Category Archives: recharging

24 Hours, 426 Miles, Hundreds of Stories

As I have learned, a 24-hour Road Rally in a MINI E requires extensive planning, reliable deodorant, a dash of stubbornness, a bit of “road magic” (aka luck) and a good friend to share it all with. Luckily I had all that last Memorial Day weekend, and was able to finish the rally 426 miles the richer in experience.

My original goal was 400 miles, which I figured by assuming a 4.5 hour recharge every 100 miles. But having discovered the joys of the “95% charge” (which can be achieved in as little as 3 hours on a 32 Amp box), I believe a more dedicated (and less scenic) rally could pass the 600 mile mark. A maniac could probably do 700.

But Scott McDonald – friend, navigator, electric-car newbie – and I decided early on that this was to be a “civilized” rally, with good food, cool history, interesting sights and all the non-alcoholic beverages required to wash it all down. And boy did we enjoy, everything from a visit to a Wizard to a trip up Mt. Fuji.

The game is afoot!

Things kicked off Sunday, at 11:20am at the South Amboy, NJ train station, where I collected Brooklyn’s own S.D. McDonald. We then headed 40 miles north to Montclair, NJ – home to Tom Moloughney’s Nauna’s Bella Casa restaurant, which has become the defacto headquarters for East Coast MINI E pioneers.

#217 dined on some 50amp juice, while Scott & I enjoyed the best balsamic calamari I’ve ever had, some incredible shrimp parmigiana and very tasty stuffed shells. We then took a nice stroll around Montclair, and had time to visit with our ever-gracious host.

Scott & Tom, the two best-looking models I could afford

And then I got to experience something I hoped would’ve happened hundreds of times by now, but just hasn’t for me (hey now, don’t go there…) – a stranger approached and asked why my car was plugged in! Some nice lady from Queens then got the full M&M (Miller & Moloughney) – a 1/2 hour session of electric car nerd talk! Scott was also regaled with the facts, figures and anecdotes, and so he earned his MINI E degree as well. Fun stuff, and a great way to kick things off.

We next headed out to West Orange, NJ – which should’ve been a short 7 miles away, but using the Scott & Gordon GPS system we made it an even 10 miles. Which leads me to another truth about a 24-hour electric car road rally – there are no bad miles, there are only miles, and the need for an outlet before you reach your last one.

West Orange is home to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, and like all National Parks it’s a wonderland that I vow I’ll come

Home to another electric car geek

back to visit again someday. My original plan was to take a quick photo opp, and then get on the road – but visiting the “Wizard of Menlo Park”‘s playpen was like thumbing thru an encyclopedia, and so we spent about :45 minutes longer browsing than I had intended. The library alone is worth a look, as are the many different labs and work areas. Think of what Willy Wonka’s factory would look like if electricity was the main ingredient instead of chocolate.

After Edison we detoured for a quick visit to my daughter’s soccer tournament in Manalapan, NJ (Arsenal, U14 Girls Champs!) and then we spun back around and headed north.

Our first trip to Home Base in Pearl River, NY saw us with 150 miles on the odometer and about 5 hours on the clock. Hardly a blistering pace, but it was a lot of fun making some videos of the experience (which I promise to edit and post soon…).

Our next landmark was to my favorite bridge on the planet – the Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson Highlands of New York. My plan

MINI meets BIG

was to get some great pics of what was at one time the longest suspension bridge in the world (it looks like it’s anchored into two mountains overlooking a narrow spot on the Hudson River…which is pretty much what it is) but we didn’t get up there in daylight because we got distracted by this huge Japanese gate on Mt. Fuji.

Actually, it’s just the entrance to the restaurant named Mt. Fuji at the top of a big hill near Suffern, NY – but standing under it you do feel like you’re in Japan. It’s located in a relatively undeveloped area near Harriman State Park, and so this HUGE ceremonial gate drops your jaw the first time you see it. We took a 20 minute detour to head to the top and grab a menu. Chalk up another place to come back to later though, as we’ve got miles on the menu, not sushi.

