Wednesday, May 17, 2017

eL Blue Goes to Nantahala

Smoky Mountains were burning...

     The weekend before Thanksgiving 2016 turned out to be a long one; I was able to stretch it to four days thanks to unexpected clearing of my professional schedule on Fri and Mon.  I took advantage.

I had been itching to do another EV road trip, this time into the Smoky Mountains.  They were on fire.  Arson.  But I had forgotten about that.  Saturday 11/19/2016, I began the execution of my plan by first stopping-in at a chili-cookoff in Kennesaw, Ga., where my friend Matt had entered his recipe (and won first prize!).  Start of trip was around 1pm.  Battery SOC 99%.

Below:  My car on the right, Matt's car on the left.  Matt and I got our cars from the same seller in Michigan; I tipped him off about the deal and he jumped on it.

In the above pic, you'll see my bike mounted on the Rhino Rack Mountain Bike Carrier.  I took the bike with me to test the rack and see the impact it had on the range of the Spark EV.  I actually never rode the bike on this trip.  Ha!

The bike is a Schwinn S-25 of indeterminate age.  Got it at a garage sale for $35.  The Rhino Rack Bicycle Carrier was purchased from

Below:  Everybody got a gift bag from the chiropractor who hosted the chili cookoff.  All delicious, by the way. ๐Ÿ˜…

Stop #2 was the DCFC at Town Center at Cobb.  46 kW.

Next stop (#3), Chargepoint/Georgia Power DCFC in Cartersville, Ga.  The display unit was blank, but the unit itself was functioning nominal to profile at 46 kW output.  Charge here for 7 min; cost $1.76  Took on 4.47 kWh.  That's all I needed.

Next stop (#4), EVgo DCFC in Calhoun, Ga. at the Calhoun Premium Outlets.  I was going to plug-in to the L2 charging station, walk over to the information center, use their free WiFi, eat a bite, maybe watch a college basketball game...but their WiFi was down, so I decided to forego the food/sports.  I walked back out to the car, disengaged from the L2, plugged-in to the DCFC and took on an unknown amount of energy (I didn't record it, and apparently neither did EVgo.  In fact, my EVgo account hasn't been updated since Nov. 13.  Shrug...).

Below:  Charging up at Calhoun Premium Outlets...

Next stop was a Blink L2 in Dalton, Ga. at the The Dalton Freight Depot and Visitors Center.  This one was not too difficult to find, but its touchscreen was on the blink and the card reader was on the blink and the Blink app thought I was too far away from the charging station to remotely start the I had to call Blink to have them do it.  Arrrgh...

There's another Blink L2 in Dalton at the Dalton Distillery.  I have not used it, but remember these are Blinks; they're notorious for their horrible service record.

Dalton *did* have a Blink CHAdeMO, but that was recently removed (I'm not sure why).  We're told that a dual-standard DCFC will be installed somewhere nearby, which would be nice for the short-range EVs to make the jump between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

Charged here for 42 minutes 58 seconds, according to Blink.  Sitting in the cold car, using the seat heater.  Brrrr!  Ambient temp hovering around 32ยบ F.  Cost $1.72.  Took on just a couple of kWh, all I needed to make my next stop, an EVgo DCFC in Chattanooga at a Hilton Garden Inn.

Charged at the Hilton DCFC for 42 min.  36 kW max output.  Took on 17kWh (I'm going from memory).  These stations in Tenn. (there are a few) are configured to accept credit card, only, and a $5.95 fee is levied for each session.

Here's what's written for these stations in their Plugshare entries:  "***Credit Card: $5.95 session fee plus $0.20 / min SAE Combo: Credit Card ONLY. EVgo plan not available CHAdeMO: Nissan No Charge to Charge accepted; Best pricing with EVgo plan @***"

That can get expensive real fast, especially if the units are only putting out 36 kW.  However, they're the only game in town at the moment, so we just toughen up and use them.  C'mon, Tesla!!

