Friday, July 19, 2013


Today, Sabrina and I took my wife, Tanya, and son, Charlie, up to Blaine, WA.  While we have been officially done with the BC2BC All Electric Vehicle Rally for some time, we've only been home from our trip a few days.  Today's 85 mile trip north completed our BC2BC...2BC rally.  Driving this last leg today with our whole family provided some closure for the trip.  I was not expecting to feel this sense of "closure" however, and as such, I am trying to sort through why today's experience of driving back to Blaine has me thinking more introspectively.

British Columbia to Baja California to British Columbia: BC2BC2BC

The memories that I seem to perpetuate nowadays are those that involve my family unit.  Creating memories with Sabrina was certainly a major, if not the, determining factor in deciding to drive an electric vehicle more than 3500 miles in just over two weeks time.  Not only was I hoping to have memorable daddy/daughter experiences on the road, but I also hoped to create an event that would become part of the Coram narrative.  Our family can look back on this trip in the years to come and say, "Wow!  That was nuts!"

Yes, driving a Nissan LEAF that far is nuts.  But it is not as outlandish as one may presume.  Driving a quick charge-capable EV, like the LEAF, from state to state is actually a fairly painless experience.  Of course, with the current state of the CHAdeMO (the particular quick charge supply equipment for the LEAF) infrastructure, long-distance travel is only easy in Washington and Oregon.  If these two states can be traversed in a day each, then one may ask why it took us another week to travel the length of California.

 West Coast CHAdeMO Quick Charger Locations
Looking at the map, it is evident why driving a Nissan LEAF the north-south length of California is tough.  It will only be a matter of time, however, until the CHAdeMO infrastructure is completed enough that families will be driving their respective EVs from Seattle to Disneyland.

It is remarkable what Washington and Oregon have done to make intra and interstate travel possible.  Why California, which has more CHAdeMO stations by number than either of its neighbors to the north, chose to focus so heavily on the the Bay Area and L.A. is remarkable.  A remarkably big mistake.  In the Puget Sound region, people who do not own an EV are surprised when they hear that our family does not own a gas-powered car.  In California, it was the Nissan LEAF drivers who were in complete disbelief that we owned two LEAFs and no gas vehicles.  For them, a LEAF is an in-town proposition only.

That brings me back to today's experience of returning to Blaine.  Easily driving our LEAF to the Peace Arch Park today made me think that perhaps the more enduring memory that Sabrina and I will look back on is that it took us so long to drive to Southern California back in 2013, and how ridiculously nuts that was!

With our trip being over, I do hope that we have the opportunity to stay in contact with folks both from the rally and of those who we met along the way.  And just maybe, we will have a chance to meet up again and share some stories of the fun and frustrations of the drive...or perhaps race for the border again!

Memorable Moments

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It Takes A Village

In K-12 education, we will often refer to the task at hand as "taking a village" to successfully support and nurture young people.  This idea, of community working together to solve problems, transcends into other aspects of life as well.

Two days ago, as Sabrina had fallen asleep in our hotel room in Grants Pass, Oregon, I stayed up late trying to solve the problem of driving into northern California's Central Valley with expected temperatures of 110+ degrees forecast for the next two days.  There were two factors that I tried to focus on.  One, was to consider the charging opportunities along route, and two, was to think about how the heat would effect Sabrina and myself.

Ultimately, I decided that it would be best to start out by heading south on I-5, past Mt. Shasta, and into Redding.  In Redding, I was going to have to commit to heading west/southwest towards the coast and the next BC2BC stage checkpoint in Santa Rosa, or head south/southeast to visit our friends in Roseville as previously planned.  So on Tuesday morning, Sabrina and I left the last quick charger in Ashland, OR and easily crossed the border driving into Yreka, CA.

The RV park in Yreka where I was planning on plugging into suddenly had a change of heart, though, and requested $25 to charge our LEAF.  I was in a tough spot because we had to get a full charge if we would even come close to making it into Redding.  Before leaving in disgust, I reminded the park manager that under the most expensive of situations, a full charge on our car would be less than $2.00.

