A little over a year ago, I purchased an entry-level Tesla Model S75 after my Chevy Volt was totaled in a car accident. The alternatives to the Model S that I considered at the time were another Chevy Volt or the Chevy Bolt. But after a test drive in a Model S, it was love at first drive.
To skip the long post with photos and get to how Tesla will change our lives, click here.
To be fair, the Chevy Volt and Bolt are both excellent cars for what they are. They cost considerably less than the Model S but also lack major features such as supercharging, over-the-air software updates, and autopilot. The Model S is considerably more comfortable than both Chevy models.
Fast forward to August 27, 2018, and I start a road trip with my wife and our dog that will give me a glimpse of just how much Tesla could end up altering the physical and social landscape of the world. Our road trip is from Southern California (just north of Los Angeles) to Peoria, Illinois to visit my wife’s grandma who has stage 5 Parkinson’s and back to California via Flagstaff, Arizona to visit my wife’s cousin.
We used EVTripPlanner.com to map out the expected supercharger locations ahead of the trip but used Tesla’s navigation suggestions for the supercharger stops during actual execution of the road trip. The original plan was to take a leisurely stroll to get there and to get back. We planned for just over two weeks of total trip time with about 5 days with Grandma in Peoria.
Our first overnight stay was in Las Vegas. Getting there was pretty simple. We stopped in Barstow, CA to supercharge even though Tesla’s navigation had us going to the Yermo station. We really stopped in Barstow for the Del Taco! It’s one of the few that’s owned by the original owner of Del Taco and has the most superb carnitas burritos. It’s just down the street from the charging station in Barstow.
We decided to stop in Primm, NV for our next stop. Since we already knew we were stopping in Primm, we charged less than we’d normally charge in Barstow.
Primm has become our customary stop for us on our way to Vegas anyway. We stop and play the first slot machine that’s calling our name since it’s the first city on the California/Nevada border. It’s an even better stop now that we have a Tesla! We take our dog (who is named Tesla) for a potty break while the car is charging and then took turns with our own potty breaks and slot machine play. Meanwhile, our car is almost fully charged while we’re doing what needs to be done anyway.
We’re back on the road and at our hotel in Vegas. It’s the same hotel we stayed at when we got married, so it carries particular sentimental value for us. In retrospect, we wouldn’t stop in Vegas on this road trip again unless we really wanted to stay in Vegas for a night. It’s not very far along for a road trip this long, but it worked great for this first time Tesla road trip!
We got a late start to the second day or our trip, but fortunately our next stop was well within the range we had left, so we didn’t have to charge in Vegas at all.
The drive between Vegas and St. George, UT takes you through The Virgin River Gorge. It was one of the most beautiful parts of this road trip! The video I linked to is not a video I took, but it’s a great representation of that beautiful drive.
St. George’s supercharger station happened to be right next to an excellent breakfast restaurant. We had a nice brunch with Tesla (the dog) sitting just on the other side of the outdoor patio. By the time we were done, our car was fully charged; just like our bellies!
Beaver was our next supercharger stop. There wasn’t much there, but Tesla enjoyed the Dairy Queen!
Green River, UT was our next planned stop, but the scenery along the way had us stop for a phenomenal pano.
Green River was an interesting stop. The museum where the superchargers are located was closed by the time we got there, but at least the giant watermelon was still there for a photo-op!
It was off to Grand Junction, CO, for our final stop on day two. Our leisurely stroll through the Rocky Mountains was well underway, and Tesla (the dog) was really enjoying all the different sites (or smells) as much as we were!
Day three took us to Glenwood Springs, CO, for our first stop. We were already in awe of the beautiful scenery along the Colorado River, and we had eyeballed a few access roads that were even closer to the river. As beautiful as everything was along the way, nothing could really prepare us for the love-at-first-sight feeling we had in Glenwood Springs.
While taking Tesla for a walk during the supercharger/bathroom break, I happened upon a beautiful flowering plant that was abuzz with honey bees!
It was almost like a scene from a movie… I was focused on the bees flying around, doing their duties when along came a gust of wind. When I looked behind me, I saw a flier for the Iron Mountain Hot Springs. This couldn’t be coincidence. It’s obviously an act from above that has brought this tattered old flier to my feet!
My wife and I got back in the car once it was ready to continue the trip. One of the nicest things about Tesla’s navigation (and mobile app) is that you receive a notification when your car is charged enough to continue along your route. As we drove off, I showed my wife the flier for the Hot Springs. The navigation ended up taking us through Glenwood Springs on the way back to the freeway. I felt a sense of deja vu as we drove through the little town. The ye olde buildings and main drag had us contemplating a road trip just to Glenwood Springs in the near future.
Before we were even back on the highway, my wife had pulled up all sorts of information about Glenwood Spring. We’d both spend the next 72 hours pining over this quaint little town in the middle of Colorado and figuring out if we can make it from our home to Glenwood Spring in a single day. Turns out there’s an adventure park there, great hiking trails, and caverns! And, yes, it’s only 17.5 hours of drive + charge time from our house!
After Glenwood Springs, we kept on our trek up the Rockies, through Vail, Silverthorne (great supercharger stop), and even stopped for a scenic view of a historic railroad.
