Day 3 — From Charger Woes to Charger Boon

My body still on East Coast time, I happened to wake up a bit before 6am today.  Remembering a story from Steve and Jesse, I decided that I should check in on the car to see how charging was going.  It was a good thing that I did, as it wasn’t.  Somewhere a few hours before the charger had decided to stop supplying power to the car :( .  A quick call to AeroVironment (who I must say was there to answer the phone again, this time the day after Christmas at 5 something AM) and they restarted a new charge session.  Perhaps there is a time limit on charge sessions?

In the end, the delay in charging was a secondary delay for the day.  A quick check of the weather ahead showed a snowstorm still raging in the mountain passes ahead and wouldn’t be lifting for a few hours, and with the Summer only performance tires still on the car, I decided it was time to go back to bed.

A number hours later, and a minor modification to my EVSE identified, which was easy to work through in the warmth of the hotel room, and we were packed and ready to go.  At this point we had been moving bags in and out of the S for three days, mostly in rain, and I have to give the designers of the rear hatch a shout out.  Every time I opened the hatch, the water covering it was perfectly funneled to the sides and off into channels below waiting to whisk it to the ground never onto my stuff below.

We made it through the passes easily, black pavement being cleared ahead of us by front loaders.  After making it through, and into California we found our next RV park, who were happy to have an EV charge there and didn’t mind us plugging into two 50A outlets.  This time the EVSE came up without issue and after a number of final checks I gave it the command to combine input sources and feed them to the S.  Almost instantly the relays clicked and the S ramped charging up to 80A at just over 240 Volts.  Charging was going by so quickly that we went ahead and charged all the way up to a full Range charge and determined that we should just be able to make it to the Superchargers at Folsom.  The drive was smooth, but as I’m still dialing in my ability to arrive at my destination with the margin I would like, the 10 miles margin I had calculated slowly slipped away.  I finally arrived at Folsom with 3 miles left, and somehow managed to bring it down to 1 as I slowly hunted for the Superchargers.

When we did find them, using them could not have been easier.  We pulled in similar to how you pull up to a gas pump, walk over to the cable is easier to handle than a gas pump handle, push the button on the handle which causes the battery door S to open, and you plug in the Supercharger cable to the S.  I took a video of this, but as it was taken in the middle of the night I’ll have to clean it up some before I post it.

Just about this time, the local security guard, who had apparently been watching a suspicious car slowly meander it’s way around the closed outlet center, came over to see why we were there.  He had never seen an S use the Superchargers before and by the time we finished showing him and with the follow-on discussion, the car had already charged up to 65 miles.  Charging progressed at almost 300 miles for quite a few minutes until it slowed it’s charge rate down (to protect the batteries).  We only charged to ~180 miles, as that was plenty to be able to make it over to Fremont, and onto Menlo Park.

Having filled up heartily we zipped over to a hotel that split the difference between Folsom and Fremont, and called it a night.

Today was quite a day.  We went from charging on the generally available J1772 Charger at 19 miles/hr to charging on my custom EVSE at 65 miles/hr to charging on a Supercharger at almost 300 miles/hr!  What a day!

Day 4 (12/27/12) – Winter Solstice Journey to Salvation Cont’d

Jeremy Collins is quoted as saying “Sometimes the best journeys aren’t necessarily from east to west, but from heart to head. Between them we find our voice.” As Peter and I began the forth day of our journey our souls reawakened in anticipation of the adventure ahead.

Tesla Factory – Fremont, CA
It was a brand new day overflowing with warmth and sunshine as we set off for Fremont, CA to visit the Tesla Factory. Just as my expectations of the car were exceeded, so too were those of its birth place. Our timing was perfect. We were greeted with an engaging group of Tesla loyalists who invited us to join their tour led by the knowledgeable Tesla team member, John H. After only a few minutes, I was witnessing the wonderment and exaltation of Charlie Bucket exploring Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory on an episode of Discover Channel’s How It’s Made. Far from being a car enthusiast, I found myself just as fascinated by the size, scope, organization, teamwork and technology. In fact, at one point we as a group were fully entranced for about 30 minutes as we witnessed the assembly line in action. It was clear, Tesla’s competencies spanned a multitude of areas and all of its stakeholders were deservingly proud. I was sold. At the conclusion of the tour, Peter’s eyes widened when our guide whispered to him, “Next time, don’t risk reaching a range of 1 mile.” Apparently, the guide had been following our trek along with dozens of others which was both flattering and intimidating as we looked to not only ensure a successful trip, but to supply entertaining feed.

