Epilogue

On the night before my flight out of DC, after a week of playing Tesla Taxi Driver in DC rush hour traffic, I parked the car, walked down to the basement kitchen of the IG mansion in DC, handed the keys to Jim, poured myself three fingers of Black Label, and took a deep breath. It was over.

Now that I've got a little distance from the experience, I have some final thoughts to close it out. This post is the end of the Tesla Road Trip blog - you won't get any more emails from this list - but I'm going to keep writing. If you want to get no-more-than-once-a-week updates from me on random topics like travel, visualization, sustainability, etc, you can put your email in this box and I'll add you to the list.

At the beginning of the trip I thought it would be neat to post a picture of every Supercharger station I stopped at. Pretty early on the novelty of that activity wore off as I noticed a pattern: all the Superchargers are in ugly places. Strip mall parking lots. Express hotel back lots. Gas stations. Carl's Juniors. Waffle Houses.

Supercharger stations tend to be in delightfully charming spots such as this.

Supercharger stations tend to be in delightfully charming spots such as this.

It's not really Tesla's fault that their stations are in ugly spots. Most places in this country are ugly. Everywhere I looked on my drive I saw asphalt, billboards, fast food joints, concrete barriers, neon signs, telephone lines, and oceans of sprawled-out low-quality suburban housing. America has some of the most beautiful natural landscapes on the whole planet, but the cities and towns where people live are almost uniformly ugly. 

Somewhere in Georgia I stopped at a Supercharger located behind a gas station/town market. I wanted to walk to a deli a few blocks away to get a sandwich. I made it a few hundred yards before the sidewalk ended. I kept going, walking over a sort of dirt lawn thing, before coming to a large intersection. There were no pedestrian signals or crosswalks. I stood at the intersection for five minutes, waiting for an opportunity to cross without a high risk of getting beaned by a truck.

I felt like an idiot, like someone who accidentally trespassed because he's too dumb to notice the "DO NOT ENTER" signs. Eventually I trudged back to the car and sat in it until it finished charging and then drove to the deli.

One of the main reasons that the American built environment is so unattractive to humans is that it is not built for humans - it is built for cars.

The consequences of this design mistake go deeper than the aesthetic experience of our built environment. When we build for cars, we sprawl out into the countryside. We pave over wilderness and farmland. We build isolated little fortresses for ourselves that contribute to social isolation and psychological dysfunctions. Our infrastructure swells up to adapt to the massive scale of humanity and the per-capita resource demand skyrockets.

This is not a new or even controversial idea. I've been reading about it since I was a teen (Jane Jacobs, Alex Steffen, Christopher Alexander, Richard Register, the list goes on). But the experience of driving across the country in a car and at a pace that requires me to stop in the middle of the American built environment really drove it home for me.

The more cars we have, the worse our cities become.

A world filled with electric vehicles may have cleaner air and less carbon dumping into the atmosphere, but is still a world of massive highways, socially isolating suburban sprawl, and unacceptably high resource consumption.

Cars and trucks are here to stay on this planet, at least a until we come up with Star Trek transporters and beam ourselves wherever we want. Switching our vehicle fleets from internal combustion to electric motors is something we must do, as quickly as possible, for a huge number of reasons. The fact that Tesla is making awesome, functional electric cars is a huge win for everyone.

But.

If we swapped every single fossil-fuel-burning car on Earth with an electric car tomorrow, we'd all still be living on a doomed and ugly planet. It is not enough to phase out the fossil fuel car; we must also phase out the practice of building ugly places to live that are centered around the idea of everyone driving everywhere for anything.

I think that we can build cities, towns, and a society that isn't so dependent on cars, and that is beautiful, inspiring, healthy, and sustainable. This notion happens to be the philosophical underpinning to my career (along with a huge rising tide of people, including most of my friends and colleagues). I'm still very much trying to figure out how to help build the world I want to live in, but an idea that I keep coming back to is that we lack inspiring visions and stories of what it is that we want. 

