Wednesday, April 9, 2014

EV Scenic Byways: Coulee Corridor

Have you ever heard of the Missoula Floods? Up until a month ago, I hadn't either.

It was during a conversation with my school's two sixth grade science teachers last month that I first heard of the floods and got excited to explore eastern Washington's Coulee Corridor. Stretching from Omak to Othello is a region of channeled scablands and coulees (steep-sided ravines and gorges) formed from massive Ice Age floods some 15,000 years ago. An ice dam at Lake Missoula broke dozens of times, resulting in a series of catastrophic floods that carved out a large region of eastern Washington.

Dry Falls: When water flowed, it was five times the width of Niagara Falls!

Getting excited for a road trip is easy. Going on a road trip that is a first-ever documented journey in an all-electric Nissan LEAF is the tough part. For example, the only EV plug on a 175-mile stretch from Ellensburg to Spokane, Washington is in Moses Lake, at 68 miles from Ellensburg. We would not be driving as far east as Spokane this time, but there still was a need for charging solutions to cover the hundreds of miles that we'd be touring on this EVenture along the Coulee Corridor.

From western Washington, I decided to take a northern route, driving across Stevens Pass to the town of Pateros, 55 miles north of Wenatchee. A partnership between Plug-In North Central Washington and the Pateros Lakeshore Inn resulted in a high amperage Level 2 charging unit in this town, at the base of the Cascade Mountain range, within the past year. "Level 2" charging will provide most new Nissan LEAFs a complete charge in about 3-4 hours.

There was much fun to be had while charging in Pateros--what a beautiful area!

After departing Pateros, the only charging opportunities that we'd have access to for the next two days would be 50-amp service at RV campgrounds. Our first night's stay in the Coulee Corridor was near the Grand Coulee Dam, at an RV campground called the Grand Coulee RV Park.

EV Fear Factor

At about the halfway point from Pateros to Grand Coulee, I pulled our LEAF over to take in the vastness. Our previous charge was way back along the Cascade Range (background of the above picture). Seeing the mountains disappearing in the rearview mirror was a bit disheartening!

Beyond the impressiveness and fear factor of the views, this section of the Columbia Plateau has other "discoveries" that took our minds off of the charging situation. Massive boulders, known as glacial erratics, randomly scatter the landscape on the plateau; another indicator of the flooding that took place in the region thousands of years ago.

I knew that we could make the 55-mile drive from Pateros to Grand Coulee. However, no amount of planning and reassurance will prevent EV drivers from feeling occasional wisps of terror when driving in an EV Badlands area, where there is nowhere to plug into for dozens of miles all around. To make a comparison: It was like we left Pateros in a Toyota Prius with a gallon and a half of gas in the tank.

RV Park Charging

The owner of the Grand Coulee RV Park was very receptive to discussing pricing options for future EVs. While EV drivers typically prefer to pay for a Level 2 charge by the kWh (1,000 watts in an hour's time), metered RV campground receptacles are uncommon in the Pacific Northwest due to inexpensive electricity rates. Conversely, in California, many RV campgrounds have meters at every 50-amp receptacle.

Grand Coulee RV Park accepted a very reasonable alternative: A flat $5.00 EV charging fee for up to four hours of use at one of the bountiful 50-amp RV hookups. If travelers want to stay the night, the RV park will include the EV charging for free--just pay the nightly $20.00 fee for tent camping.

Electric Remote Controlled Helicopters

The owner of the Grand Coulee RV Park was excited to talk shop...about all kinds of EVs! It turned out that he is an electric RC helicopter enthusiast. We spent some time talking about battery technology and body frame materials. Like EVs, the RC helicopters are powered with lithium batteries. And like new EVs (read: BMW's i3), the RC helicopters had a carbon fiber frame.

With battery capacity/density continuing to increase and costs decreasing, we'll undoubtedly continue to see battery technology displace and/or replace the established energy sources in all aspects of our lives...our hobbies...our transportation.

Grand Coulee Dam: Enough Power Generated to Charge a Nissan LEAF more than 875 Million Times in a Year!!!

Truly a structure that must be seen to be appreciated, the immensity of Grand Coulee Dam cannot be easily described. Let me try to do it some justice, courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest power station in the U.S. and 7th largest in the world.
  • The third power plant (added in 1974), alone, produces twice the electricity as Hoover Dam.
  • The dam has enough concrete (12 million cubic yards) to build a road from Seattle to Miami.

Steamboat Rock

Our second day of the EV road trip was filled with some of the greatest and grandest sites to be seen along the Coulee Corridor.

The first stop was at Steamboat Rock State Park. One of the benefits of going on a road trip during the off-season is that, by definition, there is hardly anybody else there. I took full advantage of this by plugging into one of the many unoccupied RV 50-amp service hook-ups at Steamboat Rock State Park (and later in the day at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park). With the car charging, we had an excuse to take our time and enjoy the sites. And enjoy we did!

My daughter. Oh, and the largest waterfall in history: Dry Falls.

The drive in between Steamboat Rock State Park and Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park was actually one of the highlights of the day for me...the driver. This goes back to it being the off-season for tourism and there being nobody to share the road with. For 50 miles, from Steamboat Rock State Park to Ephrata, I knew that I could use as much of the battery charge as I pleased (remember, there was plenty of charging opportunities at the state parks). So, ECO mode was turned off and Steve's "Fun Mode" switched on.

Driving along Banks Lake, with 700-ft. basalt cliffs on either side, my senses tuned into a singularity. I only focused on the rush of wind as the car zipped along. There was no engine noise or exhaust rumble coming from our LEAF, which in turn, made the wind noise the one focus. It was glorious!

