Part of the reason for selecting the Chevy Avalanche for this cross-country run had to do with the truck's ability to carry gear in a truck bed while keeping it all locked and protected underneath a sturdy bed top.
We assumed this would be important, since it might not be the best idea to leave plastic bags of clothing, stuffed luggage, a refrigerator and what seemed like an endless number of toiletry bags exposed to the elements. Plus, we'd be stopping at a hotel each night, and we didn't want to unload or repack the entire vehicle each time.
Regardless, the Avalanche was a good choice, but packing a year's worth of "girl stuff" into an abbreviated bed (with two small side bins) required all of our condensing skills. In the end, with only our luggage and bedding (and computers and backpacks) in the backseat of the Chevy, we managed to squeeze an entire college student's life into one Avalanche bed — no small feat because the bed area is just 4 feet long, a little over 4 feet wide and 22 inches tall. But then again, with a $55,000 sticker price, this thing should be making us coffee each morning as well.
Our trip started by getting out of Washington, D.C., early in the morning. And if you've ever been to there, you know that getting in or out of that town is not easy. Thankfully, in less than an hour we were out of Maryland and on our way into the Allegheny Mountains, headed toward the famous Allegheny tunnel. This was my first time through these mountains, and it was impressive, with gorgeous rolling hills and all the trees getting deep into their spring leaves. I need to get back there to spend more time, or even stop and take a picture. But our first day's end zone was a possible dinner stop in downtown Chicago, so we needed to make good time.
The Avalanche is quite comfortable, and the constantly adjusting Autoride suspension knocks off any sharp edges from rough roads or expansion joints. The six-speed automatic transmission is a good pairing with the aluminum-block 5.3-liter V-8, but waiting for the transmission to kick down when getting into the throttle is beginning to bug me. Our test vehicle had over 4,000 miles on the odometer, and if it's been spending time on the East Coast, I'd assume it's done quite a bit of city duty, so the fact that the software seems slow to downshift is a bit puzzling. We did find that driving around empty in Tow/Haul mode helped a little.
During highway cruising, with total payload (cargo and passengers) weighing less than 1,000 pounds, it was easy to drive between 65 and 70 mph with the engine loafing along under 1,500 rpm. The trip computer told us we were getting about 18 mpg, but we really like that all Avalanches come with a 31.5-gallon fuel tank, and the computer told us we had almost 600 miles to go before needing to fill up. However, as is often the case, we found the computer's numbers to be fairly optimistic about calculations of mileage and fuel economy.
Our first fill-up was in Ohio, at one of the wonderful Travel Stations along Interstate 80. With the fuel gauge on empty and the dashboard warning light on for almost 20 miles, we put in a touch under 28 gallons of fuel into the tank. It's nice that this fuel tank still gives us a good reserve even after the range calculator says you have zero miles left.
Our computer told us we had used 27.5 gallons of fuel, and we averaged 18.2 mpg. The pump told us we had pumped 27.9 gallons of gas, and if you divide the number of miles driven by the gallons actually pumped, we averaged 17.9 mpg. We should note that about 30 of those initial miles were city driving in Washington.
We made good time getting to Chicago after the fill-up, gaining an extra hour of driving time moving from Ohio to Indiana and then Illinois. After a quick tour of downtown Chicago for the young one who had never been there, we headed to an inexpensive hotel outside the city.
With the first day complete, we made it through five states and two big cities. But there wasn't much to look at from the road. We did drive past the Chevy Cruze plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and made our way through the RV Industries production headquarters in Elkhart, Ind., and we even got to see Tirerack.com's world famous wheel and tire warehouse facility.
And after 12 hours of driving, my butt and back were sore, even with the liberal use of the seat heater. Day 2 means a lot of Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.