As past readers know, we sold our RV last fall. However, that doesn’t mean my travel blogging is over. A funny thing gradually happened as I wrote all those posts documenting our RV travels from 2018 through 2021. While the initial intent was simply to document the trips for our family and friends back in Minnesota – so they would know that we were still alive and (hopefully) well – I came to realize that the blog posts also served two other purposes. First, they turned out to be good for remembering what we had actually done, which is great for memory-challenged senior citizens like Pat and me. And second, I actually had a great time writing them. So, why can’t I write travel blogs for non-RV trips? I can see no reason (although perhaps some readers can).
At any rate, as 2021 drew to a close, I was getting set to write a travel blog during our upcoming Viking Ocean Cruise trip to Greece and Turkey. But then, the Covid Omicron variant reared its ugly head and, as nightmarish visions appeared of being stuck in Athens trying to get a Covid test so we could get back home, we cancelled the trip. This led to some serious moping in the Saari household. We were still moping as February rolled around when Steve Aldrich, my friend and golfing partner from Grand Marais, sent me an e-mail about a Road Scholar program called “The Best Golf of Your Life,” a week of golf instruction and play at several courses in St. George, Utah, in late April. Just the thing to lift my spirits. But what about Pat?
“You could come, too,” I said hopefully.
“And do what?” she replied – a very logical question since she has no interest whatsoever in golf.
“There’s a one-day trip to Zion National Park included in the program. You could come for that,” I said, trying not to wheedle.
“Been there, done that,” she said, since we had visited Zion on our Excellent Adventure in 2019.
“But remember how nice the bike trails were in St. George when we were there back in 2019? You could bike your brains out while I’m golfing,” I suggested. Pat’s brow furrowed slightly as she considered this option.
“What, you mean I could rent a bike out there? That might be expensive if I did it for several days,” she said. “And I certainly couldn’t bring my own bike on a plane.”
“No, that’s not what I was thinking. We do have a bike rack, you know. And the Tesla has a hitch receiver.”
We spent a few moments exchanging meaningful glances before excitement began to build in both our minds.
“Yes!” we shouted simultaneously. “Road trip!!!”
Suddenly our lost trip to Greece and Turkey was forgotten as we began to plan a Tesla road trip. I found a great app called A Better Route Planner (ABRP) which can search out the best way to get from any point A to any point B with an appropriate set of stops for charging an electric car. We plotted a route from Minneapolis to St. George that would get us there in four days, by early afternoon on Sunday, April 24. We booked overnight stays at three Airbnb locations – renting entire premises, since we were still having a fair amount of Covid anxiety. We even bought new tires for the Tesla, since the originals weren’t rated for much more than 20,000 miles and we were already approaching that milestone. The excitement continued to build until 9 AM on Thursday, April 21, Pat’s 65th birthday, when we hauled our luggage down to the garage in our Condo building, loaded up the car, checked our e-bikes, which I had mounted on the bike rack the day before, and backed out of our parking space. That’s when the first issue popped up.
“Why is our brand-new front left tire flat?” asked Pat, noting the warning message on the car’s display screen.
“Beats me,” I said. “It wasn’t flat yesterday.”
“Are you sure?” she replied. “Did you actually check the tires yesterday?”
She had me there, of course. So, we pumped up the tire with the air compressor in the garage and headed to Discount Tire to have it checked. By the time they had discovered and repaired the problem (a leaky valve stem), we were already three hours behind the first day’s schedule, which called for 6 hours and 36 minutes of driving and two charging stops. But at least we were on our way.
As we drove through the countryside toward our first planned charging stop in Worthington, MN, we were serenaded by a melodious tone from the rear of the car, perhaps similar to the sound of those fabled sirens, the Lorelei, who enticed witless sailors to their deaths in days of yore. As an engineer who has studied fluid mechanics, I of course knew that this sound was the result of vortices formed by the airflow across the bikes and bike rack on the back of the car, known as Aeolian tones. I hate to admit that I was just as witless as those sailors, despite my study of fluid mechanics, but we were saved from doom by the Tesla itself.
As we approached within about 60 miles of our first planned stop, the Tesla Supercharger in Worthington, Gerty Google, the nice woman in the Tesla Navigation app, suddenly told us to turn south. At first we were puzzled by this, but then we noticed that a much closer Tesla Supercharger in Sherburne, MN, had popped up on the display screen as our next destination. Then the proverbial shoe dropped with a resounding thud. The bikes on the car were not only making seductive music, they were also significantly increasing the aerodynamic drag on the car, and we didn’t have enough juice left in the battery to make it to Worthington. I had failed to account for the increased power consumption when I laid out our plan with the ABRP app. (I had a sudden mental image of Professor Ephraim Sparrow smirking at the other professors on my Ph.D. oral examination committee back in 1974. “I told you we shouldn’t have passed this moron,” he was saying in his most pompous manner.)
