The Next Post…

The next post was going to be titled ‘House of Bugs and Motor Mouse’, but that will be the next one, ‘cuz this one is in real time.  Like, it’s happening right now, tonight, as we speak (as it were).

     We are now in Hanksville, UT.  This morning we were in Mesa Verde National Park, where we spent 2 nights and where the House of Bugs happened.  And the mouse.  But that’s a different story.  We drove and drove today, including doing the loop around Natural Bridges National Monument, which has three really good, world class,  bridges.  There’s a viewpoint for each bridge just a short walk from the loop road on the mesa.  These offer an excellent photo op.  Each also has a 3/4 to 1.2 mile very steep (mostly stairs cut into slickrock) trail down into the canyon to a point directly under the bridge, which allows you to take pictures that look nothing like a natural bridge.  The camera is just too close and the perspective is just wrong.  However, underneath one of the arches I found a daddy spider carrying around a dozen baby spiders on his back.  Here he is (and please, no cracks from the peanut gallery about the camera being too close and the perspective being wrong.  It’s a spider.  The camera has to be too close and the perspective is going to be wrong.  Can’t be helped).

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If you are insufficiently creeped out, you might want to click on that picture so you can zoom in on the baby spiders’ eyes.

     Laura suggested that we RUN back up each of the three trails, so we wouldn’t have to exercise.  I got to thinking about that on the way up and would have asked, “How is this not exercising?”, but at the time I couldn’t speak.

     Which is how we ended up in Hanksville, a tiny town out in the middle of Nowhere, Utah, set in an otherworldly landscape.  We pulled into the RV park in town and saw this:

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Yes, that is exactly what it looks like.  it is a planetary rover wanna-be. And then it struck me, this was Hanksville!  Hanksville is the closest town to the Mars Desert Research Station (A 4-person habitat suitable for launch into space, set in what the Mars Society lovingly calls a Mars Environment Analogue – a place on Earth that is, for the most part, uninhabitable.  The ACTUAL ADDRESS of the MDRS is ‘2200 Cow Dung Road, Hanksville, UT.  Now do you believe me? ).  The Society holds a contest every year open to University student teams in which they have to build a rover that then competes over three days in a variety of tasks.  They have the competitions at the MDRS.  Attending this is on my bucket list, and we had arrived, by chance, at the end of the first day.  Glory be!  This year there were 31 teams entered (and it turns out, 8 of them had been disqualified this first day) from all over the world.  The team shown above are from Egypt, and they were trying to get their rover to pick up a pair of vise-grips, ostensibly because the tool had been dropped by an astronaut and he couldn’t be bothered to pick it up himself so he’d radio’d back to Earth to ask Mission Control to have the rover pick it up and hand it to him.  Or her.

Link to the MDRS:  LINK

     The RV park was rife with teams and their ‘bots.  The restaurant was filled to capacity with teams.  These are all young engineers.  I could tell which ones were the teams whose robots did well that day because they were drinking beer and playing frisbee.  Those whose robots had done poorly were drinking beer and re-writing code and adjusting screws.  Not the Egyptians, though.  They were just re-writing code and adjusting screws.

     The thing is, these are all enthusiasts.  And it doesn’t matter what an enthusiast is enthused about, if you get them talking about their subject, it’s usually interesting.  Like us and our Tesla.  We are unapologetic e-wackos.  So we quickly set up the tent, had dinner, and then went around and chatted with the teams.  I had lots of questions – What does your rover weigh?  How did you do in today’s tasks?  Where are you from?  What kind of batteries do you use?  How do you communicate with your rover?  And on and on.  And you know what?  The answer was always the same: “IS THAT A TESLA!!?!”  These are young engineers, after all, and unlike a significant percent of the general population we have met in our travels, these people all know what a Tesla is and they all want to gawk at one.  So I have spent the evening talking more and listening less, and have promised 30 college students rides in the car after tomorrow’s activities.  And 6 judges.

     Tomorrow, Laura and I will get up early and will (attempt to) drive the Tesla, with its suspension set to ‘very high’,  several miles down a rough desert road which is recommended for four-wheel drive only.  Whether we make it or not, we should have some good stories to tell.

Oh, here’s an arch:

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Tesla Service Two (yes, 2) Times

     I really must take the time soon to read some in the WordPress Blog turorials. Apparently they tell you how to make your pages attractive and inviting.

     Meanwhile, here’s some words:

     I never had any intention (whatsoever) of being organized in my writing. So it’s not much of a surprise that the blog’s timeline appears heavily influenced by movies such as Memento, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction (You da’ bomb, Q.T. Like boom! (LINK) )  This post starts out in the days before the last post, and finishes in the days after.

     I grew up in China Lake, CA, the military town on the (at the time named) NWC in the Mojave Desert, previously named NOTS and now named NAWS. [These are all Three Letter Acronyms (TLA’s), the military’s prescibed way to reference systems, places, procedures, materiel, and, for all I know, each other. I realize that ‘NOTS’ and ‘NAWS’ does not result in a count of three letters (excepting that you would then proceed to ‘four’) by non-military personnel (NMP’s), but the military refers to these as Extended Three Letter Acronyms, or ETLA’s. I kid you not.] The civilian support community is Ridgecrest, right outside the fence. . Very little concertina wire is strung between the two, but you do have to show a pass to get onto the base. Used to be base employees, such as my dad, a physicist, could rent a house on base and raise a family there, so although I grew up on a military base, I’m not a classic army brat. (There were a few decades right after WWII that the military figured physicists had something big to offer them. Really big. So my dad got in on the salad days of government employment. His PhD was in optics, but my understanding is that he did mostly politics). I learned to love the desert growing up there. A favorite family vacation spot for weekends was Death Valley, and we’d been there many times as a family, and when I got to be a licensed teenager I spent weekends there with my friends doing teenage things. Lotta’ fun back then. I won’t go into details, other than to say that, looking back on it, I have come to believe that the teen years are the way Darwin weeds out the unlucky.

