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Lake Tahoe 2009 - Arrival day 1

July 29th

We flew in on the 29th in the evening. A delayed flight from SD to San Jose, made it a little tense in catching our connecting flight to Reno, but, we did manage to get in just in the nick of time.

The rental car from Hertz was a Nissan Altima Hybrid. While I’m typically not terribly enamored of many of the Nissan cars (with a few exceptions), I did find it to be a decent car, and it kinda grew on me towards the end. Having never driven a hybrid, some of the car’s idiosyncrasies were…interesting.

Having had an Altima before (see Colorado 2008), I didn’t think it would be too different, but either they made some changes for 2009, or the Hybrid trim level is different.

The good: The mileage on the Hybrid was pretty amazing. We did over 500 miles on the initial tank, averaging about 32.5 MPG or so even in the mountains. Acceleration was very good, and handling was decent. The seats were more comfortable than I recall from 2008, and I had no problems with the seats even while going around the twisties in the mountains. I learned also that the key fob doesn’t need to be in the slot in order to use the car. Just needs to be nearby for you to use the push-button start.

The odd: When you first push the start button, nothing really seems to happen. The dash turns on, and the AC comes on, but there’s no engine noise or vibration. It just…turns on. At slow parking lot speeds, the engine still typically didn’t come on, which was a little disconcerting. As you accelerate to normal street speeds, there’s a slight stumbling sensation, and the gas motor kicks in. Shortly after you stop, there is again that slight sensation, almost like the engine has stalled. In fact, the engine does shut down, but you’re running in EV mode, so the main engine isn’t needed. On long enough downhills, the system goes into regenerative braking mode, so the engine is used to recharge the batteries. So from a reasonably quiet car, all of a sudden it sounds like you’ve downshifted, but you really don’t slow down all that much. The Hybrid also had a CVT, which, as in my previous post can be a little odd. The revs climb while accelerating, but never “shift”.

The bad: The brakes. Still very, very, touchy. Also, under moderate to firm acceleration from a standing start, there is a momentary hesitation while the engine kicks in. It’s not much, but it is noticeable, especially if you are used to the more or less instantaneous acceleration of a regular gas engine. The big problem is it occurs AFTER you've already started to roll forward into traffic...

We stayed at the Ramada in Reno. A nice enough hotel, nothing fancy. It did have one oddity in the gift shop. We never could quite figure out when the shop was supposed to be open. It never seemed to be open in the morning (no matter how late in the morning we left), and was sometimes open very late (i.e. after 10:00pm), but other times it wasn't open when we returned. It became a sort of game to try to guess if it was going to be open when we got back to the hotel. Anyway, the Ramada was only about two blocks from the Reno “strip”.

Ah, Reno…the town gave me the creeps, actually. More or less deserted whenever we were driving through it, the town seemed to shut down after about 8:00pm. I guess I was anticipating something more along the lines of Las Vegas, only smaller. What it turned out to be was something like an old and dingy Las Vegas, bereft of shows, glamour, or glitz. All you have left is the casinos, the lights, and the cigarette smoke. Maybe it’s the economy or something, but there were an awful lot of closed businesses, casinos, and a general lack of people about.

During the trip, we traversed through Reno a few times looking for a place to grab dinner (aside from the Denny’s and Carrows near the hotel…nice enough establishments, but we wanted something different…). Unlike Vegas, there was a decided lack of restaurants anywhere along or near the strip (aside from those inside the very smoky casinos.) So we ended up roaming through Reno looking for restaurants that were open later than 8:00pm. Yes, I said 8:00pm.

We finally found some restaurants about 3-4 miles away from the strip area itself, and even found a few that were open.

Anyway, I’ll have pictures and more with the next post.

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