Bad daddy moment at Lenore Lake Caves--that's our son at the far left of the picture, wondering freely.

Along the shores of Lenore Lake are a series of seven caves accessible via a 1.5 mile roundtrip hike. For our six-year-old daughter, the rock climbing and scrambling was no problem. For our two-year-old son, the terrain was impassible in many areas. So what is a prudent dad to do? I put him on my shoulders, of course!

A little backstory: I am 6'11" tall.

Hiking and scrambling along with a 35-lb. child on my shoulders effectively made my center of gravity somewhere between my collar bone and chin. It was a miracle of all miracles that I did not fall to my death, along with my son, on the Lenore Lake Caves hike.

Lenore Lake Caves

Here is another view of the Lenore Lake Caves. These caves formed during the Missoula Floods when the igneous rock layers gouged away with the tremendous power of water.

Oops! I almost ran out of juice. Here, trickle charging in Quincy, WA.

At the end of our second day, I had planned on us camping and over-night charging in Quincy. When we pulled into town in the early evening hours, I still had plenty of charge remaining in our LEAF. I wanted to charge at a local golf course, Colockum Ridge Golf Course.

Before leaving on the trip, I had attempted to contact public relations folks at the Port of Quincy, who own/manage Colockum Ridge Golf Course. My inquiries with the Port of Quincy were never returned. I was not worried, though, because I figured that I could establish phone contact with the golf course manager, or even somebody in the pro shop, while on the trip.

Unfortunately, for two days, I had no cell service. In this age of The World is Flat, I was unable to get cell service or a data connection in hundreds of miles of driving. We were very much traveling in civilization, though...driving through many towns along the way. However in an era of being connected at any time and anywhere, I felt completely isolated from the civilized world.

Colockum Ridge Golf Course

After driving an additional five miles from downtown Quincy, we arrived at Colockum Ridge Golf Course. I immediately saw that the camping situation would not work because there were no restrooms accessible after hours. We returned to Quincy, as I remembered seeing a sign for RV camping earlier. Within moments of pulling into the "campground," I realized that we would need to find an alternative.

Those ten miles of extra driving out to the golf course, and back, had hammered my range, though. So we pulled in at a local grocery store and trickle charged for an hour.

Ultimately, we ended back at Colockum Ridge Golf Course. It would be a great spot to charge an EV while playing golf, but overnight tent camping was not ideal.

The Feathers

The Feathers are basalt columns located between Vantage and The Gorge Amphitheater. This is seemingly a popular location for amateur rock climbers, as there are numerous safety hooks bolted into the rocks throughout.

Rock climbers in training.

Our EV road trip's last destination was at the Wild Horse Wind Farm. The wind farm is Puget Sound Energy's second largest in Washington, and capable of generating 273 megawatts of electricity every year. The site also has one of the Northwest's largest solar power arrays, with more than 2,700 solar panels that are capable of producing 500 kW of electricity.

Wild Horse Renewable Energy Center

The purpose of this trip was to see some of the spectacular sights along the Coulee Corridor with my daughter and son. It was after leaving the Wild Horse Renewable Energy Center that I thought how fitting for the Coulee Corridor to be bookended with two clean power generating sources, with the Grand Coulee Dam at the north end and the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Farm at the southeast corner. And what better way to experience Coulee Corridor than to be in an all-electric Nissan LEAF!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seattle to Disneyland--Is it possible in a Nissan LEAF?

When I was in fifth grade, I watched, for the first time, National Lampoon's Vacation.  It was a fantastically inappropriate movie for a 10-year-old to watch, and it was AMAZING!  Clark Griswold became my closet hero, and I longed to one day take my future family on a cross-country trip to Walley World.

Obviously, Walley World was a semi-fictionalized dream land.  As I got older, though, and now with kids of my own, taking my family on a cross country trip from our home in the Seattle area to the Happiest Place on Earth became an obsession.  And after successfully driving a Nissan LEAF on the BC2BC All-Electric Rally from Canada to Mexico, and back, getting my family to Disneyland in our EV was becoming a possibility.

While the 1,200 mile trip to Disneyland is now clearly attainable in a LEAF, doing so with my two children and lovely wife, however, will require more CHAdeMO quick charging infrastructure in California for the possible to become reality.

When examining the logistics of the trip, I first researched the state of CHAdeMO infrastructure in Northern California between Yreka and Sacramento and in California's Central Valley, between Modesto and Bakersfield.

After driving the 560 miles of these two parts of California in a LEAF in the summer of 2013, I started referring to these regions as the "EV Badlands" of California. With no quick charging available for a LEAF on 70% of the drive in California, the folks at Disneyland are not likely to tap into the EV tourism market of LEAF owners in Washington, or Oregon for that matter.

To my surprise, Nissan looks to be tackling the infrastructure issue itself with some recent CHAdeMO installations in the EV Badlands. Chico, Visalia, and Bakersfield now have quick charging available for LEAF drivers!  If Nissan would install CHAdeMO units at its dealerships in Redding, Modesto, Merced, and Fresno, the dream of Disneyland would no longer be Fantasyland.

To then complete the minimum quick charging needs, the state government of California needs to find a way to supplement Nissan's CHAdeMO deployment with installations in Yreka, Mt Shasta, and Lakehead in the north.  Additionally, there will need to be infrastructure in Grapevine, Lebec, and Santa Clarita for travel between the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles County in the south.