The next RV park wanted $15.  The price was coming down, but still absurd.  So, I cold-called a residential mobile home community: Oakridge Retirement Community.  The community manager, Jody Hahn, was inviting and asked us to come by for a charge.  She said that she never had a request for an EV to charge at one of the 50 amp service panels.  Upon arrival, I asked Jody if she would accept $8.00 and let us use the community pool.  Jody smiled and was a win-win situation.

Just before jumping in on this 100+ degree day.
After swimming, Sabrina and I needed to pass more time before the car was done charging (it was charging slow, presumably due to the power supply being 208 volts instead of the desired 240 volts).  I hopped on the official rally Facebook page (All Electric Vehicle Rally), and saw a post by Jenny Zink welcoming rally participants to the Siskiyou County Economic Development headquarters in Yreka for some cold refreshments.

Sabrina and I walked over and met Jenny, and she was gracious in providing us with several much needed cold drinks and water.  Jenny is also a big proponent of EVs.  It was great to hear about how folks in northern California are very much interested in building up the EV capabilities of the region.

Jenny even walked back with us to get a picture with our rally car!

In Yreka, I realized that I needed to start making some serious progress if we were even going to have a chance at continuing past Redding.  We left Yreka with about an ~81% charge.  The 90, or so, miles to Redding was brutal, as slow speeds and limited use of A/C was required.  Making it to Redding that day on an 80% charge was one of my best EV accomplishments.  

Upon arriving at Crown Nissan in Redding, Sabrina and I were pretty beat and hungry.  The team at Crown Nissan was amazing.  After plugging in our car, they tossed us the key fob to a brand new LEAF and said that we just needed to have it back in a few hours!  We ended up only driving a mile away to a Raley's grocery store, but did manage to kill two hours in Raley's by having rounds of yummy treats in the store's air conditioned deli.

In Redding, it was clear that we could not bear another day of 110 degree temps.  To get out of the valley, we needed to drive 100 miles to Williams (besting my previous best EV run from earlier in the day), charge, then drive ~95 miles from Williams to Santa Rosa.  The only sleep opportunity would be in Williams--in the car while charging.

We charged for about five or six hours in Williams, but only had a 91% charge when I decided to leave.  By leaving in the early morning hours, we had a shot at making it to the checkpoint in Santa Rosa less than 24 hours from our departure in Grants Pass.

Things were great until we got to Mt. St. Helena.  This stretch of Hwy. 29 prior to Calistoga is one of the longest stretches of hairpin turns I've driven.  I, of course, was caught up in the moment of driving this blacktop gem in a spirited manner.  All was well, until Sabrina was not.  She got car sick.  The poor girl threw up three times in the backseat before we made it to Calistoga.  No, I didn't pull over.  I know, it was an extremely "bad daddy" moment, but making it to Santa Rosa within my 24 hour timeline just had to happen!

Things didn't work out so well when we got to the locked gate at the Chateau Montelena Winery where I was planning to quick charge, though.

120 Volt Charging...Useless.

At that moment, we were either not going to make it to Santa Rosa by my target time, or I would need to gamble and make a shot at it with the charge I had.  At the winery down the road from Montelena, I plugged into a 120 volt outlet for about 15 minutes, which amounted to almost nothing, and set off over the hills to Santa Rosa.

This drive, to Santa Rosa, was the most stressful driving experience of my life.  There was some very hilly terrain, making slow, slow speeds in my battery-depleted EV a must.  There is also quite a bit of construction on this section of roadway.  So, I spent the next hour, white-knuckled, looking in my mirrors, and trying to find non-existing shoulder pull-offs to get out of the way of fully loaded trucks barreling down on us.  They would never be able to slow down soon enough to match my speed, and I couldn't speed up because our battery would run out of juice leaving us stranded in a no-cell-service area.  Did I mention that there were no shoulder pull-outs!

When we pulled into the Hyatt in Santa Rosa, I had been driving for four miles on the Very Low Battery Warning.  So, basically those few minutes of "useless" 120 volt charging in Calistoga saved the day. 

