Tag Archives: MINI E driving experience

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.


Day Trip To The English Countryside

Last Friday I was lucky to be invited out to Hartley Farms, near my company’s Morristown, NJ offices, to meet with owner Nic Platt and view one of his fields as a possible location for our company picnic.

Nic and I both work for the same company, though he works in the Manhattan office and while we’ve spoken a couple of times at company events, I didn’t know that much about his background. Knowing that our shop is located in his ‘backyard’ though, he very graciously offered his “field” for our annual office party, and on a sunny day I was only too happy to shoot out there and take a look.  I didn’t have any expectations, but my curiosity was piqued when his directions included phrases like “turn in at the stone fence…follow Hartley Drive all the way around, past the Polo Field…I’ll meet you by the museum building near the forest”.

Typical English scene...in New Jersey

It turns out that Nic is a descendent of Marcellus & Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge (NPR & PBS fans will recognize Mrs. Dodge from the ‘Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’ sponsorship), and that Hartley Farms is on the National Register of Historic Places. Back in the day (1927-1957) the Dodge’s would host the Morris & Essex Dog Show, when almost 50,000 folks would encamp for the day on the Polo field and take in the dogs and the stunning countryside.

It was a gorgeous day, and just the prettiest place I’ve ever been at with #217 – and to top it all off, there was a solitary English phone booth perched on the edge of the field, like something out of Dr. Who.

I was enchanted by the scene, but also feeling a bit out of my league – old money, an English-style estate, houses with names and a polo field that can fit 50,000+, etc. I half expected Nic to pull up in a chaffeured Rolls with a liveried driver. Instead, he rolls up in a Prius, and couldn’t have been more welcoming. Turns out the entire estate is run on “Green” principles (LED lighting, homes that are built in harmony with nature, old-growth forests administered by the Audubon Society), and he enthusiastically asked about the MINI E program and my experiences with the car.

It was such an unexpected pleasure to find yet another kindred spirit – especially in such an impressive setting. More info on Hartley Farms can be found here – http://www.hartleyfarms.com/6ourhistory.html   (and, needless to say, we’ll be having the party there later this month).

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 😉

Electric Fame

Fellow Pioneer Don Young was recently featured in a NY Times article that spoke about the MINI E program, and included a nice detail about his 1,020 mile trip last fall.  We were honored to be part of that epic run, as Don used our house to recharge en route to the catskills – kind of a 21st century version of the Pony Express system!

Here’s a link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/automobiles/28ELECTRIC.html

One of the unexpected pleasures of being part of the first large-scale, national test of an electric vehicle is meeting new people like Don. In today’s society – where we all have to work unreasonable hours, and then rush home (especially if you  have kids) to squeeze in our ‘quality time’, there just isn’t room for meeting and exchanging ideas with other people. And so the list of ‘strangers’ grows ever longer.

I’m forever grateful that this experience has reawakened me to the fact that the vast, vast majority of strangers are fantastic people who – if you have the opportunity to shake hands – will enrich your lives.

Small Joy

I was driving in Manhattan the other day, stuck in stop and go traffic in Chinatown (and btw, stop and go traffic is what an electric car really loves – I drove around 8 miles and my charge only dipped 2%, but I digress as this post isn’t about the electric part of the car…) when I saw a couple of cyclists in my rear-view mirror winding their way thru the stalled cars.

from one efficient vehicle to another.

Anyone who has driven on Mott St. knows how narrow the roads are down there. Add in a row of parked cars on one side and a few box trucks on the other, and things get very cozy.

Which is why I was so appreciative of the cozy dimensions of the MINI. It just always, always, always fits.

It’s one of the unexpected joys of this whole Electric Car Pioneer thing, that I never worry about finding a place to park. It’s a great feeling of entitlement as I regularly pull to the front of just about any place I’m going, knowing that all I need is the courtesy space of daylight between two SUV’s to settle in.

So these two cyclists were wending their way towards me, and they comfortably pulled past my ever-comfortable MINI, when they had to stop. As you can see, another fairly modest car in front of us was still too wide to provide passage.