We hit Bear Mountain around 7pm, parked at the Bear Mtn. Inn and had a really nice walk across the span. One of the bridge attendants came out to make sure we weren’t jumpers, but other than that it was very peaceful, albeit dark.

Next stop was just 9.5 miles north – the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before 9/11 you used to be able to stroll the grounds like any other college campus, but these days that’s only allowed at certain days and times, so the distraction-ability index was low. We did pull through the first gate

The General would've approved

and headed up the Thayer Hotel for a suitable photo op.

You can’t make out the paper I’m holding, but if you had a really good photographers loop you’d see it says “Stop #5 – West Point   Mileage: 205.5   Hours: 10”

From there we headed over the bridge, and back down the Hudson on the more fashionable Westchester side. Some pretty little towns there, including Ossining – lovely, except for the huge Sing Sing Prison which occupies prime waterfront real estate. We arrived back in Pearl River and went to bed.

My alarm went off at 3am, and I made a solo trip (only fitting that I pursue my dream while Scott pursued his) to Morristown, NJ.

Morristown is where I work, so the trip was a familiar and convenient 90 miles (to which I tacked on an extra 15 miles for good measure). It also has a singular historical draw as it was the headquarters of General Washington back in 1777 and the harsh winter of 1779/1780. Talk about Pioneers, those guys really toughed it out, so it was good motivation to continue the rally.

What's good enough for George is good enough for me

Back home I grabbed a couple of hours of sleep and woke up around 7:30am on Memorial Day. The car was 98% charged, and so we headed into town to fuel up on Pete’s Bagels.

After grabbing a quick breakfast, we swung by our town’s train station, where the local VFW post had set up their annual tribute to the local heroes. After setting up the mini grave markers with the names of the fallen and the wars that they served in, the members of the post stood vigil all night long. I waved

Pearl River, NY's Memorial Day Observation

to the gentleman who was there at 3am, but I wanted to be sure to stop by and pay my respects in the day light. Whatever your politics, whatever your feelings are about war, I think it’s vitally important to not let Memorial Day become just a metaphor for car sales.

We headed south with the intention of squeezing in 200 more miles in the final 4 hours. The plan was to swing by Manhattan and cross the Brooklyn Bridge, then head back home for a quick 2 hour charge and a final dash for the last miles we could eek out.

Coffee on the High Line

But we are weak, and again got distracted. This time by the fantastic new High Line park in Manhattan. I have been wanting to see it since it opened last June, but I never seemed to find the time. Luckily this time we were driving down the West Side Highway, saw the IAC Building and opted to pull over for a photo op (East Coast Pioneers will recall that it was at the IAC building that we all got our first look at the MINI E during the reception hosted by BMW/MINI).

The IAC building is unique, but not quite as unique as the High Line. An elevated train track that runs about 14 city blocks (with longer extensions planned) it is a strolling promenade about 20 feet in the air that transforms the city around it and places visitors in a new yet familiar place.  I can’t do it justice, but like the 24-Hour Road Rally it was an event that demanded I take time out and simply be in the moment. Add another spot to come back to later.

After the High Line, we got to talking about one of the city’s other new parks that is just recently opened, the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since the bridge was on our destination list, and since we’d killed our planned timeline already with an hour on the High Line, we decided to check it out.

No Sleep Brooklyn!

I didn’t take a photo at the park, but the sights and walkways of this brand new public space were as inviting as I could’ve hoped for. It’s interesting how cities are reclaiming their old industrial spaces – which often occupy great waterfronts – and turning them into something valuable and sustainable for the public to use and enjoy. Cities, individuals – even car companies – all like to change and adapt, and to try and better themselves. I view this car test as part of that imperative to change, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park – and the High Line as well – are just the newest, more positive examples of wonderful things that change can bring.

