ICE’ing – One Year Later

We swapped cars with these dudes I know who have a nuclear reactor at their business in town. They have a fleet of Subaru Outbacks to deliver their horrendously dangerous product to the end users every day and we thought we’d be better off driving one of those than the electric luxury sedan for our trip last week. So this is kind of a review of a gasoline powered car from our new vantage point of familiarity with electric driving.

What’s that? You’re more interested in hearing about the nuclear reactor in town? Oh, OK.

Rather simple, really. Hospitals do those technetium 99 scans alla’ time and it’s got to come from somewhere. Seeing as the half-life of Tc99 is 6 hours it has to be made relatively nearby and then driven to the hospital. I suppose it could be shipped overnight by Amazon but UPS won’t ship that stuff and a crashed drone could, conceivably, be ‘problematic’. It’s made from Molybdenum 99 and involves neutron bombardment. So you need Mo99 and neutrons. The Moly comes from Canada. Neutrons come from a reactor. So you need a reactor. If you want the medicine for your scan, you need a reactor. It’s that simple.  In ‘the biz’ the reactor they use to make the Mo99 is called, affectionately, a “Moly Cow”.  I guess ‘cuz you milk it.  Hard to imagine, really.

The Technetium is considered a drug ‘cuz it’s given in ‘doses’ dependent on the study being done and the weight of the patient, so it has to be prepared on a case by case basis by people licensed by the Board of Pharmacy. These people are called ‘Radiopharmacists’ and they are regular pharmacists who are highly trained and skilled in additional fields, specifically filling out reams of paperwork for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tolerating surprise inspections, and mollifying the TSA. Also they are very patient people, having to wait months and months for the trash to decay to safe levels before taking it out to the dumpster. I got to know them because I treat hyperthyroid cats with radioactive Iodine. Radiopharmacists are hugely entertaining to take out to lunch. I could go on and on but I won’t ‘cuz they are probably already sufficiently annoyed with me about the ‘horrendously dangerous’ remark.

Here’s a hyperthyroid cat:

hyperthyroid cat

..aaannd after treatment:


OK, so it’s not the same cat.  You get the idea.

So sometimes there’s some side effects. Let’s move on to the subject at hand.


Anyway, Laura and I volunteered for a week with CDT MT to help them build a section of the Continental Divide Trail (a great way to spend your vacation if your idea of fun is to carry a sledgehammer in one hand, a Pulaski in the other, and a gallon of water, a sandwich, and some log peelers in your backpack up a steep and poorly maintained trail for 5 miles and turn it into a well-maintained trail. If you have tended to gain weight during the Holland America Cruise Vacation and want to try losing weight during a vacation instead, this brand of volunteerism is worth a try). Here are 62 pictures to whet your appetite (Flesher Pass Work Pics).  And here’s a link that’ll get you near a list of future projects on which you can volunteer (Build the CDT!).

The trailhead for the project was up at Flesher Pass north of Helena, MT. No problem for the electric car, seeing as the road over the pass is paved and there’s a supercharger in Butte, so the round trip is well within the car’s range. However, the cribwall project was only expected to take 4 days (We knocked it out in 3. Go Team!) and the project description said that after the cribwall we would “… drive to another project site 60 miles away on unimproved roads.” So that made us worry that the sporty electric luxury sedan would either nose down into a pothole on the way there or run out of juice on the way back. As it ultimately turned out the dirt road was well maintained and looped around such that Helena was just 15 miles farther along, so neither clearance nor range would have been a problem. But we didn’t know that at the time so I approached the radiopharmacists about swapping our ride for one of their Outbacks. They readily agreed because they are intrigued with the idea of switching to Teslas for their delivery fleet. Partly because they currently spend $750 per Outback every month for gas plus 30 oil changes per year, and partly because they found out (from me) that Teslas are so much fun to drive. I guess their reasoning is that they could not only pay less for gas and maintenance but also pay their drivers less. So that’s how we ended up driving an Infernal Combustion Engine car for hundreds of miles after driving 10’s of thousands over the course of a year and not buying any gasoline. One of the biggest topics of discussion on this trip was the contrast between electric and gas – here’s my review:


Compared to the Tesla, the ICE powered car we borrowed was loud, smelly, dangerously underpowered, slow to respond, expensive to operate, badly balanced, and mundane.

