Even though I have driven a Prius for thirteen years, I have never been a hypermiler. That changed last month when my husband and I drove to Key West on a whim in his new Tesla. Normally, a roundtrip from Dallas to Key West would be 3000 miles but ours was 4412 miles, thanks to the spacing of superchargers in the Tesla ecosystem. We drove ~2800 miles going in, diligently following the Tesla supercharger route for fear of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. We realized that the reason Tesla routes us through the entire eastern half of the United States is because of two legs, the 196-mile leg between Mobile and Baton Rouge and the 173 mile leg between Lake Charles, LA and Huntsville, TX. We sure did take a calculated risk on our way back.
Taking a long road trip in our Tesla shifted the road trip paradigm in our heads quite a bit. We were forced to take a break every 1-2.5 hours regardless of whether we wanted one or not. We stopped at 38 superchargers in all – they were in the parking lots of big malls, little strip malls, hotels, Tesla service centers, a city house, name it. Two of them were in places I wouldn’t stop at if I were alone, any time of the day! Only one was in a gas station convenience center parking lot owned by none other than a Gujarati man who makes $400 per month for hosting the superchargers and he says it attracts wealthy clientele to his location. In normal road trips, the break for gas is also a restroom break and a snack break. Not so with our fancy Tesla! You may or may not be in the malls during opening hours. The parking lots may or may not feel safe for you take a nap while you are charging your car. The ones in hotels feel pretty safe though. After day one, we got good at charging our car and then pulling into a rest area to sleep and then stop at a travel center for a shower and get going. Yes, there are destination superchargers in some hotels and stores (e.g., Sunshine Daydream) along the way, but these are for patrons only. A couple times when we were nervous about the miles on our battery, we called them. Some of the patrons said it would be okay to use their chargers, but one was not.
It’s still fun and adventuresome being plugged in a Tesla ecosystem. You got to trust the electric grid and the navigation system. Miles are your new currency, not time. Getting lost or taking a scenic detour means you spend your precious currency, which you may or may not afford. You can’t afford to go too far off your route to try new restaurants in the city you are driving through. When you are charging your car, you’ll find yourself sincerely hoping that no one else is using the electric grid so that your car will charge faster. The first couple times we stopped to charge our car, we watched the charging speed on the car intently – going “yes..yess….yesss!!!” only to be followed by “no….oh noooo…..everyone in this city – please turn your lights and gadgets off so that our car will charge faster and we can get on our way…”! We soon learnt our lesson not to watch the charging speed so closely. After all, it all evens out in the end. As the car charged, we learned to stretch, take a walk, or recline our seats back (they go almost 150 degrees) and read our books or nap. The charging breaks also gave us an opportunity to stop and chat with local people. And there were other Tesla drivers we connected with during our trip. We met some families multiple times along our trip as we were doing the same route.
So, on our way back during the two critical legs, we drove 60 in a 75 zone, turned climate control off to save energy even though the outside temperature was 40°F at that time, and had our list of EV plug stations and destination superchargers in hand in case we needed to top off charge to make sure we reach the next supercharger. We constantly watched the delta between miles remaining on the battery and the miles to destination. We coined the phrase ‘charge insecurity’ to describe this condition. We felt proud when the delta improved and felt nervous when it declined. We lost only 5 miles on the battery for both the critical legs, and we never had to stop at a backup EV station. To give an idea about the charging speed, a regular household plug charges at 4 miles per hour. A NEMA plug that you can install in your garage charges at 30 miles an hour. A supercharger charges at an average 130 (range 100-200) miles an hour. The charging speed decreases as the miles on the battery increase.
All in all, we couldn’t help falling in love with Elon Musk’s vision. If Elon and others make space trip an affordable reality for people like us, we are in.