Passage Across America Begins

As we wrapped up our circumnavigation in May 2009, we made two plans. One was simple — buy a car. Since diesel had served us so well on our journey and there was some great new diesel technology available for cars, we decided to get a brand new 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Second, we decided to plan another travel adventure for exactly one year later. These two plans have connected in an interesting way.

Remember our first big passage? It was the longest passage we ever did aboard Kosmos, and tested the limits of her range. It was 2832 nm (3256 statute miles), and it took three weeks.

Doing range calculations became an everyday part of cruising life for us. So somewhat on a lark, Eric decided to calculate the range of our new Jetta. According to the car specifications, it can do an impressive 600 statue miles on a tank of fuel (14.5 gallons/42 mpg highway). However, what if the car had two people, luggage, and so much fuel in containers that we hit the car’s maximum weight limit? After he ran the numbers, he was astonished to find it was almost the exact same range as Kosmos.

So what did we do with this information? We planned a “land passage” of 2832 nm across the USA on one load of fuel. We are going from San Diego, California (the southwest corner of the country) to Kennebunk, Maine (northeast corner of the country). That’s right, we are going to fuel up on San Diego, and not need to get fuel until we reach the state of Maine, literally traveling corner to corner. We are going completely stock. No roof racks, no fuel additives, no special tires, and generally driving as we please (i.e. faster than 55mph, run the AC). From what Eric can tell, the Jetta TDI is one of the only vehicles that can pull this off.

The initial reaction from most has been that we will blow up and die with so much dangerous fuel on board. Actually, while gasoline is highly explosive, diesel isn’t nearly as dangerous and is safer to store. In fact, in most states you can only carry 3-8 gallons of gas without a hazardous material permit. But you can legally transport up to 119 gallons of diesel without any special permits, and we need less than that for our adventure. While we are only doing the “land passage” one way, not both. The whole round trip journey will be 3 weeks (same as our first passage), and be about 6,000 nautical miles.

Just like our circumnavigation, some people are going to assume this is an endurance test and we will never stop. And just like our circumnavigation, we aren’t trying to get across the country and back as fast as possible. The point of our circumnavigation was to see the world and to explore different cultures and their histories, and likewise, the point of this journey is to explore America. The United States is an amazingly diverse country, both in terms of landscape and culture. So, while our route to Maine is fairly direct, we have planned some scenic highways to take off the main roads whenever viable. And we have planned stops every day to explore various sites along the way, whether they are scenic, cultural or historic. Our main goal is to have fun and travel, and secondary goal is to show that our car and our boat have just about the same range.

So are we going to make it across the country without taking on more fuel? Is this some kind of first time record we are trying to set? We do not know, but follow along our “Passage Across America” and find out!

We left for the “Passage Across America” on April 24, 2010. We will post details as we can, but here are a few photos of us fueling up and storing the containers aboard:




Before fuel:


After fuel:


This is Part 1 of the Passage Across America series. Read Part 2 here.

22 thoughts on “Passage Across America Begins”

  1. This has terrorist written all over it….and, it makes me laugh like crazy. I hope you don’t get pulled over. I’ll be living vicariously through you guys these next few weeks. Have a safe passage.

  2. Larry says I hope those lids are on tight cause gas stinks and he said grab a bottle of febreeze! LOL! Send the kids post cards!

  3. My brother in Maine has a diesel ambulance and might take the jerri-cans off your hands if you need to get rid of any once you get to Maine!

    Good luck!!

  4. If you stop by Jersey City, ‘ll take a few of those jerry cans off your hands as well! Safe travels and may your Valentine radar detector keep you safe.

  5. You guys are too cool. This is great, I love it. We are rushing home from Mexico to meet you at Trawlerfest in Anacortes Wa. on May 21. Will we need reservations for you lecture and if so how do we get them? Good luck on y6ur latest venture.

  6. Have Fun – I am sure you will have a great time on the trip and can’t wait to hear all the places you plan to stop.

    Your Blog will give me something to read while I anxiously awaite Part II of your Book to come out.