            After a few days back in Pocatello after our shakedown trip to the Grand Canyon, we set off to Ridgecrest, CA (R/C) to pick up the old man. Not the father. A different old man. If you wanted to, you could see the previous blog entry for some background on that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

     We hit the first supercharger in Beaver (*snort*), Utah, which got us to the one in Las Vegas. Lookin’ at the map there’s two ways to get to Ridgecrest from LV, the sensible way through Barstow, where the next supercharger is, or the stupid way through the lowest and hottest part of the United States. I chose the stupid way. ‘Cuz DV is my old stompin’ grounds and I know it like the back of my hand. And Barstow is no fun. We overnighted in Pahrump (*snort*) – and I should mention here that I’d been assuming that all RV parks couldn’t care less if you rolled in there with an RV, a van with a pop-up, slept in the back of your corolla, or pitched a tent. Apparently, some of them consider tent dwellers the lowest of the low, ‘cuz there are a baker’s dozen RV parks in Pahrump and the reception we got was chilly (Which would have been most welcome in the 98 degree heat except that it’s just a figure of speech). But we found one that would take us and the car was a big hit with the owner of the park and several of the permanent residents (Did you know there are two types of RV’ers? Those that are passing through on vacation and those that live there, so called ‘permanents’. The one’s passing through are called ‘retirees’). I love giving rides to people in the Tesla. Often just down the street and back (at high G’s), ‘cuz I love to make people giggle. I try to learn something new every day. On this day I learned that I should just tell heavy smokers about the car, not give them rides in it. ick. But it had mostly aired out by morning.

   There is actually enough range to get all the way from Pahrump to R/C on a single charge, but it leaves only about 20 miles wiggle room in the battery, so even if there were no way to charge in DV, we could still, with careful husbandry, make it where we needed to go. Probably. The squeeker range estimate didn’t bother me much, ‘cuz I was already going the stupid way and what’s one stupid thing more or less between friends, right? Besides, Barstow is no fun.

    Furnace Creek Campground is 200 feet below sea level (3,000 feet below Pahrump), so the energy usage and battery remaining all looked really good on the morning drive, the 62 mile drive into DV only using 41 miles of range. I knew this would happen, the scary part being the 1,800 foot climb up to Emigrant pass before dropping down into Panamint Valley and then up to R/C at 2300.

     I had planned on two nights in DV, with an interesting hike in between, so we installed ourselves at the Furnace Creek Campground (LINK) and, glory be, they had RV sites with POWER and said we could charge for free at one of them, mid-May being well after the end of their sensible season so the campground and RV park were mostly empty.

Tent in Furnace Creek

     We set up our tentsite and I drove over an iron campfire ring on the way to the 50 amp RV plug and blew a tire. Kaboom, and I could fit two fingers easily through the sidewall, maybe could have fit three, but why hurt it, right? BTW, the picture shows a #2 pencil in the sidewall rip.  Shown for scale only.  #2 pencil was not involved in the puncture and wanted me to make sure you understood this.  The car knew before I did what I’d done and helpfully told me to pull over safely as soon as possible (not difficult, I was only going 2 miles per hour).

Death Valley two fingers tire hole

     Laura suggested I call Tesla Service. But I’m a man, I can deal with a blown tire. I walked over to the service station and inquired, foolishly, if they had any spares. They could mount a spare if I brought the car and the right tire. Laura suggested I call Tesla Service. I called Pahrump to see if the right sized tire was available (Catch a tour bus outa’ DV, buy a tire, be back by morning, problem solved). The guy I talked to said there were none in Pahrump but he’d check online to see if any of their 50 franchises had one, and … no tire within 500 miles but he could expand the search. No thanks. I figured someone in LV must have one. Laura suggested I call Tesla Service. I called Tesla Service.

     They are very soothing at Tesla Service, and very helpful. They strongly suggested that the safest course of action was to get the car to their service center in LV, and explained all the in’s and out’s of why that would be, and quickly got me off my high horse of just taking care of it myself (“Honey, just hold this corner of the car up while I spin off the lug nuts with my vice grips”).

     So by now it’s 5:35 PM on a Saturday. I thought to have the car towed to LV that very night and Laura and I could stay at a hotel for two nights, what a bummer (actually that would be a bummer, since I find LV more than a little creepy. Pahrump as a whole is a rather arrogant and self satisfied small desert town because you can gamble there without the creep factor). The guys at Tesla Call Center had sent the service order to their guys in LV, and Tony there called me right away, again being very soothing, optimistic, and efficient, and saying he’d stay there or meet me later that night, whenever I pulled in, to put the car in the shop over the weekend so it wouldn’t have to sit on the street, and apologized that they couldn’t get it taken care of right away but assured me that I’d be on the road an hour after they opened Monday morning. Great customer care! I was really impressed. But I got to thinking just then that we were already planning on staying in the campground for 2 nights and the space was paid for, so how about getting the tow Monday morning instead?

     Saturday later on, cooking outside on the picnic table using the alcohol stove. Sudden violent sandstorm. Pots and pans and supplies and flaming sheets of alcohol flying through the air. Crisis mode. Brief but intense. Very exciting. No chance to get pictures. Had to chase our stuff across the road. Some screaming. Very exciting. Retreated to the inside of the tent. Sandstorm continued for hours. There was a guy 2 campsites over who just sat outside through the whole thing. I talked to him later – old desert rat. Apparently he thought violent sandstorms were the bomb and he’d really quite enjoyed it.