Anyway, that was the second issue in our rocky start to the Eclectic Electric Road Trip. The entire plan was obsolete, as we were going to have to make a lot more charging stops than I had planned for. By the time we reached the first Airbnb in Winner, SD, it was 8:20 PM. We had been travelling for 11 hours and twenty minutes, including an hour and a half at Discount Tire and two extra charging stops. At least the Airbnb was a nice, four-room building with a comfy bed, and we enjoyed a good night’s sleep (though the heater didn’t work) before departing at 9 AM Friday morning. Little did we know that things were only going to get worse.
The great plan called for us to reach the second Airbnb, in Douglas, WY, at 4 PM. Having adjusted our charging stops to match the increased energy consumption due to the bicycles, we again made two extra charging stops along the way. One of those was in Wall, SD, where we took advantage of the break to have lunch at the iconic but kitschy Wall Drug. (I had a buffalo hot dog, which was surprisingly tasty.)
Our last charging stop for the day was at Lusk, WY, some 52 miles from the next Airbnb. As we headed westward, we began to notice an ominous looking cloud ahead. We had just passed the town of Manville when there was a startling clunk on the glass roof of the car. A minute later there was another, then another, and suddenly we were being pelted by marble-sized hailstones. Pat urged me to turn back to Manville, but I couldn’t see any advantage to that, though I did slow down a bit. But within minutes the road surface was thick with hailstones and driving was impossible, so I pulled off the road into a farmer’s driveway to wait out the storm. The hailstones seemed to get larger and the noise was deafening. We were certain that the car roof was going to break and that our troublesome but beloved e-bikes were going to be wrecked.
Luckily, the hail stopped after about fifteen minutes, replaced by a steady but happily non-threatening rain, and the roof remained intact. I crept back onto the road and headed toward Douglas again, but there was a thick layer of hailstones covering the entire road and we could only move at about five or ten miles an hour. Eventually we drove out of the hail-covered area and were able to resume normal speed, completing our trip to the Airbnb in the rain. Our arrival time was 5:46 PM, so our travel time was 8.8 hours, only about two hours longer than planned. Oops, there was a time zone change as we were now on Pacific time, so make that three hours late.
The second Airbnb was also nice – a stand-alone cottage with kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and two baths, located in the back yard of the owners. Once we got settled in and determined that the car and bikes were essentially intact, we drove into the town of Douglas for dinner at a decent steakhouse. As we left the steakhouse, we noticed a nearby Hampton Inn with a Tesla destination charger, which turned out to be significant as things were about to get even worse.
I woke up at 5 AM Saturday morning, which is not unusual for me, and saw a message on my phone from the third Airbnb we had booked. At 3 AM, the host had sent a message canceling our reservation, as she had to rush to the hospital experiencing pre-term labor. I then looked out the living room window and saw that our car was covered in four inches of snow, and that it was snowing heavily. As I searched for another Airbnb to book, Pat emerged from the bedroom to inform me that there was a blizzard warning in effect to the west. We spent an hour or so looking at weather maps and the Wyoming Highway Department website and trying to decide what to do. Eventually we decided to start driving west and just stop somewhere if the conditions were too bad, opting not to book another Airbnb.
Shortly after 8 AM, we began loading up the car again. I had to brush the snow and ice off with my hands because the snow brush/ice scraper was buried at the bottom of the stuff in the car. By 8:30, after about four trips from the cottage to the car, we were on the road again. Driving wasn’t too bad in town, with a few roads already plowed and only three inches or so on the unplowed ones. But as we neared the highway toward Casper, the wind was blowing and visibility was poor.
“Now bear right to take the westbound highway entrance ramp …” Gerty Google intoned.
“Do you see a ramp?” I asked Pat, as I crawled along at 5 mph.
“No,” she replied. “Do you see a highway?”
We continued driving slowly, finding ourselves creeping along on an eastbound highway, with periodic wind gusts blowing the snow and reducing visibility to five feet or less. Every so often, the left lane would have a windblown bare spot and a 4×4 pickup would roar around us and disappear again into the blowing snow. After about fifteen minutes, we came to an exit back toward Douglas. Wending our way through the blowing snow, we eventually found ourselves near that Hampton Inn. It seemed like fate was telling us something, so we stopped to see if they had a room, which they did. The clerk told me where the two Tesla chargers were located, so I drove the car over to find a large pickup truck parked in front of one and a space just wide enough to squeeze into in front of the other. After plugging in the car, I unloaded the luggage and schlepped it into the hotel, but not before chasing down my cap after it blew away in the wind.
So, there we stayed for the rest of the day, periodically checking the weather maps and wondering if we would ever make it to St. George. It was clear we would not get there by early afternoon Sunday, since we had at least 16 hours of travel time yet to go, so I was going to miss the Road Scholar program orientation meeting. But, dear readers, don’t despair. While we indeed had a rocky start, things could only get better from that point. Stay tuned for more blog posts as my tale of Pat and Dave’s Eclectic Electric Road Trip continues.