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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.