Because we had to change plans from staying the night in Roseville on Wednesday, I was in a bind for lodging; especially with it being so close to the Fourth of July holiday.  Right before we headed out of Williams, I posted an S.O.S. on the Bay Area EV group Facebook page.  By the time we were in Santa Rosa, lodging was locked in.  We were set to stay the night at Waidy Lee's home.  Not only is Waidy an amazing EV advocate (having been the owner of six EVs so far) and a sustainable living goddess, but Waidy is an amazing person.  Without hesitation, Waidy welcomed Sabrina and me and made her remarkable home ours--for 18 hours:)  Waidy shares her expertise and experiences at:

I am proud of the driving accomplishments that I have notched over the past two days.  However, the real lesson for me is how Jody, Jenny, Crown Nissan, and Waidy Lee have proven to me that it "takes a village" for us grown-ups, too, sometimes. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Goodbye Oregon--We'll Miss You!

We will be departing Grants Pass, OR in the morning.  Our last DCQC for a couple of days will be in Ashland, OR tomorrow morning.  Not having to quick charge is bitter sweet, as we won't have the ability to drive hundreds of miles in a day but we also won't have the worry of the high temperature battery packs.  Those high temp battery packs were just aweful today.  Before sharing the end-of-drive battery temp stresses, I need to back up with some highlights from Sunday...

Upon leaving the Hochstein Nursery on Sunday, Sabrina was given an archery lesson by her cousin Kayla.

For her next lesson, I bet that Kayla will review safety with Sabrina.  Just after the photo was taken, Sabrina shot the arrow and narrowly missed her cousin:)

The Nissan LEAF has several route options in the navigation settings (quickest route, shortest route, eco route, and avoid highways).  For the first half of the trip from Cornelius to Albany, we avoided highways.  The resulting drive was a spectacular one!  This picture was taken of the road that we drove on--no traffic, no signs, no lane markings, and beautiful scenery.  

Last night was the first night of camping, and the first time I have charged the car at an RV campground.  It was pretty fun being the little car plugged in amongst the RVs.  There was some great conversing with neighbors and the EV-curious.  It was a nice, relaxing end to a relaxing day.

Today, on the other hand was not so relaxing.  When we left the campground this morning, the average battery temperature was 83 degrees.  With only three quick charges needed to reach Grants Pass, I thought I could let the electrons flow on the freeway and not have to worry about high battery temperatures.  Things were going as planned for about the first 120 miles of the day, as I was fully enjoying my role of spreading the "EVs can be really fast" word to my fellow road mates.  After the second quick charge, the battery temperature was getting high--about 108 degrees.  I wasn't too worried, though, because I knew that I only needed one more quick charge.  

While charging in Canyonville, OR, I was closely watching the temperatures of the battery packs.  When the temps rose to 116* (average) and I hit 11 temperature bars on the dash, I stopped the charge.  It was 42 miles to Grants Pass and we had a projected 42 miles of range.  For those familiar with the drive into Grants Pass from the north, you'll remember the STEEP climbs and downhill sections.  Going up the grades, I kept the power usage to 20 kWh.  This resulted in speeds of 28-40 m.p.h.  Coming down the hills, things were just as steep.  I had two problems going, though, as I needed range and the batteries were too hot.  Because of the heat issue, I decided not to use regenerative braking.  On each trip down, we got going pretty fast; 88 m.p.h. on the steepest grade actually.  I do think that it is fitting that terminal velocity in our electric car is eighty-eight miles per houuur!  

The whole thing was rather embarassing actually.  There we were, in all of our vinyl-covered rally car glory driving on the shoulder "slow truck" lane going up the grades, being passed by everybody.  I can only imagine what drivers were saying when we flew past them on the way down.  And then it happend all over again...sloooow, then fast!  

Quick charging is not going to be an issue for heat tomorrow, but the ambient temperature is going to be rough on Sabrina and me, if not also our car.  I have spent dozens of hours planning this trip.  My goals are to complete the rally and do so having a great time with my Sabrina.  Tomorrow and the next day will be taxing the limit of what Sabrina can handle, I am affraid.  I am now going to look at the plans and see if it is best to continue down I-5 into Redding and Sacremento, or to divert and head for the coast.  Changing plans this drastically will be very challenging.  I have to make sure that I can charge the car and also do so while having a memorable time with Sabrina.  

I suppose the memories are inevitable.  Hopefully they're good!