It’s just supposed to be a quick trip. Three hours tops.
Instead, it turns into an all-day adventure — bookended by hefty doses of uncomfortable uncertainty — and a week later, we’d still be beaming over the experience.
We’re low on decaf espresso beans, which in this house is akin to running out of the staples, like water or air or sunlight. Point is, there’s a sense of urgency.
Which is why we put reason and math aside and jump into a partially charged electric car, bound for Americus, Georgia, home of Cafe Campesino, as well as a charging station at the Welcome Center.
About 30 miles in with 34 miles left on the
range meter guessometer, Brad asks if I checked the distance before we left.
We are now in rural Georgia with nary a plug in sight. We’re nervous but still able to make jokes about this being the most expensive bag of coffee ever, what with the towing fees.
With 24 miles left on the battery, Brad asks for a mileage update. Nineteen to go.
“We’re committed, ” I say. “Keep going.”
Brad is hypermiling on the back roads, staying in the most efficient sweet spot between 45-55 mph.
With 20 miles left, the car starts flashing some disturbing warning signs.
At ten miles, the display vanishes, transitioning into hold-onto-your-butt mode.
With what can best be described as a crackle of electricity left, we pull into the Welcome Center parking lot, high five, and plug up the car.
Needing, at least, a three-hour charge, we cheerfully resolve ourselves to a day in town, paying Americus back for its free power by spending some cash in exchange for goods and services.
First things first. We make a beeline to Cafe Campesino for those bags of coffee, along with sandwiches from Sweet Georgia Baking. Since we have time to kill, we linger over a proper macchiato.
Strolling the downtown, our eyes are drawn to a beautifully restored, bright green building, which we discover is Center Stage Market, selling locally sourced produce and eco-friendly health and cleaning products. We pick up a few things on the grocery list to show our appreciation.
We explore street after street before stopping for a Guinness — it is St. Patrick’s Day, after all — at the City Grill. Then slowly, we work our way back to the charging station since three hours have passed. With 96 miles on the screen, Brad and I are confident there’s enough juice to get home. Everything’s worked out perfectly.
So, yeah. We learn a valuable lesson, one that was less painful to absorb on a day trip near home instead of on the cross-country electric adventure we’re considering.
On the car display, the large guessometer numbers are next to a smaller line graph that depicts the actual percentage of battery charged. We jump at the “96” because, let’s be honest, that’s what we want to see, but we fail to notice only seven of the ten bars on the line graph are full.
The car has a habit of overestimating the high end of the range and course-correcting once a top speed has been reached. Within minutes, the guessometer plummets to 68.
Cringing in disbelief, Brad reroutes our journey home through the flatter roads of Plains, having learned that topography affects efficiency. (Damn you, Physics.)
With 53 miles to go, we’re sweating yet again, so we stop in Plains and plug up at a regular 120V outlet on the side of the City Hall.
The unexpected detour turns out to be another win, since Plains Peanuts is still open and selling their world-famous peanut butter ice cream. The antique shops are open, too, so we wander the aisles looking at first editions of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee, old farmhouse pottery, and Arts and Crafts Furniture. There may be purchases. Who can say.
Call to Ohms
Driving a car that runs on a finite resource changes the way you travel, but I would argue that’s for the better.
We have no choice but to drive mindfully and without waste. It takes away a little spontaneity on the front end but adds it in spades on the road. It forces us to slow down and savor trips in bite-sized chunks, which gives us the luxury to stay in one spot until we begin to feel a sense of place. We roll with inevitable challenges, think fast on our feet, and follow the road to the nearest friendly plug, usually enjoying a few surprises on the way.
Now that our typical getaway falls within a 70-mile radius of home, we’ve learned to seek out the hidden art, brain-melting restaurants, and haunted hotels that would otherwise be a blur along the highway. And if a forward-thinking small town in that radius happens to install a public charging station, it gets bumped to the top of our list.
Along that same line of thought, I mention the long list of purchases on our trip because I wonder how much extra revenue small towns could generate (pun intended) if they were to woo us electric-car drivers? If a couple of cheapskate simple-living fanatics drop a couple hundred bones on one little jaunt, imagine how quickly the $400 cost of a charger could be covered. So why not tap into a quickly growing market and reach out to cities that are within a one-charge trip?
But rest assured, when we do, we’ll start with a full battery.