A lot of incredible work has been done constructing critiques of what we've got. Sprawl is bad. Burning all the fossil fuels remaining will kill us all. Capitalism is looking pretty iffy. Industrialization has some major flaws. Autocentrism is a mistake. Sitting at our desks is killing us. The list goes on. 

So there are a lot of people out there who are going "Okay, I got this huge list of stuff I shouldn't do. Um. So what should I be doing?"

Our "you should do this instead" list sucks. It's too short, vague, and uninspiring. ("Ride a bike? Wear hemp shirts?")

Preach it, Bucky.

Preach it, Bucky.

You can't build something you can't imagine. You're not going to abandon the old system until you have a firm vision of a new system that is way better.

No one stopped using VHS tapes just because they sucked. They stopped using VHS because DVD's came along and they were obviously superior.

I think we need to come up with a vision for a world that is obviously superior than the one we have now. I think that vision needs to be very clear, massively compelling, and exciting. 

I believe in this seriously enough that I am making a major adjustment to my career this February to pursue it. I am going to focus exclusively on making visualizations of a better built environment. I have some big plans for this line of work and I'm very excited about it.

If you're interested in reading updates on that journey, I'm going to be blogging at www.tylerjdisney.com/blog. 

You can subscribe to posts here.

Thanks for following along on my little road trip. 

Segment 8: The Final Day

I woke up just outside of Savannah and hit the road, headed due North for the first time. 570 miles to reach DC.  

By now the routine of long distance Tesla driving is completely reflexive, second nature.

Pull in to the Supercharger. Pop the charge port and plug in. Watch the voltage and amperage ramp up to make sure it's a good strong charge. Switch to the map screen and find the next Supercharger station. Read how long the Nav system says you need to charge to make it there - ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty-five minutes, an hour. Get up and stretch the legs, find a bathroom, find coffee, find food, wander. Check email. Read. Journal. Think. 

Plenty of time to think profound road trippy thoughts. And take selfies.  

Plenty of time to think profound road trippy thoughts. And take selfies.  

A Tesla isn't the ideal vehicle if you need to get somewhere far away in a hurry. But somewhere between Albuquerque and Baton Rouge I settled into the rhythm imposed by the car and the Tesla infrastructure. I couldn't rush, so I wasn't rushed. I got there when I got there. My body felt pretty good at the end of the day because I was stretching and getting my blood moving every two hours. My mind was remarkably clear and free of it's normal frantic task-switching tendencies.

It won't always be this way. Soon the range of a standard EV will be 500+ miles, and battery-swap stations will cut the "recharge" time to two minutes. Superchargers will be in every town and Range Anxiety will be something that everyone completely forgets about, except for a few crusty old early adopters who talk about how it was back in their day when they had to fight gas cars that would park in the precious charging stalls sometimes. 

Kids will stare at the ludicrously complex internal combustion engines on display in museums, and wonder how we ever made it down the road without something breaking or blowing up in a gigantic fireball. By this time of course, the notion that humans once had to drive the cars themselves will seem antiquated. I imagine the thought of gas-powered human-controlled cars will seem as savage as how we now think of surgeons who didn't know about washing their hands before sticking their fingers into someone's guts.

I pulled into Old Town Alexandria just across the river from DC around 8pm. I stayed at Holly and Thariq's (my girlfriend's sister and her husband) beautiful restored row house there.

The next few days of Greenbuild were a blur, as they always are, which is why this post is late coming. The numbers from my trip, as close as I can reckon, are these:

3,800 miles.

8 days of driving.

32 Supercharger stops.

18 hours of Supercharging.

4,800 milligrams of caffeine.

$0 direct fuel cost.

The End. 

The End. 

Segment 7: An Old Friend

Today I changed my mind three or four times about my route. Long story short, I started in Mobile and ended in Savannah.  

What made up my mind was trying to make running into Jon Robertson. He's on mile eleven thousand and something of his road trip and is making his run clockwise around the country. He's got a smoker strapped to the top of his Camry, which is just about all I think I need to say about that. 

Two California cars meet in the South... 