The politicians in Olympia and Salem figured out how to support CHAdeMO infrastructure in the Northwest. Surely, the elected officials in Sacramento can figure out how to deploy six CHAdeMO charging stations in a state with more than 38 million residents.

With a hypothetical CHAdeMO infrastructure completed, the next hurdle was to figure out how to deal with the inevitable heating of the LEAF's battery pack during uninterrupted driving and charging cycles. The trip would likely require about 25 quick charging events to get from our house in Lake Stevens, WA to Disneyland.

Traveling at 70mph in a LEAF = Very High Pack Temps!

The above graph shows the peaks and valleys of battery pack temperatures during continuous highway travel and quick charging.  On this particular trip, I drove the LEAF frequently at or above 70mph. Each of the 17 sessions displays the average velocity (mph) for the driving prior to a quick charge, pack heating on the drive and while charging, and the duration of the quick charge session.

(Note that the 45 degree temperature drop between the fifth and sixth quick charging session was due to an eight hour overnight stop.)

The pack temperatures displayed in this graph are only representative of the T1 sensor on the LEAF battery pack.  This part of the battery pack is by far the most susceptible to out-of-control heating, as the other sensors of the battery pack show that different battery cells can be more than 25% cooler.  The packaging of the LEAF's battery cells clearly created a weakest link, and the area around the T1 sensor is it.

It was tough to initially pinpoint what had the greatest impact on rising pack temps, so I utilized Excel's correlational formulas to extract more precise values.  The greatest correlation, not surprisingly, was between the battery pack temps upon arrival at a quick charger and the temps after the charge completed.  Duh!

*To see the complete correlational data analysis, view the Google Drive spreadsheet here.

*To view the complete LEAF Spy data file for either one of these trips, please email me at:  coramsc at gmail dot com.

All other factors:  driving speed, total time quick charging, and travel time between quick charging sessions all seemed have an impact. However, the statistical correlational values just did not provide me a clear variable that needed to be controlled to predictably reduce battery pack heating.  Except for the variable of quick charging itself!

Busy Night on the West Coast Green Highway!
With this initial analysis completed, I decided to perform another road test.  This time, I would set the cruise control at 55mph and do continuous quick charging and driving all night long.  My hypothesis was that the lower driving speed, and the subsequent slower battery discharge and longer time (an hour) in between quick charge events, would result in stabilized battery pack temperatures.

We own two Nissan LEAFs, a 2012 and a 2013. I wanted to provide a worst-case scenario, so I used our 2012 which only has about 89% battery capacity as compared to our 2013's wonderfully-healthy 100% capacity pack. Additionally, the heater was never turned off (also an energy drain when compared to newer LEAFs).

The loop consisted of quick charging in Burlington, WA, traveling at 55mph to Bellingham, WA, and returning at a 55mph pace back to Burlington.  Six quick charge sessions were completed, with 308 miles covered in 9 hours and 35 minutes of driving.  At the same pace, continuous charging/driving from Seattle to Disneyland will take a little more than 38 hours...130 hours quicker than my 2013 trip!

55mph to Keep Pack Temperatures In Check

While the 117 degree temps are a bit scary for the LEAF driver, the bigger picture is more palatable. Only one sensor was showing that part of the pack was hot. Upon leaving the quick charging station after the sixth session, the LEAF's dashboard display showed 8 (out of 12) battery temperature bars. Within a few minutes of driving, the dashboard displayed a very reasonable 7 temp bars.

There is not an experienced long-distance LEAF driver out there who would be uncomfortable with the battery pack at 8 temperature bars.

The dream of Disneyland is almost a reality. And just like Clark Griswold's family in National Lampoon's Vacation, I will defy my family's wishes of flying to our vacation destination. Instead, we're going to load up the family truckster with kids and Kool-Aid and hit the open road!..twenty-first century style.

Destination: Disneyland.

Monday, January 20, 2014

EV Scenic Byways: Historic Columbia River Highway


Broadly defined as those cultural bits that we identify ourselves with at various moments in our history. For some, Americana defines us on a personal level.  


CHAdeMO Quick Charger
When my unborn grandchildren study American cultural artifacts from the first half of the 21st century, I believe that they will look at the electric vehicle (EV) quick charger as a piece of Americana. Much like how the drive-in movie theatre defined the post-WWII America six decades ago, CHAdeMO or Tesla Supercharger stations will be cultural icons of Generations Y and Z. 

There is little doubt that the internal combustion engine (ICE), gasoline-powered car will inevitably go the way of the dodo. The trump card for ICE vehicles now, though, is a massive infrastructure.  With more than 120,000 gas stations in the U.S., Americans are free to travel from sea to shining sea as easily as commuting to work from the burbs.  

On a societal level, for electric cars to replace our gasoline-powered vehicles, EVs must be able to do just that: take us to work and allow the freedom to travel long distances.  The requirement of traveling to work was satisfied with the release of the first mass production EV, the Nissan LEAF.  The LEAF allows for travel at highway speeds with all of the driving comforts we expect of our vehicles. Lacking, though, was a nation-wide infrastructure of quick charging stations to support long distance travel.  

Now with the pace of quick charger installations picking up, there is a growing interest from LEAF owners to use their EVs for road tripping duties, too. The U.S. now has more than 300 CHAdeMO charging stations, and although the LEAF is range-limited to about 75 miles per charge, one could theoretically drive their EV in perpetuity if there was an abundance of quick charging infrastructure.

CHAdeMO in WA & OR (January, 2014)
The possibility of limitless driving is becoming a reality in the western halves of Oregon and Washington. There, government-backed efforts have established the backbone of a robust CHAdeMO infrastructure. 

