For Lee Stewart, who commutes 86 miles a day to and from Washington, the gasoline crisis has become a nuisance, but it hasn't shaken his belief in what he calls "God's country."
The way Steward sees it, the place for any sane Washington worker to live is on a 3.5-acre spread at the base of Bull Run Mountain, 43 miles west of the nation's capital.
"When you move out that far, you know gasoline is going up and you just accept it," said Stewart, who is a computer center manager at the Bureau of National Affairs, a publishing concern near Dupont Circle.
Like many other supercommuters, who drive to Washington from remote, rural sections of Maryland and Virginia or come from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and even New Jersey, Stewart suffers financially from the sharp rise in the price of gasoline. But he also manages to avoid one contemporary Washington ailment: waiting in line for gas.
"The biggest trouble I have is the blasted gas lines, trying to get around them once I get into D.C.," said Stewart. He said he had found little difficulty buying gas, once away from the city.
"Coming out of the city, especially at night, I've noticed several stations with long lines. You don't see that outside D.C.," said Glenn Vinson, a program analyst for the Federal Highway Administration. Vinson is part of a car pool of five commuters who gather at 5:45 a.m. weekdays in Thurmont, Md., near Camp David for the ride to D.C. Vinson lives in Waynesboro, Pa., 82 miles from Washington.
"I don't buy any gas in D.C. I just buy here," said Vinson, who drives his car only once or twice a week. Using an average mileage rate of 13.9 miles per gallon, the trip should take slightly more than six gallons of gasoline each way.
Vinson and Stewart are two of a legion of Washington area workers who have moved far away from the city for reasons of either economics or esthetics.
The Council of Governments estimated that about 64,000 Washington area workers lived on the fringe of the metropolitan area in 1975, and the number has continued to grow, according to most estimates.
Trains and buses meet the commuting needs of a growing number of supercommuters. The Chessie System's commuter trains from Martinsburg, W. Va., have picked up more riders to the Washington area than they carried this time last year, and Eyre Transit Co., which runs commuter buses from Columbia, Md., to Washington, is adding a 15th bus to keep up with the demand.
Still other supercommuters must rely on automobiles because of their hours or where they work. For them, watching the dollars and the gallons add up has been painful.
"Let's be honest," said Jerry Hofmaster, who commutes 70 miles from Hagerstown, Md., to his job at Columbia Electric in downtown D.C. "I bought a new car this past Oct. 6, and now I have better than 31,000 miles on it," he said. "Not only does it break you up in gas, but you have to buy a new car every year. It's painful, believe me."
Long distance commuters like other commuters, say they are searching for ways to control costs. Hofmaster continues to look for people to car pool with, as he has for the past 18 months. Danny Baron, who commutes to a job in Alexandria from Martinsburg, W.Va., figures a new diesel automobile and a rider will trim his costs considerably.
COG had 40,330 people in its file looking for car pools as of the end of April. Since the advent of the gasoline crunch, "we're inundated" with car pool requests said John Bauman, a COG official.
Not all would-be car poolers fall into the category of supercommuters, but COG's files list at least 305 commuters from Baltimore; 241 from Annapolis; 176 from Frederick, Md.; 138 from Fredericksburg, Va.; 19 from West Virginia; 18 from Maryland's Eastern Shore; 10 from Pennsylvania, and one from New Jersey.
"I don't think we're part of the [gas supply] problem, I think we're part of the answer," said long-distance commuter Vinson. "People who live way out tend to car pool more. As you get into D.C., you see more single-occupant cars," said Vinson. "People who live out here are probably more fuel-efficient than those who live closer in."
In spite of the rapidly rising costs of driving, many commuters say they would not trade the benefits of remoteness for lower commuting costs.
Riding to and from work, "I get to see beautiful sunrises and beautiful sunsets. Things like that, that I get to see, sort of compensate for the extra time on the road," said Baron.
While many commuters say they won't move, there are signs that prospective buyers of homes far away from the Washington area may be looking elsewhere because of increasing commuting costs.
Some Washingtonians still are inspecting homes on the fringe of the area, said a realtor working in Brunswick, Md., 65 miles from Washington. But "very few people are buying here in Brunswick," he said. "What they say is it's too far. I think the gasoline has hurt us." CAPTION: Chart, Supercommuters, The number of gallons of gas used for a one-way trip to Washington is based on 1977 Federal Highway Administration estimates that passenger cars average 13.94 miles per gallon. By Dave Cook - The Washington Post