2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan Black Diamond Edition Road Trip, Part One
By Chris Haak
I consider myself fortunate to own Techshake and to have access to cars and events that this site affords me. It’s a privilege to attend auto shows, press launches, track days, and to drive some really great cars and trucks. And as someone who has a short attention span when it comes to car ownership, getting a new car with a full tank of gas delivered to my house nearly every week is a magnificent perk, and one that I take pains to not somehow ruin for myself.
But until Memorial Day weekend, I’ve always been a little out of sorts when it came to scheduling the appropriate car for the appropriate occasion in my life. Going on vacation with the family for a week? How about a Scion xB? Need a roadtrip car in the winter? Here’s a Lexus LS 460 Sport with summer tires. Because I value this perk so highly, and because I just don’t have the personality type to call fleet vendors to demand a particular car, or even any car, there isn’t always a good match with what my family and I are doing and what vehicle has landed in my driveway.
And then there was Memorial Day Weekend 2011.
I typically know months in advance what cars I’m scheduled to drive, and when I first added the CTS-V to my calendar, I was presented with a dilemma. How can I really evaluate this car, putting it through its paces, and enjoying it, while not risking life and limb of my loved ones? (And only a bit less important, how could I possibly hope to use even half of the CTS-V’s 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque without constant nagging/screaming/crying among my wife and children if they’re with me.)
The answer was clear: I needed to do a road trip, and I had to leave the family at home.
Things then fell into place quickly. I had the car over Memorial Day weekend, meaning that I’d have the opportunity to enjoy family time away from the office, yet would still have enough time for an overnight trip without using a vacation day. I called my best friend Ryan, who lives his own busy life, to see what he thought of the idea. His wife was out of the country and he was looking for something to do. Things were really starting to look up now.
Then there was the matter of where to go. I live in Pennsylvania, and there are some incredible roads here, if you can find them. I began my search for a route in late March, and my wife thought I was crazy for searching so early. I checked in with Michael Karesh of TrueDelta.com, who wrote an epic eight-part travelogue for TTAC about an adventure that he had last fall with his best friend and their fathers in West Virginia, for advice. I asked our in-house “Great Drive” expert, Kevin Miller for help. Two main route options materialized, and both were very different.
From the suburbs of Philadelphia, I’d head west. Option A was to pick up Ryan and do a clockwise loop through Western Pennsylvania, through several state forests and parks, but with no particular destination in mind (after all, this trip was intended to be about the journey, and our steed, not so much about where we were going). Option B was to pick up Ryan and do a counterclockwise loop into West Virginia and Virginia. My college buddy Doug lives outside DC and I hadn’t seen him since last year, so with Option B, we might have a destination as well. Then I checked the Washington Nationals’ schedule online – they were playing a game at 1:05 on Memorial Day, and it was against our favorite team, the Phillies. Again – things just fell together. Doug was in town on Memorial Day and wanted to see a game at Nationals Park – another example of things going very easily for me during planning.
Using Google Maps a few weeks before the trip, I plotted a tentative route that took us west to Bedford, PA, then southwest to Petersburg, WV, through Winchester, VA, and onto the beltway (I-495) around DC. The first route chosen seemed fine, but also had more straight roads than I would have preferred. I wanted less highway and more mountainous back roads. Heck, US-220 from Bedford to Petersburg is almost a straight line on the map. In my planning phase, straight lines were my enemy.
I didn’t really worry about the route, figuring that things would fall into place by the time we left. Then, the night before the trip, I worried. I still hadn’t finalized the route, so I took the first draft of the route and moved the route over as many “green” areas on the map as I could. The resulting route spanned six pages and 168 direction changes, with the shortest time on a road 82 feet and the longest at 22.5 miles.
The new plan was to cross the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, then hop onto PA 174 through Boiling Springs, to PA 34 for a few miles, then grab PA 233 through Pine Grove Furnace State Park and Michaux State Forest. Eventually, we’d make our way south, to West Virginia’s Green Ridge State Forest, onto WV 51, through Big Run State Park in West Virginia. After a while, we’d find our way onto US 50 eastbound, heading toward Virginia, except for a big detour around West Virginia’s Short Mountain Wildlife Management area. Back on US 50, we’d head toward Winchester, Virginia, through the Sugarloaf Mountain area of Virginia, and eventually landing at the northern portion of the DC Beltway in Silver Spring.
