We took our first electric road trip

Alt text is important.
My car in the Panamint Valley among the spring flower bloom. Photo by Ryan C. Jerz.
First things first. The first month we’ve had the car has been marked by my obsessive mapping of our normal trip routes and my learning about how kilowatt hours work with charging speed and all kinds of things that are new to me because of this car. We bought it knowing that we would be using it at every opportunity with regard to long trips, so I took it upon myself to become the expert.

The first planned trip was going to be to Death Valley. It’s an easy drive for us. We even have two options. So, we decided to use one of the options to drive there, and the other to drive back. Being limited in time, we had to make decisions about what we would visit while there, and attacking the park from both sides would help maximize our efforts. We would drive from Reno to Beatty, Nevada. One night in Beatty got us into the eastern side of the park, and a quick drive to Furnace Creek, which would serve as our starting point for Day One. There is charging available at Furnace Creek, but not enough to fill us up in a short enough time period, so we knew leaving through the western end of the park would be cutting it close. However, we also knew that once we reached a charger on US 395, we were home free as the charging infrastructure on that highway is fast and stable.

Our plan was Beatty, Furnace Creek, Badwater, Furnace Creek (to charge), and out to Coso Junction on US 395 to fill up before heading to Lone Pine for the night. Day Two would consist of a short drive into the park to see what we wanted there and back to Lone Pine. Lone Pine presents a unique problem to non-Tesla electric vehicle owners. There are no chargers in the town that are publicly listed. There is, however, a nice array of Tesla Superchargers. Oh well for now. Anyway, that’s why Coso Junction (approximately 40 miles south of Lone Pine—the wrong direction) was on the itinerary. It’s closest place to Lone Pine where our free super fast chargers are located.

Exiting the park to the west offers a fork in the road—one way takes you to Lone Pine, the other takes you to Olancha, about 20 miles to the south of Lone Pine. That road has been closed since last year when flooding washed part of it out. For a brief moment during a couple of days the week before the trip, Google Maps was telling me I could take the road that heads south, cutting off about 30 miles of travel, to get to Olancha and then Coso Junction. One day it would appear open. The next it would appear closed. I was obsessively checking because the amount of stress an open version of this road would relieve was something not insignificant. I kind of needed this to be happy on my drive.

The road was closed. We confirmed the morning we were to head into the park, so our plans needed to change somewhat. Our decision was to exit the park to the south and pass through Trona and Ridgecrest before jutting over to US 395 and stress-free driving. The charger in Trona was down. The charger in Ridgecrest was down, and due to some inexperience on the part of all three navigators, we were unaware of the remaining options in Ridgecrest, so we made for a charger at a little place called Brady’s Market outside of Inyokern, California.

Part way there we got the low battery warning as we hit 10% on the charge. That equated to about 20 miles at that point. we would make it to Brady’s, but if that charger was down, we’d be taking the back of a tow truck to Coso Junction. The charger was working, and I could finally breathe. We got charged to about 40% and went north to the Coso Junction charger, where we would have to charge all the way to 100% for the next day’s activities. That takes a while, but Coso Junction has what amounts to a small truck stop with a lounge and a TV, so we were able to relax indoors in a downpour while the car charged.

Like I said earlier, once we reached US 395 we were home free on charging. We went to 100%, used that charge to get us into and out of Death Valley for Day 2 (a trip in only as far as Panamint Springs), back to Lone Pine, and up to Bishop the next day where we charged again on the way home. Stops on the way home included Bishop and Bridgeport, which this time of year has a tremendous ice cream stand that is a perfect distance to walk to, get a cone, and walk back as your car finishes up.

We’re planning a much shorter trip this weekend and should run into no stress, and that makes all of this feel much better. I view this trip as one through maybe one of the worst stretches of driving we could do in this car, and we made it. In fact, we likely would have been better off without trying to accommodate for what we perceived as a dearth of chargers. Had we gone out to Lone Pine and taken the longer route back to Coso Junction, we likely would have been fine. None of that matters now.

I learned a lot about the car on this trip, and feel about as knowledgeable and experienced as I would have to be to avoid any situations in the future that would be problematic in this car. I have come away feeling like we absolutely made the correct choice in both the specific vehicle and by going to an electric car. I also got a nice shot of the blooming flowers in the Panamint Valley.

Edit: I forgot to add some thoughts about how things actually worked

I forgot to talk about actually charging the car. The only place we charged that did not have something to do immediately nearby was at Brady’s. That place, as wonderful as it was for us, was in the middle if nowhere. The Mini mart it was attached to is closed down, and all you can see are a couple of houses and the highway cars speeding by.

Outside of that, charging was great. In fact, the Kia EV6 is kind of amazing when it comes to charging speed. We’d been hearing that a way to handle this is to plan stops where you can take care of something else. Maybe a restroom stop or a snack. So, we picked things to do that would take a while, like having lunch. This was a thing in two places—Bishop and Bridgeport. In Bishop, we found a pizza place we’ll be going back to, but anyway, the charging was fast enough that I had barely enough time to eat before I had to go get the car. At many places, you are charged for staying in the spot while not actively charging. In Bridgeport, we had just enough time to walk the quarter mile or so to order a shake at a local restaurant and walk back before the car was finished. Here are some quick notes:

  • Biggest charge – 63.7 kWh (23%-100%) took 41:46 (Bishop, California Vons Electrify America Station)
  • Fastest speed – 199 kW (Bishop Vons)
  • The cost currently pencils out to about 1/3 the cost of gas
  • The battery is highly dependent on external factors
    • The extra weight of two additional people and luggage for a multi-day trip had a real effect on the battery
    • Climbing in elevation drains quickly
    • Descending in elevation can be a boon – we gained a full 3% of battery charge on a ten-mile downhill section heading into Panamint Springs
    • Turning the heater on makes a difference – not a huge one, but one nonetheless
  • Using an app like A Better Route Planner is incredibly helpful. Taking the time to learn your car so you can set the app up properly is even better. I’ve already used the app to plan a couple upcoming trips, and I can say with confidence that it is going to make the drives better and range-anxiety-free
    • However, make sure to couple that app with something like Plugshare. ABRP on several test runs has tried to send me to a charging location that I know was inoperable because of Plugshare. Check the route, then check each stop to make sure they work
  • All the anxiety and trouble we faced would have likely been moot had we been driving a Tesla. Their charging network is great, and I wish I could use it. In theory, I will be able to do so sometime next year, but I would also like to add that we still pulled this off without it. Tesla’s network is great, but it’s not necessary and it’s certainly not worth making myself buy something from that godawful company. There are enough other companies who want a piece of the charging pie that it is a workable thing, especially if you stay on interstate highways
A car is parked at the side of the road with yellow flowers blooming for miles behind it. Behind the flowers is a mountain range with storm clouds above and a rainstorm happening to the left side.

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April 08, 2024
Tags: ev | death valley | kia ev6