     We got up early Sunday and went on a 9.6 mile hike up Golden Canyon, across the ridgeline to Gower Gulch, up the gulch to Zabrieski Point, and back down the road to Furnace Creek. We got up early since it gets hot fast there. About mile marker 2, as I recall. We’d taken 2 gallons of water and drank most of it by the time we got back to camp. A shower and a swim in the pool over at the ranch was only $5 so we did that, and very welcome it was. The pool there is very large and has sunshades over most of the periphery, under which people sunbathe. Yes, it’s that hot.

     I called Geico for the tow. I’d perused the Tesla owner’s forum and Liberty mutual was suggested as an insurance company. They quoted $2,200 for a year. A bit more than the Saturn, but what did I expect? What I didn’t expect, for sure, was that when they found out the car would be registered in Montana rather than Idaho the insurance jumped to over $8,000. Back to the forums – “try Geico”. $1,480. “Sign me up”. The hard-sell from Geico was for their $3 per month roadside assistance package.

     “I don’t need it, I have AAA plus, they tow you 100 miles for free”

     “We’ll tow you to the nearest qualified service center for free”

     “Oh, hell yeah”.

I called AAA for kicks – LV was 114 miles away, the tow truck (flatbed) would come out of Pahrump and my cost for the final 14 miles would be $160. Geico sent a truck Monday morning from, of all places, Ridgecrest, CA, to tow me to Las Vegas, and it didn’t cost a dime. Total round trip for the truck 530 miles. Had the actuaries at Geico really thought this one through? Did I care?  Here’s the guy who gave us a tow.  This is what living in R/C will do to you.  He’s 35.

Death Valley tow truck

     The guys at Tesla Service in Las Vegas are GREAT. Smooth sailing the whole way, $324 for the fix. They also replaced the main cooling fan ‘cuz they’ve seen a lot of dust get in the bearings in the desert environment and the fan sounded louder than it usually does, and they washed and vacuumed the car and gave me an aerosol can of non-ammonia glass cleaner and a bag of microfiber cloths for cleaning the bugs off the front (and that stuff really works), gave us coffee and chocolates, more tips on washing the car, and a recommendation for a place to have lunch and an offer to drive us there. Definitely a VERY positive experience.

     And then we left Las Vegas for the second time and drove to Ridgecrest. Via Barstow.

    We arrived Monday night, the same night we’d originally planned on before the blowout, so it didn’t set us back at all, and it’s a good day when you need a tow out of Death Valley and it doesn’t mess up your schedule.

     Fast forward here 9 days later, to New Mexico. We’d driven the Very Old Man 536 miles the first day, 460 the second, and were on the last leg of our trip to deliver him into the extended hands of his family. I mean, into the hands of his extended family. We had lunch in Roswell when something strange happened. Aliens? Quite possibly they were involved. You be the judge. The seat adjustment pre-sets no longer worked. The Nav system seemed to be working just fine, but there was an error message on the big screen: “Nav system not functioning correctly. Service is needed.” So we drove on down the road, service being a long way away and the extended family much closer. What a pain to have to adjust your own seats, though. We pulled over in Artesia, only 40 miles from our final destination, Carlsbad, for a soda, and the dash screen was blank when we got back to the car. Otherwise everything was fine, the car would drive fine, but I like to know how fast I’m going. The dash screen is rebooted by holding the top buttons on both sides of the steering wheel down for 5 seconds. No response. The main screen is rebooted by holding the center buttons on both sides of the steering wheel down for 5 seconds. This got a response – the center screen went black, and a Tesla logo appeared in a few seconds, followed by the usual center screen after 10 more seconds. The Nav error was still there but now the car wouldn’t drive. Oh crud, I had made it worse.

     I called Tesla Service. They were not able to contact the car – That’s because there is no 3G service in Artesia, NM. There is a gas station with one restroom. Service really really wanted to contact the car. Is there wifi in Artesia? Well, no, but … I set my thmartphone up to be a mobile wifi hotspot (Settings, networking) and they talked me through how to get the car to hook up to it. If you have a Model S yourself, you should practice this maneuver a couple of times. Might come in handy. Now they could see the car, and were able to download the logs to forward to the nearest qualified repair center. Long tow, that, from Artesia, NM. But he thought he could get it driveable, and he did. This involved him doing some things from his end and me holding down the center buttons for 90 seconds. Not too tough, but still no dash screen.

     On down the road, now following another car so my speed wouldn’t drift up, but it seemed awfully fast. Then I got this idea. I pulled up the Trips screen of the Controls screen, and watched the odometer while Laura timed us for exactly one minute. Viola! With a calculator and a stopwatch, you can tell your speed even without a dash screen!

     88 mph. Time to lose this particular pace car. We found out later that the closer you are to the New Mexico / Texas border, the faster everyone drives.

     I kept it at 60 to make the math easy. Tesla Service called me back and told me they’d looked at the logs and the solution would likely involve replacing some hardware and doing something with the software, and they would fly out a technician with the part that very night or, at the latest, the next morning. The nearest airport is El Paso, a coupla’ hours drive away from Carlsbad, which we had achieved by that time. They wanted me to leave the car hooked up to the phone’s wifi for about an hour after so they could fiddle with it some.

     Service called back in an hour to ‘try something’, and talked me through pulling out the ‘hard reboot’ fuse and then sticking it back in. Apparently this is the Model S’s Ctrl-Alt-Del. It’s the yellow 20 Amp fuse in the middle top of the right hand (the car’s right hand) fuse block.

