I mentioned the other week how there are dramatically more DC fast chargers in the US than there were a year ago, and how I could drive an EV, hypothetically, all the way to the Midwest using mostly fast chargers. Well, it might be time to put my money where my mouth is—I’m thinking about taking a long-distance Leaf ride, from here in Vermont to the far side of Illinois, to see friends and relatives. I might be crazy.
Then, to add to that craziness, the family wants to go along, less one kid who will be away for the summer. That’s still four people in the Leaf, however. We’ve done road trips like this before, with and without kids, and we usually tent camp along the way. But, let’s just contrast this potential operation with, say, a similar family outing to Maine three years ago. In that case, we had a full-size pickup truck, which was pulling a largish pop-up camper, and two dogs, and the camper and the back of the truck were packed with firewood and bikes and dog food and lawn chairs and a carpet and coolers and all manner of other items. This time—we only have the back of the Leaf. Now, the Leaf isn’t tiny, but in terms of taking it on a family camping trip, it’s going to require some minimalism.
So, here’s the tentative minimalism camping plan—we’re going to pack almost as if we’re backpacking. I’m thinking, a much smaller tent (the “sleeps-eight” tent is on its last legs, anyway), food that doesn’t need cooked or refrigerated (which saves us the stove and dishes and dishsoap and cutting boards and coolers and ice and stops to buy ice, etc.), and for each of us—a duffel-bag with a few sets of clothes and toiletries, one sleeping bag, one folding camp stool, one headlamp, and some books to read. Then some charging equipment—a heavy-duty extension cord, the Level-1 charge cord that comes with the car, and our Level-2 charger that is portable and has a 220v plug. That’s it. Should fit nicely in the back, and still leave room to see out the rearview mirror.
But, the great big question is how and where to charge the car for a trip like this. Just two years ago, when there were virtually no public fast chargers, it was quite challenging, as witnessed by the film “Kick Gas”, where a group of EV enthusiasts spent 44 days going across the US in a variety of electric vehicles, including a Leaf. It’s a great film; here’s the trailer—
Fast chargers, however, will make it easier, as they will charge a Leaf in about 45 minutes, or even less if the battery is only partially empty. So I logged onto plugshare.com, and started to map out a route to Illinois that links fast chargers together, so we could hop from charger to charger. Now, to back up a bit—a Nissan Leaf will go, in the summer when it’s warm, about 100 miles between charges if you keep your speed down a bit. So in the perfect world we’d have fast chargers nicely spaced out up and down the interstates, at 60 or 70-mile intervals (it takes slightly longer to charge the top 10% or so of the battery, so it would be most efficient, in terms of time, to charge to 80 or 85 percent each time, and then drive 60 or 70 miles and then charge again, which would also leave a bit of a range buffer). Needless to say, we’re not there yet. My optimistic prediction of hopping between fast chargers was a tiny bit premature; closer perusal revealed that not all the fast chargers that first pop up on the Plugshare maps will work. Some of them are Tesla Superchargers, so I turned the icons for them off (Telsa owners can use other types of fast chargers with an adapter, but non-Tesla EV’s can’t use a Supercharger).
Some other fast chargers have DC-Combo plugs, which also won’t work with a Leaf, so I turned those icons off, too. Then, some of the ones that remained and are Leaf-compatible (stations with CHAdeMO plugs, which is actually the most common setup) appear to be planned but not finished, or not turned on yet, or broken, or for some other reason not fully functional. This still left quite a few, though, and it appears that I can get to Illinois by taking a big curvy loop, from here south and east into Massachusetts and Connecticut, then across the top of New York City and down toward Trenton, New Jersey, and then due west from there, across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. But, the best charging locations aren’t exactly in a perfect line, so the route is going to end up with some zigs and zags in it.
So, a great big loop with zigs and zags, and… a few gaps. In a few cases these are just gaps where the fast chargers aren’t close enough together, where we’ll have to juice up a bit at a Level-2 station in the middle somewhere. But, some gaps don’t have any public stations at all, so for those I found a secret weapon, the… Good Sam’s RV website, with its Google map interface. This is because if no chargers are available, a backup plan (and I got this idea from the Kick Gas movie) is to stop at, or spend the night at, a campground; they nearly all have 220-volt hookups for RVs, where we can plug in the Level-2 charger (or worst case, spent the night while charging with 110-volt charge cord).
One of those fast-charger-gaps is between Columbus, OH, and Indianapolis, IN. Part of that can be solved by looping down to Cincinnati and then back up, but no matter how you slice it, there is a 100-mile gap to get to Indianapolis from the east, a gap where there aren’t any chargers at all. Here’s where that campground in the image, on I-74 north of Adams, Indiana, might save the day. I’ll call them; maybe we’ll spend the night. It’s called “Hidden Paradise Campground,” and appears to be on a river with wooded banks; it might not be a bad spot to pause.
So, I initially considered going all the way to Texas to see the rest of the relatives by toodling along in this fashion (informal definition of “toodle along” that I found on the internet—“to go somewhere in a rather relaxed, happy-go-lucky way. No stress, no pressure, no rush, just enjoying the journey”) (I’ve always heard this phrase used like this, but I’m still not sure it’s a real word), but it’s a bit of a charger-desert west and south of Indianapolis, so it would be pretty slow going. Even the Leaf-portion where the fast chargers are won’t be speedy, there will be a certain minimalism to the average travel day that will be required—walking around a new place, reading a book in the shade, hanging out with the kids, having an ice-cream cone, enjoying the now. I’m looking forward to it. If we do decide to continue on, it might be on a train, which is another travel mode with a low carbon-footprint. Either way, this is the year to do the adventure-trip—a year ago it wouldn’t have been quite possible, and a year from now there might be enough fast chargers, all in a line and 60 miles apart, that such a trip becomes something rather ordinary.
But this trip, this summer, might be a fun challenge. I’ll keep you posted.
Supercharger image: Steve Jurvetson, “Tesla Supercharging in Gilroy”, Flickr Creative Commons.