Next stop, another EVgo DCFC, this one in Cleveland, TN.  Same deal:  34 kW output, same billing rates.  I filled the battery here, too.  45 min.  16 kWh.

It was starting to get late, 8pm on that last charging session.  My stomach and my brain were starting to argue over who got dibs on the next stop:  Cracker Barrel (L2) for dinner or hotel overnight (L1)?  I settled the argument by booking a hotel room at America's Best Inn in Loudon, TN, where the Plugshare entry for this hotel said they have 120V pedestals in their parking lot for use by the boating crowd.  An overnight charge here would do nicely.

But first, dinner.  Yes, the stomach usually wins.  Everybody knows that.  Except when the arsehole gets involved.  Everybody knows that, too.

A Cracker Barrel enroute had two Blink L2 EVSEs.  Perfect.  Plugged-in, had a nice BLT plus caesar salad plus pecan pie washed down with some hot English Breakfast tea.  On a cold Nov. night, that hit the spot.

Arrived hotel around 11pm.  Room cost $50 + tax; no charge for charging the car.  Plugged-in using my Chevrolet-supplied Voltec EVSE, set it to charge @ 12A, and settled-in for the night.  I had some homework to do for route planning for the next day, and the hotel WiFi was working perfectly...

Below:  taken early next morning.  Temps overnight dipped below freezing.

Next morning 11/20/2016, the car was almost fully charged (85% SOC).  I had multiple route options for this travel day; I wasn't sure just which direction I wanted to go.  I was west of the Smoky Mountains and intended to head east, eventually; however, my stomach made the decision for me:  Waffle House just up the road in Lenoir City to the northeast.  No charging station, but that's okay.  Across the street, there's an EVgo DCFC.

The Waffle House was crowded.  Too crowded.  I waited in line for a few minutes, then decided to scrap this plan and switch to plan L:  hit the DCFC across the street, then head east towards the mountains.

Below:  DCFC in Lenoir City, TN.

The battery didn't need much energy since I hadn't traveled too far from the hotel, so I only spent enough time to take a few photos of the charging station site; maybe 10 min, tops.  Then, off to find food.  There was a McDonald's in a Love's Travel Stop to the west a few miles, so I stopped-in there for coffee, oatmeal and OJ.

Next stop, hmmm...well, it's going to be L2, but I won't need to stop for very long.  I intended to head east/southeast.  Take the scenic route, which isn't difficult in this part of North America; the roads are well-kept, the fall colors are in full-bloom, and traffic is almost nil due to the lateness of the season.

Speaking of the lateness, I had to be reminded that this late in Nov., RV parks/campgrounds may be closed for the season (remember, RV hookups are charging stations!).  That fact will rear up later in this trip report...and fortunately, it all worked out.  In fact, our Tesla-driving co-conspirators had already blazed a trail in some of these parts!

Here's the full-circle route from home, more or less:

Starting at my hotel in Loudon, TN (#9), excluding the breakfast detour to Love's (not reflected on map), then off to the east to the DCFC in Lenoir City (#10), next stop (#11), a non-functioning Blink L2 Calhoun's at the Marina (my Plugshare entry:  "No card reader. App shows unit offline. Reported to Blink.")

Next stop (#12), Blink L2 at Pellissippi State College.  My Plugshare entry:  "Gates to parking lot closed (Sunday 11/20/16)".

Smoky Mountain Brewery is stop #13; Blink L2, again.  This time, it was available and functional!!!  Plugged-in, and headed inside for a delicious burger + Pilsner.  Splurged and bought a variety six-pack to take home.

Stop #14:  I stopped at an EVgo DCFC in a public parking lot in Maryville, TN, to top off the battery:

#15 is Tail of the Dragon.  I inadvertently found myself driving this stretch of U.S. 129.  If you've not been exposed, here is what that means:  "Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap with 318 curves in 11 miles, is America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road."  Since I had a full battery from my stop in Maryville, I could flog the little Spark EV and get a good feel for how it handles on these curvy mountain roads.  And since it was late in the fall season, there was almost no traffic.

