BC2BC: The Untold Story

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BC2BC: The Untold Story

Sabrina and I started the BC2BC rally four months ago, back on June 30th. We covered more than 1,000 miles in the first five days, and more than 3500 miles total. I had published three blog posts by the time we reached San Francisco, and intended to continue the cyber documentation of Team Crazy Daddy’s venture further south, and, likewise, during the trip back home. However, the blogging ceased. The next blog post published was more than two weeks later, after we had been home for two days.

Since returning home in mid-July, the narrative that I share with friends and family has included much more than the time that was originally documented from Canada to San Francisco. Actually, I tend to talk with them more about our return trip than the actual rally itself. For it was after Sabrina and I celebrated at the U.S.-Mexico border that the journey–the real hardship–began.

There was comfort and security during the first half of our trip. While driving in the All Electric Vehicle Rally from Canada to Mexico, we would meet up with fellow drivers every two to three days at rally checkpoints. The camaraderie and rest at the stage locations really did help to alleviate the stress of the drive.

There were certainly moments on that drive south that were trying and stressful. When I am a very old man, I will still be telling people about how I drove from Grants Pass down into the Sacramento Valley past Redding, and finally heading west into Santa Rosa from Williams, California…in 24 hours…in a first generation Nissan LEAF.

There was relief for us at the Santa Rosa stage location, though, as the next rally departure was not for another two days. This allowed us to spend time around the Bay Area recharging our batteries before hitting the road again.

We made it!
When we arrived at the Mexican border, the rally was, in a heartbeat, done for us. We took a celebratory selfie, and I asked Sabrina if she wanted to go home. So just a few minutes after completing the rally, we were back in our LEAF heading due north. It was just after 6:00pm on July 8th and we were heading home!In less than a quarter mile, though, I once again parked the car. I had promised Sabrina days before that I would stop at McDonald’s after we completed the rally, and I knew that there was a Mickey D’s right there at the border. Inside, while Sabrina ate her Happy Meal, I made some calculations to figure out if we could make it to our campground at Caspers Wilderness Park by nightfall. We would not make it.

So we finished eating in the car and continued driving north towards San Diego proper. At 7:00, I received a message from Tony Williams, founder of the BC2BC rally, offering for us to stay at his home for the night. It was an immensely welcomed gesture, and we detoured to Tony’s San Diego residence, arriving late into the evening.

Just before leaving Tony’s house on July 9th.  So tired!
The next day, Tuesday morning, we left the Williams’ residence. Everybody was gone by the time we got up and were ready. It was a reminder that life had returned to normal for Tony; he was home and back to his daily grind.  Leaving San Diego, I was intensely home sick. More than anything, I wanted to see Tanya, eat homemade cookies, and sleep in my own bed.  In that order:)
At about noon, we were southwest of downtown Los Angeles. I was dreading the trip back into the EV badlands of central California. There was a Target just off of the freeway, so I decided to pull off of the 405 at the Westfield Mall in Culver City. The familiarity of a big-box store had a comforting draw. Excitedly, I asked Sabrina if she wanted to go to Target, and she replied, “YES!”
We were in Target just a matter of minutes, and I felt the pull of making time once again. I fought to come to grips with reality, though. There was a little toy train in the mall, so I paid a fella a few dollars to let Sabrina go around for a several minutes while I considered our options. After the ride, I asked Sabrina if she would be okay if I drove through the night. The sweetheart that she is, Sabrina loyally supported my plan.
Last day of the rally

The previous day, before we made the final push to the border, I had arranged for Sabrina to take a surf lesson at Venice Beach. After the lesson, we were both disappointed that it wasn’t going to work out to ride the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier, which was about a mile and a half away.

Since an all night of driving was going to happen anyway on this night, we decided to head west to Santa Monica and ride that Ferris Wheel. The ride was fun, but it didn’t relieve my mind of the burden of getting my precious cargo home to her mommy. We didn’t stay at Pacific Park long, and headed back out to the car to prepare for our trek over the Grapevine.

Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier

While Sabrina ate a snack in the backseat, I spent some time making calculations for the drive. We were due to arrive in Modesto in less than 24 hours, but the drive to get there was going to be tough. There is limited EV infrastructure for the Nissan LEAF between L.A. and San Francisco. The game plan was to drive all night over the Grapevine and into Bakersfield, charge to 100% in Bakersfield, then drive a Range Hero 110+ miles to Clovis.  From Clovis, we would leapfrog charging stations all day on Wednesday, July 10th into Modesto.

I then had a breakdown. I called Tanya, and told her that I couldn’t do it. Even if we made it to Modesto, I knew that I was still looking at some extremely stressful driving north of San Francisco. After hearing Tanya’s stern words of encouragement, we departed Santa Monica.