From the park we headed up to Williamsburg, which is where Scott makes his bed these days. We parted outside of his home with 390 miles on the odometer and 23

the Newest Electric Car Fan

hours on the clock. It was a fun event, this rally – but it would’ve been so much poorer without his companionship, his interest in the car, and his generally unflappable good nature. It also would’ve been so much less without the good will of the many people we met along the way. For that, I’d like to name them here – Tom Moloughney, the kids and parents at the soccer tournament, the friendly gate attendant who guided us back on the right road in West Orange, the Park Rangers at the Edison Historical Park, the valets at Mt. Fuji, the desk people at the Thayer Hotel, the VFW members in Pearl River, folks at Pete’s Deli (aka Zimi’s), the visitors on the High Line – all of whom proudly wore smiles in this sometimes-too-busy city – and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Finally, I’d like to tip my hat to Don Young for his inspiration. It’s homegrown, made-up events like his tour last fall that I think we all need to take up more often. The daily grind can certainly grind the years by, and can make you cynical and distrustful of your fellow kind. But the fact is that people are great, and fun, and inventive. And we should get to meet them more often.

I wound up in Pearl River with a total of 426 miles at the deadline. That pretty much assures that I’ll pass the 20,000 mile mark

The Checkered Flag

before I turn the car back in on June 17th. But in the end this 24-hour Rally wasn’t so much about the miles, as it was about the incredible places and incredible people I’m surrounded by every day. I’ll learn to slow down a bit and appreciate them all more often now.

And thank you for reading this. If you know me – and especially if we’ve never met – please help me remember all of this.

Advertisements

24-Hour Electric Ride Road Rally

This coming Memorial Day weekend I’ll be driving #217 in a 24-hour road rally to see how many electric miles I can rack up in a full day. My best guess going into it – accounting for battery range and 4-hour recharging stints – is that I should hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 miles.

Here’s my plan:
– Start Sunday, May 30 @9am – finish at 9am on Monday, May 31

– Drive 2.25 hours, yield 100 miles – recharge for 4.5 hours, repeat 4 times

– The Rally should see trips to all 4 points of the compass

– The Rally should minimize any duplication of roadway (no running up and down the same bit of highway)

– Every trip should offer a photo op (see partial list of sites below)

LIST OF PHOTO OPS WITHIN 50 miles of Pearl River, NY

– the Bear Mtn. Bridge, the lookout at the top of Perkins Memorial Drive, West Point and the Storm King Arts Center and the Roosevelt home to the North; the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building, Central Park to the South, Morristown, NJ and – in an homage to the man who brought us loads of useful electrical devices – the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ.

Got any other suggestions – fire away!

Doh! I need to drive 85 miles/day

One of my goals when I started this program was to try and drive 20,000 miles in an all-electric car. “Why 20,000?” you ask? Because it sounded good, and it seemed within reach -naively I took 20,000 miles, divided it by 365 and figured i’d need to drive about 55 miles a day. Since I have a 90 mile commute 5 days a week, it should be easy I thought.

The first “doh!” that I didn’t account for was that I’d loose about 6 weeks off the calendar because MINI couldn’t get the high-voltage recharger installed at my home – relying on just my standard household outlet, i’d need 2 days of plugging in just to drive one day to work. I also didn’t plan on losing a few more weeks for service calls (1 broken fiber-optic cable, installation & removal of snow tires, 5,000 mile checkups, etc.). Then there were the times I couldn’t drive #217 because she’s only a 2-seater, or I had to travel more than 100 miles, etc.

About a month ago I was doing some more quick calculations though, and I was still comfortably in line with my expected turn-in date of July 15.

That was before I got today’s second Doh! MINI now says my turn-in date is June 15 – which roughly coincides with my pick-up date of June 15, but doesn’t include the extra one month option they’d promised me to ensure I had “12 full months of zero-emissions driving with fast recharging…”. The representative I spoke with on the phone said that I could request my extra month, but “so far I’ve processed two such requests and both were denied. Prepare for June 15.” [why is it that the “end” of anything is always a hard reality? At the glorious and sun-dappled “beginning” of this process I spoke with fun and excited representatives who couldn’t wait to get me in my MINI E – and now at the end, all I get are brusque phone messages telling me to call a number, where the gruff-throated rep who answers sounds like a repo man who has had a bad decade?].

