icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Living and Writing in the Natural World

The Laggard, Part 3: to San Francisco--and back!--on sunbeams

A view from Crissy Field

Plotting our first trip out of town in our Chevy Bolt EV (electric vehicle)—and back—was approached like a military campaign. The route to oldest daughter Heather (and our precious grandkids) was as always: over to Hwy 5, south to below Williams, Hwy 505 southeast to Vacaville, then Hwy 80 into San Francisco over the Bay Bridge. A distance of 175 miles or so.

We had charged up the Bolt on the sunny afternoon before we left: somewhere between 200 and 238 miles of sunbeams hummed in the battery, depending on a variety of factors: our speed (faster gave us fewer miles), our smoothness (pronounced acceleration and deceleration ate up miles also), and how much juice we devoted to heating (seat warmers were negligible; making the interior cabin toasty decreased our miles). On the other hand, using the “regenerative braking” paddle on the steering column diverted energy of braking back to the battery. Cool.

While we were happy with the deal we got from the dealer (end of the year, 2018s due in soon), they had prepared us not at all for the task of recharging the vehicle on a trip; not a word of advice or a hint of how to proceed. We googled charging stations, and found a website that lists all that are available for any given zip code (the alternative fuels data center, https://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/electricity_locations.html). The website describes whether the charging stations contain level 1 (110 v, takes forever), level 2 (240v, our vehicle’s capability, about 25 miles for every hour of charging), or Fast Charge (90 miles of charge in an hour, requiring a special port that we don’t have on our vehicle). But what about the details of charging? Do we just drive up and plug in? Put a quarter in a slot, like a laundromat? Our own charging station in our garage at home is easy; do public stations work the same way? Googling that question yielded no clear answers, surprisingly. So I visited the 3 stations indicated for our hometown of Chico.

Our local community college’s 4 supposed sites were no help (no signage indicating level 1 or 2; poorly maintained; no directions for accessing the charge). A very different experience greeted me at the Sierra Nevada Brewery parking lot: excellent signage and explicit directions. There I discovered that an outfit called ChargePoint provides the site for free charging (while you’re guzzling beer at the adjacent brewery, yet), but that I needed an account and card (or smartphone app) to be scanned by the charger before I could access the charging handle. Fair enough. The same situation presented itself at the California Highway Patrol office parking lot on the south side of town (tho you can’t guzzle beer there).

That evening my dear wife Tam established our ChargePoint account and uploaded the app onto her smartphone (and ordered a physical card to be scanned for dinosaurs such as myself who spurn smartphones). The app shows the nearest ChargePoint charging stations from any location, and informs us that some locations are free, while others charge a moderate rate. Apart from the ChargePoint network, there are many dozens of other charging stations available and described at the alternative fuels data center website, many free, some not. We picked a few at pertinent neighborhoods in our destination (San Francisco) and took off the next morning, the last Friday of the year, with youngest daughter Ash.

We always stop mid-trip at the Nugget Market in Vacaville for coffee and a snack; lo and behold, we had already discovered that a (non-ChargePoint) charging station exists in the Stars Recreation parking lot directly across the street. Recharge while you bowl! We parked there, read the directions, and successfully lifted the charging handle and plugged in for free while we refreshed ourselves at the Nugget. Nearly an hour later we resumed the drive, having added an extra 20 miles of juice to the Bolt.

When we crossed the Bay Bridge and hummed into the Performing Arts Center public parking garage a block from where Heather was working in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of Frisco, we still had 65 miles or so available—no “range anxiety” for us at having such a comfortable surplus. We plugged into the garage’s free ChargePoint charging station by scanning Tam’s smartphone app. After an enjoyable lunch at the Hayes Street Grill, Heather drove the others home (to the grandkids) with her, while I whiled away an extra hour at the nearby City Hall, always an entertaining spot with people posing for portraits on the grand staircase (including many newly-married couples of every gender combination, this being San Francisco) and gawking at the grandiose architecture and exhibits of Frisco's colorful history. When I picked up the Bolt, we had added another 50 miles to the range, and had enough already to get us most of the way back to Chico.

