Charging Across the Country: An EV Road Trip

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By Kelly Yearick

When our family purchased a 240-mile range Tesla Model 3 in 2019, we knew it would become our core vehicle for commuting and taking day trips around the Willamette Valley where we live. At the time, we never would have dreamed of driving it across the country and back and blogging about it. But during the summer of 2020, as the impacts of COVID dragged on and planned visits from family were canceled, we had the wild idea to take our home offices on the road and make an all-electric journey to the East Coast and back. My husband and I are both fortunate to be able to work from home, so we thought: when you can work from anywhere, why not work from everywhere?

First road trip selfie. By Kelly Yearick.

A road trip in an electric car is a bit different than a traditional journey in a gas-powered vehicle — a key distinction being the need to stop to charge every so often and charging stations that aren’t yet quite as ubiquitous as their gas counterparts. Planning incorporated a variety of free online tools, including A Better Route Planner and Chargeway, to map out our journey from Oregon to North Carolina and back. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves though. Knowing this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we wanted to visit seven new states, which meant our route needed to take us north through Montana and North Dakota, through the central plains of Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, as well as the southern states of Oklahoma and New Mexico.

We planned the trip to take 17 days of driving. Most days we worked half-days in our hotel followed by a drive of 5–8 hours. Given the limitations and restrictions brought about by COVID, our mantra for the trip was to focus on the journey rather than the individual destinations. And fortunately — the journey was incredible!

We drove through wide-open ranges of Montana and Oklahoma, several major U.S. cities, including eight state capitals, the awe-inspiring mountains of New Mexico, and the ever-photogenic Arches National Park. We experienced temperatures from 11 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and everything in between.

L2 charging in Pawhuska, OK. By Kelly Yearick.

Along the way, several hotels we stayed at had charging available for guests, which was a bonus and sometimes a surprise, but we almost exclusively relied on the Tesla Supercharger network. Tesla Superchargers can be found approximately every 50–100 miles along major highway corridors. Given the cooler temperatures due to the season and highway driving speed (both factors take a toll on battery range in an EV), we ended up stopping briefly about every two hours to charge.

Rather than powering through hours of driving like I’d been accustomed to doing in a gas car, I discovered an appreciation for these breaks. Short stops every couple of hours felt like the perfect balance to the long times on the road. Our dog, Truman, also appreciated the extra walks and potty breaks. Due to the quickness of the Superchargers, we usually stopped for only about 25 minutes before we were back on our way. That gave us time to update the daily blog we were keeping (check it out here!), brush up on our backgammon skills on the onboard console, and stretch our legs.

All in all, we demonstrated that driving over 7,000 miles in an electric car is not only possible but also enjoyable! We planned A LOT for this trip and remained flexible throughout. My biggest takeaway was that we probably could have trusted our car, Becky, to (auto)pilot us without so much of our pre-trip planning. The car has an incredible ability to sense in real-time the impacts of climate, terrain, and speed on the range and the onboard navigation builds in charging stops automatically. Our flexibility throughout the trip came into play when uncertain weather and terrain ahead of us influenced our decision to take a longer route with more charging options.

We certainly had a few long days and unexpected moments, and while we could have made the trip much more quickly in a gas car, we accomplished our goal and it didn’t feel that much different from a normal road trip. That makes me pretty excited for the future. Charging infrastructure networks are becoming more robust and faster each day. I look forward to the day when having to think about charging is as minimal as having to think about finding a gas station.

Below is a snapshot of the trip:

Total Miles Driven 7,560
Total Fast Charging Stops 69
Total Number of States 22
Total Spent on Fuel $410
Total Energy Used 2,065 kWh, ~57 gallons of gas

Supercharger Superlatives

Tesla welcome sign in Jackson, TN.

Best view: Lima, MT

Most likely to recommend: Jackson, TN

Most unexpected Tesla-driving Oregonians (tie): Alexandria MN & St. Joseph, MO

Most hospitable: Dickinson, ND

Best unexpected happening: Twin Falls, ID

Best food eaten while Supercharging: Nashville, TN (extra shoutout to Hattie B’s!)

Kelly Yearick is a Program Manager at Forth, where she leads programs to boost electric vehicle adoption and access to shared electric transportation. Her experience at Forth includes managing large federal and state-funded projects with diverse stakeholder groups. Kelly leads Forth’s workplace engagement program as well as the rural carsharing program, CRuSE. Kelly holds a Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability from Portland State University, a B.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and sits on the board of Solar Oregon.

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