With the average price of gas hovering at $3.83 nationally, travelers are recoiling from the pump as if it were a venomous snake. (Washington’s bite is especially sharp at $4.10.)
Since a Dec. 21 low of $3.21, our wallets have sorely needed a hug — or a reprieve. If only we could outsmart OPEC.
My bright idea: I’ll take a driving vacation on one tank of gas. No en-route refueling, and no cheating with top-offs. I was going to see how far I could escape on a solo serving of gas.
The simplest plan was to hop into my own coach and zoom off. But ease also equaled expense — $200 for gas plus wear and tear, based on the government’s reimbursement rate of 55 cents a mile. I next eyed Hertz on Demand, the company’s car-sharing arm, whose daily rate includes all the gas the car can quaff. The catch: You’re limited to 180 miles per day; for every mile over, you have to throw 45 cents into the kitty. Hmm. Using a handy online mapping tool, I drew a circle with a 180-mile radius around Washington. It encompassed all of Maryland and Delaware, a chunk of Pennsylvania, the Virginia coastline, a pie corner of southern Jersey and a forest-green swath of West Virginia. I stuck a pin in the Mountain State, stabbing Blackwater Falls State Park.
Unfortunately, the Hertz on Demand idea crumbled under the weight of unusually hefty numbers. The company was charging $182.60 for a two-day rental. I moved on to traditional rental car companies, landing on a deal of $57 for 48 hours in a midsize . . . SUV. Hey, it wasn’t like I was going to drive an RV trailing a Humvee dragging a Prius.
I was ready to roll, almost. At the Avis counter in Reagan National Airport, the agent floated some new ideas by me. She suggested a hybrid, which would cost $240 for two days and boasted 52 miles per gallon. I put the recommendation in my pocket and forgot about it. She then offered me the EZFuel option: Pay $13.99 and drive less than 75 miles and Avis will cover the fill-up. My destination was more than twice as far. Pass. Finally, she tossed out the prepay feature. For $4.19 a gallon, I could return the tank empty and the company would refuel the car for me. However, in my fantasy trip, I imagined sliding into the closest gas station to the airport with a puddle of gas sloshing in the tank. I declined and signed.
Blackwater Falls State Park, a pipsqueak (2,456-acre) recreational space within the mammoth 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest, is about 170 miles from Washington. During our getting-to-know-you moment, my rental, a Mazda CX-7, informed me that I had a gas range of 382 miles. The puddle of remaining gas expanded into a small duck pond.