Two California cars meet in the South... 

Good times with good friends results in short blog posts. Tomorrow is my last run, straight up the coast to Alexandria (hi Thing!!).

It feels a bit surreal to be almost done, to have driven all the way to the opposite coast in just a few days. My mind was just getting settled into the routine of the highway... 

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Segment 6: A Long Day

I left Austin around 11 after having breakfast with Bungane and his family - Bungane runs the Integral Group office here. He took the car for a spin before I headed East again.  

It was a slog to get around Houston, which apparently has toll roads (we don't really have those in Northern California). The Supercharger was a Tesla showroom and Service Center, which was cool to see. Have you ever seen a garage that looks like this? 

 

Where's the grease?? The stains?? The mullets?? I have no idea what's real anymore.  

Where's the grease?? The stains?? The mullets?? I have no idea what's real anymore.  

They had a naked model S which was cool to see as well.  

 

I couldn't think of anything witty for this caption.  

I couldn't think of anything witty for this caption.  

I've been meaning to mention this, but if you want to know more about Tesla, you should check out Wait But Why's post on it. In fact if you're interested in the human race at all you should probably read the whole series on Musk, Tesla, and SpaceX. It's a lot of words to read but they're worth it. 

 http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/06/how-tesla-will-change-your-life.html

Bungane asked me this morning if the novelty of driving a Tesla has worn off on me yet. The answer is yes, the novelty has worn off. But I'm still shooting down the highway in a futuristic space car, and that sensation hasn't diminished over the past 2,000 miles. I'm simply more comfortable with that sensation. 

I still feel like I'm living in a dice of the future, which brings to mind the William Gibson quote:  "The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet."

 

Pin is totally unimpressed with the Tesla, but he's a good sport about it all because I told him we were headed for snow.  

Pin is totally unimpressed with the Tesla, but he's a good sport about it all because I told him we were headed for snow.  

By the time I got through Lake Charles and Baton Rouge, it was 10pm and I was pretty tired. But the run to Mobile is 200 miles, and my leg for tomorrow is 510 miles already. I decided to push on.  

I charged in Baton Rouge for 70 minutes because of the 200 mile run. I took the opportunity to practice Blender and shave.  

By 2am I reached mobile. Waaaay past my bedtime but glad to get the distance behind me.

Looking at the Supercharger map, I see a route that wasn't available to me on the website when Iaid out my initial itinerary. I think tomorrow I'll cut up North East from here through Atlanta and Charlotte instead of going straight to the coast at Savannah. It's going to shave a lot of time off and my next two days were going to be longer than this one so that sounds pretty good right now.  

Time to pass out.  

Segment 5: Headed South For Winter

Today I drove from Oklahoma City to Austin, Texas. Only 400 miles, but there was traffic around Dallas and in Austin so it took longer than I anticipated.

Waco, Texas Supercharger.  

Waco, Texas Supercharger.  

We have an office here and I'm meeting Bungane - who leads the office - in the morning for breakfast and a quick spin, and then tomorrow is a long run to Mobile, AL. 630 miles.

They don't let you post things on the internet nowadays unless you include a selfie, so here we go. 

They don't let you post things on the internet nowadays unless you include a selfie, so here we go. 

I got an Airbnb for the night, a room in a three bedroom house in South Austin. I couldn't take another soulless Holiday Inn Express (nothing against them, they're great when all you want to do is crash. They just make me feel derealized like Edward Norton in Fight Club after too many nights in a row). It's one of those places where they rent out all the rooms and the owners live somewhere else, so you're likely to run into other Airbnb'ers. Have met some cool people this way (and some crazy ones) but tonight I've got the place to myself.  

I've always struggled to force myself to go to sleep at night. Having a smartphone makes it worse - I'll just endlessly watch Downhill Mountain Biking videos on YouTube or awful Netflix movies or just thumb through Twitter until my eyes burn and I finally fall asleep.

