May 11, 2021
I just completed my first long trip in my Bolt EV. I traveled from Blanco, Texas to Glade Valley, North Carolina and back and then to Houston and back. The entire trip lasted 14 days and covered 2691 miles (according to the My Chevrolet app, which seems to severely under count the mileage somehow). We did return home for one night (about 9 hours) between the two adventures, but it's all one long trip in my mind. What you are reading is intended to record the trip from the point of view of driving an electric vehicle (specifically a 2021 Chevrolet Bolt) in spring of 2021.
Why We Took this Trip
First of all, like everybody else, we have been hold up at home since March of 2020. I normally try to see my parents every year, but last year I could not. Both Mom and Dad are in frail health and I could not risk bringing them COVID. But everybody is vaccinated now. On another front, my wife just received her master's degree in public health and will start medical school in July. Everything got crunched together time wise between her finishing her thesis and the start of medical school. I could have gone to visit Mom and Dad alone after she started school; but, my wife desperately wanted to go. (We never know if a particular visit will be the last. Dad is 90 and has parkinson's disease. Mom is 86 and has congestive heart failure. Both are diabetic. Our relationship with them has become more distant because they are both hard of hearing (as am I) and Dad can't talk clearly because of the parkinson's, so phone calls have become almost impossible.) So Sky (my wife) and I really wanted to see them before she started medical school, when we expect our lives to become quite difficult.)
The last leg of the trip (to Houston and back) was for Sky's graduation ceremony. It was important to us that she attend. We have both worked hard to get her through this program. My efforts have been rewarded by her finishing with a 4.0 average (yep, nothing but A's for two years, and she really worked for some of them).
To make it more interesting, we had to take the dog. Annie is a sweet border collie, pit bull mix. She is about 40 lbs. Unfortunately the pit bull muscles don't work well with the border collie frame and she managed to tear up her left ACL and had to have surgery. The recovery was somewhat complicated and required her to be under pretty tight control at all times. She also had to have physical therapy, which my wife and I had to learn to do. We felt that kenneling her for two weeks at this point could risk the success of the surgery. At the time the trip started she needed to have the physical therapy, a bunch of drugs and EXACTLY two 15 minute walks everyday; no less and only enough more for her to "take care of business". Of course, given the situation I had to lift her in and out of the car, which she hates.
One final detail, we started the trip on our third wedding anniversary.
But enough of the smaltz, let's get to some EV details:
Over the course of the whole trip I used chargers from the following services (in order by usage): Electrify America, EVgo, Charge Point and Greenlots. Over the whole trip EVgo averaged 51 cents and EA averaged 20 cents per kWh. I only charged at Charge Point once that was not free, and that was 30 cents per kWh. The only Greenlots charge was free. I got several free charges which I will describe as I get to them.
Because it was our anniversary we wanted to spend the night in New Orleans (it's romantic, right). Unfortunately, New Orleans is 550 miles from home, which is a lot to cover in one day in a slow charging EV and with a woman who drinks at least a gallon of iced tea every day. So, I had scheduled us very tightly to arrive at about 7:15, which should give us plenty of time for supper.
We started the day by getting up early (5:00) and finding that the circuit breaker for the car charger had blown during the night. So instead of starting with 100% SOC we had only 90%. (It could have been worse, it was only at 70% SOC when I went to bed). But 90% would get us to our first charge at Snappy's Market in Columbus Texas. So we got rolling about 6:00. The first stop was at our church in Austin where we repeated our wedding vows. (We have done this each year at some place that was important in the process of getting married.) I had scheduled the stop at the church to be an hour, but the vows did not take long and we were off to Snappy's Market ahead of schedule.
The chargers at Snappy's Market are Electrify America chargers and I did a test run with them a few weeks ago and charged and drove home. I had no problems at all; so, I knew the first charge would be flawless; right? Wrong! I could not start the charger. I tried several times before calling support. The nice lady there helped me get the charger started... and it charged at only 30 kW. So I moved to a different charger and got the expected 53 kW.
Let me say this about Electrify America: they may have some buggy hardware (yeah they do) and some buggyer software (you bet); but, they have really good support. You don't spend a long time on hold and the support people have the tools and know how to help you out. One of those support people told me the secret truth of how to get EA to charge your car every time. But not at Snappy's Market; that support tech did get my session started and we got our charge and were ready to go.
