I'm just going to say this right now: Nebraska feels like the longest state in the world. I think we spent all day driving into a crosswind, finally turning off Interstate 80 to head south into Colorado, right about the time we were thinking about dinner.
Still no worries with the Chevrolet Avalanche, but we noticed that from the beginning of our trip in Washington up to this point, the Oil Life computer readout moved from 91 percent to 59 percent when we rolled into Loveland, Colo.
It's been wonderful to be able to leave all our gear in the bed of the Avalanche, safely locked up under the three-piece hardcover and locking tailgate. We have one gripe, though: We wish the bedside storage pockets were bigger. They are quite narrow and difficult to load full of anything other than small gear or clothing. We packed both cubbies with dirty laundry, several shower towels, sheets and a comforter, which probably helped insulate the other cargo in the bed.
It's worth noting that the smallish, awkwardly shaped storage area goes underneath the opening, so making use of all the space isn't easy, especially since the RamBox has changed what we think of usable storage area.
Much of our time in Loveland — the staging area before we lunge over the Rockies — was spent shuttling to and from Fort Collins to see my niece graduate from Colorado State University. Unfortunately, we didn't make it in time to see the actual ceremony, but we were keeping in touch via text. Our "quality" time with her (graduates are such busy people) came the following morning for breakfast.
After picking up one very important passenger — the wife — we headed south to Denver to make our way over the Rockies, passing through the 11,158-foot Eisenhower tunnel (built in 1973), eventually following the Colorado River to Grand Junction, then taking a short run into Moab, Utah, for dinner. (If you ever get the chance to drive Utah State Route 128, take it. It's one of the most beautiful and varied 35-mile stretches you'll ever see.) By the end of the night we made it to Cedar City, Utah, for our last night of sleep before getting to California.
We filled up our fifth tank of gas in Green River, Utah, with the computer telling us we'd used 25.4 gallons of fuel, averaging 18.5 mpg over 471.8 miles. After filling the tank with 25.9 gallons of fuel, we calculated our fuel economy to be 18.2 mpg over the same distance. Not a bad average since we had just come over the Rockies.
During this stretch, we encountered much more uphill and downhill, and the cylinder-deactivation mode engaged more often. During all the downhill sections, the engine quickly recognized the driving conditions and kept the truck in four-cylinder mode until we touched the throttle. We could keep track of the switch between eight cylinders and four cylinders on the Instant MPG screen.
Some of the downhill sections through the Rocky Mountains were fairly steep, so the manual tap-up/tap-down thumb switch on the transmission stalk proved quite useful. The software controlling the transitions from gear to gear, modulating the engine revs, made all the shifts quite smooth. The 6L80-E transmission impressed us, especially when we needed to quickly get from 5th gear to 2nd gear or from 1st to 4th. Whenever the roads were rolling and sharp, we found ourselves more comfortable shifting manually or staying in Tow/Haul mode longer.
We liked that the gears hold longer in Tow/Haul mode, but we'd like to see more aggressive downshifting on downslopes, akin to the grade braking on heavy-duty trucks. The transmission seems plenty smart enough to get you to the highest gear as fast as possible to achieve the best fuel economy, so it seems logical that it could sense the need for quicker downshifting on grades to keep vehicle speed more under control.
We were pretty late pulling into Cedar City, but we put our 640 miles behind us. And remember, we stayed for a late breakfast in Fort Collins with our new graduate and didn't get on the road until 10:30 a.m. Thankfully, since we are continuing west tomorrow, we could sleep an extra hour in the morning because we'd get that hour back once we get into Arizona. Almost there.