'Hypermiling': Word of the year!

Thanksgiving. While everyone else in the country has gotten to their destination, rested up and sat down to a bountiful home-cooked meal, Wayne Gerdes will be spending the day a little differently: Driving down the eastern seaboard (including through Philadelphia in the wee hours of the morning) in a bid to set a new world record for the highest fuel economy achieved in driving through all 48 contiguous states of the U.S.

Daily News readers will remember Gerdes from our profile last summer showing him a man who loves his country enough to go to extraordinary lengths to protect it. He sees fuel economy as a matter of national security. Adding to that, though, the previous 48-state record was set by a husband-and-wife team from Australia. It's not just that they're foreigners driving around on our roads to set a world record, but come on: The guy dissed 'hypermiling,' a word Gerdes coined to describe a variety of behaviors that boost fuel-efficiency beyond a car's rated mileage.

"Our understanding of Hypermiling is where you sit 4” behind a truck and you suck on the back of the truck and the truck can be doing 90 mph and you do not use any gas. Dangerous, illegal," said John Taylor in the initial press conference.

Maybe Taylor and others will have a better idea of what 'hypermiling' means now that the word has been named "Word of the Year" by the New Oxford American Dictionary. When I asked Gerdes - who was, yes, answering from the highway - for his reaction to this honor, he said "I was very pleased and a little humbled, because yeah, that's my baby, but I never expected to get a dictionary entry from it."

It's encouraging, he says, because "even as gas prices are low there are still plenty of important reasons to do this [hypermiling] other than the cost of fuel." And what Gerdes found more inspiring than the New Oxford American's stamp of lexicographic approval is that "now that people are becoming aware of hypermiling, they're also starting to take this approach to other parts of their lifestyle - their homes, their eating habits, you name it."

Before he got off the phone, Gerdes mentioned they (there are three hypermilers in the car) had completed 16 states so far out of the 48, having just come through snow in the mountains of Vermont, and were still hovering close to 69 miles per gallon. They'll need to keep it from dropping too far to beat the existing record, set by those Aussies, of 58.82 MPG. You can keep up with this world-record attempt at CleanMPG.com, where Wayne Gerdes is filing daily, or almost daily, dispatches of the trip. And starting now, when you tell your friends about this amazing feat, you can call it what it is: Hypermiling.