A cross-country road trip in a Tesla Model S electric car requires a fair amount of forward planning and contingency research.
Still, I made it from New York's cold, snowy Hudson Valley into the warm, humid climes of Alabama in my first three days--as I wrote about yesterday.
Then, waking up on Day Four, I had a stroke of unexpected luck.
2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]
DAY 4: 421 miles, Foley, Alabama, to Beaumont, Texas
The website Supercharge.info tells me that the Baton Rouge Supercharger opened yesterday, shortening today’s gap from 374 miles to a mere 233.
YESTERDAY: Tesla Model S Cross-Country Trip: Days 1-3
With cool temperatures and a headwind, I'll need two hours of (free) charging at Mazalea RV Park in Biloxi to get me to the Baton Rouge Supercharger with a comfortable 30-mile cushion.
I arrive at the Lake Charles Supercharger, 130 miles further along I-10, with a bit of daylight left.
Tesla Model S charging at RV Park in Biloxi, MS, during electric-car road trip [photo: David Noland]
The next Supercharger, 213 miles away in Columbus, Texas., is just beyond my comfortable range.
But Plan B, a couple of hotels 60 miles closer in Houston with Tesla HPWC charging stations, turns out to be hideously expensive.
Plan C: “Joseph,” a Tesla owner listed on Plugshare in Beaumont, Texas, 60 miles past Lake Charles.
He’s not home tonight, but offers to call a neighbor to leave his HPWC plug outside the garage door for me.
Perfect. There’s a Red Roof Inn a 15-minute walk away.
Irony of the Week: turns out “Joseph” is Joe Deshotel, a member of the Texas state legislature, which is notorious for banning the sale of Teslas in Texas.
Tesla Model S charging, home of Texas Assemblyman Joe Deshotel, NY-to-CA trip [photo: David Noland]
Just the day before, in the state capital of Austin, he’d talked to Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, in town once more to lobby for an overturn of the anti-Tesla law backed by the state’s car-dealer lobby.
“What Musk is telling us makes a lot of sense,” Joe told me. “And the dealers’ unwillingness to compromise is starting to piss off some of the other legislators."
"I think there’s a good chance we’ll work something out for Tesla this year," he concluded.
DAY 5: 247 miles, Beaumont to Austin, Texas
The next day kicked off by tossing me a grim battle with truck traffic through Houston, then a partial Supercharge in Columbus, Texas.
So it was a relief to get off the Interstate onto eerily empty Texas Route 71 to head toward Austin, and my cousins Jamie and Ellen.
ALSO SEE: Road Trips In A Tesla Model S Electric Car: Lessons Learned (Dec 2013)
A pleasant dinner and much family reminiscing ensued.
I charged overnight at the house of another Tesla owner, Jim, who lived just three blocks away from Jamie’s place. Life is good.
DAY 6: 423 miles, Austin to Oklahoma City
The Supercharger in Corsicana, Texas, 156 miles from Austin, would be my last for 835 miles. For the next three days, my Tesla and I would go off the grid, so to speak.
2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]
Texas Route 31 from Waco to Corsicana is the lonesomest stretch of road I’ve ever driven. I encountered literally one vehicle—a pickup truck, of course—in 40 miles.
DON'T MISS: Life With Tesla Model S: NY-FL Supercharger Road Trip, Returning (Feb 2014)
Even though my next charging stop—an HPWC at the Best Western in Denton—was only 105 miles away, I recharged almost to capacity in Corsicana.
I didn't unplug the Model S until the charge rate fell below 10 kW. (The higher the battery state of charge, the slower the charge rate.)
At that rate, it would be quicker to charge in Denton.
I wasn’t an overnight guest at the Best Western Inn, but the eager manager himself supervised my plugging in and encouraged me to have a snack from the breakfast bar.
Once again I faced the classic trade-off: charging time vs range-safety cushion.
Arriving in Denton with about 140 miles of charge and a further 170 miles to Oklahoma City, I need to charge up to 220 miles to get my normal 50-mile comfort zone.
But with warm temperatures and a modest tailwind, I shaved my cushion to 40 miles--and saved 20 minutes of charging time.
Tesla Model S charging en route during New York to California road trip [photo: David Noland]
(I also had a bail-out option along the way: a Tesla owner in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, just a few miles off the Interstate.)
Cruising at 75 mph, I arrived with 30 miles to spare at the posh Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City, where a valet whisked the car off to be charged overnight at the hotel's HPWC.
“We do this all the time,” he assured me.
Tesla Model S packed for road trip, upstate New York to southern California [photo: David Noland]
DAY 7: 265 miles, Oklahoma City to Amarillo, Texas
On a warm day, with no wind, this leg might have been possible in one shot if I maintained a moderate speed.
But with temperatures in the 40s early on, plus a strong quartering headwind, I was in no mood to gamble.
My charging stop will be Elk City, Oklahoma, where there’s a NEMA 14-50 outlet at the town park.
It's a full 115 miles down the road.
Slower means faster
Today I run head-on into the Great Tesla Non-Supercharger Cross-Country Conundrum: The slower you drive, the sooner you get there.
For Supercharged travel, of course, you can drive as fast as you want. The time saved is greater than the time you will lose to recharge the extra battery capacity.
Tesla Supercharger locations in the United States, March 2015
As the charging rate falls outside the Supercharger network, however, this time-saving shrinks.
At a charge rate of about 20 kW, it becomes a wash. Whether you drive 50 mph or 80, your driving-plus-charging time will be virtually the same.
At 10kW—the max rate at which my own Model S can charge from any AC outlet—driving more slowly actually saves time, because the time I save in charging is more than the time I lose from driving more slowly.
So, even though I’m fat with range, I grit my teeth and set the cruise control at 60 mph--the slowest speed I consider to be safe on an Interstate highway.
I eventually arrive at Elk City’s Ackley Park with about 120 miles of range remaining, and 150 miles ahead to Amarillo.
But the strong headwinds have boosted my energy consumption by about 20 percent on this leg, so I want to have at least 220 miles in the bank for Amarillo.
Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma [photo: David Noland]
That means I have to add about 100 miles, which takes three-plus hours.
Fortunately, right across the street from my charging spot is Elk City’s National Route 66 and Transportation Museum, plus a charming little “Old Town” display of antique homes and farm machinery.
I start the final leg to Amarillo at 60 mph, which gives me plenty of time to ponder the fact that the Texas panhandle seems to have more wind turbines than cows these days.
As I near Amarillo, my cushion remains fat, so I pick up the speed and arrive at 75 mph with 45 miles of range left.
Home tonight is La Casita del Sol, a bed-and-breakfast equipped with a NEMA 14-50 outlet in a pleasant neighborhood near downtown Amarillo.
My hostess, Bonnie, is a charmer, but she charges me $20 extra for the hook-up—the first money I’ve spent on electricity so far.
That's still cheaper than a tank of gas, although at a prevailing price of $1.69 a gallon in Amarillo, not by all that much.
TOMORROW: Days 8-10