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Failing to Drive an EV to Yosemite

This past holiday, we had a visitor who is really into sustainability. I thought it would be an interesting experience to drive an EV to Yosemite for their first visit to California. It was interesting, for sure. 


The first step is to plan out charging and expected battery level for the trip from San Francisco to Yosemite. All my EV-loving friends suggested ABRP. Let's start. Most of the rental EVs around me start off between 25-40% battery level. I'm going to need to charge first, and then get on the road. 

a map showing the starting parameters
The basic route from home to Yosemite

This is roughly what I saw when looking at rental EVs in the area. Let's go with quickest trip that leaves me at 100% battery on arrival. 

Now, let's throw in our typical stopping point for dinner, Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella. Here's the new starting plan:

a map showing a trip from SF to Yosemite with a stop at Pea Soup Anderen's.
Our trip with dinner stop in the middle.

Let ABRP calculate the route, charging, and estimated battery charge level at each stop. 

a map showing the planned route
The planned route.

Here's the plan:

  1. Start around 16:00 in SF, drive the car as is to Oakland and charge at an EVgo charger location for 33 minutes. This gets us from 25% to 64% battery charge.
  2. Drive to Pea Soup Andersen's for dinner and charging. The car arrives at 16% battery level. While eating, let it charge to 64% in 42 minutes or so. Assuming all goes well, we're out of dinner by 19:15. Basically, we leave the car, walk to the restaurant, eat, walk back to the car, and drive off.
  3. Drive to Oakhurst. Arrive at 19% battery level and hang around Oakhurst for 90 minutes letting the car charge to 100%. This has us leaving Oakhurst at 22:30ish.
  4. Drive to the Yosemite entrance which leaves the car at 85% for the night.

All in all, not a bad plan from distance and time. The 90 minutes in Oakhurst is the exception to driving a petrol powered car, but I fill up the tank in Oakhurst anyway. It also turns a typically 5 hour trip into 7 hours. So be it.

The Pre-trip

Rather than go cold-turkey with an EV with a guest halfway across the state, I wanted to do some test runs. I rented the same kind of EV (Chevy Bolt EV) and did a few errands/day trips. The car is great and works like any other car, just electric. It's also small enough to park anywhere in the city.

I had to recharge the car. The car comes with EVgo charging card, but EVgo really, really wants you to install their app and create an account to find the nearest charging station. Since that wasn't happening, I just looked it up on ABRP in a browser. I found a charging station nearby in a parking lot. I drive over there at 22% battery charge. I figure I'll leave the car charging, walk home, come back in a few hours when it's fully charged and then return the car. If only it worked that well.

I get to the charging point to find one car charging already. In the second spot, is a homeless person sleeping. In the third spot is a tourist trying to figure out how to swipe their debit card to pay for the charging. Another person pulls up in a Kia EV6 and asks if they're going to charge or if they're just finished. So the EV6 pulls into the spot with the homeless person and gets out to help the tourist. The tourist is now on the phone with EVgo trying to figure out how to charge without joining EVgo and buying a subscription or something. 

Meanwhile, Mr EV6 leaves his car where it is and walks away. He comes back 5 minutes later with a drink and some snacks. He proceeds to sit in his car and wait for...something. Based on the loud conversation the upset tourist is having on the phone, the credit card swipe isn't working, so EVgo is telling him to get the app, subscribe, and pay via rfid/app. It appears the app won't take his address since it's in the EU somewhere. 

OMFG I just want to charge!

Is this getting tedious yet? I've already wasted 10 minutes just trying to charge. I walk up to Mr EV6 who is eating in his car with the windows down and music blasting. I ask if he's going to charge or if I could get in. He says he's waiting on one of the two other spots because this spot is broken. It turns out, it's not broken per se, just someone has wiped crap (literally) all over the front of the machine and charging handle. At this point, I wait 5 more minutes. The tourist is now charging somehow and Mr EV6 is still munching away to tunes. Welp, not getting a charge here. I have to return the car in 20 minutes, so I call in and explain the situation. They say just return it and they'll charge it for me. Sigh. 

Test Run Number Two

Not being deterred, I tried again a few days later. It didn't go well. I found a charging place, but 2 of 3 charges were broken. I found another place, but it was in a garage and I'd have to pull a ticket and pay for "parking" while I charged. 

Given this experience, I swapped the EV for a petrol car. Taking the risk that we arrive at a charging location at 16% battery to find broken or occupied chargers was too much. I'd put up with it as an experience, but subjecting others, especially the first time visitor to California, isn't fair. 

I'll try again.

I realize this is a bootstrap problem. Charging stations are still getting deployed, but apparently slower than EV cars are sold. Gas stations have a 80 year head start, so it's not really a fair comparison. If you have home charging, it probably all works great for daily trips. Longer trips still have the same problem of charging on the road. 

This is just my experience with a sample size of 2.