And here's the thing:  as you're going through this part of the mountains (mostly downhill), you're continually decelerating as you set up for the next turn.  Thus, the battery gains energy from the regenerative braking.  So, even though I was traveling many miles, the battery charge dropped much less than it would have if I had been on level ground.

That was a fun drive, but at the end of the Tail, I was nearing 28% SOC and needing to plug-in soon.  I stopped at Tail of the Dragon, a pub/restaurant/gathering place for travelers.  It has a L2 charging station + Tesla destination charger + a NEMA 14-50 RV outlet.  Plugged-in for 90 min and tried to do some reconnoitering but their WiFi was broken and I had no cell service.


Fortunately, there were signs pointing to the Tapoco Lodge, only 15 mi away on 129...and mostly downhill! ๐Ÿ˜€

Below:  plugged-in at Tapoco...

So, stop #16 became my lodging for the night.  They have Tesla destination chargers + L2 charging stations, so I plugged-in.  It was getting late, and I usually carry food with me when I road trip, so I ate dinner in my room, but not before I had to go to the hotel desk 4 times to get them to figure out how to control the temp in my room, which was set on "sauna".

Tiny, the hotel maintenance man, explained the trouble they had been having with the HVAC, fixed the problem, and I got ready to plan the rest of my trip.  Except, their WiFi was broken, and I had no cell service.  Ahhhhhh......

I went for a walk around the property.  I had noticed these giant trucks parked near the charging stations.  Turned out they were firefighting units from as far away as Ariz., NM and Colo.  Yes, the forest was on fire, and these firefighters came from as far away as Alaska, Tiny told me, to fight the fires.  I happened to 
get to meet a few of the firefighters and hear their stories.

Below:  This made me LOL...but I guess it was necessary...  ๐Ÿ˜Š

Not having Internet access put a crimp in my plans; I needed to know where the nearest charging stations were, how far I would have to travel to reach them and whether I would have to stop enroute to plug-in to whatever source of electricity I might find (hoping not to have to resort to 120V).

The desk clerk didn't have any paper maps, so I resorted to using CoPilot, an app on my 7" Samsung tablet.  CoPilot is a satnav app that has onboard maps and thus does not require an Internet connection; just access to GPS satellites.  I don't use it very often, but I do try to keep its maps up-to-date.

Since I couldn't see charging stations, I resorted to searching for RV parks/campgrounds for 50A RV hookups.  I found half a dozen; however, I couldn't contact them until I was out of the mountains where I could get cell service.

I noticed during my walk of the property that the covered parking area near the lodge had a few 120V outlets.  The lodge kept lawn equipment in the covered area, but there was plenty of room to park the Spark EV, so I asked if I could park there, instead, and plug-in, and was given permission.

I forgot that my bicycle was strapped to the top of the car, so when I began to back in to the covered parking spot (at less than walking speed, fortunately), I crunched the caca out of the bike.  The roof rack was undamaged except for the strap that holds the rear wheel of the bike to the rack.  The force of the impact focused on the front forks; they took the brunt and paid the price.  Ruined.

Below, the broken strap...

I was able to reattach the bike to the rack using some zip ties and velcro straps that I just happened to have in my luggage.  Yay!  ๐Ÿ˜

Oh, my room...

...was funky.  Listen to the sound the light switch makes:

Next morning, I asked the desk clerk if there was a McDonald's in the next town (Robbinsville, about 15 mi to the south).  She said, "Yes!", and when I asked her (she was about 20 yrs old and in our conversation last night she was telling me that her major in school was "security systems analyst") if it had WiFi, she said "Of course!".

