(Follow veteran MTSU News and Media Relations staffer Randy Weiler’s daily blog as he travels March 9-14 with alternative fuels researcher Dr. Cliff Ricketts and his team on their coast-to-coast trip using no gas.)
MURFREESBORO to VAN BUREN, Ark. — You could call it a two-hour rain delay, like they have in baseball games and other sporting events.
It was pouring down rain Monday morning, but that is not why it took Dr. Cliff Ricketts’ entourage more than two hours to leave Murfreesboro, as the group prepared to head west on Day 2 of the 2,600-mile, coast-to-coast drive from Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif.
Follow Ricketts’ quest on Twitter (@WeilerRandy).
They had to work through a mechanical issue on one of their vehicles, but it had nothing to do with hydrogen or solar, the two mainstays in their alternative fuel arsenal.
Credit Ricketts and common sense for thinking ahead and taking State Route 840 from north of Murfreesboro to the edge of Dickson. This totally avoided Nashville traffic, which might already have subsided by 10:30 but why ask for problems when you can drive past Castle Gwynn and pristineness of Leipers Fork in Williamson County.
Anyway, finally, we were good to go to begin the approximately 530-mile second leg of the journey, which is being made in a 1994 Toyota Tercel and 2005 Toyota Prius. We don’t need gas; we’ve driving on hydrogen from water separated by sun (solar). All of it is produced on campus in and around Ricketts’ shop, which has the more official Vocational Agriculture Building name attached to it.
The problem that hampered the Prius out of the gate just west of Savannah, Ga., on Day 1 continued to hamper the eight-member volunteer crew joining Ricketts on the journey. It has been a mystery ailment. Ricketts believes it has been a transmission-related issue; co-driver Terry Young has said it is a computer-related problem. But give it a few minutes for its “temper” to cool down and she’s good to go.
Just past 1 p.m., we reach Jackson, Tenn. We head for the Tractor Supply Company store. Because Ricketts has had TSC as a major sponsor for more than 20 years (they contributed an all-time high $25,000 in 2012-13), he agrees to stop at two stores every day. Manager Mike Austin and a woman (team lead Sylvia Ludolf) with “Sylvia” hand-written on her red vest provide warm-and-friendly greetings on an afternoon that has become bitterly cold because of the wind-chill factor.
The Jackson Sun and WBBJ-TV send reporters/photojournalists to capture Ricketts’ quest to achieve a 25-year goal of driving without gas.
Before reaching Memphis, we need to stop in Bartlett. The need is necessary because the Prius needs the first of three, two-hour energy drinks, a.k.a. refueling with hydrogen. Young, Mike Sims and the crew know what to do, and they can refuel in 15 minutes.
Ricketts, the CEO of the operation is more than relieved, when he sees Exit 2 in West Memphis, Ark. He knows we have eluded Memphis’ 4:30p.m. traffic congestion.
Driving Interstate 40 and into Arkansas turns bumpy, isolated (you can see for miles in the flat terrain) and then dark as nightfall arrives.
Because of the various stops along the way — not to mention getting out of Murfreesboro two hours late — we reach the overnight destination of Van Buren, Ark., next to Fort Smith. We are too late for a Tractor Supply stop (Ricketts phoned to say he would be there promptly at 8 a.m. Tuesday) and almost too late for dinner.
Chili’s Grill & Bar’s lights go out right at 11. One of the crew heads to Walmart. Three others walk about five blocks (and under both I-40 bridges) in 37-degree temperatures to Waffle House for a midnight “snack.” The rest head for bed at the Best Western.
So it’s 1,030 miles down, 1,570 to go to reach Long Beach, Calif., driving on empty with no gas.
Ricketts returns to the wheel Tuesday. Next up: Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Texas, and the overnight stay in Santa Rosa, N.M., a state where several of us have never entered.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu and on Twitter @WeilerRandy)