What really happened was that we enjoyed incredible roads – wide, two lane stretches with almost no traffic – after getting past Harrisburg, PA. There were passing zones aplenty, and I took frequent advantage of them (and the CTS-V’s 556 horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque) to put distance between us and the slower cars. After passing at least 50 different cars on two-lane passing zones on the trip’s first day, I wished for a to know just how many “victims” we had blasted past. Because the CTS’s navigation system will get you from point A to point B, but will not give you the scenic route, we had to leverage the on-screen map to find specific roads, but needed to defer to the Google directions, which required a lot of concentration on the part of my copilot.
All was going well until we reached step 57 of 149. At that point, the seemingly innocent direction of, “Continue onto Negro Mountain Rd/Township Rd 310” for 3.0 miles made me think of the old Jeff Foxworthy joke, “if directions to your house include ‘turn off the paved road,’ you might be a redneck.” Indeed, Negro Mountain Road was unpaved. We stopped for lunch, took a photo of the car about to head into the great unknown of unpaved roads. We figured that we – and the car – could handle three miles of unpaved roads. After all, it was covered in gravel and reasonably smooth, and even had a route number.
The CTS-V did great on its first unpaved road of the trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t know at the time that this was just the first of many – too many, in fact – roads that were not paved.
I’m not blaming the Google Maps directions for taking us so far off the beaten path; that was completely operator error, trying to force the route off of the main roads and onto more secondary roads. Friends even warned me that some of the roads I was picking might be unpaved.
After about ten miles of gravel roads, we came to an obstacle that stopped the Cadillac in its tracks. The directions told us to cross a creek that didn’t appear to be particularly deep. We could see the stones on the creek bed, and at first glance it looked to be about three or four inches deep. However, Ryan wisely suggested that we stop and check it out more closely. Good thing we did; though the portion visible from the driver’s seat wasn’t terribly deep, it was about two feet deep just in front of the car’s bumper. As we pondered our options (considering especially that we were driving a high-performance, $70,000 that that didn’t belong to either of us), a white pickup truck was heading toward us.
We backed up to give him space, and he hit the creek at about 10-15 MPH. When he hit the deepest water right by where we had stopped the CTS-V, the water was as deep as his bumper, and his momentum carried the water over his hood. We turned around and backtracked to the last fork we had found in the road.
Eventually, we found our way to paved roads and some signs of civilization. Then the directions took us to another gravel road – we don’t know what its name was. There had been heavy rain in the preceding days, as demonstrated by green leaves covering the gravel road (not old, dried, dead leaves), and there were a number of spots in the road that were eroded.
We were climbing a hill, taking things carefully (and noting the lack of guardrail) and came to the second impassable obstacle. Erosion had taken out large chunks of the road, and while a Ford F-150 Raptor could have kept going, it didn’t look very likely that the CTS-V would be able to make it any further. We stopped the car, walked ahead to the next curve, and saw that it was more of the same poor conditions. Another turnaround and more backtracking.
At this stage, we’d spent over 20 miles on unpaved roads, and were hardly enjoying the CTS-V’s 556 horsepower, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 summer tires, and Magnetic Ride Control magneteorheological shocks. We were also running low on premium unleaded (the V’s 12 MPG city fuel economy and 18 gallon gas tank means only 200 miles of city driving before needing a top-off). We were anxious to get out of the woods and onto a real road. At that stage, any road would have sufficed. After at least five more miles on gravel, we finally came to what looked like the exit onto asphalt. Within sight of a two-lane road (that even had double yellows painted on it!) we reached our final deal-breaking obstacle. It was another creek crossing, and we didn’t want to risk disaster. This last creek crossing appeared to be shallower than the first, but it was still too much. Another U-turn (but fortunately minimal backtracking) and we finally were out of the woods, after nearly three hours. We definitely learned a lesson on the perils of plotting courses with Google Maps.
When we finally got back to paved roads, we were desperate to find gasoline, and found ourselves on I-68 near Cumberland, WV. After topping off the tank, we were planning to head west on US 40 toward Savage River State Forest in WV. However, at this point, we were growing weary of traveling on unpaved roads. A few minutes later, when it appeared we’d be venturing again onto unpaved roads, we decided we (and the Cadillac) had suffered enough, and would instead use the CTS-V’s navigation system to pick the quickest way to a given point on the map (in our case, we chose to head south toward Petersburg, WV). Freed of the burden of manual navigation, my copilot enjoyed his trip much more. I enjoyed letting the CTS-V stretch its long legs, and the car’s suspension and tires surely enjoyed smooth blacktop much more than rutted gravel roads.
Click here for Part Two, where we find paved roads, a scary bridge, a cool train, and watch Roy Halladay give up 10 hits.