West Texas Road Trip : Amarillo to Austin - 510 miles (and back) with no EVSE
by, 2013-05-25 at 04:28 PM (62419 Views)
I-27 TxDOT rest stop north of Abernathy
Once you drive the Tesla, you really want to do all of your driving in your Tesla. Other cars are just not nearly as fun.
Thus when I needed from Amarillo to Austin, Texas to pick up my daughters at college, I immediately wanted to drive the Tesla. The problem is that this is a 510 mile drive in a car with a 265 mile range. If there were superchargers along the way, there would be no problem. The supercharger infrastructure is in its infancy, and as I write this there are no superchargers at all in Texas. Furthermore I don’t expect any superchargers along this particular route in the foreseeable future.
On previous drives to Austin from Amarillo, I have typically left in the late afternoon after getting off work, and then made a stopover for the night in Abilene which is about 290 miles away. This lets me get up first thing in the morning fresh to complete the drive.
The route between Amarillo and Austin is classical West Texas. Starting out in the ultra-flat High Plains of Amarillo I head due south on Interstate 27 to Lubbock. I then head southeast on US 84 to Post, Texas where there is a steep drop-off from the “Caprock Escarpment ”of the Llano Estacado to more rolling plains to the east. Continuing on past Post on Highway 84, the most logical place to stop and recharge is Snyder, Texas which is about 210 miles from my origination point. I calculated that if I recharged for about three hours this would provide enough range to reach Abilene and stop for the night. Driving between Snyder and Abilene takes me through an interesting mixture of oil wells and enormous windfarms as I approach Interstate 20.
The route between Abilene and Austin demonstrates the transition between arid rolling hills near Abilene to the Texas Hill Country approaching Austin. Things turn from gritty, dry, treeless and rocky hills to gently rolling green hills.
I planned to take this trip only nine days after taking delivery of my Model S. I didn’t have a good feel yet for how close the actual driving range was to the “rated range”. I hadn’t even charged my battery to 100% capacity. Thus it was my sense of adventure that drove me to go ahead and commit to a 510 mile trip through territory with not only no superchargers, but no public level 2 EVSE devices along the way.
I considered alternate routes between Amarillo and Austin. Routing through Wichita Falls and Fort Worth would take me through more heavily populated territory but was substantially longer. Perhaps if there were superchargers along the way that route would make sense. Taking an easterly route through Childress or Spur was even more desolate.
Where to recharge in a land with no EVSE
Once I made my final plan to take the Amarillo – Lubbock – Snyder – Abilene – Brownwood – Austin route, I decided upon stopping places. I needed to find an RV park that was conveniently located next to a reasonable motel. My first choice was a small motel/RV Park in Santa Anna, Texas which would give me a first day drive of about 350 miles. But calling two days before my trip they informed me that their RV spaces were completely booked. The next best alternative was to stopping Abilene, and I determined that the local KOA park was next door to a Motel 6. I then called searching for RV parks in Snyder, Texas and after finding two of the smaller parks to be full, found “Andy’s RV Park” which is located across the street from a Days Inn.
I called the RV parks to confirm availability and explain that I simply needed to park next to a 50 amp receptacle to recharge.
This was new territory for the RV parks. Neither one of them had ever heard of recharging an electric vehicle at an RV park, much less ever heard of a Tesla. However both were intrigued enough to offer me the chance to park in their facility for $10 per session.
My next concern was whether I truly had range to make this drive. I didn’t know if I would encounter unexpected hillclimbing. A strong headwind is a definite possibility in West Texas coming from either direction, and that could substantially reduce my range.
The obsessive compulsive meets range anxiety
I created a spreadsheet of various waypoints and my expected range. That way I could compare my actual remaining range on the Tesla display with my predictions based on waypoints. I decided to choose either McDonald’s or Dairy Queens as waypoints since they were easy to spot while driving. Thus I had a spreadsheet of the expected remaining range for the Plainview McDonald’s, Post McDonald’s, etc.
Having never charged my Tesla to full capacity, I had made all of my calculations expecting a 265 mile range. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the actual range was 273 miles when charging completed. I had to go to work that day and my short work commute and the usual battery drain had me down to 266 miles by the time I started my trip.
My first impression on starting the trip was severe alarm. In order to stay within the rated range I needed to keep my average energy utilization below 310 Watt hours per mile, but my initial averages once I got to a 60 mph cruise speed were closer to 360. This would mean that I wouldn’t even make Snyder before running out of electricity, and there are literally no towns for up to 50 miles at a time on this route. I throttled back to cruise control to 58 mph however there seem to be a dramatic reduction in energy utilization after about 15 miles that was unrelated to the speed change. Once I got my energy utilization averaging below 300, I went back to 60 mph for the rest of the day.