   There was a click and the whole car just went limp, but when I put it back in and stepped on the brake, Viola! It worked! 100%. Go figure.

It’s been a while since you saw a picture, so here’s a little dead bush I saw in the Alabama Hills:

windswept little bush at Alabama Hills

Adventures in Assumptions

Not a day goes by in which things interesting to report fail to happen. We have completed our first shake-down trip, from Pocatello to the Grand Canyon, spent 4 days back in Poky tidying up loose ends, and are now several days into the first part of our adventures that are not about going wherever and doing whatever we want.  Remember I said ‘more about that later’ ?  This post is part of that part.

One does have obligations, after all.  One of which, for me, is to protect the life and limb of innocent bystanders.  Hence the need to go to Ridgecrest, CA and pick up one very old man and drive him to Carlsbad, NM.  Long story.  But it’s only ink on paper, right?  So here goes – *deep breath*

^^^^^^^^^^^^WARNING!  POORLY WRITTEN BACKSTORY ALERT!^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

consider skipping forward to the next set of ^^^’s

‘Ol Doc Jackson was my first employer during my high school days oh these many years ago & since daddy wasn’t very emotionally forthcoming ‘Ol DJ & I formed a bond & we stayed in touch after I went away to college & he gave me a job during the summers when I was home, we played cribbage when times were slow & generally talked deep talk &, sure, he’s a father figure – inexplicably ‘cuz he isn’t any more emotionally forthcoming than my real father, who is dead now – except once he hit his mid-eighties he’s been giving hugs, & he calls me ‘son’ & he finally retired & moved to New Mexico with his seventh wife – yes, seventh – who was finally the right woman for him & made him happy until the dirty doctors punched a hole inside her during a routine colonoscopy & she died so he called around to his previous wives to see if any of them still burned a candle for him ‘cuz, really, who wants to go back to the dating scene at that age, but I’m off track since this paragraph is really supposed to be about him & his macular degeneration & how he kept driving back & forth between New Mexico & California ‘cuz his fourth wife said sure she’d have him back only he drove all those hundreds of miles utilizing only his peripheral vision ‘cuz with the macular you don’t have any central vision & it was all so scary as shit me an’ all his real kids could see for sure he was gonna’ kill someone someday & not too long from now if this kept up and no big loss at this point if he died, he keeps talking about it but he’d live through it knowing him, so as soon as we got wind that he’d planned a trip one of us’d drop everything & fly down there & drive him to Ridgecrest or back – Ridgecrest is in the upper Mojave desert in California – & why in the world he would ever marry a wife that he himself had left ‘cuz he couldn’t stand her none of us will ever know, it’s not like she’s changed at all, no sirree, they might like each other well enough but, dang, they mix like fire &, well, fire, so even though the driver’s license is taken away now we’ve all gotten used to driving him a long ways when needed & a great grandson is graduating in Carlsbad, NM & I was free to take him, so there we are & none of my future blog posts will read like this, I promise.

Whew.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Ok, you’ve got the background.  We drove from Pocatello to Death Valley and got a flat tire there.  I could shove two fingers through the sidewall.  dang.  More on that later.

Finally got to Ridgecrest Monday May 13th, where we stayed with ‘Ol Doc Jackson, and let me tell you, it is uncomfortable to be a guest in a house with a couple that used to get along fine only because Arizona separated them.  He did have a 50 amp welding outlet in his garage that he didn’t know about, so that was a nice surprise when it came time to figure something out about the charging.  He didn’t have to be in Carlsbad until the 23rd so Laura and I decided to visit with a couple of my old Ridgecrest friends (Did I mention that was where I grew up?) who were, mercifully, only available over lunch and dinner the next day.  Breakfast was tense.

Next day, Wednesday the 14th, we left very early, and drove up hwy 395, happily leaving the harpy infested house behind us and on our way to hike to the top of Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet, accessible from the east side by trails that do not require technical skills (beyond not falling down, which skill we possess (LINK) and usually one night camping part way up.  Mount Whitney.php

The ranger at Lone Pine, the lonely town on 395 below the Whitney Portals, talked us out of our (OK, ‘my’) crazy plan when he mentioned that we’d need crampons and a working familiarity with how to ‘self arrest’.  And besides, there were no permits available, such things being distributed by lottery months before, “Try again maybe in 2015, do a search for “forest service Whitney suicide lottery”.  He suggested a day hike from the trailhead above Big Pine.  Off we went …

… and here comes the part about the assumptions …

… happily assuming we’d find an RV park in town, ‘cuz they’re all over the place, right?  Well, the smartphone app RVPARKY (LINK) showed none in Big Pine itself, but there was one at the top of the long and very steep road up the east scarp of the Sierras, right next to the trailhead we were scheming on anyway.  96 miles on the charge meter showing and the road is only 10 miles long, so no problem there, but dang we didn’t want to drive all the way up there and not get a charge.  So I called the number and the message on the machine indicated that they were open and had spaces available, and gave a website which turned out to be a very nice, very professional website and touted that they had water and electricity at their RV hookup sites and electricity at about 1/2 of their tent sites, and they had more than a dozen cabins to rent also.  That sounded promising!

The best deal for us is to find an RV park that allows tents (not all do) and that has separate spots for tents (usually $15 a night vs. $35 for a full RV site), and that has power at the tent sites, or will let us park and charge the Tesla at one of the unoccupied RV sites when we pitch our tent and pay the tent fee.  So the place at the top of the long steep mountain road sounded very choice indeed.  Trouble was, a full charge in the car would have gotten us from Ridgecrest to the Whitney Portals and back to Ridgecrest without having to charge again, but once we had pushed on to Big Pine we were down below 1/2 a charge.  We still had 96 miles on the battery so we could get back to an RV park in Lone Pine or on up to Bishop without any range anxiety at all, but what if, gawd forbid, the charging didn’t work out at the top of the road?