From Heather’s home in the Richmond district, we walked with her husband and kids to a nearby Japanese restaurant for dinner (the kids scarfed up gyoza and rice, hardly anything else). After watching the Golden State Warriors lose a basketball game on the TV (a double rare occurrence: the Warriors losing, and us watching TV), Tam and I hummed to a nearby motel, Ash remaining to sleep on her sister’s sofa.

Saturday I parked the Bolt in the DeYoung Museum underground garage in Golden Gate Park, just 5 minutes’ walk from Heather’s home. We had our choice of four level 2 charging sites there, which had been thoughtfully provided for free from the community Nissan dealerships, and were easy to access (with good directions posted). We picked up sandwiches for lunch at a nearby Deli and rode with Heather in her Toyota Highlander hybrid to a fabulous climbing gym in the Presidio, a former military base now converted to multiple public and private uses. Grandkids Maeve (7) and Gwen (5) are demon climbers, the older Maeve especially swarming 30 feet straight up the wall with calm, steady dispatch, while Gwen handled other walls with equal aplomb. Both kids were belayed by their Auntie Ashie, who is an accomplished climber herself.

After several hours, we all retired across the street to the grassy expanses of Crissy Field, where we ate our sandwiches and chips. Grandpa Ray set up portable soccer goals, and soon Maeve and Gwen were showing their soccer moves to their Auntie as the rest of us drank in the view: Golden Gate Bridge stretching across the bay to the Marin Headlands to the northwest, with Sausalito on the horizon; Angel Island sitting in the bay north of us; and the brutal gray walls of smaller Alcatraz Island surrounded by the bay’s chilly waters to the east. Sunshine came and went, and the breeze never let up; a typical invigorating day on the shore of San Francisco Bay.

Emerging from the Presidio in the afternoon, Heather cut east on Sacramento Street and drove to Fillmore, then south to Japantown (more properly, “the Japanese Culture Center”) and its Kabuki Theaters, where we watched the movie Coco which introduced the kids to the Latino festival of Dia de los Muertos (which they already had celebrated for years in their schools, this being multicultural California). Another Japanese dinner in one of the numerous adjacent restaurants in Japantown (more gyoza and rice for the kids), and the two daughters and the grandkids went home while Tam and I splurged by watching a late showing of The Shape of Water, which mesmerized us (just as the somewhat similar Creature of the Black Lagoon had mesmerized Grandpa 60 years earlier). We took a taxi back to our motel and called it a full day.

The next morning I again parked our EV in the DeYoung parking garage’s charging site, then we gave mom and dad a break by taking Maeve and Gwen back to the DeYoung to see the spectacular Teotihuacan exhibit (well, spectacular to us, perhaps less so to the girls) and after lunch in the museum café the grandkids gamboled amongst the sculptures in the DeYoung’s gardens, provoking the usual warnings from stern-faced “guards” not to touch or climb on the sculptures (which are perfectly placed and sized to make it impossible for curious, adventuresome kids to refrain from doing so).

That morning’s “juicing up” in the museum garage (again, free other than the $5/hr parking fee for the garage) gave us a whopping estimated 230 to 271 miles of range for the trip home. So we relaxed and drove it straight through in a bit under 3 hours, arriving back home in Chico well before the early winter’s dusk, and feeling hardly any fatigue or discomfort from the trip--quite different from a 3-hour drive in an internal-combustion-engine vehicle. Our first foray out of town and beyond the range of the EVs battery had proved to be routine and, so far as “fuel” went, absolutely free the whole way there and back. The admitted inconvenience of recharging the EV was minimal, well tolerated by a cheerful "can-do" attitude. As usual, the Bolt’s ride was super comfortable and smooth. A grand way to keep tabs on the grandkids and enjoy the sights and sounds of San Francisco.

Although I'll continue using Amtrak trains to get to San Francisco when I'm on my own--even more relaxing and carefree than driving an electric vehicle--it's good to know that we can do it in an EV when we want. If my three blogs on "The Laggard" (here; 9 May 2017; and 29 Nov. 2017) have intrigued you about solar panels, electric vehicles, and home charging outlets, feel free to contact me if you have any questions at all, including comparisons between the Bolt and Tesla's new Model 3 EV. Want to test-drive a Chevy Bolt? Happy to oblige; again, contact me and we'll arrange it. It feels bone-deep good to be doing our part to avert the worst consequences of climate change, and I'll be happy to encourage others to consider steps in the same direction.

Post a comment