This is where a piece of software I really wanted to work failed me. I had signed up for ABRP beta software and it guided me to Snappy's Market well enough. But, we spent a lot longer there than we had planned. (We had to walk the dog.) So, we left Snappy's with more charge than planned (but still ahead of schedule). I could not find a way to tell ABRP this. Instead it decided we had not charged enough (I don't know why) and that the rest of the route plan would not work and started screaming about how the whole plan was "no longer feasible". So I shut it down and did not try to use it any more on the trip. I continued to use the ABRP app, just not the Android Auto integration. (This may have been unfair, but I was about as mentally loaded as I could stand and figuring out how to get around the bugs in one more piece of software was more than I could manage.)
We had our charge and traveled on to Baytown (just east of Houston) where we stopped at an EVgo site that was in a Walgreen's parking lot, very near a Cracker Barrel restaurant. There was a single charger, and it was ICEd where we arrive. But the perpetrator was just leaving and we moved in to charge... Just as another Bolt showed up to charge. But, we were first and I saw no reason to change the order.
While I got the charger started (it started on the first try), Sky went into the Walgreens and bought some poster paper, a maker and some tape to make signs that said the dog was fine, the AC was on and gave her phone number, if someone was worried. (She did all of this in the first person of the dog, which was kinda cute.)
As we walked over to the Cracker Barrel, the driver of the other Bolt came over and asked how long we would be. I told him the estimate on the charge and promised to come move our Bolt as soon as it reached 80%. (Normally, I would just have let it charge until we were done with lunch). I kept my promise and when the My Chevrolet app said 80% I went and moved the Bolt to the Cracker Barrel parking lot (it was very close to the estimated time). Sadly, by then the other driver had left. From this experience I learned that most EVgo locations only have on DCFC and you need to be careful about that being your only available charger.
This whole process (dog signs, walking and watering the dog, eating lunch, moving vehicles around) made us take a lot longer to charge and get lunch than planned. We were now behind schedule.
In addition to other stops I had scheduled a stop in Lafayette to charge to 100%. You see, there are NO DCFC sites in New Orleans, not a one. I had called the hotel (Aloft New Orleans Downtown) and they had assured me they were dog friendly and had a charger. So I had Sky call them to make sure the charger would be available, figuring that if it was I could shorten the stop in Lafayette. Alas, the answer was "we only have a Tesla charger available, the other one is in use". The truth turned out to be that the parking garage was used for both the hotel and an upscale apartment building and, most likely, the "non-Tesla" charger was always in use. But of course the agent I talked to never said any of that.
Our next stop was in Vidor TX. This was also an EA site, this one at a Walmart. I had a hard time finding the charger and a harder time getting it started; again I had to call support. This is when I learned the "Great Secret of Electrify America". Here it is the secret dance that did not fail me after this (as reveled directly by EA techs).
When using the app:
Ignore what it says on the display.
Find your station and the charger and start the session BEFORE connecting.
If when you slide the start session slider nothing happens, force close the app and do step 2 again.
The station will prompt you to plug in, wait until it does.
Plug in and hold the handle up until it locks. It will click, if you miss it, wait until the continue prompt comes up or the Bolt's charger light turns green.
Press the continue button when it appears.
And Bob's your uncle. I had to kill the app two or three times on the trip, but I never had to do it twice and the charge started every time I did the steps above.
We charged to about 80% and took off, but the process of searching for the charger, receiving the secret EA instructions and charging put us way behind schedule. The wife called the restaurant she had made reservations at and moved them later.
We then proceeded to Lafayette where we charged to 97% and took off for our hotel in New Orleans. At that point we had about 35% SOC. We arrived very late (about 9:00) but found a nice restaurant that was open until 10:00 and got an Uber to the restaurant from the hotel. (A taxi or Uber is almost always easier than trying to find parking in a strange city.)
So, how far did we drive that day? I don't know, I was depending on My Chevrolet to keep records. It says 429 miles, but I would sware the trip meter rolled over 500 as we were entering New Orleans. Google maps say's the drive is 548 miles which seems closer. So, one more thing to dislike about My Chevrolet: it can't count.
Total charge for the day was 133 kWh (remember we started with 90% charge). Miles per kWh was 3.5 as reported by the trip meter. Total cost of energy was $36.37. Over half of this was the EVgo charger which charged 46 cents per kWh.