Yesterday I decided to enforce a habit of turning all my screens off before bed and reading a physical book (as opposed to a Kindle book on my phone, where I'm just a swipe away from Twitter) until I fall asleep. I stopped at a Barnes and Nobles in Amarillo and bought a Kim Stanley Robinson book to kick off my new habit. It's about a prehistoric Shaman, I think. 

I'm grateful for my new habit tonight, particularly. As soon as I finish this post I'm going to put my phone down and I'm not going to check it until tomorrow sometime. If I don't do that, I'll just thumb through the horror of what happened today until the early hours of the morning, riding waves of emotions of helplessness, shameful tragedy vouyerism, and anger, all mixed up with exhaustion and that sensation of rootlessness you get on solo road trips. It's a sad day. 

I don't know what to say about it so I'm just going to put this picture here.  

I don't know what to say about it so I'm just going to put this picture here.  

Segment 4: Cruising Speed

Today was Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, 536 total miles, almost evenly split into 100 mile chunks. I actually wasn't going to go as far as OKC but I was making good time so I pushed it. 

I learned that the map of Superchargers on Teslas website isn't updated as frequently as they bring stations online, but the map in the cars Nav system has the latest. A new SC (supercharger) recently came online in Amarillo, TX, which nicely cut what I thought was going to be a 210 mile leg in half. 

After the Incident of Segment 2, I haven't experienced any range anxiety whatsoever. For one thing, I don't have any more girlfriends waiting outside airports in the freezing cold for me - from here on out it doesn't really matter when I finish each day.  

For another thing, I give myself a very heathy charge margin for each leg. Also the distances between legs is very reasonable - I'm not anticipating any battery-stretchers.  

The final thing is holy crap it's flat out here! I've always lived in or very near mountains and the flatness out here is actually kind of eerie to me. Beautiful, but eerie. 

So what do I do on these long stretches? Mostly listen to podcasts about self improvement or how to hack being better at life, but when I can't take that any more I crank up the dubstep and think.  

(I wonder how many Tesla drivers out there rock the drum n bass beats? )

I saw a lot of windmills today, even passed a few convoys of wide load trucks hauling windmill parts to wherever.  

It makes me feel like I'm getting a tiny sneak peek at what the future we want is going to be like. Electric motors replacing combustion engines. Power produced cleanly. Cars driving themselves. Dubstep cranked to 11.  

My mind wanders more.

I thought about how often I'm compelled to leave the city and seek refuge in nature, in the wilderness, the mountains. The frantic pitch of the city, the prison-cell body feel of the concrete walls and asphalt ground and billboarded field of vision, dodging the millions of other drones in the streets who just like me seek refuge in their phones in an effort to tune it all out because it's too much. 

I can escape the wilderness often because I'm privileged to have a good job, access to a car, and to have grown up in the wilderness and so have a deeply embedded recognition of what it does for my psyche.  

But that's not a sustainable or scalable solution. Having cities that suck so bad that every weekend millions of their privileged inhabitants flee in their Subarus and Patagonia jackets to the mountains is a terrible system. 

What if our cities didn't suck so bad? 

What if our cities were more like gardens or forests themselves, spaces rich with biological life and interesting spaces to explore and secluded refuges that we could go to recharge? 

The idea that human environments are separate from "natural" environments is a false one, deeply and thoroughly criticized by basically everyone. And yet, there is a huge gulf between our personal experience of Yosemite and our experience of downtown SF. Or Fresno. Or wherever. 

As the sun goes down and I drive towards a sky fading into bands of orange and purple and grayish blue I think about a city filled with life, with ancient Redwood Groves, ponds and streams, birds and lizards and mice, and real dirt, along with and on top of and integrated with well built beautiful buildings and spaces for people to live, work, play, be. I think about a city I don't need to escape from. 

 

 

Flagstaff Day Tripping and Segment 3

Despite the rocky start to our time in Flagstaff, Sunday through Wednesday was a nice few days. 

On Sunday we explored the city a bit, finding good coffee shops, brunch spots, and went on a critical tour of the local outdoor supply shops in the downtown area. 