It made me laugh. And so I snapped the shot and reminded myself that, as the good Dr. Seuss once said, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.”

Snow Days

Apologies for the long silence, but I had to take an unexpected trip to London for work (where I got to see several of the original Mini’s still driving – and wow, they were mini by about half the new ones!) and all the prep for that sucked most of my free time up this month.

However I’ve been diligently driving #217 throughout, and I can report that the crazy weather swings (one week we’re in the 40’s, next week we have 2 feet of snow) haven’t impacted my all-electric driving.

MINI car, MAXI snow

This week though we were hit with a major snow storm, which closed our office and dumped about 18 inches on the ground. I took the opportunity to test out the electric drive around town on relatively snow-filled roads. Getting out of my side-street was the hardest, as we’ve to about a 25 yard-long 30-degree incline at the top – the wheels did spin at times, but car did well and I got out with relatively little struggle.

One of the joys of an electric car of course is that it has torque at any speed – but in snow that does mean that the wheels will slip. The MINI E’s Dynamic Stability Control system light came on several times, and basically that meant the wheels would only spin for a moment or two before power was re-distributed.

All-in-all, considering it was a day that I probably shouldn’t have been driving in anyways, the MINI E did fine for the limited 5-mile trip I needed it for.

Knowledge is Power

When the temperature drops, so does the power capacity of a battery. Anybody who has left a cell phone or ipod in their car on a freezing night knows this, and all of us MINI E drivers who hail from the colder climes have seen this in the reduced charge-o-meter readings we’ve been seeing.

But as I talked about in my last post, I’m starting to think that the 15-20% hit in the battery capacity that many of us have seen has more to do with the algorithm used to calculate the remaining charge, and the temperature of the batteries, than with an actual loss of capacity due to cold temperatures. And a test I ran last week seems to back this up.

First, here’s the theory – as long as the High Voltage battery pack temperature doesn’t fall below 40°, then I don’t think the battery looses much capacity, if any.

To put this to the test, I decided to pioneer-up last week and follow my warm-weather routine – which is to not plug in #217 after my usual 45-mile morning commute. In the past this would mean I’d show about 52% battery left when I parked in the AM, 60% showing when I’d start my evening commute home, and  anywhere from  5-15% of battery range left when I pulled in at home.  If my theory held water, I’d be fine – though running very low on battery power when I returned home 92 miles later. If however the 15-20% “cold deficit” was in fact accurate, then I’d be sitting on the side of I-287 waiting for a tow truck.

So last Wednesday morning I pulled into Morristown after a modest (no faster than 60mph) and heater-free trip, showing 48% of battery power left. The high that day was 38° , and by 4pm I was reading a 55% charge – but the battery never got colder than 42°.  I drove back home (again very conservatively, 65mph max), and also without the heater. The charge-o-meter showed 0% with about 8 miles to go, but as happened in the summer and fall I just kept going without a hiccup. After getting off the highway, the meter did the usual recalculation and I gained 5% more by the time I got home. The battery temp when I pulled in was 72°.

After 2 hours of sitting in an unheated but insulated garage, the meter read 11% charge, with the battery at a fairly cozy 68°. Which is right around what I was getting in the fall.

Ironically though, my ipod  – which was 50% full when I parked in the municipal garage in the morning and left behind in the car – did drain pretty quickly, and powered off about 10 minutes into my evening drive, even thought it’s powered by a Li-ion battery just like the MINI E. Sadly the iPod doesn’t tell me its battery temp, but I’m guessing that without insulation (as the MINI E has) it must have been around the mid-30°s.

So the conclusions that I draw are:

1) The magic number to stay above – battery temp wise – is 40°. Keep that temperature, and at most you’ll be shorted 5% of the battery.

2) The Charge-O-Meter needs a new calibration, so that we don’t any get unnecessary range anxiety.

Knowledge really is power – about 15-20% more power when you’re driving an electric car in the winter!