So, off I went.  Robbinsville, N.C. is a small mountain town of about 600.  The McDonald's is on the main drag through town (where else would it be?) which is also U.S. 129, so it wasn't hard to find.  Parked the car, I've got SOC about 75%, go inside and order oatmeal, coffee and OJ.  There's no other patrons on this early morning except a table of older gents who look like they may be going hunting, from the way they were dressed.  They were engaged in a discussion about something and they seemed to know everybody who came into the place, typical of small-town America.  I got my brekkies and found a place to sit in the morning sun (it's chilly outside, mid-Nov), and connected to their excellent WiFi service.

OMG.  They've got a TV in the dining area and it's got FOX News blaring and it's three blonde women yelling at each other.

Found half a dozen RV parks within about 20 miles of Robbinsville.  One by one I called them.  One by one I got their answering services...except for one.  This time of year, up in the mountains, the RV parks will be closed (Nov 21).  The one park, Nelson's Nantahala Hideaway, Topton, N.C., that was still open was welcoming to EV charging.  The onsite host, whose name now escapes me, was quite excited about having an EV plug in.  He said his park would probably be closing for the winter the next weekend, so I was lucky that he was still open.   He allowed me to use the main lodge and WiFi whilst I waited for the car to charge.  I stayed about 3 hrs (damned 3.3 kW onboard AC charger!!!), and the 50A RV hookup was solid and looked to be in very good condition.  Stop #17!

After the SOC was high enough to make it to my next stop, I paid the man $10 and bid my farewell.  

Stop #18 I found using the RV park's WiFi (whilst also downloading a bunch of updates for my iPhone 5s, Galaxy Tab and Nexus 5!) was to be Smoky Mtn Chevrolet, in Franklin, N.C., where they have an L2 charging station (240V/15A...not so good for most current EVs, but that's all my Spark EV can draw, anyways).  My satnav app, Bringgo, was taking me through the mountains on some lovely roads, and with the beautiful blue sky and sunshine, this leg of the journey was turning out to be fabulous.

Below:  holed up in the lodge, having my lunch, and updating apps!

Then the satnav freaked out.  The route it wanted to take through the mountains from Topton, N.C., to Franklin, N.C. (Wayah Road) took me on some gravel roads that were more logging roads than actual regular roads.  I kept looking at the map to see if I'm on roads that will suddenly end in the mountains (had that happen before!), and yes, that's exactly what happened.  The satnav had me turn a couple of times off of Wayah Rd., and then the road just ends.  In fact, it went from pavement to gravel to a muddy rutted track before I finally gave up and turned around.  Ha!

Fortunately, the roads I was on were mostly downhill.  Thus, through regen the SOC was staying near a constant 58% for many miles.  I've seen this happen, before, in the mountains.  This little EV has a remarkably well-engineered drivetrain.  Hat tip to Chevrolet's engineering team!

Wayah Rd. eventually ends at U.S. 64, intersecting the highway west of Franklin by about 3 miles.  U.S. 64 runs south across the N.C. - Ga. border to Clayton, Ga., where there is a DCFC.

When I reached that intersection, I stole a glance at the SOC/GOM (40%/38 mi), noted the distance to Clayton (22 mi), I decided to skip Smoky Mtn Chevy and head for Clayton.

So, stop #18 becomes the DCFC in Clayton, Ga.  Stopped there for about 30 min., filled up the battery, then headed further south to the free L2 EVSE in Cornelia, Ga., where I would have a delicious burger at Fenders Diner.  Stop #19.

Stop #20 is the DCFC at Carriage Kia in Gainesville, Ga.   But it is broken.  Damn!  The only option was to use the L2, which fortunately was working...otherwise, it would have been hotel for the night!

Below:  Don't bother watching this.  It's just me being frustrated that I had to use L2 instead of DCFC, so I made this 5 min 53 sec video...

Stop #21 becomes the EVgo DCFC at the Mall of Ga. in Buford.  46 kW.  Woo-hoo!!

Arrived home around 10:30pm, exhausted but happy.  Car performed beautifully, weather was lovely, another successful EV road trip!

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