    Bye for Now.

  7. Sorry Pete and Mike, but Jersey City is not on the itinerary.

    Brandie, smell has not been an issue. I don’t have your new address!

    Brent, give me your brother’s number.

    Heather, we are excited to meet you in person! I am not 100% sure, but I think since our sessions are included in the ticket price, there are no sign ups. I think the advance registration only applies to the sessions that cost extra money.

  8. My sister owns the Bed & Breakfast, Standerfer House, in Elk City Oklahoma where you stayed on Wednesday April 28th, 2010. She said you were very interesting and she was not kidding. Have fun out there.

  9. We want to know where you are at all times! Fire up google latitude so we can follow your position across the country.

  10. Awesome idea, I almost did the same thing but regained my sanity! I noticed that you mention total car load as the maximum weight. The amount of rear sag has me wondering what the rear axle maximum weight is. Feel free to check out my VW TDI forum

  11. Hello Eric and Christi,
    We were going to a brunch with our ESL ladies in Worthington, Minnesota and met you yesterday. What an interesting story you have. Too bad you couldn’t have had some of your lectures here. I will be checking on your blog more often. Have a safe trip home.

  12. I’m curious – why would you travel from California to Maine and not want to stop for gas, and haul that much diesel fuel in your vehicle – containers filling both your trunk and the back seat of your vehicle — when it takes all but a few minutes to stop and fill up? I’m assuming you stopped for bathroom breaks along the way regardless, not to mention that you have to stop the car to fill up with these gas cans anyway.

    Next begs the question of your car insurance policy, as the amount of fuel you can transport would likely be limited to a lessor quantity than what is regulated by the DOT. That would be my assumption.

    Further, filling station licenses are also required to regulate the number of containers you are filling, and those vary based on the municipality. Hmmm…perhaps they never noticed.

    Not to mention how problematic it would be if you were to get in an accident and that fuel were to spill into the environment, now it’s a matter of calling in a HAZMAT team to clean it up.

    That doesn’t even broach the topic of the lives you are endangering on the road – either to yourself or others involved in an accident ending in death or disfigurement (I’m paraphrasing someone elses response to your post in Amazon discussions).

    Aside from the aforementioned thoughts, what would compel you to transport all that diesel fuel in your vehicle on a cross country trip? I can’t comprehend that the benefits of doing so would outweight the risks, so I have to ask.

  13. Excellent questions!
    1. We wanted to do the trip across America without stopping for fuel simply because we could. The Jetta is one of the very few cars that could physically pull off such a feat, so we wanted to take advantage of being able to do something rare and unique.
    2. Since Diesel is not highly explosive, one can legally transport over 100 gallons, and we didn’t need that much; we were well below the legal limit. Gasoline is a whole different story. Since gasoline is highly explosive, I think all states limit the amount that can be transported to 3 – 5 gallons without a special permit. Driving with a legal quantity of diesel onboard did not affect our insurance in any way.
    3. Once again, that is not an issue with diesel, only gasoline.
    4. It would be no different than a diesel truck getting into an accident and having it fuel tank ruptured and spill. Diesel evaporates and is not highly explosive. Microorganisms even live in diesel; it isn’t as toxic as gas.
    5. Any time anyone gets in a car they risk an accident and death or disfigurement. I would be more concerned about other behaviors that are far more dangerous than having diesel aboard, ie, texting while driving, talking on a cell phone, using prescription meds, etc.
    6. See item #1
    Feel free to post more questions. We are happy to answer them.

  14. “Diesel evaporates and is not highly explosive.”

    Diesel and gasoline are both volatile materials. Both gasoline and diesel have a flash point.

    “Universal waste laws consider diesel fuel (and all petroleum-based fuels) hazardous because they can explode or catch fire, according to Environmental Compliance for Automotive Recyclers, a public-private partnership.”

