Electric Road Trip

Driving an all-electric car cross-country takes more planning than I am used to, a side effect of this choice we made to consciously reduce our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. The question is, it is a positive or negative effect?

Yep, it takes longer. Road trips were one thing we considered when looking at hybrids and all-electric vehicles. If Tesla didn’t have these “superchargers” spaced apart in such a way as to make road trips possible, or we had a car without that high-speed charging capability, we would be constrained to shorter road trips for slower re-charging overnight. With the standard range Tesla Model 3, we end up needing to charge for 20-30 minutes after driving for 2.5-3 hours. I will trade that for the environmental impact of a gas vehicle any day of the week. But instead of a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it outlook, I actually feel myself trying to convince others that this enforced stopping is a positive thing.

It takes 13 hours instead of 11 to get from my our home in Minnesota to my parents’ in Ohio. And then further to New York state where we vacationed recently. There are 2-3 extra hours in there for charging. We could not just power through and keep driving until our bodies are stiff or parts have fallen awkwardly asleep. But the kids look forward to the breaks, as do I when I’m driving, and that countdown of miles or minutes until the next supercharger we are being routed to lets us all know that there is a closer end in sight than that far-off final destination. Plus, there are snacks. As it happens, every 3 hours or so, we’re either hitting a mealtime or natural snack-time, and I know I can count on a boost of energy or enthusiasm from the places we remember (the 4-year-old draws donuts on her maps of “camping” because we have stopped enough times already at Tobie’s Bakery, headed north in Minnesota). Getting out of the car re-sets our road-weariness somewhat.

We also end up in places we likely otherwise wouldn’t be eating, shopping, or simply walking around, because they are within walking distance of the supercharger. That’s okay too, because it challenges our human impulse to insulate ourselves (in our case, perhaps to avoid Walmart or Golden Corral buffets) from places that many, many Americans spend their time. We also drove past Notre Dame University – wow – which we’d never likely do if there wasn’t a supercharger near there. We partook of several slices of life we might not otherwise see or identify with.

Twice we actually charged earlier, instead of pressing our luck and going to a further one when our charge would have been getting below 10%. That level of cautiousness is not usually my spouse’s modus operandi. The lack of superchargers did pre-empt one of my spouse’s detour ideas (Mackinac Island), because there are certain parts of certain states where there are not any superchargers. So, chalk that up to a challenge to our “individual choice,” which I will admit I am fine with having checked occasionally. If we want to go there, we’ll have to plan it out ahead of time, building in an overnight to the trip.

There are all kinds of analogies to be made, about one choice (this electric car) forcing us to intentionally examine future choices, or our need as people to re-charge regularly even if we think we could just power through. But I will leave it at this milestone: We just returned from an 1800-mile road trip, powered completely by electricity.

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