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Yet another trip to Portland

October 19, 2017
Adding electrons

Orin O’Neill photos

My weekend with the Chevrolet Bolt EV had come to an end. The folks at Forth Mobility needed it back in Portland Monday afternoon.

I have done the I-5 Shuffle to and from the Rose City literally thousands of times, but this time would be different… I’d be driving an electric car.

While the distance from Bellingham to Portland is exactly 250 miles, a few short preliminary runs on I-5 made it apparent one charge was not going to be enough… I’d need to stop at least once to replenish the batteries.

After a couple of hours on the West Coast Electric Highway Level 2 charger Sunday evening, I plugged it in to the Foothill Villa’s exterior wall outlet. The idea was to head south with a full charge.

Bolt, plugged in at the Foothill Villa

At oh-dark-thirty Monday morning, the indicator in the middle of the dashboard glowed solid green, the indicated range was 228 miles. Should be nothing to worry about, right? One stop is no biggie.

As soon as I got on the freeway and up to speed, a whole bunch of those miles simply disappeared. The indicated range had become 194 miles. This was something the Bolt often did in normal driving, and I have no idea why.

This is the time of year for fog in the early morning. It was lovely.

I-5 fog

The further south I got, the faster the miles disappeared. Well, I did have the climate control set to “toasty,” and was doing the 70 mph speed limit; an ICE car would be using more gas under such circumstances.

Still, the range was dropping so fast I started doing math in my head every time I saw a sign indicating an exit number (they correspond to mile markers). Each time, the remainder was 40 miles beyond my first WCEH stop in Tumwater, at exit 102. I’m concerned, but not ready to panic.

I-5 southbound

Catching up to the Seattle commute crawl offered a bit of relief. Still doing mental math, the cushion increased from 40 miles to 50. The little animated “Regen” (regenerative braking) icon in the instrument cluster was happily spinning, thanks to slowing and brake use. The I-5 express lanes beckoned.

One could infer all kinds of things from express lanes that are slowed to a crawl, but in Seattle that’s not unusual. When you reach downtown, you’ll find three mandatory exit lanes and one thru lane. I was crawling in the far right mandatory exit lane, but the thru lane was at a dead stop. Lovely.

The sign above me said “Stewart St.” That exit also gets you to REI’s flagship store… which has charging stations in the basement parking garage! 😀

Sucking down the juice

And not just charging stations, but EVgo DC fast charging stations!! Which offer your choice of Tesla or J1772 connectors!!!

And a much easier way to pay: swipe your card, choose your connector, and you’re good to go. This is in stark contrast to the WECH stations: if you don’t have the key fob, you must make a toll-free phone call to a nice person who asks you to tell them pretty much every bit of personal data that could result in identity theft, out loud. (The EVgo charger is $5.95, plus 20 cents/kWh. Kinda like buying gas, actually.)

If you have to hang for an hour, the REI flagship store is a great place.

REI flagship store forest

I wanted to make sure I got out of the parking garage while it was still free, so I disconnected the Bolt with an 87% charge. That should be enough to go the rest of the way, said I, hopefully.

Uh, no. To its credit, the Bolt doesn’t feel like it’s going as fast as it actually is. Comfortable freeway speed is 75-80 mph (120-130 km/h), which is pretty much how traffic flows, but you burn a lot more electrons.

Range anxiety hit me pretty hard; there was about five miles to spare. I needed to make another stop. Luckily, another WECH station was close.

Country Kitchen, Ridgefield, WA

That’s right. The Country Cafe in Ridgefield, WA (exit 14) is the second-closest charging station to Portland. Happily, there are lots of signs pointing the way. It was lunchtime, so I ate food while the Bolt ate electrons.

Lunch special - Halibut and chips

Pro tip: the WCEH charging stations charge a flat fee to use their chargers. Level 2 is $4.00 plus tax, DC fast charging is $7.00. Since I needed to catch a train after returning the Bolt, this time I was only connected as long as it took to eat. Same price as an all-night connection. Boo.

I (barely) had enough juice to get to the dropoff location. Before leaving, I programmed Siri to give directions. I must say, this new-fangled Bluetooth thing is pretty cool. Siri’s voice came through loud and clear on the audio system… no straining to hear my phone’s itty-bitty speakers.

Still cut it close, though. Exactly 16 miles of range remained.

Obviously, an older BEV with more limited range would’ve needed more stops, and more time to charge. Just as obviously, I can hop in the More Expensive Ford Taurus with a Different Grille and drive to Portland with almost no planning or forethought… gas can be had anywhere, any time, along the way.

At this moment in time, an electric car still makes the most sense as a commuter and errand-runner. The Bolt can obviously do longer versions, but having an ICE car for longer trips will still be the best way to go. For now.

  1. October 21, 2017 4:21 am

    Interesting and realistic. Rider magazine took a tour with a Zero bike and they tried to make that sound doable. I’m not convinced. Especially after this.

  2. October 21, 2017 11:13 pm

    Looks like a fun weekend!

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