On Monday we drove up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and hiked around a little, then drove back. It is 90 miles to the Rim, so it was a 180 mile round trip. I fully charged the Tesla for the first time in Flagstaff, which brought her to a rated range of 260 miles, and we had no problem.

On Tuesday it snowed, which was a fun experience for two Californians. The car hydroplaned a bit on the highway, but I felt the car's brains take over power transmission and it regained stability in a fraction of a second (good thing too, as I was taking a curve right next to a semi truck). We spent the morning holed up in a cafe working, and when it started really coming down retreated back to the Airbnb and built a fire.

On Wednesday we checked out of the Airbnb and went on a short but steep hike just north of Sedona. I dropped Lindsey back at the airport at 2pm and pointed east on 40.

I knew I'd be leaving late so it was a short day: 330 miles. I've started thinking of my days in terms of the mileage between Superchargers. Today was a 90-90-140 day, and I did it in 6 hours.

Tomorrow, Thursday, is a 115-60-210-100 day, 475 total miles, and if all goes according to plan I'll finish the day in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Segment 2: A Litany of Errors

Segment two was Saturday November 7 , Inyokern to Flagstaff, 455 miles.  

The thing about segment two is that I was supposed to pick up my girlfriend at the Flagstaff airport at 5pm, so I had a hard deadline to meet. 

By the words I'm choosing, you can probably guess the punch line by now.  

Error #1: The Time Change

I forgot that Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings time, which cost me an hour. Ouch.  

Error #2: Underestimating Charge Times

Up until Saturday, I had only experienced Superchargers that slammed energy into the car at a whopping three hundred and some odd amps. Based on that, I gave myself a maximum charge time of thirty minutes per stop (of which I had four: Inyokern, Barstow, Needles, Kingman). 

Inyokern was fine and I was feeling good. 

Charging in Inyokern - before a sense of profound doom settled over me. 

Charging in Inyokern - before a sense of profound doom settled over me. 

The Barstow charger, however, was bouncing around between 20 and 75 amps. It was also at Barstow that I got the text from Lindsey: "Don't forget the time change!" 

Well, crap. 

Solar powered Supercharger in Barstow. The stall I pulled into was giving an erratic charge. 

Solar powered Supercharger in Barstow. The stall I pulled into was giving an erratic charge. 

I gave the charger an hour before setting off for Needles with a margin I wasn't excited about but figured would be adequate. 

Into 20mph headwinds. 

Up numerous steep grades.  

Nothing but coyotes and a lack of cell coverage out here. 

Nothing but coyotes and a lack of cell coverage out here. 

I spent a fair bit of the leg to Needles at 50mph attempting to draft behind an RV, being very stressed that I was going to run out of charge in the middle of the desert with no cell service. Which is an example of:

Error #3: Not understanding the relationship between terrain and range

Part of why I was so stressed is because I wasn't exactly sure how much a steep grade for ten miles would effect the range. I also wasn't exceptionally familiar with the road, so I didn't have an exact idea of how long the grades were going to sustain.   

If I'd known that I could expect a 2000ft drop into Needles over the last ten miles, I wouldn't have felt compelled to drop my speed so much. This is something I would have known if I'd spent a little time researching the elevation of my stops.

Error #4: Not giving myself a huge safety factor when trip time actually mattered

The fact is, there were a lot of uncertainties that I had going in, which justified a much larger safety factor than I gave myself. I wouldn't have been the least bit stressed if it didn't matter when I got to Flagstaff - but since I saw my relationship status teetering in the balance, it was not a fun day for me. 

The Needles to Kingman leg is only 60 miles, so I charged quickly and then tore up the steep grade to Kingman. I had another couple thousand feet of elevation to climb and 160 miles to Flagstaff, so I gave it a solid charge before hitting the road again. 

Apparently folks in Kingman, Arizona are excited for the upcoming election. Feel the Bern!!

Apparently folks in Kingman, Arizona are excited for the upcoming election. Feel the Bern!!