We had trouble fitting all our stuff in it. I popped the hood thinking I could toss a couple of overflow bags in. Nope. I like the Tesla ‘cuz you can hide a body in the frunk (Pro tip: cops never think to look there). In the gas car you might be able to hide just the murder weapon under the hood.

The lack of regenerative braking made it feel uncontrolled. If I wanted the car to go I pressed down on the throttle. When I wanted it to slow down I’d lift my foot off, but it just kept hurtling down the road. I eventually got used to that but it made the driving experience feel ‘twitchy’, the right foot being required to leap back and forth between pedals.

The process of recharging the gas tank was surreal, smelly, and carcinogenic. And expensive. (At home the Tesla tops itself up overnight for a couple of bucks, and on roadtrips it’s unusual to have to pay anything at all). Plus we had range anxiety. This was totally unexpected ‘cuz we’d both driven ICE’s for decades without anxiety, but it’s all according to what you’re used to, I guess. We’ve gotten used to the car telling us how many miles we’ve got left in the battery, how fast we’re using them, how far we have yet to drive, and how much range we’ll have left when we arrive. After the first few weeks we were all, “I got this”. The ICE tells us what fraction of a tank of gas we have left right now, w/o any information at all about what we’ll have when we get there. Is it going to be enough to get us where we’re going? We didn’t know. Probably. Seems like it ought to be, but maybe not. Idaho and the back roads of Montana don’t have a gas station every 10 miles like some parts of the country. The car did not tell us how far we had to go nor how many miles of gas were in the tank. So we’d top it up every time we stopped at a convenience store for a pee or a soda pop, even if it’d only got down to 3/4 of a tank. Just to be on the safe side.  Range anxiety is a real thing,  but it’s not something that’s inherent to electric cars, it’s inherent in driving something you’re not used to.

And I worried about maintenance. It was a fleet car so I assumed they’d checked the oil, brake fluid, filters, whatever, but I didn’t know. It just felt like it was wearing out and dripping and clogging itself up every mile. I guess I’m saying the car just did not inspire confidence.

Don’t get me started about onramps! Maybe we’d be up to speed by the time you had to merge and maybe we wouldn’t. It was maddening. Onramps are fun in the Tesla, ‘cuz you treat it like a race, catching up to cars that are already on the expressway and passing ’em on the right before you get to where you have to merge (That never gets old).

On the other hand, the Subaru Outback was a stalwart little car that we were willing to take on what were unpaved roads of unknown quality up on the continental divide. Would we have volunteered for this useful and worthwhile backcountry project if we’d had no option other than the Tesla? Yup. We dislike taking our baby off the pavement but she’s been there and may have logged more off-road miles than any other Model S, notably north outa’ Hanksville, UT to get us to the Mars Desert Research Station.  It’s on Mars, sorta’.


The MDRS in its “Mars Environment Analog”

Link to Mars Society’s “About the MDRS”

I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from a recent blog by Daniel Sparks, titled “Why I’ll Never Buy a Gas Car Again”

” … (I now see) gas cars for what they really are — outdated, noisy, inefficient manifestations of an industry trying to squeeze marginal innovation out of an inferior approach … ”


” After you own an electric vehicle for this long as your sole means of transportation, your view of gas cars evolves. … Toxic fuel flowing through an oil-ridden, clunky, complex, awkwardly shaped, giant internal combustion engine just doesn’t sound as normal as it used to.”



Oh, and here’s a picture of a pulaski, in case you were wondering what one of those is:


pulaski, the tool


Here’s another:


Pulaski, the Katherine