The rational side of me knows full-well that if I make 19,200 – or even something several hundred miles less – I could hardly count this experience as a failure. And yet, there’s something so compelling about hitting that nice round figure of 20,000, that the irrational part of me – which is to the say the single biggest part of me – would be very disappointed.

So from here on out I’m going to hunt for miles like a spoon hunts for ice cream at the end of the carton. By my calculations, I need to make 85 miles per day. I’m good for 90+ during the week for work, but the weekends may be tough…better go download some audiobooks 😉

A Cold Mirage?

Brrrrrr. There’s no doubt about it – when the thermometer dips, so does the range on my MINI E’s high-voltage batteries. And it’s been a hot topic of conversation among the MINI E pioneers in the northeast for over a month now that the weather has been so cold.

Most drivers are reporting anywhere from a 15-20% hit on the range displayed. And that’s in line with what I’m seeing as well – at least for a couple of hours. After that, I’m seeing some evidence that this “cold tax” is just a temporary reaction, and that those missing electrons aren’t really “gone”, just in hibernation (excuse the wordplay fun on all things cold…I can’t help myself).

During the summer and fall, my 45 mile morning commute would generally leave me showing 52% or so on my charge meter as I parked my car. I’d then plug in using the 110-volt cable, work all day (wink) and come back to a 75% charge at night, which meant I was getting between 2-3% recharge per hour.

Now I sometimes pull in to my parking space in the morning showing just 35% left on the meter. But when I come back in the evening – with the batteries still exposed to the same frigid temperatures – I still am greeted with a 72% meter. So either my recharging capability has more than doubled, or those extra 10-15 percentage points were really there all the time – just not being seen by the meter.

Charge accuracy, you may recall from earlier posts, is a pretty fuzzy thing, at least with this model of electric car. The algorithm tasked with calculating the charge isn’t yet smart enough to be more than a general gauge of the state of charge. What is interesting however is that the settings seem to over-estimate the actual drain that the cold weather will have, anywhere between 15-20%.

A MINI E “Pony Express” Trip

Don Young, MINI E #364, took an amazing trip last week – traveling almost 700 miles over 4 days from his Shelter Island, NY home on the eastern end of Long Island to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in the Hudson Valley, and several other stops in-between. To get there and back, Don organized a “Power Support Team” to recharge his MINI E #364’s batteries every 70 miles or so with high-voltage pit stops.

IMG_0941

Original Art by Lea Miller

But Don didn’t just stop with the idea to take a high-mileage round-trip, he made an event out of it. Dubbing his journey the “MINI E E*TOUR”, he had custom window wraps and car magnets created to advertise and celebrate both his tour and “Power Support Team”, and also created his own t-shirts to give out to the many people he’d meet along the way. He also contacted a local newspaper in Bethel and did an interview there; plus he took the time to meet with strangers and bartenders (and probably some strange bartenders too) to show off the car and relate his experiences driving it.

I just love these kind of individual, people-powered quests, and my wife and I were very proud to support Don and fill him up on some solar-generated electrons last Thursday and Sunday. Infected by his enthusiasm for the project, my teenage daughter and I put together a poster to welcome Don and mark his journey to our home. Creating the poster gave us a chance to talk about things… like how weird it was that we were going to welcome a “complete stranger” to our home while most of us were away so he could plug his car in; about how normally we wouldn’t do such a thing; about how it was OK this time because we were all part of a broader community of people involved in the same thing – so while Don may or may not be strange ;-), he was driving a MINI E just like us, for all the same reasons and with all the same desires for a better future, and that disqualified him as a stranger.

As Don himself noted, “On my MINI E E*Tour, I’ve had great experiences with 8 MINI E’ers, 2 companies, 3 corporations, and 1 foundation. I also learned that stopping once in a while to make new friends, and talking to bystanders about GP? (#364), is as nice a way to travel as I can imagine.”

