really helped make parking with five other vehicles in our driveway a snap. And it's so quiet the kids called it the Stealth Car and I think there were thoughts of a new James Bond car. (That's such a great image: James Bond dressed in a tuxedo sitting behind the wheel of a Prius. Be still my heart.)

Mercury Grand Marquis

The loan rental car in our driveway was a Mercury Grand Marquis that one family rented at the Sacramento airport. Another family of four in a car with six seat belts and a trunk so big they had no problem fitting in 4 suitcases. The 'Quis was the most ridiculous of vehicles -- it was horrible to drive, and if you're even slightly prone to car sickness, two minutes in that boat and you'll feel queasy. Add the fact that no one in our entire group was old enough to fit into the 'Quis demographic, and it stood out like a rotten apple. (The oldest member of this side of the family is 66, and I think 75 is the 'Quis starting age.) My husband drove it from Truckee to Reno and was terrified the whole way with it's crazy float and unresponsive steering. I followed him in my car -- I don't think I've ever seen him drive that slowly on a dry interstate in the 20 years I've known him. It scared me. But at least now I know a 'Quis is NOT in our future.

My Take Away

* If you're going on a road trip, packing your vehicle properly is key. I suggest you hire my brother-in-law.
* Before you start loading things in, install all car seats & boosters & adjust the driver's seat & mirrors so you know how much space you really have.
* As your cargo starts getting higher, periodically check visibility by sitting in the driver's seat to check all mirrors and blind spots.
* Don't forget to make room for the dog and pack a water bowl for your best friend. (And don't forget the dog's food. I did that once & it resulted in… well, something nasty.)
* Wash & gas up your vehicle before you put on the topper, ski racks, or bike rack.
* This one comes from experience: If you have anything on top of your vehicle (topper, bike rack, etc.), put a Post-it note on the dash reminding yourself so you don't smash into a low garage opening or car port. But pack duct tape just in case. (Now you know why our Thule topper has a beautiful duct tape patch on the back.)
* If you see a Mercury Grand Marquis on the Interstate, politely pass it and get the hell out of it's way.

Photos courtesy of Audi, Subaru & Honda

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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