This was a hot day and it was 98 ° leaving Amarillo, and over 100 in Lubbock and Post. Thus the air conditioner was really not optional so all of my mileage here is with the air conditioner set at 74 which was perfectly comfortable.
I was pleasantly surprised that I met or exceeded all of my benchmarks for rated miles of the waypoints that I had listed on my spreadsheet. I was expecting to pull into Snyder with 49 miles of rated range remaining, but I actually had 56. The Abilene KOA is 76 miles away, so I recharged for 2 ˝ hours at the Andy’s RV Park while catching up on some office work with free wireless at the Days Inn across the street. I had initially planned on catching a movie during my down time in Snyder, particularly since the new Star Trek was opening this weekend. One thing that I haven’t realized is that a town this size has absolutely no public transportation, and not even a single taxi. Given that the movie theater was about 5 miles away I decided to catch up on office work.
Andy's RV Park - Snyder, TX
I pulled into Abilene after the closing of the KOA office, and they had instructed me to simply find whatever available space had a 50 amp socket in go ahead and plug-in. They agreed to settle the bill the next morning when I left. The KOA was right next to the Motel 6. I have to say that it has been quite some time since I have stopped at a Motel 6. The Tesla would have been quite out of place in the Motel 6 parking lot, and I actually felt more comfortable parking it at the KOA next to retired senior citizens and their huge RVs.
Disaster almost strikes
One of the nice things about the Tesla is the iPhone app. For some reason I woke up at 5 AM and decided to punch the Tesla app on the iPhone. To my horror it indicated that the Tesla was no longer charging. I threw on some clothes and ran next door to KOA, and found that I was not getting any power out of the 50 amp socket. Resetting the circuit breakers next to the socket didn’t help. I apparently had blown a circuit breaker further upstream. I was able to find another space that was fully operational and restarted my charging. I probably lost about two hours of charge time here, but it didn’t significantly impact my planned leaving time.
Highway 84 windfarms
Starting out with a fully charged pack I decided to drive as fast as I could and still maintain my energy utilization rate below 310. This initially worked out to be about 60 mph, again with the air-conditioning on, but as I got closer to Austin was able to increase up to about 63. I arrived in Austin with 37 miles of range left after 224 mile drive.
Charging in Austin was quite easy. My daughter’s condominium had a 240 V outlet in the garage but it would only support 16 A before tripping the circuit breaker. I decided to buy a few hours of charging at a Chargepoint EVSE north of the University of Texas campus. I was somewhat disappointed that the charge point delivered only 224 V which I thought was an odd number. I suspect that it must be at the end of a relatively circuit back to the transformer, but at least it did get me 19 miles of range per hour charge versus the 10 miles those getting at the condominium. After five hours at the charge point, I drove back to the condo and topped off the battery charge overnight.
The return trip the next day was essentially a reversal of the same route. However I was much more confident about making the trip and being able to adjust the speed in order to match the changes in elevation or headwinds. I had a nice tail wind coming out of Austin headed towards Abilene which was a big bonus for me. I stopped back at the KOA and charged while I went to dinner with my daughters, and 2 ˝ hours later I was ready to head for Snyder which was our stop for the night.
My daughters at the Abilene KOA
Driving a Tesla where no Tesla has gone before....
One of the unexpected bonuses of this trip was the sheer number of people who stopped me to ask “what is that you’re driving”. I stopped at a Texas Department of Transportation rest stop south of Plainview, and I must’ve had 15 people surround the car. I stopped at the Post, Texas McDonald’s drive-through and the window guy wanted to know more about the car. I had lunch at the Brownwood, Texas Taco Bell and the entire kitchen came out to see the car. I had people given me thumbs up driving past me the entire trip. The parking lot at Gourdough's food truck in Austin had people walking over to check out the car. I was a bit concerned that our neighbors in the Austin condominium might disapprove of the 75 foot 240 V extension cord running to the Tesla, but they were actually enthralled with the concept of recharging an electric only vehicle.
Gourdough's famous Austin fat enriched doughnuts
My final mileage was 1052 all-electric miles, covering territory largely devoid of any commercial recharging stations. We all know what a fun car the Tesla is to drive, and it more than made up for the slightly slower cruising speed. Once I saw that the energy utilization was directly under my control by altering my cruise speed I had the confidence to go these long distances without significant range anxiety.
Once there gets to be better supercharger infrastructure that allows for faster recharging nationwide, I would have to think that the Tesla would be the vehicle of choice for any long trip. If you are OK with a few charge stops, the Tesla is a wonderful road car, even in West Texas.
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