At the risk of sounding corny or melodramatic, I imagine his experience was very similar to the old Pony Express system – Don too set out on the road in full awareness that his journey would only be complete if a group of people he’d never before met came together to help him. He too had to rely on faith in an unmet community. And in this day and age – where we rightly teach our children to be wary of strangers, and where we rely on standardized systems for everything from dining to refueling – what a unique experience that is.

In the few short years ahead, at just about the time my daughter will learn how to drive, electric cars will no longer be the domain of a few hundred pioneers. The frontier of “limited range” will be closed with the solutions of public recharging at the old ‘gas’ stations, battery swap technology, electrified liquid, or some other kind of innovation which will be hugely convenient and enable our modern and mobile lifestyles – but which will also be a bittersweet signal that this particular kind of unique, individual, community travel experience is unnecessary.

Don’s promised to post photos and tales of his experience, and I’ll be sure to link to them here.

Bits & Pieces

Hello – here’s a chex-mix of minor experiences from my electric car test.

– I had my first spontaneous sighting of another MINI E last Thursday in Morristown, NJ. It was 8:15am, and i was waiting at a stop light when I saw a fellow E turning off the green – they were too far away to see even if it was a man or a woman, but we flashed headlights. Kinda fun and communal – like exchanging a fraternity handshake.

–  I’m thinking of getting some decals put on that say “Electric Car” – so many people have told me that they didn’t recognize the stylized “plug” icon, and some other MINI E drivers have reported success with these. Here’s a shot of #250 (Tom Moloughney).

electric

Electric Car Bling

– After nearly 2 months of plugging in at the Morristown Bank St. garage and having no one express any curiosity about it, this morning I got two questions. The first guy was parking at the same time as me, and as we both emerged from our cars he asked “Hey, I have a question – what would happen if somebody stole your cord?”, to which I answered “Uh, then I guess they’d have my cord…” (I hate it when I’m not prepared). We then talked about the program, and he said he’d gone online to read about it. As we parted company, he said “Thank you for doing this – I know it isn’t cheap, but it’s great that somebody’s getting this going.”  Just a simple and honest sentiment, but it was great to hear it from a stranger.  The second person was a co-worker, who came into the office soon after me, and asked “Hey, I saw your car plugged in again. I got a question – what would happen if somebody stole your cord?”, to which I answered “they would be hit by a Clean Diesel bus and squashed – e-karma is hardcore”.  Ahhh, sweet preparation!

– Tomorrow is my scheduled “3,000 mile service” – though i’m already at 4,000+ miles. Honestly, I hope they get good data, but I’m hoping to get a nice wash and vacuum out of it.

The Day I Forgot

I knew it would happen – just a matter of time before I pulled into my garage and somehow forget to take the 7 seconds needed to plug #217 in. Then wake up to the nauseating reality that I don’t have enough juice to drive to work.

Today is that day.

In a weird way, I’m glad it’s happened, because now I’ll be certain to never do it again. Since for most people, “I ran out of gas” is a one-time learning event (outside of dating scenarios), I imagine this will be the same.

But it does point out a fundamental difference between the electric- & gas-powered models: running out of gas probably means a 20-min delay in your plans (unless you’re out of normal service areas), whereas running out of electrons means – in my case – a 2-hour delay. Though obviously the benefits of driving an electric-powered vehicle outweigh this relatively small, wholly-avoidable, inconvenience.

One unexpected realization was how this little hiccup has proven how much I’ve come to enjoy driving #217. I was well and truly pissed-off on my entire commute this morning – ticked that I had to drive my very comfortable, very powerful luxury-sedan (an Infiniti G35) instead of my stripped-down MINI Cooper with the slightly uncomfortable seat, no sun roof and the lack of basic amenities like cruise control. I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to appreciate the little joys of driving an electric car, like feathering the accelerator, the zip of the electric-torque, enjoying the regen-braking on the downhills, etc.

Whether it’s a Chevy Volt or a Tesla Sedan, I’m definitely going to be in the market for another electric car after this test is over.