Lindsey got a cab to the Airbnb from the airport and was snuggled up reading by the time I pulled in, much chastened over my calculation errors of the day. 

All of the stress of this day this due to my being a rookie Tesla driver. The next time I have to cover 455 miles through desolate desert, on unfamiliar roads, uncertain wind conditions, with an absolutely do-not-be-late condition, I will give myself a much larger span of time to arrive and not be stressed about it.

We stayed in Flagstaff for the next four nights, exploring the area and doing some short day trips. It was good to have down time to reflect on the trip and take the lessons I'd learned to heart. 

I'm only 781 miles into this trip, with 3,000 left to go. This segment didn't go so well, but by the time I pull into DC I will no longer be a rookie Tesla driver.

Day 0: So It Begins

I left my house in Berkeley at 5am so as to avoid the worst of the traffic.

Pulled in to the empty Tesla Supercharger station in Dublin with fifty miles left at 0530. 

Dublin Supercharger for the last time.  

Dublin Supercharger for the last time.  

Made it to Harris Ranch with no problem. Drove conservatively, keeping it at around 70mph most of the way.  

Harris Ranch is where they have the new Battery Swap stall, which just sort of looks like one of those drive through car washes. The doors were closed so wasn't much to see. 

Harris Ranch Battery Swap

Harris Ranch Battery Swap

The next leg was longer, 160miles, to Mojave. I charged up to 220miles and set the cruise at 68, knowing I had the Tehachipi Pass to get over. 

Mojave Supercharger. I heard a sonic boom shortly after taking this shot. Standard out here. 

Mojave Supercharger. I heard a sonic boom shortly after taking this shot. Standard out here. 

I pulled in to Mojave with 30 miles to spare, so it overestimated my range a little (not surprising, considering the Tehachipi Pass, and a couple episodes over 70mph...) 

Sixty more miles got me to Ridgecrest, near the Inyokern Supercharger. I grew up in the Mountains above this town.  

Somewhere in the desert

Somewhere in the desert

The Tesla is now charging slowly overnight on 115v - but it's pure, 100%, All-American Carbon-free solar electricity from a grid-tied Net Positive residence. Doesn't get any better than that. 

I feel like I'm experiencing the future. Oh, this  is what it's going to be like in x years. This is what normal will be soon. The picture clarifies a little bit. 

Today was a trip I often make by gas car in 6 hours. Today I did it in 7.5. - but honestly, since I stopped more frequently and drove somewhat slower, I didn't feel as strung out as I usually do when I did finally arrive. If speed records is a priority for you, I can't recommend going the electric vehicle route. But if quality of life is what you value, there may be something to this. 

This was just the first day. I'll check back in on this after 3,800 miles. 

I'm not going far tomorrow. On Saturday I drive from here to Flagstaff, Arizona.  

How to Plan a Road Trip in a Tesla

Step 1: Learn your car's specs

Go to http://www.teslamotors.com/models and play with the settings to understand how various factors impact range. 

Remember that these are only estimates: other factors (e.g. weight, number of occupants, elevation gain, the tumbleweed that got stuck in the grille two states ago) will impact range as well. You always want to give yourself a margin of safety. 

Step 2: Map your route along the Supercharger path

Go to http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger, pull up your favorite Maps app of choice, and establish your route along the path of Superchargers. 

Tesla's Supercharger map

Tesla's Supercharger map

Route using Google Maps

Route using Google Maps

Step 3: Figure out the distance between each Supercharger

Just use Google maps for this. The point of this is to ensure that every leg of your journey is actually within the range of your car, and to give you an idea of how much you need to charge up. 

If you only have 80 miles to the next Supercharger, charge up for 20 minutes to about 80% and hit the road. 

If you have 215 miles to the next Supercharger, you probably want to charge up to 100% and make sure you don't go much over 70MPH.

(This is an earlier draft of my Itinerary, to throw off the paparazzi.)

(This is an earlier draft of my Itinerary, to throw off the paparazzi.)

Step 4: Make your packing list

What to pack is obviously critical, and deserves its own full post. Check back for that soon.