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:

fatcat1

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’.

MDRS Hab BW

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 … ”

and

” 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

pulaski, the tool

 

Here’s another:

pulaski2

Pulaski, the Katherine

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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.

Image

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