After my wife and I transitioned to owning two LEAFs, and no ICE cars, I longed to take my family on impromptu weekend excursions and far-reaching road trips.

Recently, while looking at the CHAdeMO location maps on, I discovered that I could now drive a LEAF east of Portland, OR...quick charging all the way out to The Dalles. 

A trip from where we live (35 miles north of Seattle) into the heart of the Land-o-CHAdeMO (Oregon) would allow me to test the LEAF's ability to quick charge time after time, and hopefully cover some serious mileage. 

Taking my two kids (ages six and two) on a weekend trip to Oregon sounded great; all the better was that we could check out the town of The Dalles, which is where my father grew up.

The drive east of Portland, along the Columbia River, is a simple affair in an EV. Oregon has CHAdeMO charging stations located in Cascade Locks, Hood River, and The Dalles; all installed as part of the West Coast Green Highway.

Because my children would be with me, I plotted out some sight seeing along the Historic Columbia River Highway.  This 15 mile "highway" is a two-lane affair that runs parallel to I-84 along the Columbia River, between the CHAdeMO stations in Wood Village, OR and Cascade Locks, OR. With seven easily-accessed waterfalls and six state parks along the way, it is no wonder this section of byway was named one of ten "Ultimate Road Trips" in the world by National Geographic. The Historic Columbia River Highway's design is also impressive, as the grades never exceed 5%...making this road truly an "EV friendly" scenic byway.

The Historic Columbia River Highway: Then and Now

The night before my kids and I departed, I took out my father's autobiography, which he completed before passing away five years ago. It was actually the first time since Dad passed that I was able to get myself to read his life story. 

Flipping to the parts that talked about his family's time living in The Dalles, I read his account of the byway: "...and we moved over the Old Columbia Highway that was very crooked and had panoramic views of the Columbia Gorge. At one point, the whole hillside collapsed just behind our car with huge boulders crashing onto the highway."  This piqued my interest! 

Continuing through Dad's writing, I read more about his time living in The Dalles . What I was really hoping for was to read about a kid-friendly stop in The Dalles that would be a nice grand finale for our road trip. Dad's account of Celilo Falls seemed to perfectly fit the bill:

...(Celilo Falls) was remarkable for its powerful eddies and brave Celilo Indians that fished off flimsy wooden scaffolding platforms hung out over the falls to net salmon weighing 50 pounds, or more.

And, later:

"...a tourist heaven with Celilo Falls as the top billing." 

I started getting emotionally overwhelmed, and stopped reading the autobiography. However, I had what I was looking for: The Grand Finale--Celilo Falls.

The goals for the road trip were set.  One, collect data about battery pack temperatures related to driving my LEAF on a road trip where successive quick charging would be used. And two, provide my kids an opportunity to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Pacific Northwest.


Leaving home on a Friday night, we quick charged five times, arriving in Cornelius, OR for our overnight stay 7 1/2 hours later. Notably, the drive from Seattle to Portland took 5 hours, 7 minutes. Before driving EVs, the Seattle to Portland haul was about a three hour trip. 

Driving freeway speeds, up to 80 m.p.h. on that first leg of the trip, and quick charging five times, did have an impact on battery pack temperatures. We arrived in Cornelius with an average pack temp of 102.5 degrees.  

Parking outside for 8 hours helped to cool things down!
I parked/charged the LEAF outside during our 8 hours in Cornelius. The effect of low ambient air temps was remarkably effective at dropping the battery pack temps. 

To view the complete pack temp/GIDS/travel speeds spreadsheet, visit: 

To view the complete LEAF Spy data file with the above information and much, much more, please email me at: coramsc at gmail dot com.

Is this charging station ever used for EV charging?!?
The next day, Saturday morning, we set out from Cornelius driving due east along the Columbia River, and planned on arriving in The Dalles that afternoon.

Our first quick charge on Saturday was at a Walmart in Wood Village, OR.  To say that this location was a pitiful charging station situation was an understatement! There were shopping carts filling both EV charging spots, with more shopping carts overturned next to the charging station itself. After moving some carts, I was able to squeeze the LEAF in to access the CHAdeMO station.

With a 72% charge, we left Wood Village and headed up to the higher elevations to travel the byways.  

Driving along the Historic Columbia River Highway was nothing short of spectacular!

12th Man Pride at the Women's Forum Outlook
60mph Wind Gusts at Crown Point Vista House
Latourell Falls
Yes, kids love waterfalls!
Here at Shepperd's Dell Falls.

Bridal Veil Falls
Multnomah Falls
At Multnomah Falls, we could not get closer than the lower parking and viewing area, as a large boulder had fallen onto Benson Bridge less than two weeks prior, taking out a swath of the footbridge leading to the upper falls. It was just as well because we were into the afternoon hours and still needed to get out to Celilo Falls, two quick charges away. 

I drove as reasonably fast as possible from Multnomah Falls, into Hood River to charge, and then into The Dalles. In The Dalles, we quick charged to 67% which gave us just enough juice to make the 13 mile drive east to Celilo Falls, and back.

The grande finale...Celilo Falls!
At 4:30pm, we pulled into Celilo Park. It was getting dark, so we zipped into the parking lot and hopped out. At the water's edge, all that could be seen was the tranquil Columbia River lazily flowing past. 

I was dumbfounded. My father's own autobiography noted this place as the "crown jewel of the Columbia." We walked back to the car. The road trip was over, and it was time to figure out how to get home.