By nightfall we were in Denver, and a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in years (and who made my wife’s engagement ring) happened to be available for dinner. We enjoyed some great sushi in a small town called Parker, just outside of Denver. After dinner, my wife and I had a quick conversation that would end up changing our lives forever.
With the urgency of Grandma’s health in the background, I asked my wife, “What do you think about driving all the way through to Peoria from here?”
Autopilot had been doing the vast majority of the driving for us so far. Supercharger stops and having our dog with us also meant that we needed to stop at regular intervals that made a long haul pretty easy on the butt and back. Unlike stopping for gas and rushing off, we had to stretch our legs and let Tesla (the dog) pee while Tesla (the car) charged. It’s a match made in heaven for comfortable long haul driving; at least that was our thinking.
Turns out we were right!
We stopped at the prescribed supercharger stations in Nebraska (what a LONG state!) in Iowa. A 30-60 minute charge for the car allowed enough time for me to recharge my brain and rest my eyes enough to keep focused. Of course, Autopilot is what really made the biggest difference. Autopilot significantly reduces the fatigue of driving a long haul. There just isn’t as much tugging on the steering wheel. It really adds up over a long drive like this. While I was driving, my wife rested so that she could take on the second half of the 900+ mile stretch between Denver and Peoria.
By the time we were finished with Nebraska, I was finished with driving. My wife took over for the remainder of the stretch until we stopped at the last supercharger until Peoria, where I took over again. When all was said and done, our non-stop driving took us from Grand Junction, CO to Peoria, IL (nearly 1200 miles) over the course of a day-and-a-half! We were all exhausted, even Tesla (the dog).
Still… that was nothing compared to our road trip back!
Because we came in a day early, we decided we could leave a day later too. Thanks to Tesla Autopilot and supercharging, we were able to get two more precious days with Grandma!
On September 8, we mapped out our trip to Flagstaff. We’d head straight to Albuquerque, NM. Just supercharging and meal breaks. We left just before sundown and quickly realized that wasn’t the best idea. Missouri rain drops the size of golf balls were in our future. How would Autopilot handle it? Perfectly!
The only spot where Autopilot had difficulty in the rain was on a stretch of the I40 where they had paved the road and hadn’t put down proper markers. In fairness to Tesla, I could barely figure out where I was supposed to be on the road and everyone was driving under 50 mph the whole time.
The true reason we were bummed about going through Missouri at night was that we ended up missing out on the fudge factory in Uranus. The roadside billboards gave us a good chuckle driving through: The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus
Having learned a bit from the drive out, we started checking to see what was within walking distance near each of the supercharger stations. We ended up adjusting our stops because the Springfield, MO supercharger had a Waffle House right there. Other stops had Waffle Houses close (it’s Missouri, after all), but the Springfield supercharger was the perfect opportunity to take a longer stop and enjoy some Waffle House!
We ended up stopping at the Joplin, MO, supercharger because the mapping software was telling us we needed to stop there in order to make it to Tulsa. This was definitely one of those moments that wouldn’t really happen in a 90 or 100 Tesla or even a Model 3. The stop in Joplin was very quick though. Tesla maps had us out of there in about 15 minutes.
We should have spent that 15 minutes a little more wisely because we would have noticed that the Tulsa, OK supercharger was in the parking lot for the Hard Rock casino. It was a fun use of a $20 bill until we realized that there were cash only toll roads along the way.
Our settings for navigation had us avoiding toll roads, so the directions on the map looked a bit odd. Once we realized that the tolls trimmed more than an hour off our drive time, we found all the quarters in my wife’s purse and took the toll roads! It’s definitely worth it to take the toll rather than the dark back roads.
By daytime, we were in Texas. Shamrock, TX gave us our first glimpse of the old Route 66 and what was the old school equivalent to superchargers back in the 1930s.
On the way out of Texas, we stopped at the Amarillo supercharger. Driving through Amarillo gave me a craving for some steak! There wasn’t anything right near the supercharger, but you could smell the steak. I started plotting a road trip just to Amarillo while chatting it up with a fellow Tesla driver who was also charging.
Next thing you know, we’re in New Mexico and getting closer and closer to Albuquerque. Then the real rain hit! I thought the golf ball rain drops in Missouri were something… A monsoon was blowing through Albuquerque, and it was a site. Lightening and thunder! Tesla (the dog) wasn’t a big fan of either, but Autopilot handled the torrential rainfall like a champ. We checked into our hotel and relaxed for the rest of the day. Just over 1200 miles in under 24 hours!
We were all a little slow getting up the next morning…
We hit the road and noticed a freeway with the same number as the freeway closest to us in California: 118. We decided to take an exit to go along the 118 and soon discovered that we were likely along the path that inspired the Disney “Cars” franchise.
Wasn’t long before we were in Flagstaff! Just one supercharger stop in Holbrook (along with a cheeseburger). Otherwise, we were just like the Nat King Cole song!