Hmm, hmm, hmm.

WTH, live dangerously.  In any case, the road up was flanked by electric lines, so this gave us confidence that we weren’t heading into the electricless hinterlands.

It was an awfully steep, long road though.

Long and steep means 4,000 feet and 10 miles.  Up and up we went, and I’d set the energy use screen on ‘average over the last 5 miles’ so we could see just how bad the numbers could get.  — Pretty bad!  Our biggest energy draw (averaged over 5 miles) was 1148 watt-hours per mile.  Holy Incandescent Bulbs, Batman!  (for those out there that don’t own a Tesla, the rated miles are based on 297 Wh/mi, so this means we were burning nearly 4 miles of range for every mile we traveled).1148 Wh per mile

And indeed when we got to the top and pulled into the campground we had only 49 miles left on the range meter.  But no worries, right?  We were at a campground that had electricity!  Those power lines had gone off and hidden themselves in the trees back around the last ranch, 3 miles ago.  No one was in the office so we scouted the place, and did indeed find electric outlets at many of the sites, all supplied by Romex cable strung overhead, stapled to the pine trees, and all having only one 15 amp duplex outlet, whether it was an RV site or a tent site.  A little worried now, but not too much because looking carefully around we found ONE 30 amp RV-style outlet near the utility shed.  The 30 amp RV outlets sound pretty adequate, but it turns out they are only 120 volts, so they charge us at a meager 11 miles per hour of plug time.  This was OK, since we were going to stay the night and hike all the next day and stay the next night, so that was 42 hours, so no problem there.  Only… I’d’ve felt better if I could have located a breaker box.  You can tell a lot peeking inside a breaker box.  We went back, looking for management, and walked around the office building twice before finding the note:  “Cleaning cabin #13” (Cabin 13!?!!  There’s a red flag, not that I’m superstitious.)  Off to cabin 13 where we found the guy, who told us that the reason we couldn’t find the breaker box was that there weren’t any, not even in any of the cabins.  “The plant’s been working fine without breakers for 40 years.”

Plant?  Yeah, plant. “Hydroelectric plant, over by the stream”.

40 years old.  No breakers.  110 volt system.  Romex stapled to the trees.  So I start thinking about renting a cabin, ‘cuz maybe they have the best wiring and maybe I can trickle charge the car at 2 miles per hour.  But no. In fact, he explained, there were NO outlets in the cabins (Just one light switch and a lightbulb) because “People who rent cabins have hair dryers”.

He was getting this sort of look in his eye the more I told him about the car and its charging needs (I guess I should have just shut up about the 240 volts after the first time he said he didn’t have any), and I was starting to get worried that he wouldn’t even let us try so I got more and more chirpy and optimistic, especially about the 30 amp outlet (“There’s a 30 amp outlet?”).  So we headed over there with the car and as soon as I lifted the cover and exposed the 30 amper he immediately looked up to check the wiring in the branches, none of it looking to be any more than, optimistically, 20 amp Romex.  I fished out my 30 amp adapter and … nothing.  So out came the, heaven help us, household plug adapter, and in response to his concerns about me causing a brown-out across the entire park, I set Joulie to suck at only 5 amps, the lowest setting.  I plugged in and got that reassuring blinking green light.  There’s always a bit of a delay between the blinking green light and actually starting to charge, and the charge screen showed the supply was 106 volts with her pulling 0 amps.  Then it started to tick up the amps one by one, and the voltage ticked down 3 by 3, until by 3 amps draw the voltage had dropped to 97 and Joulie said, “F**k that” and shut off the charging.  There’s that brown out!

Well, the website hadn’t exactly lied.  And we had planned on doing a vigorous day hike the next day and we were already up there, and the forest service campground 30 feet down the hill was $4 a night cheaper, so “Thanks for trying” and rather than abort our entire plan just because of a looming disaster, we pitched the tent at a site next door and decided to keep the answer to the question “What the hell are we going to do now?” as a bit of drama for Friday.

I know you all want to move straight to Friday to find out if we brick our battery or not, but we stayed overnight and hiked up a mountain first, so you have to also.

Tent pitched and it’s been days since we exercised and tomorrow’s going to be cardio, big time, so today it’s strength.

Laura is my personal trainer and when we lived at home she would have an exercise routine for me every day.  She would do my exercise routine every day and sometimes I would join the fun and do my exercise routine with her, but honestly it was pretty hit or miss.  One of my resolutions was that as soon as we started on our travels we would both exercise every day.  I figured I would be hanging around her all day every day so I couldn’t beg off the workout because of “errands I need to get to in town – I’ll join you tomorrow, I promise”.  Only somehow it was my philosophy of life that rubbed off on her, and now both of our exercise programs had become hit or miss.  So we really needed to get back to it and she worked out a routine for us and we dove right in, before the nap and before lunch, and I guess the whole bit about prioritizing the nap and lunch was what had back-burnered the exercise up until then.  Four rounds at four stations:  pistol-squats, pushups, chin ups, and dead lifts using a freakin’ boulder that couldn’t have been less than 80 lbs.  Makes a fella’ feel sorry for Sisyphus. “Do as many as possible and then move to the next station”.  I should mention here that the only exercise equipment we could justify bringing, limited as we were by weight and volume, was a pair of jumpropes and a set of straps with handles that can be thrown over a branch for chin ups, body rows, dips, muscle-ups, and other tortures.  Once done with the exercising the straps just pull down, at least that’s the theory.  And I’ve seen it work when Laura pulls on one end of the straps – they just glide over the branch and coil themselves neatly at her feet.  This time, though, when I pulled on one end of the strap, the other end did that thing that Batman’s hook does when he throws it over the support, you know, where it flips around the cable and hooks onto itself?  And you can swing over the chasm on it?  Or you can climb up the tree that has a trunk a yard thick and the first branch is 10 feet up and untangle the straps from themselves and shimmy down.  That’s fun, too.