Tesla Dealership – Menlo Park, CA
Our next stop was the Tesla dealership in Menlo, CA where Peter was to switch to all-season tires allowing for better traction, control and thus more efficiency during our cold weather precipitous inclines. I took this opportunity to indulge in a much desired and deserved meditative run through Menlo Park. This cathartic outlet was food for the soul and what was supposed to be a 2.5 mile jog turned into 4 miles of pure bliss. I returned to find Peter chatting with another electrical engineer who recently purchased a Model S while he waited for Sunrise to finish her bath (the dealership insisted she not exit the service door until her coat was as shiny as the day she was born).

Final Destination – Los Angeles
With all three of us refreshed (Peter, Sunrise and I) a couple of IPAs were in order so we hit up Menlo Grill adjacent to the dealership in preparation for the next venture to Gilroy en route to our final destination. In Gilroy, we devoured In-N-Out burgers (which I had not yet tried) while the car super-charged next to SIG1058. We returned to find another local owner #1459 charging as well. After a quick charge followed by a strawberry milkshake at Harris Ranch we arrived in the City of Angels around midnight. In just a couple more days we will have traveled almost 2,000 miles powered by about 20 hours of charge time!

Apx Miles Traveled/Charge Time Since Day 1: 1000 mi /19 HRS
Song of the Day: Equestrian by US Royalty

Rock on,

Day 5 (12/28/12) – MacGyver & the New EV Tripper

This was my first day on Electric Road Trip S, but day 5 for Tina and Peter. After leaving Erin and Dave’s (thanks again, guys!) we headed out to Tesla’s supercharger at Hawthorn CA for a quick charging “top off.” A supercharger charges up the battery to full in about an hour as an opposed to about 8 hours on regular 50amp stove outlet. So I started out the trip pretty spoiled. While charging Peter got so excited about talking to Larry (a very friendly navy pilot who flew F14s off aircraft carriers and now flies commercial planes and who incidentally graduated from University of Maryland, like us) and a fellow Model S owner that he didn’t plug the car all the way in so after about 40 minutes we realized that we haven’t charged at all. Oops. On the plus side, we were still in sunny southern CA and the nice person from the Tesla facility made us coffee. In the lot on the way out, Peter showed me how the car accelerates. I’m not a car person, I haven’t owned one in 8 years, but that was awesome, it takes off like one of those super fast roller coasters!

After picking up Tina the Electric Road Trip S was pretty smooth and uneventful until our arrival in Barstow, CA a couple of hours later. The outlet mall where the supercharger was must be doing something right, because every fast food restaurant was packed to the gills. First prize goes to In and Out Burger, a must stop for me every time I’m in CA. The pandemonium going on in there reminding me that line to get into Lolapalooza in the mid-90s. So unfortunately no In and Out for me, but not to worry I’ll be back for that deliciousness next time. Speaking of in and out, thanks to the awesome supercharger we were in and out of Barstow in an hour and back on the road. The weather was cooperating with us, it was a beautiful sunny day and we could enjoy the great view of the dessert and the mountains, something us east coast dwellers don’t see every day. We even got a thumbs up from a car on the road, apparently some people know what a Tesla is :) I’m not going to go on about how beautiful the moon was over the dessert, because you just had to be there.

We pulled up to an RV park in Kingman, AZ at about 8:30pm, but then magically it was 9:30 due to that silly thing called time zone change, which we forgot about completely. And that’s when the fun really began. It was dark, it was cold, and the 14-50R plugs (or 50 amp hookups) where we going to plug in the car were too far apart (Peter needed to use two of them because of the device he made that allows to cut down the charging time from 8 hours to about 4 hours). For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t feel bad, I already had to ask Peter about the names of these things about 3 times and I think if I ask him one more time he’s going to throw something at me. But basically, they are big outlets like the ones that you use to plug in a dryer or a washing machine. Anyway, Peter pulled out his tools and in a very MacGyver move made an extension cord right there on the spot, all while chatting up some lady that was so enamored with the car I think she already put her order with Tesla. But alas, after the extension cord was made we still could not charge car because it was 3 phase power (no idea how to explain this in plain English, please ask Peter). So off to an RV park down the road we went. At that point, it was pretty clear that we were not making it Flagstaff, AZ tonight as originally planned. What followed with a tour of the local motel chains (an I never seen so many motels, as I have in Kingman, AZ) in search of a 240v plug to charge the car overnight. Luck smiled down us at Motel 6. Tina and I got a good laugh from watching Peter just walk into the laundry room of the motel without actually checking in and inspect the plug for the washer and dryer. It would be even more funny to watch him explain this to the motel stuff. Luckily, after another MacGyver operation, Peter pulled one the pins out to make the plug fit. The great people at Motel 6 let us use the plug to charge the car. It was just in time too because my battery much like the car’s was pretty low on charge. I haven’t slept so well in a while. Although Peter and Tina tell me that that is the earliest night they had so far (we passed out around midnight) so I guess I’m still a lightweight electric road tripper.