The biggest surprise of the trip took place on the way to Flagstaff. While cruising along I40 on Autopilot, my Model S pulled suddenly to the right and slowed down. There didn’t seem to be any reason for Autopilot to do this. The road was clear ahead. I grabbed the wheel, thinking perhaps there was a glitch. Autopilot disengaged, and that’s when I noticed what the issue was. There was a car in the passing lane that had been driving in my blind spot that moved into my lane. Autopilot navigated away from that car and likely avoided a 75 mph sideswipe! The driver of the other vehicle kept swerving in and out of the two lanes until the next exit. We were feeling extremely thankful for Autopilot before, now it was a lifesaver!
We shacked up with my wife’s cousin in Flagstaff, called Grandma to let her know we made it safe, and spent the rest of the day enjoying family time. Thanks to Autopilot, we again were able to arrive without being as exhausted and stayed up late with full bellies from a great family dinner.
As we were going to bed, we got the call about Grandma. As sad as it was that she was gone, my wife and I were so grateful for the extra two days we had with Grandma because Tesla Autopilot made it so much easier to drive for longer distances. We felt so fortunate to not stay in Denver overnight on the way out and leave for the road trip back a day later.
The next day was an easy trip home from Flagstaff back to Simi Valley, CA. We did the same Barstow Del Taco stop and even shared part of a burrito with Tesla (the dog). By the time we made it home, we logged 4,544.5 miles for the whole trip with 2,182.1 for the trip back home. I calculated out the mpg equivalent to the kWh we consumed on the trip, and it comes out to be about 129MPG!
Convenience is a relative term. Is it possible to drive 4500 miles in an ICE faster than we manged to do it in a Tesla Model S75? Most certainly, but that wasn’t our goal. Our trip was surprisingly comfortable. Most of the legs of our trip were 1.5 – 2 hours with 30 – 45 minute supercharger stops in between. This ended up being the perfect timing for our legs, back, butts, dog, and bladders.
Visiting my wife’s family in Illinois and Arizona more often will bring our family closer and create greater bonds between everyone. These trips are obviously possible using an ICE, but they are far more comfortable and healthier for us because we are doing them in a Tesla with Autopilot. You can’t really put a price tag on family, so what Tesla has provided for us is worth far more than the cost of the Model S. It’s also something that’s just not possible in any other EV on the market.
Getting out of the car every 1-2 hours for a good 15-30 minute stretch slows down your travel but ensures a better rested body. On several of the stops, my wife and I would even get in a good 20 minute meditation. The benefit of avoiding physical and mental fatigue coupled with the assistance of Autopilot made for an enjoyable 4500 mile road trip that we’re now planning on making 3-4x per year.
How Tesla Will Change Our Social & Physical Landscapes
Tesla’s vehicles and infrastructure make it easier to be closer to your family when there are longer distances between you. It’s not about a fast road trip. It’s about the quality/comfort of the time on that road trip and how you feel when you arrive. With Autopilot and superchargers, you arrive well rested. The drive is considerably more comfortable and less stressful thanks to Autopilot and the required, prolonged supercharger stops.
Locations with superchargers that provide amenities are desirable, and I think that eventually superchargers will be operated by companies other than Tesla. As other EV makers produce cars worthy of road trips, 3rd party supercharging equivalent stations will become an enticement to road trippers. Towns with supercharger spots (like Glenwood Springs) will have a wider tourist draw than towns without the charging infrastructure.
The day will come when you go to sleep by yourself in a car and wake up, well rested, at your destination, 3K miles away. The car will stop at the necessary charge stations and recharge all on its own and then head back down the highway. Flying will still be the quickest way to travel from NY to LA, but Tesla will change that for many other common long distance adventures.
Flying from LA to Vegas used to be something I preferred over driving. Now, I’d prefer to drive from LA to Vegas in a Tesla. I get some great carnitas burritos and my total driving time in only one hour longer than it is to fly when you factor in drive time to the airport, TSA lines, and getting a cab to the strip/hotel.
Then there’s the flexibility in time. Catching a flight from LAX to Aspen (closest airport to Glenwood Springs, CO) is a one hour drive to LAX + one hour arrival time window + two-hour flight to Aspen + one hour drive + whatever time on the tarmac (usually at least 30+ minutes). That 5.5 hours is considerably shorter than the estimated 17 hours of Tesla driving. 12 hours of time is a whole day at the caverns, adventure park, and hot springs. So, you can’t beat that… other than there being only a single non-stop flight between LAX and Aspen per day and flights with layovers can end up being longer than 15 hours in flight time.
It’s also nearly $400/ticket to get to Aspen on that non-stop flight. Tesla supercharging (which is included with my Tesla Model S but can run upwards of $0.26/kWh) would be approximately $81.02 for as many people as you can fit into a Model S (five adults, comfortably). Even with just two people, the $ cost savings is notable. Throw in the scenic drive and those Barstow Del Taco carnitas burritos…
Tesla road trips will increase regional tourism. Plenty of couples/families like mine will enjoy slightly longer road trips because they are now more comfortable and easier to accomplish thanks to Autopilot and superchargers! Families will be brought closer, and communities will prosper from friendly road trip tourism. My wife & I already have several trips planned for a variety of adventures, and based upon the wonderful Tesla drivers we met along the way, we’re not the only ones!