And then I worked on the blog some in my office: 20140514_175113

Next day, 7:45 AM and we are gone up the mountain, a 13 mile loop hike with a 3,000 foot rise into the Palisades.  The trail looped around Lake 1, Lake 2, Lake 3, Lake 4, and Black Lake (at least the lake-namer’s creative juices started flowing eventually).  Here are some pictures.  You’ll note that Lake 4 (not shown) and Black Lake are frozen.  A fair amount of snow up there.

Quote of the day:  “Walter?  I think I might have found the trail.”

In case you ever go, I should mention that air is pretty thin at 11,000 feet.  Dang.

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So now we’re to Friday afternoon and ready to coast down the hill.  The Vampire has sucked 6 miles off the pack despite my remembering to do the special ‘power off the car’ thing that the manual says to do if you don’t want the Vampire visiting overnight.  Must talk to Tesla about that. So now we’re showing 43 miles.  Down down down the hill at 30 miles per hour, putting about 500 watt hours of charge INTO the battery per mile, ending up back at Big Pine with 16 more miles of range showing than we’d started with.  Now, I ask you, what liquid fueled car can do that?  In retrospect I could have gotten more if we’d only thought to load a ton of granite boulders into the car at the top.

No additional charging opportunities had sprouted up in Big Pine overnight. Returning to Lone Pine  would be 40 miles and slightly downhill, but Bishop, just 15 miles further up 395, had three choices with 50 amp outlets and the elevation gain only 100 feet, so no problem there.  Only 2 of the three have wifi.  Only one allows tents.  So we call that one and ask if we can charge our electric car if we stay there:

“I’m sorry, we don’t have any way to charge electr….wait a minute.  Is this a Telsa?”

“Yeah”

“We had some guy in a Telsa last year!  I don’t think I charged him enough!  Those cars take a lot of juice!” , said with some obvious annoyance at me.

“Well, that won’t be a problem.  What do you pay per kilowatt hour?”

“20 cents”

“No problem”

“OK, come on up” – less annoyed now.   So we did, and a fine RV park it was.  It even appeared to be snowing, and hard enough at that to be piling up in drifts.  It was about 100 degrees F, the snow being from all the old cottonwood trees, which given the abundant shade they provided every RV space you’d think it would have been easy to find someone who’d say something nice about them, and that might have been the case only I didn’t bring the subject up but to just one of the residents, who was of the opinion that with all the recent advances in genetic engineering it shouldn’t be much trouble to come up with a way to kill every damned cottonwood on the planet and just be done with them once and for all.  Uncomfortable conversation, that, seeing as I’d brought the subject up with the absolute delight of a child exposed to mud for the first time.

We were looking to put about $18 of juice into the battery and the owner of the RV park thought it would be fair to us both to charge me $20 for it.  I paid him before his left brain kicked in to retract what his right brain had said, though maybe all his debt was paid off and he’d recently had a rich uncle die so he was happy with what at best was a 10% margin but any sane entrepreneur would have known was a loss.  I paid him his usual $15 for the tent site, and happy to do that.  He also told us about very many more restaurants in town than we possibly could have made use of in the 14 hours we were planning on staying, and this at a time we’d rather have been setting up the tent, but he seemed to want to talk so I seemed to want to listen.  There had been billboards for a Karma Indian Restaurant Best Curries Outside of Reno along 80 miles of 395 so I already knew where I wanted to eat.  I’d budgeted 2 dinners a week and 2 breakfasts and that hike had really taken the starch out of us so I felt we deserved a sit-down meal someplace without stairs and I didn’t get any argument from Laura.  If you’re passing through Bishop and hanker for some curry, stop at the Karma, which I believe probably does have the best curries this side of Reno.  It was nice in there.  They even had fresh flowers in a vase at each table, though they were wilted and their petals were falling off, but all the flowers outside were wilted and their petals were falling off, so no surprise there.

There was this one time when a garage caught fire when the plug/outlet heated up during a Tesla charge, you may remember it – the media thought it was a neato story and everyone should know about the headline but the facts were less important to impart.  Actually, everyone should know about it, since fires are preventable if you know what to watch out for.  Old wiring, corroded or poor connections, bugs in the plug slots – all these things will produce resistance in the connection and cause heat to build up.  RV parks are the worst.  High amperage loads are the worst.  Long plug times are the worst.  Roadtripping away from the supercharger highway involves all of these.  I mean, you might get blue sparks shooting out at you when you fire up the coffee grinder if there’s trouble where you can’t see it, but having the plug heat up and melt isn’t going to happen.  A melted plug would be easier to deal with before your first cup of coffee than the blue sparks, but there’s nothing I can do about that.  So I always inspect the 50 amp RV outlets and I have yet to find one that made me feel good about plugging in.  Most of them have at least one screw missing so you have to hold the coverplate in place when you unplug or the whole thing will tip out at you and give a good view of the green-crusted copper connections inside and I shudder every time I think about how much spiderweb has been packed into the slots by the prongs over the years.  So I always feel the plug/outlet/wiring after being plugged in for 1/2 an hour and it’s rare that I don’t either dial down the charge rate or hang out watching for smoke.  For overnight stays in RV parks turning it down from a 40 amp charge rate to 24 amps solves the hot plug problem and still results in a fully charged car by morning.