    Read more: Is Diesel Fuel a Hazardous Substance? |

    Further, I have to disagree with you on your stance that “It would be no different than a diesel truck getting into an accident and having it fuel tank ruptured and spill. Diesel evaporates and is not highly explosive. Microorganisms even live in diesel; it isn’t as toxic as gas.”

    Actually, it would be different. They are transporting it for commercial purposes, not “just because we can.”

    It would behoove you to research the health effects of exposure, and reconsider whether your feat to travel across America in this fashion “simply because we could” is worth the health risks to not only your lives, but especially to the livelihood of others. Just because something is “legal” doesn’t justify unnecessarily risking the lives of others.

    You may choose to downplay the severity of transporting all this diesel, however, if you were in an accident, it would be wise to consider the fact that large skin exposure can lead to pain, chemical blisters, and redness. Skin exposure to diesel, and especially if not cleaned quickly, absorbs into the bloodstream and can also lead to symptoms identical to inhalation exposure.

    I couldn’t imagine having a family member disfigured or resulting in death only to find that their lives were lost because someone wanted to do it “simply because they could.” Yes, we can all be the unfortunate victims of an accident on the road, but why add to the risks? Your choices can make the difference between life and death, regardless of an accident.

    “texting while driving, talking on a cell phone, using prescription meds, etc.” — I don’t disagree with you, though your point is irrelevant, but you can also add to this list – “unnecessarily transporting large amounts of diesel fuel simply because we could”…

    I’m not usually one to judge others in their choices, but when the lives of innocent people are being placed at unnecessary risks, and risks that could potentially be avoided, it’s another situation altogether.

    My sister in law is a Hazmat chemist. She nearly fell out of her chair when I shared this with her.

  15. We don’t believe in living in fear of things that are statistically unlikely to happen. We carefully analyzed the statistics and decided the adventure was, statistically speaking, safe. Yes, there were some potential hazards involved, but we handled them appropriately and carefully to ensure safety. We aren’t irresponsible teens who improperly stored or handled the fuel, we are responsible adults that carefully researched the necessary safety precautions. Remember that the trip is over and done with now. There were no accidents or problems. Everything went fine and everyone was safe, just as the statistics indicated it probably would be. If transporting diesel were really statistically dangerous, it would be illegal, just as transporting gasoline is.

    There are hazards in every aspect of life. We think it is a shame that people tend to limit themselves from expanding their horizons outside their comfort zone due to a fear of a scary sounding but statistically unlikely event. What is even more of a shame, in our opinion, is that most of us don’t think twice about daily taking the more likely risks that do fall within our comfort zones. For example, the same person who would never consider getting into a vehicle filled with diesel fuel because they perceive diesel as “dangerous” probably won’t hesitate to text message or talk on the cell phone while driving. Texting/talking while driving are extremely dangerous, statistically speaking, but most people improperly perceive it as safe because it is a behavior that they are comfortable with. It is more likely that someone who texts/talks all the time on the road will eventually cause a major accident and kill people than two people driving extremely carefully because we are aware of the cargo onboard.

    I am not going to change your opinion that the adventure was “wildly dangerous,” and you aren’t going to change ours that it wasn’t dangerous if executed properly, and that is okay. Its a gray area and we’re all entitled to our opinions.

  16. Bravo to you both for always doing the unexpected and truly thinking outside the box. You are cutting edge do-ers. Having met you while we were all out cruising, I know that you are most considerate and respectful of others. We love your free spirit amidst the ever increasing fear based thinking of our fellow countrymen who it seems, criticize from the illusion of safety and comfort of their homes. But, hey, lively debate. Sure hope you were able to off load those cans as you used them:-)

  17. I just now stumbled on your blog, what a cool adventure to cap off an even cooler one with the Nordhavn! You two are doing the exact same stuff I would be doing if I was a tad bit younger. Never look back, tomorrow holds more new and exciteing things to try and discover.

    Gardengal, what a shame you can not break out of your little world and experience some of the excitement (and risk) that life has to offer, there is still time and I hope you somehow can manage to give it a try.

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