Happy Holidays! We’re taking a road trip!
Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for parents whose kids go to college in another state. It’s hard to justify the cost and hassle of a plane ticket with Christmas coming only a few weeks after. Guy and I decided our family would celebrate Thanksgiving in Joshua Tree, California this year because it’s halfway between Tavish in San Luis Obispo, and Toby in LA.
Actually, according to Guy, Joshua Tree is NOT anyone’s “halfway” point between SLO and LA. He says it’s more of an hypotenuse. Or something. He’s the one driving, so I didn’t argue.
And yes, quality time with our children on Thanksgiving is cool, but the honest-to-God truest truth is that we wanted to take Guy’s new tricked-out truck on a road trip.
Some background: In 2018, Guy excitedly announced that he’d ordered an electric truck! One made in America by Americans! And it would have a tent! And a stove! And a camping sink! And get 400 miles per charge!
I was excited about the truck, too, for the first couple of weeks of 2018, but time passed, and what with the global pandemic and blatant criminal activity in the White House and running out of brown sugar because I baked so many chocolate chip cookies, I completely forgot about Guy’s fairy-tale-fantasy-wet-dream electric truck.
Guy, however, did not. He held fast to the dream, as all good dreamers must.
Being a bad dreamer, I was thus caught off guard in 2019. I naively mentioned plans to buy myself a cute blue truck to pull my horse trailer and Guy got uncharacteristically pissy. He was morally opposed to gas-guzzling trucks, he huffed. What would I even do with a horse trailer? Why did I even own a horse? Didn’t I understand the world’s supply of oil will run out in the next 75 years? When would I learn to care about anything except my stupid self? (Please note: Guy did not say ALL those things but I heard them.)
Well, I told him I was morally opposed to husbands who told their wives what to do with the money she earned at her very own job and the situation promptly escalated, in all the ways you might expect.
In 2022, much to my own personal surprise, Guy’s patience paid off and his Rivian arrived this August, only 4 years after he ordered it, although it came without the tent, the stove or the sink, and or the promised charging capacity. And while my climate-destroying, self-indulgent Toyota Tundra has a tape deck and a worn out bigfoot air-freshener, Guy’s truck has a touchscreen, free Spotify for a year, and its own air compressor to use when his bike gets a flat.
Not gonna lie. It’s pretty cool.
Coolness has its drawbacks, of course. A road trip with an electric vehicle requires more forethought than simply keeping an eye out for the gas station with the lowest price and cleanest bathrooms. Electric chargers aren’t as common as gas stations yet, and most charging stations don’t have bathrooms at all.
Different driving conditions–like hills and speed– impact how quickly a car loses charge, and a weird phenomenon causes the last 30 miles of charge to run out faster than the rest. Also high winds and cold temperatures eat away at a car’s range. To a non-engineer like me, it feels like a story problem that I got wrong on the math test because I tried to solve it myself instead of copying the person sitting next to me.
Our family learned about charging challenges the hard way. On our first naive winter trip through the gorge with our Tesla, we limped home, with the heat off, drafting behind semis to conserve energy. We made it to the Hood River’s downtown charging station with 5 miles left on the meter. The charging station was broken, but luckily we had enough power left to drive the car onto the ramp of the tow truck that finally brought us home. We will never be that innocent again.
Another electric quirk is that the car charges the first 150 miles faster than the rest, so apparently, it’s more time-efficient to charge early and often, rather than fill to completion each time. The reason behind this is also something engineers understand better than the rest of us and if you want to learn more, please find one to ask.
On our way back from SLO last spring, Guy was maximizing this early and often technique and charging for 20 minutes for every 90 minutes of driving. After too many excruciating stops, I told him I would rather chew my fucking arm off than stop every 90 minutes for the rest of my life. He got the message. Even the most logical engineer fears an angry wife, ESPECIALLY when she has every right to be pissed off.
Over the years Tesla has added superchargers and evolved to make road trips easy. Our car cheerfully navigates us to well-maintained superchargers, usually located at outlet malls or Fred Meyer’s. I can shop while the car charges, to keep the benefits of our car’s “free charging for life”, in check. The biggest challenge is usually whether to back in or pull through.
The culture at Tesla charging stations is consistently unabashedly bougie. People wearing yoga pants or business casual pull in, plug in, check their stocks on their I Phones, unplug, and drive away. The cars all look alike and only come in three colors. I used to think the aloofness was snobbery, but now I suspect it’s because we’re all embarrassed to still be supporting Elon Musk.
In 7 years of Tesla charging, I had only one friendly conversation at a charging station, and that was with a Tesla maintenance dude, who came over to help me while I was fruitlessly trying to jam a deactivated charger into the port. He mentioned that something was OBVIOUSLY wrong with my car because the charger light was the wrong color.
“You’re going to want to get that checked out,” he said. “That light should be green or red, not orange.”
A few weeks later the car turned its headlights on, locked all its doors and started playing ‘80s music, and we realized he was right.
Fast forward to our Joshua Tree road trip planning: We can’t use Tesla Superchargers to charge the Rivian, so our road trip route has to include mainstream charging options, like Blink, ChargePoint and Electrify America. Different companies offer different pricing, power levels, speed, and type of plugs. Guy selected an app called “Better Route Planner” as well an Electrify America membership. I got an app called Plugshare, which apparently is dumb because it shows people’s home chargers, too, or something, I just know Guy thinks its unhelpful and since he’s driving and it’s his truck, I guess he can figure it out himself.
Before we left home, we prepared mentally and physically for charging hassles.
“This is a learning curve,” Guy explained. “Remember what happened the first time we took the Tesla on a long trip? We’ve got to be prepared to go with the flow.”
I remembered. I printed off 30 NY Times crosswords and downloaded a summer’s worth of Kindle books, put some beer in the cooler and agreed to be a good sport, regardless.
The first place we tried to charge was at a Walmart parking lot in Albany. We drove around the parking lot for about ten minutes until we spotted 3 chargers towards the back. They were covered in plastic, and clearly not operable. Then we drove around the parking lot some more, in case we’d missed something. Then we parked at the useless chargers, hoping we were wrong about them being useless.
They were useless.
“Dammit!” Guy said, forgetting to go with the flow. He got out and peed on the front tire of his new truck. I started my first crossword.