There is a correlation between how good the shade trees in an RV park are and how old the wiring is.  I believe there is a business opportunity out there for someone who’s a good salesman and is good with a screwdriver.  Just go around to older parks and plug in a 50 amp load and show them how hot it gets and let them gander at the corrosion while you mention the potential liabilities, and then offer to switch out to nice new shiny plugs for $X per each.  I’m betting they’ll let you stay for free tenting in your Model S while you got the job done.

 

On the Road (Finally)

This is the start of our anticipated 12 month long far ranging road trip in an all-electric Tesla Model S sedan.   Our plan was to load the car up with everything we’d need to be “homeless and living out of our car”, and just hit the road and go wherever we wanted. A year long vacation for us, and for you a demonstration that road trips on electric only power were not only feasible, but fun and easy! So we’re off! come join us via this blog, and comment below.

Only it’s not a full 12 months. More on that later. And it’s not going to be ‘wherever we want and doing whatever we want’. More on that later. And we’re not really homeless, at least not yet. At least not houseless. More on that later. But it is going to be a vacation, for the most part, and it will be a lot of fun, and by the end of it we’ll all have a feel for just how fun and easy all electric road trips are. We’ll have more of a feel for it than you, to be sure but you’ll have a pretty good idea, too.

I suppose the logical place to start would be the lead-up to all this. How did we get the idea to take a year off and cruise electric? What are the details of the equipment, packing it all in, our itinerary, our plans for charging, for entertaining ourselves, for cooking, for exercise and otherwise staying healthy? What’s our budget? How did we get free of our home and work responsibilities? Who the hell are we, anyway? What the hell is a Tesla?

I’ll get to all that. In a later blog. Right now, we’re on the road! But I suppose I’d better just mention real quick that it’s just two of us, Myself, Walter Rowntree, and my beautiful and uber-tolerant wife of 30 + years, Laura Reynolds.

 

Sunday April 27th: Hit the road at 1:30 PM – YAY! Double yay ‘cuz we’d planned on getting off by 9 AM. Before that we’d planned on Friday morning. Before that it was Wednesday we were going start our trip. That’s what I’d been telling everyone for 3 weeks, “‘We’ll be leaving the 23rd of April!”   Said with confidence, but I say everything with confidence so as to appear committed.

But on the road we were, with Pocatello, Idaho in our rearview mirror (Not that it was actually visible, what with all the gear piled up) and a goal of arriving at the South rim of the Grand Canyon at the end of the second day. We’d packed the car with equipment for not only car camping at spots with electricity (RV parks with their tasty 50 amp outlets, guaranteed to leave Joulie (Did I mention we’ve named our car Joulie? (the name Joules was already taken by a prolific poster on the Tesla Owners Forum. Perhaps the name Joulie is also taken, but not prominently)) – a 12 x 12 tent with room to stand fully upright, an electric skillet, ice chest, 1500 watt space heater, foam mattress, cots, folding chairs, kitchen table, lights, books, spices, four suitcases, 2 folding bikes with baskets, and more), but also with equipment for everything from day hikes to week long backpacking expeditions (2 person tent, propane/butane camp stove, air mattresses, LED lantern, lightweight aluminum cookware, sunscreen, bear spray, first aid kit, and two issues of The New Yorker magazine).

The Supercharger Network is not yet built out enough to encompass Pocatello or Salt Lake City, so the first leg of our trip involved ‘planning’ to avoid range issues, something the ICE (Internal combustion engine) drivers don’t usually need to worry about, although any ICE driver who has driven over the Lolo pass (From Idaho to Montana, a beautiful route and highly recommended) knows what range anxiety is – there’s a sign on Hwy 12, the Lewis and Clark Hwy (and remember the trouble they got in when they traveled that path), that says “Next gas, 86 miles”. That’ll make you check your gauge and turn around if there’s any doubt. Anyway, we had originally planned to drive at least to Price, UT the first day, 289 miles, which meant we needed to stop along the way and pick up 85 miles (25 to get there, and an extra 60 for reserve/wiggle room) – doesn’t sound too hard. Our plan was to stop and charge while we had lunch, maybe get a little exercise or some yoga in, maybe a brief snooze on a lawn someplace or do a little window shopping, anything that might pass the time pleasantly while we pushed a few miles into the pack. But the whole idea of having lunch while we charged was a little ridiculous considering we didn’t even leave the house until well after the usual midday mealtime. We felt busy and in a hurry. So we hadn’t had lunch. Ug. Stopping at Malad, 62 miles down the road, for a diet coke led to the delightful discovery of a BBQ stand (LINK). And there was our first failure, stopping for lunch w/o any charging happening, and unhealthy food choices. but OH SO GOOD. yum.

We had read a recent article in our local paper about a few new fast-charge stations in Salt Lake City (I assumed ChAdeMO (LINK) so not much help there. Has Tesla started shipping the promised ChAdeMO adaptors yet?), and the plugshare app said there was a J1772 along w/ the new fast charge stations at the SLC municipal library, so we rolled in there at 4:30, hungry and tired, but with more charge still in the battery than would be expected since we’d been allowed to draft on I-15 for 50 miles behind a Mr. C.R. England.