Celilo Falls: It's History
Just before leaving the Celilo Park parking area, I pulled up next to a historical marker and sign. I read about how Wyam Falls (later, referred to as Celilo Falls) was an ancient fishing ground for the Celilo Tribe, and in 1957, with the construction of The Dalles Dam, the fishing grounds were inundated by the subsequent rise of water.  History.

Originally, I had planned for us to head back into Cornelius for a good night's sleep, before returning home on Sunday. After the disappointment at Celilo Falls, I really just wanted to be back home to read again about what Dad said of the falls. 

Driving home, I stuck with the same formula for driving as on the trip down: drive at, or above, the speed limit.  But this time, I didn't go above 70 m.p.h., which I knew would still get the battery pack plenty hot.  

We were making good time, and everything was drama free until pulling onto the I-5 on-ramp after a quick charge in Castle Rock, WA. With an average pack temp of 115 degrees (the highest temp sensor in the battery pack was showing an EV-melting 132.8 degrees), I tried to do a typical torque-loving acceleration onto the freeway.  However, I was sent into sensory shock when the LEAF didn't respond to the pedal to the metal efforts.  

Looking at the dashboard display, I could see that the LEAF's idiot-proofing was in full effect.  The car's computer had restricted power delivery by more than half and brake regeneration by a whopping 75%.  

Here's how a LEAF tells its driver to "SLOW DOWN!"
Neither my wife nor I are overly zealous at babying our EVs. Instead, we believe that we will use vehicles to best fit our needs, even if it means that pushing the envelope reduces the vehicles' performance in the long run. 

At this point, however, I actually was not worried about the long-term effects of a melting battery pack. No, instead, I was concerned that if I kept pushing the LEAF hard, my kids and I may end up on the side of the freeway in the middle of the night with a dead car.  So, I set the cruise control in the low 50 m.p.h. range, and succumbed to a tortoise's pace the remainder of the drive home.  

We pulled into our garage at 3:00 on Sunday morning, having completed our 729 mile road trip in just 33 hours!


The next day, I again took out my father's autobiography.  I wanted to see if there was anything that I had missed while reading about Celilo Falls.  This time, while not in an emotional state, I read Dad's full account of his years in The Dalles, including his thoughts of Celilo Falls:

On March 10, 1957, The Dalles Dam changed the river's direction when they closed the flood gates for the first time...never again did we get to see big, thick salmon caught and the mighty spot on the Columbia.
The Columbia River ran backwards the day they closed the spillways on The Dalles Dam, and the roar of the falls was history. 
So, I had missed it.  I had missed reading my father's own words explaining that Celilo Falls no longer existed.  Looking back on the road trip, though, I am actually glad that I didn't initially know the truth. Discovering the loss of Celilo Falls firsthand was a moment that I will never forget.  And if I'm destined to remember the anticlimactic "grand finale," I will be sure to keep that tragedy alive with my children as they grow up.  

Perhaps the real story of this EV Scenic Byways: Historic Columbia River Highway is that we humans play a major role in deciding the fate of the natural treasures we most admire. For better or worse, Celilo Falls no longer exists.  And I cannot stop wondering if my children will someday take their own kids to see the sites along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and be surprised to find out that one of the remaining jewels of the Columbia River Basin is gone forever.  History.

If electric vehicles are to supplant gasoline-powered vehicles, the development and maturing of a quick charging infrastructure must happen.  Will CHAdeMO and Supercharger be ubiquitous in thirty years? Or will the limited quick chargers that exist now be oddities that a generation is defined by?  

Either way, they are destined to considered Americana.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BC2BC: The Untold Story

Sabrina and I started the BC2BC rally four months ago, back on June 30th. We covered more than 1,000 miles in the first five days, and more than 3500 miles total. I had published three blog posts by the time we reached San Francisco, and intended to continue the cyber documentation of Team Crazy Daddy's venture further south, and, likewise, during the trip back home. However, the blogging ceased. The next blog post published was more than two weeks later, after we had been home for two days.

Since returning home in mid-July, the narrative that I share with friends and family has included much more than the time that was originally documented from Canada to San Francisco. Actually, I tend to talk with them more about our return trip than the actual rally itself. For it was after Sabrina and I celebrated at the U.S.-Mexico border that the journey--the real hardship--began.

There was comfort and security during the first half of our trip. While driving in the All Electric Vehicle Rally from Canada to Mexico, we would meet up with fellow drivers every two to three days at rally checkpoints. The camaraderie and rest at the stage locations really did help to alleviate the stress of the drive.   

There were certainly moments on that drive south that were trying and stressful. When I am a very old man, I will still be telling people about how I drove from Grants Pass down into the Sacramento Valley past Redding, and finally heading west into Santa Rosa from Williams, 24 a first generation Nissan LEAF.  

There was relief for us at the Santa Rosa stage location, though, as the next rally departure was not for another two days. This allowed us to spend time around the Bay Area recharging our batteries before hitting the road again.

We made it!

When we arrived at the Mexican border, the rally was, in a heartbeat, done for us. We took a celebratory selfie, and I asked Sabrina if she wanted to go home. So just a few minutes after completing the rally, we were back in our LEAF heading due north. It was just after 6:00pm on July 8th and we were heading home!

In less than a quarter mile, though, I once again parked the car. I had promised Sabrina days before that I would stop at McDonald's after we completed the rally, and I knew that there was a Mickey D's right there at the border. Inside, while Sabrina ate her Happy Meal, I made some calculations to figure out if we could make it to our campground at Caspers Wilderness Park by nightfall. We would not make it.

