Roadster Road Trip: Silicon Valley to Yosemite

Bill Arnett is a software engineer who envies Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers – people who tried to understand a large fraction of all human knowledge. During an attempt to retire and spend more time on hobbies such as photography and astronomy, Bill decided to learn HTML by creating an astronomy site. It became so popular that it generated enough revenue through Google AdSense to pay for his Roadster. Another recent project was an iPhone application that simulates mechanical watches. Bill, an outdoor enthusiast, appears to be the first person to drive a Roadster in Yosemite National Park. After a May 14 road trip from his home in Silicon Valley in his Roadster, Signature One Hundred No. 55, Bill described his drive through Yosemite as “just about as good as it gets.” Indeed.

When I first heard about Tesla Motors, one of the major factors guiding my decision to purchase a Roadster was the graphic on the Tesla web site showing that it should be possible to get from my home in the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park. In truth, the route winds through the Sierra Nevada foothills and is far longer than the crow flies, getting quite close to the 244 miles per charge estimate from the US Environmental Protection Agency. But taking my Roadster to Yosemite remained an important goal. Here’s how I did it. Through the wonders of Google maps, I knew it would be 199 miles from my home in Redwood City to Yosemite Village. I've never gone that far on a single charge. This would be uphill highway driving almost the entire outbound trip. And I couldn’t figure out how to get access to a publicly available 240V outlet in the entire park. My plan was to have a charging base at an RV park in Groveland, 40 miles from the park entrance. But Groveland is 150 miles from my home in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, and I wasn't entirely confident of getting even that far. So after discovering through an EV enthusiast site that there’s a convenient and publicly available outlet on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area, I made a short detour to San Ramon. The San Ramon Valley Conference Center at 3301 Crow Canyon Rd. is home to a Tesla 240V/70A charger. It worked perfectly. Thank you! From San Ramon to Groveland is only 120 miles – easy. It took 40.26 kWh from Redwood City, or 254 Wh/mile, roughly equivalent to a range of 209 miles. Not bad. Groveland is at about 3,000ft, about 1/2 way to the high point of the road into the Valley.

My next recharge spot was Yosemite Pines RV Resort, 20450 Old Highway 120, Groveland CA 95321. I called ahead to make sure it would be OK. They seemed to be a bit puzzled by a crazy-looking guy with a wooly beard and baseball cap in a sports car small enough to fit inside many of the other vehicles parked there. But they let me give it a go. I happily paid them $20 for their trouble, sat in the shade and read my Amazon Kindle while my car ate electrons at 240V/40A. I also walked a few loops around their nature trail for my daily exercise. After one of the loops, I returned to find that the circuit breaker had tripped. Resetting it worked fine but I lost a bit of time. After that I monitored the breaker more closely. With my charge level was up to 88%, I figured I’d conservatively have enough for at least 150 miles -- enough for the 80-mile round trip to the Yosemite Valley and a 50-mile side trip to Glacier Point. That also gave me enough margin of error for comfort – and for spur-of-the-moment changes while poking around the valley. Groveland into Yosemite Valley was pure joy. By then it was nearly 6pm, still plenty of light but not much traffic. I wasn't in a hurry and wanted to drive conservatively to conserve energy -- but my Roadster seemed eager for more. "This is what this car was born to do," I thought. Though it was beginning to get cool, I had the top off; driving thru the pines with the evening light and the increasingly scenic landscape and the wonderful Roadster motor purr was magic. Even driving slowly, I caught up with other cars. Ordinarily that's a source of considerable aggravation because passing in the foothills can be difficult in an ordinary car. But the Tesla is almost motorcycle-like in its torque and therefore passing ability. You so much as think of accelerating, and the other car is safely behind in your rearview mirror. The passing ability inspires confidence without nervous anticipation – no worries, just effortlessness.

Then I got to the Yosemite Valley – the pristine home of Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls and other delights. It was almost sensory overload: I loved the feel of the steering wheel in my hands and the cool mountain air blowing past. With the gentle purr of the motor instead of the growl of an internal combustion engine, I delighted in the bird songs and waterfalls amid the sequoias and granite cliffs – and I was consuming all these sights without a drop of stinky gasoline. Life doesn't get much better than this. I checked in at the famous Ahwahnee Lodge and asked if they could come up with a way to charge the car. They tried. But the best they could do was 120V. That's still better than nothing; I got about 7kWh overnight. Someone with better people skills should get a Tesla charger installed there. I would be happy to chip in a significant fraction of the cost. In the morning, I made my loop to Glacier Point. Going up from the Valley, I couldn't keep the Roadster well behaved any longer. It was begging to strut its Lotus DNA and Tesla power. The electric powertrain is pure joy on a road like that! No shifting, no dancing on the pedals while trying desperately to keep the engine in its powerband.

One of the most amazing things about the Tesla – and you really have to drive the car to fully comprehend this – is the intuitiveness and simplicity of using one foot pedal to control your speed. Thanks to regenerative braking, you can take your foot off the accelerator – all at once or just by backing off a bit -- and you slow down accordingly. You think "clear ahead" and the scenery zooms by. You think "corner ahead" and it all slows down. If you were racing on a track, you’d need brakes, of course. But at cruising speed, one-pedal driving is perfect. And, unlike in a gas guzzler, you never need worry about power loss at high altitudes. :)

Alas, I had to get home. Another 4 hours at Yosemite Pines RV Resort got me enough juice to make it all the way home without the stop in San Ramon. This time I was more confident in my range calculations. When the traffic started getting ugly around Altamont Pass, the mountain range just east of the San Francisco Bay region, I gave up on the 60-65 mph nonsense and drove the rest of the way home with the normal traffic flow. The trip out took 54.5 kWh (as reported by the Trip screen); the trip home took 48 (plus 17 for the loop to Glacier Point). So in theory, I could have made it without an intermediate charge if there had been a charger in Yosemite itself. So what do we have to do to get a charger in Yosemite Valley?