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The underground parking garage at the library did indeed have a single J1772 station, working, unoccupied, and free with paid parking. Just for fun we looked for and found the 2 ChAdeMO’s on the surface street, one of them ICE’d by a van, the other with an ‘out of order’ sign on it. At that moment a man in an FBI jacket came out of the library, so I 😉 asked him to wait for the offending driver and arrest him. I had to explain to him the reason why, after which he climbed into the van and drove off, looking not at all contrite. We walked on to a Walgreen’s for the forgotten tiny bottle of Ibuprofen and across the street to the Smith’s and bought snacks and a 6-pak of eggs and a tiny bottle of olive oil (very busy the last 4 days, no time to shop for meal supplies, so we only packed what we already had in our pantry – some good and necessary stuff, but hardly a complete kitchen for car camping). Then dinner at a Mongolian BBQ – another fail, as we’d planned to prepare virtually all our meals in order to stay on budget. Then back on the road after having added 60 miles, not enough to get us to Price, UT, but our resolve was rapidly fading and by that time we’d accepted that we weren’t getting as far as originally planned.

Aside: SLC metro library parking garage is underground. The attendant didn’t know the location of the charge plug (worrisome), but it was right there in sight of her kiosk, not 40 yards away. (There’s not much to see from the exit kiosk except a ramp heading up, a few bodacious concrete columns each with a fire extinguisher, and some warning signs, so I was a little surprised she hadn’t noticed the only interesting thing down there. Oh well, she learned something that day, so there’s karma for that). When we plugged the J1772 into the car it was nicely charging at 30 amps/240 volts. We went up two flights of stairs, past the homeless couple – she animatedly explaining the intricacies of a bible passage, he listening. Or not. Couldn’t tell. We got 3 blocks into our walk to the Walgreens when I decided to check the Tesla app on the thmartphone to confirm that we were still nicely charging. Unnecessary perhaps, but we’ve only had the car a few weeks so I still get a charge out of – oops, sorry about that – a ‘kick’ out of the charging process. And she was … OMG! Not charging! so back we went, past the still biblically engrossed homeless and down 2 flights to the charge station. Where all was well. Hmmm. Cell phone had no signal, so it’s a good bet that neither did the car. Turns out the beta app, if left running in the background, reports the last known values. Back past the bible study, and on to our errands. When done with dinner and ready to roll, there was no longer a couple on the stairs, but we did have to step around vomit. I’m betting he wasn’t listening too carefully, or was, but wasn’t absorbing much of the gospel’s message. We paid $9 for the time we were parked (and I counted that in the budget as money paid for electricity for the car, ‘cuz really we wouldn’t have stopped there if it weren’t for the plug. $9 for 60 miles of charge). When we paid at the exit station, the attendant told us there’d been a traffic jam, 6 cars backed up, when a guy in a Lamborghini had stopped in the exit lane and gotten out to look at the Tesla.

We got another 30 miles down I-15, to Lehi, and it was getting dark and who wants to set up a tent in an RV park in the dark? But “there’s a Super 8!”. Mercifully for the budget it was undergoing some major remodeling and had construction trash in all the hallways , so it was only $50 a night. Motels are about the bottom of the barrel for our charging needs (Sometimes the high end hotels will have a J1772 for guests’ use, but these are most definitely not in the budget) and casing the joint showed that the best charging rate we could hope for was to open the electrical shut-off box for one of the big air conditioning heat exchangers behind the building and I could tap directly into the 240 volt / 30 amp connection. I am perfectly capable of this and comfortable with the mechanics of it, but I do recognize that it would result in a modified circuit that was obviously not up to code even to the most cursory examination by the most clueless of passersby. Also Laura is very much against this sort of thing and it is not without its legal liabilities, so I have vowed that I would reserve any unscrewing of breaker boxes and other sources of electricity for absolute emergencies. We asked for a first floor room, parked immediately outside, and ran the charge cable through a window. Oh, it was raining, did I mention it was raining?

            Did you know that the outlets that motels plug those window-mount heating/AC units into are 240V? They’re only 20 amp outlets, but 240 is waaay better than 120. I have along a whole kit full of adapters (LINKREAD AND FOLLOW THE WARNINGS!!!) for pretty much any outlet we are likely or unlikely to run into on our travels (More on that later), the idea being that whatever outlet we are offered by friend, family, lonely farmsteader, or middle-of-the-night ‘opportunity’, I can simply grab the right adapter and plug in. But rather than wire together a full adapter for every possible opportunity, I just prepared the top-tier plugs, but brought along the male plug ends for a few others. The disappointing wattage available from motel AC units led me to believe that we wouldn’t ever need to use these, so why prepare a full adapter?   I took apart one of my other adapters and wired the female 50 amp side to the male motel AC plug I had rattling around the bottom of the kit and plugged it in.Image

Charge rate = 10 miles per hour. Window = slightly open. Rain = hardly any coming into the room. But a bit chilly and, obviously, no heater available. We didn’t have a full charge when we pulled out the next day but we sure had enough to get to the GREEN RIVER SUPERCHARGER. Yay!

Next step: Driving the Supercharger Highway


 

HELP! – I need your feedback. For future blog topics, do you want to hear mostly about the car and its charging/range performance, or about the people we meet, or our travel details, or should I just wax on about whatever philosophy enters my mind? Or all of the above?

Summary:

  1. Get everything done before leaving:     FAIL
  2. Depart on the scheduled day:               FAIL
  3. Depart at the scheduled time:               FAIL
  4. Avoid eating at restaurants:                  FAIL
  5. Get some exercise in:                           FAIL
  6. Do some Yoga:                                     FAIL
  7. Don’t be in a hurryS:                            FAIL
  8. Travel the planned # of miles:              FAIL
  9. Overnight in the tent vs. motels:           FAIL
  10. Blog every day:                                    FAIL
  11. Stay on budget:                                   EPIC FAIL (1 day travel, 4 days budget)
  1.  Get outa’ Dodge (finally): WIN
  2. Avoid range anxiety:         WIN
  3. Have fun:                          WIN