In the spring my wife, our small dog, and I make our annual ~1500 mile trip from our winter home in Utah to our summer lake house in Northern Wisconsin in our Tesla Model 3. Most Utah snowbirds are going south for the winter, but as Wisconsin natives, we think northern Utah winters are mild, and as an Alpine ski instructor, I enjoyed the monster all-time 900-inch record snowfall this year (see Figure 1).
Hopping from Supercharger to Supercharger across 5 States
Our long-range, dual-motor Model 3 has an EPA range of 310 miles, but with two big e-bikes on the back, anything more than 130 miles is a stretch. Fortunately, Tesla has built out its Supercharger network, including on our I-80 and I-90 Minneapolis route, so it’s not a problem. At age 83, the ~1.5 hour charging interval is perfect for my bathroom breaks, and my wife gets to walk our dog Zuni. After our breaks, we seldom wait more than an additional 10 minutes before we hit 80% charge. Charging above 80% is so slow that it’s not worth it. We stopped a total of 16 times for Supercharging: 5 times in Wyoming, 6 in South Dakota, 3 in Minnesota, and 2 in Wisconsin. Wait, subtract one for the destination charger at the Bavarian Inn in Custer, South Dakota (see Figure 2).
We also stopped to see my cousin and his wife in Sioux Falls, so that was an extra Supercharger stop we normally don’t make. Normally, we would Supercharge a total of 15 times on the trip. On previous trips, we were not able to use destination chargers because the hotels my wife found that allowed pets didn’t have destination chargers. Normally, we find a hotel near a Tesla Supercharger and I drop my wife off at the hotel and I go charge while watching another 25 minutes of Back to the Future 2 on Netflix. The Bavarian Inn was great! We pulled up to the destination charger and plugged in while the manager grabbed my two e-bikes and put them in a storage room. The lock on my bike carrier isn’t working, so that was the safe thing to do. The next night, I brought the bikes up to our hotel room.
The Tesla Superchargers were more often than not unoccupied on our route and usually not more that 100 feet from a nearby hotel (see Figure 4) where the management was happy to let us use the restrooms. In Figure 4, we could see the hotel only 100 ft from our first stop at the Supercharger in Evanston, Wyoming.
The nearest restroom was at least 300 yards from the car in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Therefore, I dropped my wife off at her favorite store, TJ Maxx, and used their restroom before going to the Supercharger. There was a supermarket 50 yards from the Supercharger in Menomonie, Wisconsin. The Supercharger in Wausau, Wisconsin, is in the parking lot of the Hilton Gardens Hotel and there is another TJ Maxx and a Walmart a few miles away.
After staying at the Bavarian Inn in Custer, South Dakota, the next day we were on the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park nearby. Custer has 1500 bison (buffalo), the second largest herd in the US — see one that wandered into the State Game Lodge parking lot in Figure 6. They also have our favorite, a small herd of donkeys that are only too eager to eat the crackers and carrots that my wife brings for them — see Figure 5.
Full Self Driving (Beta) Fail
We have Full Self Driving (Beta), but I find it’s too easy to screw up with it on long trips, so I default to Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer (Beta). Therefore, I had turned off FSD Beta before we started, but I had chosen the option to start it with each trip so that it was activated as we began our journey. I thought: Let’s give it a chance. But I soon came to regret it. Traveling through remote parts of Wyoming and South Dakota, the music streaming often doesn’t work because of poor cell phone network coverage. That meant that I needed to resort to the playlist on my iPhone paired with my car via Bluetooth. It just wouldn’t pair! As a last resort, I rebooted the Tesla operating system by pressing and holding down the two scroll wheels on the steering wheel. I had learned that you can do this even when driving. It’s unnerving at first because the screen turns completely black. However, the car still works. The positive: when the reboot completed, I was able to pair my iPhone to my car and we played music from my playlist for the rest of the trip. … Hurray! The negative: I was distracted enough during the attempts to pair that I got another forced disengagement. Three down, two to go. I turned off FSD Beta again and unchecked the option to start it up for each trip.
Full Self Driving (Beta) & Traffic Aware Cruise Control Notes on the 1500-Mile Trip
Phantom braking has not improved with the latest version of FSD Beta, V11.3.6. It happened to us numerous times on our 1500-mile journey. I assume that the performance of Traffic Aware Cruise Control and FSD Beta is the same in regard to phantom braking. Also, FSD Beta would not pass a slower moving vehicle, but it would return me nicely to the right-hand lane after passing. On the other hand, Autosteer would pass the slower moving vehicle but would not return to the right-hand lane. Go figure!
Full Self Driving (Beta) in Northern Wisconsin
FSD Beta works really well, for the most part, in the low-traffic rural roads of Northern Wisconsin if you are patient. You usually only have to intervene when someone is behind you and you don’t want to annoy them. It is really nice to have the Autosteer function on the rural roads with no yellow or white lines.
However, I drove 130 miles east from Three Lakes, Wisconsin, to Escanaba, Michigan (in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and back on two-lane roads, and I was very disturbed when FSD Beta would not only do phantom braking, but phantom swerving! It would swerve to the left a few feet into the oncoming traffic lane and then right onto the paved shoulder. I assume it was trying to avoid an imaginary pedestrian, animal, or tire. God only knows? If there was no traffic nearby, I would let it do this maneuver, but it was very unnerving.
I am reading constant reports these days of the incredible feats of AI (artificial intelligence) like ChatGPT. Every day I’m part of an experiment in driving AI. If my experience is prologue, I’m not too worried about AI taking over the world any time soon.
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