So we finished eating in the car and continued driving north towards San Diego proper. At 7:00, I received a message from Tony Williams, founder of the BC2BC rally, offering for us to stay at his home for the night. It was an immensely welcomed gesture, and we detoured to Tony's San Diego residence, arriving late into the evening.  

Just before leaving Tony's house on July 9th.  So tired!

The next day, Tuesday morning, we left the Williams' residence. Everybody was gone by the time we got up and were ready. It was a reminder that life had returned to normal for Tony; he was home and back to his daily grind.  Leaving San Diego, I was intensely home sick. More than anything, I wanted to see Tanya, eat homemade cookies, and sleep in my own bed.  In that order:)

At about noon, we were southwest of downtown Los Angeles. I was dreading the trip back into the EV badlands of central California. There was a Target just off of the freeway, so I decided to pull off of the 405 at the Westfield Mall in Culver City. The familiarity of a big-box store had a comforting draw. Excitedly, I asked Sabrina if she wanted to go to Target, and she replied, "YES!"

We were in Target just a matter of minutes, and I felt the pull of making time once again. I fought to come to grips with reality, though. There was a little toy train in the mall, so I paid a fella a few dollars to let Sabrina go around for several minutes while I considered our options. After the ride, I asked Sabrina if she would be okay if I drove through the night. The sweetheart that she is, Sabrina loyally supported my plan.  

Last day of the rally

The previous day, before we made the final push to the border, I had arranged for Sabrina to take a surf lesson at Venice Beach. After the lesson, we were both disappointed that it wasn't going to work out to ride the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier, which was about a mile and a half away.

Since an all night of driving was going to happen anyway on this night, we decided to head west to Santa Monica and ride that Ferris Wheel. The ride was fun, but it didn't relieve my mind of the burden of getting my precious cargo home to her mommy. We didn't stay at Pacific Park long, and headed back out to the car to prepare for our trek over the Grapevine.  

Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier

While Sabrina ate a snack in the backseat, I spent some time making calculations for the drive. We were due to arrive in Modesto in less than 24 hours, but the drive to get there was going to be tough. There is limited EV infrastructure for the Nissan LEAF between L.A. and San Francisco. The game plan was to drive all night over the Grapevine and into Bakersfield, charge to 100% in Bakersfield, then drive a Range Hero 110+ miles to Clovis.  From Clovis, we would leapfrog charging stations all day on Wednesday, July 10th, into Modesto.

I then had a breakdown. I called Tanya, and told her that I couldn't do it. Even if we made it to Modesto, I knew that I was still looking at some extremely stressful driving north of San Francisco. After hearing Tanya's stern words of encouragement, we departed Santa Monica.

Last available plug!

We arrived at the top of the Grapevine at a little after 9:00pm, and drove around the large parking area for about 20 minutes looking for the Shorepower units to charge us enough to make it to Bakersfield. Practically every one of the 285 parking stalls was taken by a big rig. We circled around and around, our little car completely dwarfed by the giants. Finally, we found a Shorepower outlet--the last one available!

Cooking up a package of Lit'l Smokies

The timing of the drive from the Flying J truck stop down into the San Juaquin Valley was critical. That expected 110 mile drive into the Fresno area needed to be completed as early as possible to avoid the forecasted 105 degree temps and the Wednesday morning traffic on State Route 99. 

113.3 miles w/o turtling=Range Hero!

We arrived at Nissan of Bakersfield in the middle of the night, and tried to sleep in the car as we charged for three or four hours.  Just before sunrise, we departed and started the long drive into Clovis. The drive was as flat as a pancake, so there was no elevation to worry about.  However, I had to drive slower than the flow of traffic which is never safe nor fun. We arrived at Schneider Electric in Clovis after traveling more than 113 miles on the one charge. A new personal best! It took almost an hour to find a Schneider employee, first willing, then able, to get us set up to have access to the electric vehicle supply equipment. It was extremely frustrating to lose this time trying to persuade administrative employees of the company to give us permission to charge at their headquarters. This is a company that makes electric vehicle supply equipment for commercial and home use for goodness sakes. This tough start to the day was just the beginning of a "Groundhog's Day" experience where we found ourselves unable to get out of the Fresno/Clovis region.  

Mini golfing in 105 degree temps?!?

After charging for just an hour, or so, at Schneider Electric, we unplugged to continue our charge at a local Nissan dealership. There was nowhere for us to get relief from the heat at Schneider, and I knew that any Nissan dealership would have free wi-fi, coffee, and an air conditioned lobby for us to wait in while charging.  In just the short trip to the dealership, we used more electricity than I expected because the use of full-blast AC was unavoidable. We charged for a while at Nissan of Clovis, but we were both getting stir crazy.  I offered to take Sabrina to Blackbeard's to play some mini golf.  So, we drove over to Blackbeard's Family Entertainment Center...again using up WAY too much energy with the AC.  I have no idea what I was thinking.  Playing mini golf outside in 105 degree temps qualifies me for the bozo-of-the-year award.  To add to the list of why this was a completely moronic decision: the car wasn't charging while we were there, nor were we making any progress towards home.  

We both faked the fun on our quick round of mini golf, and were back in the car in about 45 minutes. There we were, in the same predicament as several hours earlier. We needed a charge to get the heck out of town, so we headed over to Lithia Nissan of Fresno. The AC was up to eleven and we arrived at the Nissan dealership with far less charge than I was hoping for.  Just like a Groundhog's Day nightmare, we again found ourselves in another dealership waiting area for a couple of hours while the car charged.  

