Cross Country Rally: Day One

At 5.30am on Thursday, January 30, an email came in from JB Straubel, co-founder and chief technical officer of Tesla Motors.

"It looks like the send off was exciting," he wrote. "Go go go!"

Five and a half hours earlier, hundreds of electric vehicle enthusiasts had gathered at the Tesla design studio in Hawthorne, CA, to send off a Tesla team in two Model S sedans attempting to set a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS achievement for least non-drive time for an electric vehicle traveling across the United States. The plan: drive all the way to New York City in about three days, stopping only to charge at Superchargers, and for as little time as possible. And, of course, don't pay a cent for gas.

Now, heeding Straubel's advice, they were off in pursuit of the record. By 5.30am Pacific Time, the Tesla drivers were already approaching the Supercharger site in Kingman, AZ, where they were greeted by a sunrise that toasted the edges of the Hualapai Mountains. Here, at the second stop on a 3,400 mile journey, everything was working according to schedule.

Down the road from Kingman, heading towards the high plains near Flagstaff, AZ, the news got even better. The Model S drivers looked at their dashboards and found they had more energy to spare than expected. They turned to the walkie talkies.

"How about some tune-age?" asked Dan Priestley, chief organizer of the Cross Country Rally, sitting in the front passenger seat of a Model S that the team christened "Thunder".

"What, you mean tune the speed up?" responded Christ Ford, a member of Tesla's Supercharger team, from the other car, which, naturally, had been given the name "Lightning".

"No, I mean, like, music."

In an effort to keep the cars' energy use as efficient as possible, the drivers had turned off all the vehicles' extraneous features. But now was time to spend their energy profit.

"Okay, we're on it," came Ford's response. "Time to rock out."

The cars, and the support vehicles in which resting drivers catch up on sleep, had been on the road about seven hours by the time they pulled into the Superchargers in Flagstaff, where they’d charge for the longest leg of the drive. Then came a phone call. Priestley, the man in charge of the trip, looked concerned. Soon, the cars would be driving through a sand storm close to the Utah border, but that wouldn't slow them down. Instead, they had a different kind of storm to worry about.

Snow in Colorado. Lots of it.

The team began the rally expecting fine weather. The forecast had said as much. But now they were hearing that there could be as much as 15 inches of snow near Grand Junction that evening. Portions of I-70 were reportedly being closed and other roads might follow suit. Chains would be a necessity.

Well, no one thought traversing the country in mid-winter conditions in the space of three days would be easy.