Last available plug!

We arrived at the top of the Grapevine at a little after 9:00pm, and drove around the large parking area for about 20 minutes looking for the Shorepower units to charge us enough to make it to Bakersfield. Practically every one of the 285 parking stalls was taken by a big rig. We circled around and around, our little car completely dwarfed by the giants. Finally, we found a Shorepower outlet–the last one available!

Cooking up a package of Lit’l Smokies

The timing of the drive from the Flying J truck stop down into the San Juaquin Valley was critical. That expected 110 mile drive into the Fresno area needed to be completed as early as possible to avoid the forecasted 105 degree temps and the Wednesday morning traffic on State Route 99.

113.3 miles w/o turtling=Range Hero!

We arrived at Nissan of Bakersfield in the middle of the night, and tried to sleep in the car as we charged for three or four hours.  Just before sunrise, we departed and started the long drive into Clovis. The drive was as flat as a pancake, so there was no elevation to worry about.  However, I had to drive slower than the flow of traffic which is never safe nor fun. We arrived at Schneider Electric in Clovis after traveling more than 113 miles on the one charge. A new personal best! It took almost an hour to find a Schneider employee, first willing, then able, to get us set up to have access to the electric vehicle supply equipment. It was extremely frustrating to lose this time trying to persuade administrative employees of the company to give us permission to charge at their headquarters. This is a company that makes electric vehicle supply equipment for commercial and home use for goodness sakes. This tough start to the day was just the beginning of a “Groundhog’s Day” experience where we found ourselves unable to get out of the Fresno/Clovis region.

Mini golfing in 105 degree temps?!?

After charging for just an hour, or so, at Schneider Electric, we unplugged to continue our charge at a local Nissan dealership. There was nowhere for us to get relief from the heat at Schneider, and I knew that any Nissan dealership would have free wi-fi, coffee, and an air conditioned lobby for us to wait in while charging.  In just the short trip to the dealership, we used more electricity than I expected because the use of full-blast AC was unavoidable. We charged for a while at Nissan of Clovis, but we were both getting stir crazy.  I offered to take Sabrina to Blackbeard’s to play some mini golf.  So, we drove over to Blackbeard’s Family Entertainment Center…again using up WAY too much energy with the AC.  I have no idea what I was thinking.  Playing mini golf outside in 105 degree temps qualifies me for the bozo-of-the-year award.  To add to the list of why this was a completely moronic decision: the car wasn’t charging while we were there, nor were we making any progress towards home.

We both faked the fun on our quick round of mini golf, and were back in the car in about 45 minutes. There we were, in the same predicament as several hours earlier. We needed a charge to get the heck out of town, so we headed over to Lithia Nissan of Fresno. The AC was up to eleven and we arrived at the Nissan dealership with far less charge than I was hoping for.  Just like a Groundhog’s Day nightmare, we again found ourselves in another dealership waiting area for a couple of hours while the car charged.
There is an animal shelter south of Modesto in the town of Turlock that has electric vehicle supply equipment.  Earlier in the day, I planned on getting about a 30 minute charge at the animal shelter before driving into Modesto to our friends’ house.  However, at this point in the day, I was not interested in another stop before arriving at Paul and Manda’s home in Modesto 95 miles away. I can’t remember what the state of charge was when we left Fresno, but it was about 85% complete. By this point in the trip, driving 95 miles on a less than complete charge didn’t really scare me. Yes, I was always nervous about the long drives, but had developed quite a bit of confidence in my ability to play the range game.
Overconfidence bites me in the bum!

After 93 miles of driving, I turtled the car.  “Turtling” an EV happens when there is approximately 1/2 mile of range remaining; a turtle lights up on the dash and the vehicle is limited to 25 mph. I drove around Modesto for a few minutes, then tried my luck at finding an exterior 120v outlet on the campus of Modesto Junior College.  Once plugged in, I called Paul to let him know that we would be late for dinner, and he ended up driving over to keep us company during the hour of charging.