There is an animal shelter south of Modesto in the town of Turlock that has electric vehicle supply equipment.  Earlier in the day, I planned on getting about a 30 minute charge at the animal shelter before driving into Modesto to our friends' house.  However, at this point in the day, I was not interested in another stop before arriving at Paul and Manda's home in Modesto 95 miles away. I can't remember what the state of charge was when we left Fresno, but it was about 85% complete. By this point in the trip, driving 95 miles on a less than complete charge didn't really scare me. Yes, I was always nervous about the long drives, but had developed quite a bit of confidence in my ability to play the range game.  

Overconfidence bites me in the bum!

After 93 miles of driving, I turtled the car.  "Turtling" an EV happens when there is approximately 1/2 mile of range remaining; a turtle lights up on the dash and the vehicle is limited to 25 mph. I drove around Modesto for a few minutes, then tried my luck at finding an exterior 120v outlet on the campus of Modesto Junior College.  Once plugged in, I called Paul to let him know that we would be late for dinner, and he ended up driving over to keep us company during the hour of charging.

Sending the cord through the master bedroom.

Once at the Hardy residence, we realized that my charging cord was not going to reach the clothes dryer outlet behind the master bedroom. So Paul and I drove to Home Depot to get the supplies I needed to make an extension and adapter. After getting back, Paul and Manda prepared an awesome dinner while Evan, Ava, and Sabrina swam in their pool. Back with Paul at the BBQ, I was busy stripping wires and piecing together my adapter. While working, I couldn't help but think that one's ability to make EV plug-in adapters on the fly was likely to become an important 21st century skill.

Sabrina & Ava: Two peas in a pod.

Wish we could've stayed longer!

The next morning, Sabrina and I were once again treated to a great meal. The stay with the Hardy's was just too short. I've known Paul my whole life, but it was during those 16 hours at their home that I realized how similar the two of us are. Getting together with both families (complete families next time) would be great!  Maybe halfway between Seattle and Modesto, though;)

What a great city, that San Francisco is.

Leaving Modesto on the morning of Thursday, July 11th, I was again feeling good as we had a chance to do some quick charging in the Bay Area with the bountiful CHAdeMO charging stations there. We were making such good time, if fact, that I got off the expressway to take Sabrina to Fisherman's Wharf.  Once we were down there, though, I had a tough time finding a place to charge that also wasn't ridiculously expensive to park at; it was going to be at least $30 for a charge and a couple of hours of parking.  

Not having it, I decided to park and charge almost three miles away. Instead of walking to Fisherman's Wharf, I hoped to make better time with public transportation. We ended up walking nearly a mile in the wrong direction to find a bus, but were able to eventually get to our destination. We didn't have long to tromp around Fisherman's Wharf, but did get in the obligatory souvenir shopping and ate fish-n-chips. 

On the way back to the car, I got us on the wrong bus!  Oh, misery! The route plopped us off about a mile and a half away from the car, and we had to walk the rest of the way in a brutal headwind.  We finally pulled into our motel in Ukiah at 9:30 that night completely exhausted.  

Staying overnight at the Super 8 was a planned stop, as it is an EV oasis. The motel offers free use of it's EV charging station to guests--a smart move because there are very few EV charging opportunities between Ukiah and Eureka along 101.

Leaving Ukiah late in the morning on Friday, July 12th, I wanted to take Sabrina to get some close-up action of the Redwoods.  We found what we were looking for, and drove through Chandelier Tree (one of several drive-through trees beckoning tourist dollars).

At about 1:30, we pulled into the Benbow Inn, a historic hotel located in the midst of the Redwoods. It was another planned stop; another EV oasis. Interestingly, the Benbow Inn first installed electric vehicle supply equipment back in the late 1990s to lure wealthy EV1 owners in for a short holiday away from the weekday slog in the blossoming Silicon Valley. We had a difficult time finding the charging unit, but ultimately found it nestled in some overgrown ivy!

There's the EVSE!  In the ivy near the front of the car.

We ate lunch in the dining area inside of the Benbow Inn. Our modest meal ended up having a tab of $37.10, though. Now that was a costly "free" charge!  Well played, Benbow Inn.  Well played.

We left the Benbow Inn late into the afternoon and slowly made our way to Eureka, and then ultimately to Klamath, California. It was that drive, from Eureka to Klamath, that was just so god-awful that words on a screen will never convey the impossibility this drive was for me.  

One thing that has to be said is that I did not leave the charging location at the Caltrans District Office in Eureka with a 100% charge. Of course I didn't. When traveling thousands of miles in an EV that has a 75 mile range, one of the first tricks learned is to maximize time, not range.  Arriving at a charging location with anything more than 0% charge means that you wasted time by over charging at the previous stop.  I wouldn't have experienced stress overload had I taken our LEAF to 100% every time charging.  But instead of needing 17 days to go 3500 miles, it would've taken the full month of July.  

I cannot remember what the state of charge was when leaving Eureka, but it was likely around 80-85%. That 80-90% was a pretty magic number on the trip, as I was able to drive pretty consistently 80-100 miles on that level of charge, depending on terrain.  And it was the terrain that got me on that leg heading into Klamath.  

The net elevation gain between Eureka and Klamath is +47 feet.  However, the whole trip was a roller coaster ride, going from sea level to a few hundred feet, over and over.  Then at the 50 mile mark, Highway 101 shot up 1500'.  It felt like Mt. Hood had been relocated to the Oregon coast.  The ups and downs up to that point had just hammered my range, so all I could do was go slow to conserve the very little range that remained.  So slow, in fact, that had Fred Flintstone helped me motivate the car with foot power, we would have surely doubled the speed I was able to drive under battery power.  

