For those of us who live in the San Joaquin Valley, getting to and from Los Angeles in an Electric Vehicle (EV) is a challenge. Southbound, the last charging stations are in Bakersfield. Then it’s a long 30-mile run across the valley floor before Highway 99 and Interstate 5 make a steep climb over the summit of the Tejon pass.
For locals in the southern San Joaquin and the tens of thousands of motorists and trucks that use the route daily, the Grapevine—as the ascent to the pass is called–is notorious. It’s often a traffic bottleneck under normal conditions when heavy trucks slow to a crawl climbing to the summit. During rain, snow, or fog it’s treacherous.
The grade is steep, steeper than the route through Tehachapi, climbing 3,800 feet over the last 15 miles.
Once the summit is cleared, the next charging stations are in Valencia on the other side of the Tehachapi Mountains. The segment from Bakersfield to Valencia is beyond the reach of most consumer-oriented EVs with their limited battery capacity.
Fortunately, a number of EV pioneers have blazed a route over the Grapevine by charging at the Flying J truck stop in Lebec, just below the summit. Their plans and the discussions that followed can be found on MyNissanLeaf.com, a forum for the owners of Nissan’s EV.
I first learned of this route at an EV gathering in Bakersfield from one such pioneer, John Lotze. To my amazement he described how he charged at electrical pedestals designed for powering heavy trucks overnight.
The pedestals are part of the Shorepower.com system that enables truckers to turn off their diesel engines when they park overnight. In the polluted San Joaquin Valley, trucks are prohibited from idling their engines for long periods. Instead, they can connect their trucks to Shorepower’s electrical pedestals to run their trailer’s refrigeration, or any electrical appliances they need in their cab.
Since I learned of this from Lotze, I’ve monitored the postings on Plugshare.com. Sure enough, there was Lotze’s sign ins and well as numerous other EV drivers crossing the pass.
We’re EV newbies. Range anxiety had stopped us from attempting this route to Los Angeles. Obviously, others had done it. So we knew it was possible. It was time for us to see if we could get to Lebec too.
As in our test trip to Tehachapi, we took the Prius (a gasser) up to the Flying J to check out the Shorepower pedestals, their connections, and how difficult it would be to set up a charge. (I use T-mobile on a Blackberry Q10, so I sometimes don’t have a mobile phone connection that others take for granted.)
We checked out the pedestals. Among the connections is a NEMA 14-30, so we confirmed that we could charge with our EVSE Upgrade of the portable EVSE that comes with the Nissan Leaf. I couldn’t get the kiosk in the truck stop to work, so I called Shorepower. They were extremely helpful and walked me through the process.
We were good to go.
In the meantime, I estimated how much electricity it would take to get to the truck stop and the estimates were on the edge of my comfort zone. As in the Tehachapi trip, I used both Tony Williams’ technique and the online estimator of EV Trip Planner.
William’s approach indicated we should get to Lebec with 25% State of Charge (SOC) remaining. However, EV Trip Planner estimated that on the same route we’d arrive with only 19% remaining. That’s pushing my comfort zone.
We’d need to charge at Flying J not only for the trip back to Bakersfield but also for a climb of another 1,000 feet to take in a lecture at the Frazier Park Library on the native plants of the Tejon Pass.
It was using EV Trip Planner that I noted an anomaly. The trip back down the mountain took a lot more electricity than I though necessary. When I dug into it I found that there was a short trip segment of 0.4 mile that added 3.2 kWh because of an ascent of 2,400 feet! Since I live in this neighborhood I knew this was wrong.
So, I rerouted a portion of the trip and the estimates fell into a more reasonable range.
How did we do?
Again, I drove very conservatively. We took surface streets for the first 15 miles—the scenic route we like to say–down old Hwy 99 past all the junk yards and oil field service companies.
Once we merged onto Hwy. 99 and then I-5 I tried to stay with traffic in the right hand lane. Once the road began the steep climb the speed of the trucks began to fall off rapidly and we were forced to move into one of the many passing lanes. Nevertheless, I stayed in the right most lanes as much as possible and our speed fell below 45 mph at times as the trucks began to clog up both right hand lanes.
We made it to the Flying J with capacity to spare, 29% SOC, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Then we pulled up to one of the Shorepower pedestals, took the number down of the outlet we wanted (2D), and called Shorepower.
Again, they were very helpful and walked me through the sign up process. They noted that although the receptacle says 240 V at 30 amps, it is only 208 V. I expected this, so it wasn’t a surprise. What did surprise me was after we went through setting up an account and my billing address, they said there would be no charge as I was a first time customer, otherwise it would have cost $5.00 for the four hours we wanted to charge.
We took our EVSE Upgrade out of the trunk, set it up, plugged in, and flipped the switch to start charging. That’s all there was too it.
Thought the weather would later turn cold and windy, it was a beautiful day in the mountains when we arrived and began charging.
We then spent the next three hours at the Denny’s in the truck stop, dozing in the car, or reading the books we’d brought.
Finally, we stopped charging and went to meet friends for dinner then caravanned to the library for the evening program.
We’d increased our SOC from 29% to 85%, the equivalent of 12 kWh, during the little more than three hours were connected to Shorepower. (I have no explanation why we gained so many kWh while charging, presumably at 208 V and 16 amps.)
We drove the 4 miles to the venue. Our SOC dropped to 72%. The short drive used about 2.7 kWh. EV Trip Planner underestimated the trip at 2.1 kWh.
After the lecture, it was a cold wintry drive back to Bakersfield. We kept with traffic but didn’t race down the mountain at 80 mph as much of the evening northbound rush out of LA seemed to be doing. We also turned on the heated seats because it was cold (by California standards).
We arrived with 28% SOC.
The trip back was longer, 55.7 miles, than the estimator projected, 51 miles. (I believe EV Trip Planner uses Google.)
Overall, William’s technique got us closer to our actual performance on the trip up the mountain than did EV Trip Planner. The trip down consumed more than either estimate, 44% SOC versus 32%. Perhaps this was due to the heated seats or the higher speeds necessary to stay with traffic on a Friday night. That observation is useful to know when we take longer trips. We should always allow plenty of reserve in case I make an error in estimating our range.
Interestingly, the erroneous estimate by EV Trip Planner of 9.6 kWh was closer to our actual usage than was the revised route in EV Trip Planner to avoid the anomaly in the trip segments.
It was another successful venture in our Leaf, and we had an enjoyable day in the mountains to boot.
Ideally, there would be a DC Quick Charge station in Lebec or at the base of the grapevine. This would obviate the need to stop at the Flying J for the equivalent of an L2 charge. Michael Bernstein has proposed just such a station to the management at the Tejon Outlet Malls, a massive development at the base of the Grapevine. Let’s hope he’s successful.
While the Flying J was adequate for our needs and Shorepower was very cooperative, a dedicated EV charging station at a more amenable location would be preferable. The Flying J is a truck stop after all, and you do have to pay careful attention walking across the vast truck parking area. There’s no comparison between charging at Mountain Valley RV Park in Tehachapi and stopping in at the Raven’s Nest for a sandwich to trudging across a busy truck lot to grab a bite at Denny’s.