North Fork Outdoors: Emphasize safety in long-distance driving

The calendar cautions us, but, looking outside at current daytime temperatures in the 60s, we can’t help but turn a couple of pages. And with spring/summer on the mind (until the wind starts blowing in from the Atlantic), one has to think about travel. In fact, Janet and I just finished a 2,000-mile round trip during my school break to pick up a new horse, but more on that later.

When you travel with a horse trailer, there’s no way to avoid mileage costs, and you’re very much aware of gas prices ($3.60 to $4.03) across the eastern third of the country. You realize that, despite all the claims of opportunistic politicians, some 28 percent of per barrel costs (translating to about 56 cents at the pump) are due to speculation, which simply reflects the world we live in. (In fact, increased United States production — up from 8.1 to 10.3 millions of barrels per day — and lessened United States consumption of foreign oil — down from 59 percent of United States consumption to 45 percent — since 2005 have actually driven per barrel costs downwards!) Nevertheless, when gas is four dollars per gallon, the 10-miles-per-gallon haul vehicle costs 40 cents per mile for fuel alone, in stark contrast to the average 30-miles-per-gallon vehicle at 13.3 cents. And $400 per 1,000 miles (compared to $133) runs up quite a credit card bill.

Driving long distances has been part of our lives since childhood, and the basics are always the same. If you have lots of miles to cover, you either travel with multiple drivers and switch often or you limit yourself to what is safe. One acquaintance who drives a lot for a living rolled in at our dog training area recently after driving 17 hours non-stop. Not only had he gone down to Tennessee to run dogs in a national championship once, he had actually done it twice in two weeks, returning home in between to take care of unavoidable business. He insisted there was nothing to it; his wife did some of the daytime driving, and he drove through the night. Then they dropped off a few pieces of gear, cleaned up and came to the training area to show us some videos of the competition.

No way could I ever have done that! Even Trailways and Greyhound drivers are limited by law to single-day drives. They will take one 500-mile trip, but get a long sleep break before turning around for the return.

Maintaining a state of alertness is critical. The monotony of interstate highways can be problematic at the very least, deadly at worst. This is especially true on long, flat stretches, like the ones we encountered recently driving through Ohio and Indiana and western New York. Interestingly, we’ve encountered similar problems driving the Long Island Expressway in the wee hours while returning from a long ocean trip out of Montauk or Captree. If wheels touch the “rumble strips” or you note your eyes starting to close, stop and switch drivers or take a nap before moving on!

For all the help one gets from a GPS unit, nothing beats a co-pilot or navigator when it comes to reading road signs amidst clutter or deciding well in advance where to get off the road for food or lodging. One common fault in long-distance driving is the tendency to “keep going one or two more hours” in order to “make some miles.” The road mesmerizes, so you keep driving, and then, just about the time you really have to get off the road, motels fill up or the desk clerks disappear. Even worse, you drive past the confluence of highways out into the boondocks where there are no more motels at all, not even motels of the “Bates Motel” variety (see Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”) off the exits! This is particularly critical when you’re groggy from pulling a trailer all day and need plenty of help to make those final turns into parking areas. Another advantage of pulling off the road early instead of late is getting a fresh, early start to make up the miles.

If long miles are absolutely critical, nothing beats trimming time off rest stops by packing some sandwiches, particularly for the midday meal. Toasted bagels with spreads and coffee ready-to-go slice time off the front end of the trip. Go easy on the fluids, though, unless you’re absolutely certain of rest areas along the way. With states finding excuses to cut essentials, rest area closures are, unfortunately, not uncommon, especially in our fair Empire State! And not everyone carries port-a-pottys in the tack rooms of their trailers.

The most important thing is to arrive at trip’s end safely in a coherent state. You certainly want to be rested enough to roll out of the car (or bed) and handle the first trail, the first bird, or the first fish of the day.