Sending the cord through the master bedroom.
Once at the Hardy residence, we realized that my charging cord was not going to reach the clothes dryer outlet behind the master bedroom. So Paul and I drove to Home Depot to get the supplies I needed to make an extension and adapter. After getting back, Paul and Manda prepared an awesome dinner while Evan, Ava, and Sabrina swam in their pool. Back with Paul at the BBQ, I was busy stripping wires and piecing together my adapter. While working, I couldn’t help but think that one’s ability to make EV plug-in adapters on the fly was likely to become an important 21st century skill.
Sabrina & Ava: Two peas in a pod.
Wish we could’ve stayed longer!
The next morning, Sabrina and I were once again treated to a great meal. The stay with the Hardy’s was just too short. I’ve known Paul my whole life, but it was during those 16 hours at their home that I realized how similar the two of us are. Getting together with both families (complete families next time) would be great!  Maybe halfway between Seattle and Modesto, though;)
What a great city, that San Francisco is.
Leaving Modesto on the morning of Thursday, July 11th, I was again feeling good as we had a chance to do some quick charging in the Bay Area with the bountiful CHAdeMO charging stations there. We were making such good time, if fact, that I got off the expressway to take Sabrina to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Once we were down there, though, I had a tough time finding a place to charge that also wasn’t ridiculously expensive to park at; it was going to be at least $30 for a charge and a couple of hours of parking.
Not having it, I decided to park and charge almost three miles away. Instead of walking to Fisherman’s Wharf, I hoped to make better time with public transportation. We ended up walking nearly a mile in the wrong direction to find a bus, but were able to eventually get to our destination. We didn’t have long to tromp around Fisherman’s Wharf, but did get in the obligatory souvenir shopping and ate fish-n-chips.
On the way back to the car, I got us on the wrong bus!  Oh, misery! The route plopped us off about a mile and a half away from the car, and we had to walk the rest of the way in a brutal headwind.  We finally pulled into our motel in Ukiah at 9:30 that night completely exhausted.
Staying overnight at the Super 8 was a planned stop, as it is an EV oasis. The motel offers free use of it’s EV charging station to guests–a smart move because there are very few EV charging opportunities between Ukiah and Eureka along 101.Leaving Ukiah late in the morning on Friday, July 12th, I wanted to take Sabrina to get some close-up action of the Redwoods.  We found what we were looking for, and drove through Chandelier Tree (one of several drive-through trees beckoning tourist dollars).