Day 7 (12/30/12) – Urban Hikes and Cruise Control

My tour of Albuquerque consisted of a 10 minute walk from the hotel downtown to the car. It looks like a pretty cool town but is pretty dead on a late Sunday morning. It’s going on the list of places to visit when we have more time. Following Albuquerque was another first on this trip, me driving the Model S. I haven’t owned a car for the past eight years and rarely drive now a days. Although luckily I have never been in a major car accident, I did back a borrowed car into a pole a few years ago. I also remember the last time I drove Peter’s car was when we were freshmen in college. We went up to Chicago for a weekend from the University of Maryland. Peter’s car was a stick shift and he taught me how to drive it in the parking lot of Safeway before the trip. I got out of driving pretty much the whole way until we were coming back Monday morning trying to make it to our classes. Peter and our other friend were really tired and asked that I drive. It was all fine until we got to a toll when after paying I couldn’t get the car to move again. A few minutes later a cop came up behind us and after listening to my rather pathetic explanation of what was happening told me that the “highway was not a practice lot.” After that Peter drove us all the way back to Maryland.

So… you can imagine why I was pretty nervous about driving my good friend’s new and expensive car; however, some things are more important than fear (actually most things), so behind the steering wheel I went. After a short lesson from Peter about how everything works, I was off down a New Mexico highway. One of the cool things was that the car saves your seat settings so that when you switch drivers it automatically adjusts the seats for you. Needless to say, it was easy to drive the S and not really different from a regular car. Being on cruise control felt kind of weird, but that has to with the fact that I don’t think I ever actually used cruise control before. Other than that it was a smooth ride and it was tempting to go really, really fast. I got us into an RV park in Santa Rosa, NM safe and sound.

The RV park was almost completely empty. The desert scenery was pretty cool especially for someone from the east coast. My hat goes off to Tina, who went out for a run even though it was freezing. I made due walking around the RV park to work off those wasabi peas that I’ve been constantly snacking on somehow. We then headed off down the road in another stint of something we called “urban hiking” (AKA walking down the side of a major road to get something to eat). We ended up at Silver Moon, a Mexican-American restaurant recommended to us by the RV park employee. The place was definitely worth the hike. The food was amazing and the atmosphere very homey, just what we electric road trippers needed. My huevos rancheros with the green chili sauce were the best I ever had. Apparently, we were not the only ones who thought the place was great as it had autographed pictures from the likes of Angelina Jolie and Linda Carter. Soon the road beckoned and we were back on our way.

Our stopping point for the night was Clovis, NM. Although Apple maps showed two hotels in the town, neither of these really worked for us or had/were close to a charger. After some loops around town we came across some more motels and started circling them to see if we could find an easy access to a 240v plug we could use. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the adapter for the dryer style that the hotels had.

During one of these circles of a hotel, we were befriended by the most adorable dog that had apparently been abandoned by its previous owners. Tina spearheaded the rescue effort, first talking with the hotel which was giving the dog food and some shelter, then eventually with a few local animal shelters and animal hospitals about having the dog scanned for a chip and finding a home. Eventually, I’m very relieved to say, she found a home. Unfortunately, given the circumstances related to driving an electric car, we could not transport the pet; however, I’m sure that Tina would have adopted the dog on the spot had we not been on this trip.

The hunt for a high power charger continued. It wasn’t looking good there for a while but than a switch to Google maps showed that there was a new campground (K C’s campground) close by. We were able to score a charging post a walking distance from a hotel for a tent fee charge! Granted the walk was through some sort of strange field and it started snowing, but hey, this is an adventure after all. Actually, even after all that we were asleep earlier than any other day on the trip so far. And so ends the next to last day of 2012 for Electric Road Trip S.