With our daughter off to college, my wife and I recently became empty-nesters.

Suddenly, there was no more reason to endure the wretched winters in New York’s Hudson Valley.

California, here we come: We rented a cottage for February and March in the small beach town of Carpinteria, an hour north of Los Angeles.

Fly or drive?

For Lisa, the answer was easy: fly.

But for me, the opposite answer was just as obvious: I would drive our Tesla Model S out there to meet her. 

DON'T MISS: Road Trips In A Tesla Model S Electric Car: Lessons Learned (Dec 2013)

We’d save two months’ car rental in California, and I wouldn’t be forced to drive some wheezing, clunky gas-burner out there.

I could bring along my road bike and golf clubs.

And the trip out would be an adventure, a chance to see the country and visit some friends along the way—as well as a challenging test of the Model S for long cross-country journeys.

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

Choosing the route

Obviously, I would take advantage of Superchargers, the ultra-quick (up to 135 kW) Tesla DC fast-charging stations that can refill half a Model S battery charge—good for 100 miles or so—in as little as 20 minutes.

But I quickly eliminated the one coast-to-coast route that's fully fitted out with Superchargers along its entire length. That route follows I-90 across South Dakota.

If there’s one state I didn’t want to be driving through in January, it’s South Dakota. 

A middle route that follows I-70 is about 90-percent Supercharged. But it’s still subject to severe winter weather.

Hey,  the whole point of this exercise was to escape the cold and snow, including the travel time during my relaxed road trip.

Tesla Supercharger locations in the United States, March 2015

Tesla Supercharger locations in the United States, March 2015

Go south, young man

The southern route I eventually chose—New York to LA via Charlotte, Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Flagstaff—offered the advantage of generally benign winter weather. 

But it also added almost 1,000 miles to the journey. And it had three major Supercharger gaps that would force me to forage for kilowatt-hours at charging sites that would be painfully non-super.

ALSO SEE: Tesla Model S Battery Life: How Much Range Loss For Electric Car Over Time?

No problem. This was not a race. I figured it would take me a leisurely 10 days, with four stops to visit friends and relatives along the way. 

With Superchargers proliferating at a brisk clip these days, it might even be my last chance to face the bracing challenge of cross-country Tesla travel sans Superchargers.

Piper Cub trip planning

Planning for a long trip in a Model S is nothing like planning for a regular car, of course.

In fact, it reminded me of a coast-to-coast flight I made many years ago as a private pilot in a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub.

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

That epic journey, at an average ground speed of about 60 mph, took nine days and 41 stops for gas.

Like the Cub trip, for the Model S I had to pick a specific destination for each trip leg, measuring distances carefully to assure it was within the real-world range of the vehicle. (Model S about 220 miles, Cub about 120 miles).

In both cases I had to take into account the wind, temperature, cruising speed, and elevation changes--all of which have major impacts on range.

MORE: 2014 Tesla Model S P85D: First Drive Of All-Electric AWD Performance Sedan

And in both cases I had to allow for a safety cushion, just in case. Because stuff happens, in the air and on the ground.

For the Tesla, I planned to start each leg with about a 50-mile cushion, gradually working it down to about 20 miles by the end.

Supercharger gaps

My route had three Supercharger gaps:  350 miles between Burlington, North Carolina, and Atlanta;  450 miles between Greenville, Alabama, and Lake Charles, Louisiana; and a daunting 835 miles between Corsicana, Texas, and Gallup, New Mexico.

(In fact, as this is being published a month or so after my arrival in California, two new Superchargers have come on line to help fill those gaps--and two more have begun construction.)

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

One potential source of salvation: Tesla has recently started a program to install its High-Powered Wall Chargers (HPWCs) at hotels.

At 10 kW (or 20 kW, if the car, unlike mine, is equipped with twin chargers), these hotel-based HPWCs are nowhere near as fast as a Supercharger. They can add only about 30 (or 60) miles per hour of charging.

Hotels, homes & Nissan dealers

But that’s plenty good enough for a full charge overnight. So my basic Supercharger gap-filling strategy was to stay overnight at hotels with HPWCs.

During the day, I'd stop at other HWPC-equipped hotels, or at RV parks, which typically have 10-kw NEMA 14-50 outlets--the same one I use at home.

Polar Charging Post and Nissan Leaf

Polar Charging Post and Nissan Leaf

Fallback options included Nissan dealers, which have 6.6-kW J1772 chargers for their Leaf customers, as well as other Model S owners who have volunteered their home plugs to itinerant Tesla brethren on the website PlugShare.com.

Before departure, I had a detailed “flight plan” for the entire trip, with all overnight stays and charging stops, plus numerous back-up options.

It filled 10 pages of a yellow legal pad.

Day 1:  560 miles, Hudson Valley, New York, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As I drove away in 20-degree weather, I felt a bit guilty leaving Lisa alone for 10 days to manage our winter-challenged home—with wood stove heat, long unpaved driveway, and so forth.

But not that guilty.

Day One was a fully Supercharged milk run to the home of my friends Sarah and Robert in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

Three Supercharger stops, no sweat.

DAY 2: 222 miles, Chapel Hill to Saluda, North Carolina

After topping off to a 100-percent charge at the nearby Supercharger in Burlington, my day’s destination is the Orchard Inn in Saluda, North Carolina.

Equipped with an HWPC, it's 196 miles away..

The plan is to arrive in the early afternoon, charge for a couple of hours, visit my trekking buddy Jonathan in Asheville, 30 miles away, then return to Saluda for sleep and an overnight charge. 

But it’s cold and rainy all day, and I’m using more power than expected.

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, charging at Orchard Inn, Saluda, NC [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, charging at Orchard Inn, Saluda, NC [photo: David Noland]

With 30 miles to go, I’m showing 50 miles of range left—but there’s a steep 1,200-ft climb still to come. 

Too close for comfort, so I bail out for an hour at Friendship Nissan in Forest City, to pick up 20 miles of extra cushion.

It proved to be the right move. After the climb, I arrived at the Orchard Inn with 19 miles remaining. 

But now I’m an hour behind schedule, and it turns out Jonathan’s place is 40 miles away, not 30.

Twenty extra miles of charging means another hour’s delay; by the time I’m ready to leave it’s almost dark and dense fog has joined the steady 35-degree rain. Never mind.

Catch you next time, Jonathan.

Plan B: dinner and blues piano at the Purple Onion in Saluda. 

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Hotel Magnolia, Foley, Alabama [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Hotel Magnolia, Foley, Alabama [photo: David Noland]

DAY 3: 529 miles, Saluda, NC, to Foley, Alabama

The downhill 184-mile run to the Atlanta Supercharger is a piece of cake along I-85.

But finding the chargers, deep in a parking garage, is not. 

Two quick partial Supercharges along I-85 in Auburn and Greenville, Alabama, set me up for the final 134-mile leg to Benson’s Appliance Center in Foley, near Mobile.

Owner Ed Benson is a Model S driver who’s installed an HPWC in front of his store and makes it available to passing Tesla drivers.

Within walking distance is the Magnolia Hotel, a century-old landmark of antebellum Southern charm incongruously set along a busy commercial strip.

Sleeping under a pink canopy and glittering chandelier, I’m the sole overnight guest.

TOMORROW: Days 4-7


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