Tesla Trippin’

2010.03.08Linda&ChadWhen I met up with Tesla road warrior Chad Schwitters on April 8 at the LA Tesla store, he was headed north on the 405 back home to Redmond, Washington after driving his roadster to San Diego. It was a convenient meet-up for us two ferocious EV advocates at Tesla’s spacious facility on Santa Monica Boulevard. On that day we both needed what Tesla Motors had to offer. I needed a new set of rear tires plus a firmware upgrade for my 2008 roadster. Chad was after some savory juice from one of the store’s several charging stations to propel his roadster in safety and in style to Santa Maria as he headed back to Washington.

Chad’s journey was chock full of adventure as well as some tense moments during his scramble to find adequate charging up and down the American western coastline. Like, for instance, the time in Leggett, California when he awoke to a drenching downpour and an uncharged car because — unbeknownst to him — the outlet was bad and had plotzed 15 minutes after he’d plugged the roadster in. Like that.

So why would a guy who lives way up north in the state of Washington plug his roadster in one last time and take off into the night for a sojourn that would take him way down south almost to the tip of California? What in the name of all that is fast and furious possessed him? Chad’s answer: “Well, I used to live in San Diego in the mid ’80’s and thought it would be fun to visit friends. And then I asked myself: ‘How can I help the EV cause?’ Then I thought, If I drive the Tesla to San Diego, I can forever say that I’ve taken a long-range trip in an electric car. I also wanted to somehow show my appreciation to Plug In America by bringing public attention to the fact that electric cars can work for many applications. PIA has been moving roadblocks.”

I asked Chad what was the biggest lesson that he’d learned on his long, plug-powered trip. Chad’s advice: “When dealing with RV Parks don’t just ask what voltage is available because sometimes park personnel simply do not know and confuse 120V and 240V service. Ask instead if the park has 50 Amp service.” For example: On Highway 101, a campground owner had promised that a 240V outlet would be available. Unfortunately, when Chad arrived late at night, he was shocked to find only a 120V outlet. And instead of a cozy motel room, his accommodations amounted to a very chilly yurt. As he shivered, his car did charge — kinda. He awoke to find that only a pitiful 20 miles had been added to the roadster’s range. After grabbing that micro-mileage, he glided slowly to another campground, thankfully plugged into coveted 50 Amp service and began checking online for more 50 Amp service down the line through KOA (Kampgrounds of America)Chad Yurt

Another charging adventure reads like a chapter from a western novel. A freak snowstorm closed Rattlesnake Pass causing — of all things — a power outage. Chad made use of the downtime by reading PIA board member Sherry Boschert’s book, “Plug-In Hybrids The Cars that Will Recharge America.” Eventually Rattlesnake pass was plowed and power restored. Chad got the hell out of Dodge, took off over the pass and ended up in Crescent City before nightfall.

Chad’s stated goal during the entire trip was to “make as few stops as possible”. That “don’t-stop-yet” practice was necessarily met in Washington, Oregon and northern California since there were far fewer places to get juiced in the Pacific Northwest than there were in the bottom half of California. This reality required that Chad strictly honor his self-imposed “55-mph rule.” Before he hit San Francisco, he felt as though he might be on a rather tense Where’s Waldo search for 240 service. “On the first half of the trip, no one seemed to have heard of an EV going to an RV park to charge.”

After making the California City-by-the-Bay milestone, however, Chad’s southbound path became what he calls a “pleasure.” The bottom 2/3 of the trip seemed like a charging Mecca to him after the northern part of his travels, and he happily increased the roadster’s top speed to 65 mph.

Chad agrees with Washington Governor Chris Gregoire’s charging infrastructure optimism and predicts that within one year, “I-5 will be covered with charging stations.” For now, though, and throughout his trip, Chad noticed a distinct lack of standardization in charging services. For instance, “I paid zero dollars to charge at one park but $47 to charge for a mere two hours at mid-day in another.”

Chad quips, “When charging stations become available, I actually won’t want to travel any other way — except maybe on the way to Hawaii where en route charging may always be somewhat sparse.”

Posted by Linda Nicholes

Photos courtesy of Chad Schwitters

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