Road Trip: Colorado to Montana

I’m an old hand at road trips and long drives, having logged thousands of miles behind the wheel in various vehicles, on routes taking me north and south, east and west. Being based in the center of the country, it’s easy to head just about anywhere. Long drives are relaxing too, particularly with cruise control and audio books, it’s almost a meditation as the miles recede into the rear view mirror.

This latest trip is a well-traveled route, Boulder, Colorado to Kalispell, Montana. If you’re curious, that’s about 1000 miles, all told, so I usually break it up by stopping in Billings, MT, roughly halfway. Seven hours and a bit, but if I get an early start of it, I’ll push a bit further to Bozeman and have the second day of driving be an easy five hours through some of the beautiful lake areas of Montana.

Mazda got wind of my impending road trip and generously made a 2017 Mazda CX-9 available, a chance for me to give it a solid drive and really appreciate the features and design elements that make it a great long-haul vehicle. I own a 2017 Mazda CX-5, the sort of little brother of the CX-9 so it’s a very comfortable and familiar vehicle from the get-go! A 3-row family SUV, it had plenty of room to throw a bicycle and some boxes in the back while still offering lots of space for a comfortable ride.

Here it is at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post, in Garryowen, Montana:

2017 mazda cx-9

Very nice, powerful, and a pleasant drive. Better yet, the Adaptive Cruise Control makes long drives a breeze: there’s a radar system (behind the front logo on the grill) that monitors the speed and distance from the vehicle in front, so if they slow down, you slow down. If they change lanes or speed up again, you do too. Automatically. It’s a significant step towards autonomous cars, of course, but it’s also great for these long drives!

Better than that, however, the Mazda also has a fun heads-up display that shows upcoming turns for the navigation system, cruise control speed set, current speed and even the current speed limit (by analyzing road signs as you pass them). Here’s what that looks like:

mazda heads up display

Here you can see that in 60 miles I need to take the exit off the highway, the current speed limit is 80, my target ACC speed is 84 (yeah, 4mph above limit is my usual cruising speed) and I’m currently driving at 84 miles per hour.

One more feature of my road trip gear is my Escort Max2 radar detector, which pairs with my iPhone and shows all sorts of useful info, like this alert:

escort - speed trap ahead

Now if I’m just going 4mph over the limit, I shouldn’t really have to worry about a speed trap, but when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s never a bad idea to slow down to exactly the limit when you know you’re about to zoom on past a police officer or speed trap, right? That’s what I do, at least.

And oh, the roads. They just go on and on, like waves in the ocean:

the long road, wyoming

It’s certainly hard not to think about how we humans are such social creatures when you drive through hundreds of miles of completely unpopulated terrain, then a city where everyone’s jammed together, then nothing for another hundred miles. I live in a city too, so I understand the benefit of being close to others. But really, if we just spread out more evenly across our planet, think how much more space we’d all have!

Well, it’s time to get back in the car for another leg of driving. Yesterday I listened to Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi book The Foundation. Today it’s a thriller, The Fix, by David Baldacci…

Disclosure: Mazda loaned me the car for this road trip. And yes, I’m very safe and careful when I take photos while driving.

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