Angel’s Adventure

On Tuesday, my wife Marilyn announced that she wanted to get out of the house. I checked her temperature and pulse–she seemed to be okay, but this was a radical change. She has not gone down the hill for anything but doctor’s appointments since early March. She had had enough. “What about driving the North Cascade Loop?” she asked. I’ve been married for over 52 years. That “question” was more like “We’re going for a drive.” But I was all in.

We talked and planned a bit, and while she arranged the meals and the route information, I spent some time on the computer knowing (or thinking) I could upload route maps from my phone to Angel (our Tesla Model X) and the navigation part would be done. First mistake. Angel would accept simple point-to-point routes, but she would not take routes with waypoints that dictate how the route should be driven. While Angel didn’t complain, she just ignored these multi-waypoint routes. Starting over, I had to break down the trip into segments. That worked, but Angel had no way of knowing how her own range would be affected by the long stretches between recharges. Marilyn had me print out maps anyway. She also dug through her AAA books and maps (remember, she never throws anything away) and found an old Washington State road map. I’m glad she did.

I was in charge of loading Angel and getting her ready. I told Angel to “fully” charge (I usually only charge 80% as suggested by Tesla) so in a few hours, she had all 231 miles charged up–short of the “250” mile range she had when she was new. After this trip, we now know, is that those “miles” are really pretty fuzzy. How far you can actually go on a charge varies quite a bit (okay, a lot) as you’ll see.

On Thursday after dawn (I would not agree to leave before dawn at five AM, as we would have to leave the cats in the house all day), we were on our way. Angel had no trouble finding our first Tesla Supercharge site at the Angel of the Winds Casino in Arlington. We were the only people there–the parking lot was virtually empty so as we waited the 40 minutes to recharge (we wanted a full charge to go over the mountains), we discovered the parking lot had dividers filled with river rock–some of the samples were very interesting. Okay, Marilyn is a rock fan and while like them too, she’s a rock nut. We collected a couple of fist-sized samples. Mine had a streak of gold-bearing quartz if you believe any of my stories.

The problem we encountered there was that the last 40 miles or so of charge take a LOT longer to get than the first hundred or so. Angel said it would be 15 minutes before being fully charged for about a half-hour–it never really got there so we gave up. She was almost full, but not quite.
Once fully charged (well, almost), we headed for Darrington, and Angel had no problem switching to the various connected segments at each waypoint, so we switched nav destinations to Winthrop. I began to get concerned as the amount of power it took to climb up over the over 5000′ pass was severely degrading our range. I may be wrong, but it seemed that Angel was not taking into account having to use more power to climb the mountains. While I knew we would get some miles of range back going downhill, I decided to reduce my climbing (and descending) speed to under 50 mph (usually 45) to save power and generate more. I understand that any car, gas, or electric, uses more energy as it’s asked to go faster. As I descended, Angel would show me the ideal speed to get the most recharge juice. Sure, I had to pull off dozens of times to let people pass. I made a lot of new friends along the way. I could tell as they waved and honked.

Marilyn reminded me to say that it was a very pretty and scenic drive. The weather was stellar–cool, clear (mostly), and a slight breeze. Based on the fact that they close this road for much of the winter I expect it could be pretty miserable up there at times. We saw beautiful lakes, and broad vistas of lush valleys, choked with farms and orchards. We saw pear, apple, and apricot orchards and the boxes ready to collect the harvest. But no people picking, which I thought was unusual. Perhaps it’s too early.
When we had cell service, we had Angel search for another power source and on her own, she found one in Winthrop at the Sun Mountain Resort. We called ahead to verify that they had the right kind of power port–they did. We were glad that Angel had the number and made the call. We arrived at the (lovely) resort with only about 30 “miles” to spare–that translates to about 90 miles downhill, or about ten miles climbing up a 45-degree slope.
The resort’s “high-speed” destination recharge ports (they had two Tesla ports), were identical in capacity to my home charging station–about 45 amps at 220Vac which would take about eight hours to fully recharge. Not an option. We asked Angel how far it was to Leavenworth. She lied. She said it was only 64 miles when it was really 117 or so. Apparently, she thought we were going to fly straight there at 1500 feet AGL.
Mistake 2 (or is it 3 by now?) we believed her and our next mistake was to decide that 80 miles of capacity would be enough to get us to Leavenworth as the Sun Mountain resort was at the top of a mountain (a short one) and we would still have about 80 miles near the bottom.
So we sat there and had a lovely picnic lunch as prairie chickens came to see why we were not feeding them. The weather was cool and breezy, Marilyn rested and then found a big pine cone while I walked up and took pictures of a wind-blown Ponderosa Pine. More than two hours later, we had “80” miles so we hit the road. We set Leavenworth as the destination and Angel immediately told us that the site had “reduced capacity and might not be available.” We called Tesla to see what was going on and waited 15 minutes on hold listening to the same five tips before the agent answered. “Oh, no, the site is fine. Just one charge station is down.” Grrrr.
We asked if he knew another place along the way to get power but by then, he had already hung up. (Sigh). I pulled over and used my phone apps to find that there was “High-speed” power behind the City Hall in Chelan. We arrived with little power to spare. It was the same deal–same as my house and the resort. It would take to well past dark to fully recharge. We recalculated the route to Leavenworth on my phone and figured we needed about 60 miles capacity (given how much we would have to climb), to get there. Chelan was not nearly as nice as the resort, so we sat in the car roasting with no AC and tried to rest for over two hours before heading out again with “60” miles of range to go about 50 real miles to Leavenworth.
By the time we reached Leavenworth, we had seven miles left. Seven. Even Angel was worried. Frankly, I’m not sure what we could have done if the car ran down. I expect our AAA card would tow us to the recharge site, but they could not have recharged us. They can jump-start a dead battery but not a Tesla battery that weighs about a ton.
The Leavenworth Supercharge site was almost empty and their 3.5K watt system only took about 90 minutes to completely recharge–except (again) for the last 10%–we figured the “time remaining” was calculated as basketball minutes. As we needed to be recharged as well, I got food from MickyD’s and we rested before the 2 1/2 hour trip home in the dark–we had planned to be home before dark. No, since I was fully charged (almost), I didn’t drive 45 the whole way back. We had originally planned to stop at Monroe to recharge (as all Supercharge or Tesla sites are free for me), but the cats were thrilled that we came straight home. So were we.
The day after we got back, the AAA tour booklet arrived. It had a list of recharge sites, but it had none of the essential details like “for guests only” or the capacity of the systems, or if it only worked on Tesla cars. Consider that the Tesla Supercharge sites ONLY work on Teslas and are monitored to charge Tesla customers for their use. In my case, I bought the car with a “Lifetime of free Supercharges” incentive.
We did have fun. We worked together well as a team and I still think we could have done quite well on The Amazing Race as we were able to calmly solve the problems as they came up without any punching or screaming. 😉

The final problem is, my wife (who hated that I bought Angel in the first place) is now convinced she (and I) should never take another road trip in it. She would rather we take her ’96 Acura RL with 46,000 miles. “At least we could buy gas anywhere.”

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