At about 1:30, we pulled into the Benbow Inn, a historic hotel located in the midst of the Redwoods. It was another planned stop; another EV oasis. Interestingly, the Benbow Inn first installed electric vehicle supply equipment back in the late 1990s to lure wealthy EV1 owners in for a short holiday away from the weekday slog in the blossoming Silicon Valley. We had a difficult time finding the charging unit, but ultimately found it nestled in some overgrown ivy!
There’s the EVSE!  In the ivy near the front of the car.
We ate lunch in the dining area inside of the Benbow Inn. Our modest meal ended up having a tab of $37.10, though. Now that was a costly “free” charge!  Well played, Benbow Inn.  Well played.
We left the Benbow Inn late into the afternoon and slowly made our way to Eureka, and then ultimately to Klamath, California. It was that drive, from Eureka to Klamath, that was just so god-awful that words on a screen will never convey the impossibility this drive was for me.
One thing that has to be said is that I did not leave the charging location at the Caltrans District Office in Eureka with a 100% charge. Of course I didn’t. When traveling thousands of miles in an EV that has a 75 mile range, one of the first tricks learned is to maximize time, not range.  Arriving at a charging location with anything more than 0% charge means that you wasted time by over charging at the previous stop.  I wouldn’t have experienced stress overload had I taken our LEAF to 100% every time charging.  But instead of needing 17 days to go 3500 miles, it would’ve taken the full month of July.
I cannot remember what the state of charge was when leaving Eureka, but it was likely around 80-85%. That 80-90% was a pretty magic number on the trip, as I was able to drive pretty consistently 80-100 miles on that level of charge, depending on terrain.  And it was the terrain that got me on that leg heading into Klamath.
The net elevation gain between Eureka and Klamath is +47 feet.  However, the whole trip was a roller coaster ride, going from sea level to a few hundred feet, over and over.  Then at the 50 mile mark, Highway 101 shot up 1500′.  It felt like Mt. Hood had been relocated to the Oregon coast.  The ups and downs up to that point had just hammered my range, so all I could do was go slow to conserve the very little range that remained.  So slow, in fact, that had Fred Flintstone helped me motivate the car with foot power, we would have surely doubled the speed I was able to drive under battery power.
The final seven miles before we made it to the Chinook RV Resort & Campground in Klamath were never above 50 feet.  It was about 11:00 at night, with only an occasional vehicle that needed to pass us.  So, driving 20 mph, we limped along. It was going to be just fine.
As soon as I thought that we were going to be okay, I saw a bull elk on the road.  It was a straight section of road, so he and I saw one another some ways out.  I was not making any noise in my EV traveling 20 mph so he didn’t move.  It felt like an eternity for me just to make it to the animal, both of us staring at the other. The bull was, what I hoped, frozen by my headlights.
The encounter took so long that I had time to play some scenarios through my mind:  If the elk rams us, do I stop?  If I stop, will we be in danger of another attack?  If the elk rams us, do I keep going at 20 mph?  I knew that a chicken can run, in bursts, at almost 10 mph. Surely an elk could catch us.  If the elk rams us, should I keep going but floor it?  If I floored it, our car would quickly run out of electricity…in a no cell service area…in the middle of the night…with my 5-year-old daughter in the car…with a pissed off bull elk just down the road.
We passed the elk without incident.  I did feel like an elk whisper, though.  We crawled into the RV campground, and were asleep in our tent by 11:30pm.
The horned-beast encounters continue.
The next morning, Saturday, July 13th, Sabrina and I packed up and hit the road.  I was so excited to get into Oregon and finally be back in the land of the CHAdeMO quick chargers.  These particular quick chargers are installed throughout Oregon and Washington.  It was another planned long day, but at least we’d get our (north) West Coast Electric Highway quick charge sometime that evening.
30 panel solar array powering ONE 240volt station–C’mon!
While I do feel that Oregon has done just about everything right with their EV infrastructure deployment, there are the occasional situations that just leave the EV driver wondering “why?”  In the picture above, we are charging at a Level 2 station in the parking lot of the Bandon, Oregon police department.  Overhead, there was a 30 panel photovoltaic solar panel array, presumably powering the charging station.  To the left, Highway 101 which bisects the town and is the only road that most people will ever drive in Bandon who do not live there.
It sure appeared that the Bandon city officials wanted to put up a glorious “green” project for the folks driving through town to see.  Maybe it was meant to make people like me feel good. Seeing the overwhelming solar array, I suppose that the town folk wanted to encourage our spending of green in their “green” town.
Frankly, all I could think of for the three hours that we were stuck in Bandon was that the elected officials in the town were idiots.  If they really wanted to benefit their town–wanted to bring in EV tourism dollars–they would have funded a quick charger instead of the PV/Level 2 system.  EV drivers will seek out towns and business that have quick chargers.  Instead, the city of Bandon was provided with a true life EV charging scenario in the parking lot of their police department: I gutted the car and did a complete car clean-out, then barbecued right there for all to see who drove past us on Highway 101.
Florence, OR…1st quick charge since Santa Rosa, CA!
We arrived at the Three Rivers Casino in Florence, Oregon at 10:00 on the night of Saturday, July 13th.  During the 25 minutes of charging a couple got to talking with me about our LEAF and charging.  Being regulars at the casino, they said that the charger is often charging a LEAF when they are there.  Now, this is a perfect example of “if you build it, they will come!”
Wait!  Trickle charging in Oregon?
On the night of July 13th, we camped at the Beachside State Recreation Site in Waldport, OR.  The next morning, I made an almost fatal error: I missed a quick charge in nearby Yachats, OR.  I had been so accustomed to getting 80 miles per charge, that when I saw 30 miles had been driven the previous night from the casino to our camping spot, I assumed that we needed to get about 50 more miles in before charging. Glancing at a map, the quick charger in Lincoln City was about 45 miles away. Perfect!
We actually would have made it into Lincoln City without much fuss had I not driven like Mario Andretti the previous night on a celebratory drive over those 30 miles to get to the Beachside State Rec Site.  In Depoe Bay, still 13 miles from the quick charger in Lincoln City, I decided to preemptively get some trickle charging in.  It was early on July 14th, a Sunday morning, so I thought that the theft of a few electrons from a little touristy shop would be of minimal risk.
After about 20 minutes, though, a woman parked her vehicle in the gravel parking lot behind the business, and walked around to the front of our car.  She stood at my front bumper, but our eyes never met.  Instead, I watched in slow motion as her eyes looked at the plug coming from out of the front end of our LEAF.  She didn’t move, but then looked at every inch of charging cable from the car all the way back to the 120v outlet at the front of the shop. Her shop.  The fire was ablaze, as she was obviously onto me.  The woman’s head snapped back to the LEAF, then she pivoted on her heals and stormed into the business next door.
Mistakenly, my thoughts went aloud and I said, “I think that she is going to call the police.”  I now had two problems: 1) The police, and 2) A 5-year-old who thought that the police were going to take us to jail.
As collected as I could consciously control, I stepped out of the car, unplugged, and started making our way, once again, north.  We did have to stop one more time before making it to the quick charger in Lincoln City, but this time at a legitimate, and legal, charging station.  The worst of it was taking the barrage of “why” questions from Sabrina:)
Say, “CHEESE!”
The remaining 350 miles of driving over the next day and a half were worry-free.  No pictures.  No stories of having to hitchhike home.  Just easy, quick-charging interstate traveling!

We stayed the night again with Deb and Ron at their beautiful nursery on Sunday, July 14th.  And from their place in Cornelius, OR, we zipped home on Monday, July 15th.