The final seven miles before we made it to the Chinook RV Resort & Campground in Klamath were never above 50 feet.  It was about 11:00 at night, with only an occasional vehicle that needed to pass us.  So, driving 20 mph, we limped along. It was going to be just fine.

As soon as I thought that we were going to be okay, I saw a bull elk on the road.  It was a straight section of road, so he and I saw one another some ways out.  I was not making any noise in my EV traveling 20 mph so he didn't move.  It felt like an eternity for me just to make it to the animal, both of us staring at the other. The bull was, what I hoped, frozen by my headlights.  

The encounter took so long that I had time to play some scenarios through my mind:  If the elk rams us, do I stop?  If I stop, will we be in danger of another attack?  If the elk rams us, do I keep going at 20 mph?  I knew that a chicken can run, in bursts, at almost 10 mph. Surely an elk could catch us.  If the elk rams us, should I keep going but floor it?  If I floored it, our car would quickly run out of a no cell service the middle of the night...with my 5-year-old daughter in the car...with a pissed off bull elk just down the road.

We passed the elk without incident.  I did feel like an elk whisper, though.  We crawled into the RV campground, and were asleep in our tent by 11:30pm.  

The horned-beast encounters continue.

The next morning, Saturday, July 13th, Sabrina and I packed up and hit the road.  I was so excited to get into Oregon and finally be back in the land of the CHAdeMO quick chargers.  These particular quick chargers are installed throughout Oregon and Washington.  It was another planned long day, but at least we'd get our (north) West Coast Electric Highway quick charge sometime that evening.

30 panel solar array powering ONE 240volt station--C'mon!
While I do feel that Oregon has done just about everything right with their EV infrastructure deployment, there are the occasional situations that just leave the EV driver wondering "why?"  In the picture above, we are charging at a Level 2 station in the parking lot of the Bandon, Oregon police department.  Overhead, there was a 30 panel photovoltaic solar panel array, presumably powering the charging station.  To the left, Highway 101 which bisects the town and is the only road that most people will ever drive in Bandon who do not live there.  

It sure appeared that the Bandon city officials wanted to put up a glorious "green" project for the folks driving through town to see.  Maybe it was meant to make people like me feel good. Seeing the overwhelming solar array, I suppose that the town folk wanted to encourage our spending of green in their "green" town.  

Frankly, all I could think of for the three hours that we were stuck in Bandon was that the elected officials in the town were idiots.  If they really wanted to benefit their town--wanted to bring in EV tourism dollars--they would have funded a quick charger instead of the PV/Level 2 system.  EV drivers will seek out towns and business that have quick chargers.  Instead, the city of Bandon was provided with a true life EV charging scenario in the parking lot of their police department: I gutted the car and did a complete car clean-out, then barbecued right there for all to see who drove past us on Highway 101.  

Florence, OR...1st quick charge since Santa Rosa, CA!

We arrived at the Three Rivers Casino in Florence, Oregon at 10:00 on the night of Saturday, July 13th.  During the 25 minutes of charging a couple got to talking with me about our LEAF and charging.  Being regulars at the casino, they said that the charger is often charging a LEAF when they are there.  Now, this is a perfect example of "if you build it, they will come!"

Wait!  Trickle charging in Oregon?

On the night of July 13th, we camped at the Beachside State Recreation Site in Waldport, OR.  The next morning, I made an almost fatal error: I missed a quick charge in nearby Yachats, OR.  I had been so accustomed to getting 80 miles per charge, that when I saw 30 miles had been driven the previous night from the casino to our camping spot, I assumed that we needed to get about 50 more miles in before charging. Glancing at a map, the quick charger in Lincoln City was about 45 miles away. Perfect!  

We actually would have made it into Lincoln City without much fuss had I not driven like Mario Andretti the previous night on a celebratory drive over those 30 miles to get to the Beachside State Rec Site.  In Depoe Bay, still 13 miles from the quick charger in Lincoln City, I decided to preemptively get some trickle charging in.  It was early on July 14th, a Sunday morning, so I thought that the theft of a few electrons from a little touristy shop would be of minimal risk.  

After about 20 minutes, though, a woman parked her vehicle in the gravel parking lot behind the business, and walked around to the front of our car.  She stood at my front bumper, but our eyes never met.  Instead, I watched in slow motion as her eyes looked at the plug coming from out of the front end of our LEAF.  She didn't move, but then looked at every inch of charging cable from the car all the way back to the 120v outlet at the front of the shop. Her shop.  The fire was ablaze, as she was obviously onto me.  The woman's head snapped back to the LEAF, then she pivoted on her heals and stormed into the business next door.  

Mistakenly, my thoughts went aloud and I said, "I think that she is going to call the police."  I now had two problems: 1) The police, and 2) A 5-year-old who thought that the police were going to take us to jail. 

As collected as I could consciously control, I stepped out of the car, unplugged, and started making our way, once again, north.  We did have to stop one more time before making it to the quick charger in Lincoln City, but this time at a legitimate, and legal, charging station.  The worst of it was taking the barrage of "why" questions from Sabrina:)

Say, "CHEESE!"

The remaining 350 miles of driving over the next day and a half were worry-free.  No pictures.  No stories of having to hitchhike home.  Just easy, quick-charging interstate traveling!  

We stayed the night again with Deb and Ron at their beautiful nursery on Sunday, July 14th.  And from their place in Cornelius, OR, we zipped home on Monday, July 15th.  

Home to Tanya, homemade cookies, and my own bed!