Imagine this: the final day of the road trip would be the toughest of all, with examples of all the tests that a road trip can generate. The immediate obstacles to the last leg of this road trip:
* 870 road miles to cover
* A 263 mile segment without superchargers
* Strong headwinds for part of the trip
* A dark and stormy night drive on a winding two-lane road in deer country
* Continuous waves of thundershowers rolling through my destination
Sheesh, I’d take an easier challenge any day. I began the drive at first light, heading from Holbrook, AZ, to Reno, NV. Although California and Oregon will still be visited, Reno is the short-term destination.
One delightful surprise was the area around Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff is at a high altitude, and the desert foliage gave way to trees again. When Iceman and I walked around Flagstaff during our supercharger session, the place had more of a feel of Aspen than anywhere else.
The further west I headed, the drier the ground became. Trees gave way to grasses, and grasses gave way to sagebrush and other sparse desert plants.
In order to cover 870 miles I needed to keep moving without long pauses, but the supercharging sessions were perfect for keeping fatigue from setting in. Also, the joy of driving a Model S kept me listening to the call of the road.
On the leg from Needles, CA, to Barstorw, CA, a headwind made itself known when Tesla’s navigation software put up a “Drive slowly to reach destination” warning. Sure enough, my reserve at destination had dropped to 9%. How does one save energy while still making good time? Find a semi-truck to draft, of course! While slowing from 70 mph to 60 mph as I fell into position behind the semi, my energy consumption dropped from 365wh/mi. to 305 wh/mile. The wind was still there, but I had gained 60wh/mile efficiency on the slight uphill climb. I watched the navigation software’s estimate of reserve at destination increase from 9% to 15%, at which point I was closing in on Barstow and left the semi-truck to resume my own navigation. I was amazed at how well this solution worked for the headwind problem. If no semi was available, I would have fallen in behind a pickup truck or motor home and received partial improvement.
The last supercharger available on the northbound run on U.S. 395 to Reno was at Lone Pine. Here, I took a full trip charge of some 240 miles before pushing forward. En route charging would be needed, and the less charging, the better. Fortunately, a tailwind now presented itself and I was getting some great 220wh/mi. readings as I drove on the 4 lane road at 50 mph and then 45 mph. Remember that when charging at anything other than a supercharger, faster speed means more total time needed to reach a charger and then take on a sufficient charge. To my delight, a semi-truck passed me at about 60 mph, and I was hot on his tail, drafing at 60 and not seeing any substantial energy increase from my solo 45 mph performance. Yippee!
To be sure to reach my destination but avoid spending too much time charging, I decided on charging at two locations. At Mammoth Lakes, a local destination charging location offered free charging. Iceman and I were invited to relax in the lobby while the Tesla took on a charge for an hour and a half. I was not depending upon semi-trucks or tailwinds to get me to Reno. Instead, I planned a second helper charge at Minden, NV, where a Tesla charger is installed near Main Street (thanks to TMC member Jack Bowers for placing this location on http://www.plugshare.com).
Now I had some of the most challenging driving of my trip: night, some fatigue as it was after midnight, rain showers, and a winding two-lane highway with lots of deer-warning signs. The secret was to slow down to 45-50 mph. At one point, someone came up behind and I was able to warn them of our speed difference with emergency flashers and then turn off the road and let them by. Not much later, I came around a steep turn and discovered the carcass of a deer that had been recently hit. I had the lower half of my 17″ touchscreen showing the radar picture for Northern Nevada, and I could still see lines of thunderstorms marching towards Reno from the east. Minden remained south of the thunderstorms, and so I pulled in, and while waiting for a break in the storms took on a little more energy at the Tesla charger, across from a garage/casino (only in Nevada). While one storm was hitting Reno, I saw an opening and headed north with the expectations that the storm would move west of Reno by the time I arrived. All worked well and I drove my Tesla into a protective garage at destination at about 4:00 am with no rain falling but another wave of storms approaching. The Tesla showed about 25 miles range remaining.
I believe I passed the final exam. By drafting the semi-truck, I responded to the unexpected headwind. By maximizing charge at the last supercharger and splitting my charging into two non-supercharger locations, I minimized unnecessary charging while still leaving myself a suitable reserve. By slowing down on the dark winding mountain road in deer country, I minimized energy use and the chance of damaging this beautiful car through a deer collision. My use of the radar images on the 17″ touchscreen gave me the confidence to press on in questionable weather conditions.
Looking back at the tour, I bet I spent less than $100 on energy (I don’t count the free electricity I picked up during overnight camping sessions at RV parks). The Tesla is a superbly safe vehicle which offered great reliability. Other than taking care of a noise in Seattle and having the tires rotated in Raleigh, N.C., no other maintenance issues were required. The massive storage capability allowed for tons of camping equipment, which meant comfortable nights of rest, and the Tesla’s reclining seat gave a comfortable night’s rest in Arizona when no motels or reasonable camping solutions were available. What a grand vehicle for such a trip!
The next post will be a while later, from Hawaii, with Iceman and I once again touring in our other Tesla. In the meantime, I will be beefing up the auxiliary pages of this blog to make it a resource for Tesla and EV long-distance drivers.