Plains, trains, automobile

There was a moment last weekend when I felt like that pilot played by Tom Hardy in “Dunkirk.” We’re driving the Leaf toward Americus, Georgia, about 70 miles from home, the dash indicated the charge remaining was 50 percent.

electric car and folding bikes
Is it possible to achieve negative carbon footprint?

It was the point of no return. We could bail out now and still turn around and make it home. Or we could press on — and either find an available charge-point waiting for us, or, I suppose, just build a new life in this small southwestern Georgia town where we found ourselves stranded.

We pressed on.

We knew the Americus welcome center purported to have a free charging station, accessible from any of three parking spaces. But we’ve trusted our fate to “available” charging stations before, only to find them either inaccessible or inoperative. If that turned out to be the case here, we figured we could find a regular 110-volt plug somewhere and trickle-charge enough juice to get home over the course of a slow meal and a couple of drinks.

Why Americus?

We make a run there a couple of times a year for fair-trade coffee beans from the coolest little coffee shop around, Café Campesino (we’ve written about those guys before). So it was important to know if we could make that run in the car that Jenn has named Eva.1 But the drive was actually only the first leg of an alternative transportation triathlon for us.

The full agenda:

  • Pilot Eva to Americus and snag a charging spot.
  • Unpack our folding bikes from the hatch and join a group of cyclists on a 14-mile ride from Americus to Plains.
  • Enjoy the Plains Peanut Festival for a few hours, then catch the SAM Shortline train back to our (hopefully) charged car.

Fuel for your love

Not to ruin all the drama, but at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, we were the only ones pulling into the car-charging spots on the side of the welcome center. There was a bit of tension as I looked at the unfamiliar charger, which had a “charge available” indicator light that was yellow. I wasn’t sure if that meant “yes” or, perhaps, “maybe.”2 But we plugged Eva up, heard the comforting mechanical click from the car’s charge port, and Eva’s happy blue charging lights started flashing.

The one and only Jimmy Carter.

At the start of the bike route, we found that our foldies were a great icebreaker with our fellow riders, but folks were just as interested in the electric car when, OK, so maybe we were bragging about getting our folding bikes to Americus in the trunk of our electric car. (Among those we struck up a chat with was a local couple who built a large solar array in their yard to power their 1,500-square-foot house. We’ll be paying them a visit soon.)

About 90 minutes of cycling later3, we pulled into downtown Plains.

Peanut butter is our jam, indeed.

There Jimmy Carter kicked off the festival (slogan: “Peanut Butter Is My Jam.” Seriously). He told the crowd how, as a 6-year-old boy, he discovered he could make as much money selling bags of peanuts in a few hours as he could doing manual labor all day, which pretty much sealed his love affair with peanuts. He also said that, on the eve of his 93rd birthday, peanuts were responsible for both his longevity and his friskiness with Rosalynn.4

Then it was a parade, where atop classic car after classic car were perched a startling number of Forestry Queens from different, uh, districts(?). After that we grabbed some well-earned food-truck lunches, cups of peanut-butter ice cream, and, eventually, a leisurely train ride back to the car.

Which, by the way, was fully charged. And since we learned on the drive out that we could get home with 30-plus miles to spare on the guessometer, we splurged and drove fast on the return trip.

Most importantly, we learned that our semi-annual runs to Americus for coffee, Plains for green peanuts, and Richland for rum are within emissions-free reach for us.

A big thanks to Sumter Cycling, which planned legs 2 and 3 of our journey — and vouchers for the ice cream — as a package. We’ll be doing this again.


1 Yes, we know Wall-E’s girlfriend is actually “Eve,” and not “Eva.” But we’re not convinced Wall-E knows that.

2 Would a green LED really have added so much to the cost of the unit that the manufacturer just said, “Screw it! We’re throwing consumer assurance out the window! We’re doing yellow!” (For the record, I would’ve also accepted blue.)

3 I didn’t say we are fast cyclists. At one point I reminded Jenn that I used to jog the same speed we were pedaling. I think if she could’ve negotiated a punch without throwing herself into the unknown depths of Wolf Creek, she wouldda.

4 He didn’t exactly say peanuts made him amorous, but he did say that it “kept the marriage healthy.” So, I mean, what are we supposed to think?


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