First Thoughts on Tesla National Road Trip [Insert “Knight Rider” Theme Song]

Tesla Model S charging while a summer Delaware thunderstorm takes shape. photo: jbpribanic

Tesla Model S charging while a summer Delaware thunderstorm takes shape. photo: jbpribanic

Public Herald is touring Triple Divide across the U.S.A. in a Tesla Model S. Don’t worry about how we got the car — we promise it had nothing to do with Mark Ruffalo.

Tesla’s Model S is an all electric, long(er) range sedan that can travel almost 300 miles on one charge and seat up to seven humans — or — two investigative journalists and a projector, audio system, cameras, DVDs, T-shirts, suitcases, tent, sleeping gear, an art project and a snack pantry. Because the car has no motor, no transmission, it has both a rear and front truck, which is the only way we could ever have fit all of our precious cargo.

Instead of burning fuel to propel you through space, the car consumes kilowatts, which are generated by everything from coal and gas to wind and solar. After about 2,000 miles we’ve only spent $100 on mileage (tolls.) No gasoline and free electricity.

That said, planning a 13,000 mile trip with the capacity to travel only 250-300 miles at a time has been challenging. Every challenge has trade-offs. Sure, we can’t pull in and refuel in 2.5 minutes anywhere we please. But once we got used to thinking differently about how we travel, the pay-off has been huge. At the very least, we’re learning more about our own and society’s assumptions about getting from Point A to Points B, C & D.

Much to our critics’ dismay (see FracDaddy comments) we launched our national tour using 100% renewable power by charging the Tesla at Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which uses solar and geothermal to make the Center’s off-grid structure one of the “greenest” in the world; enough to power 14 homes.

Public Herald launches its national Triple Divide tour from Pennsylvania to California and back from the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, where 100% of power is generated by solar and geothermal energy. Photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

Public Herald launches its national Triple Divide tour from Pennsylvania to California and back from the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, where 100% of power is generated by solar and geothermal energy. Photo: jbpribanic

Like its namesake, Nikola Tesla, Tesla Motors invents things – its own batteries, its own robots, even its own color (Tesla Red.) Their first car, the Roadster, uses an AC motor descended directly from Tesla’s original 1882 design.

The company has also invented an uber-fast Supercharger that adds nearly 300 miles to the car battery in about 30 to 45 minutes…just long enough to grab lunch, coffee, or get some exercise after sitting in the car for a few hours. (The breaks are essential for cranky right hips.)

Public Herald Managing Editor Melissa Troutman plugs a Tesla Model S into a supercharger. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

Public Herald Managing Editor Melissa Troutman plugs a Tesla Model S into a supercharger. photo: jbpribanic

Tesla’s Supercharger Network is growing and free. Yes, free (and super easy). New Superchargers are expected to flourish through 2015 in the U.S, where Tesla manufacturers its cars and provides about 6,000 jobs. Superchargers are also being built overseas. Tesla Motors is a public company that trades on the NASDAQ as TSLA and announced its first profits in 2013. As many as 1,400 job openings are listed online at third-party websites as of July 12, 2014.

Screenshot of Tesla Motors Investor Presentation (January 2014)

Screenshot of Tesla Motors Investor Presentation (January 2014)

But what about traversing the mountains of western North Carolina or Montana where Superchargers don’t exist, but we need to take Triple Divide?

The Model S has adapters that can be used in any electrical outlet. The larger the voltage, the faster the car charges. We’ve charged at campgrounds, hotels, public parks where outlets are available and use the app PlugShare to find most of them. We also learned a few ins-and-outs from Roberts and Bridget Jones’ cross-country trip and downloaded the app RV Parky, which they recommended, for finding RV Parks with 50 Amp electric hook-ups. Charging at an RV park takes about five to seven hours.

Public Herald Editor-in-chief retrieves tent gear after plugging the car into a 50 AMP RV electric hook-up. Photo: Melissa A. Troutman

Public Herald Editor-in-chief retrieves tent gear after plugging the car into a 50 AMP RV electric hook-up. Photo: Melissa A. Troutman

But Tesla’s not perfect, or at least Garmin isn’t. On several occasions, we’ve trusted the car’s Garmin navigation system and been led astray to strange places that were definitely not where we meant to go. Sometimes Garmin thinks north is west, or that Bell Avenue is North Avenue. So we rely on our phone navigation as back up while Tesla or Garmin (we’re not sure who’s in control here) hopefully works on an update. Josh jokes if you’re going to give a $130K car a navigation system that fashions Atari turn-by-turn, how about the option to insert “Knight Rider’s” theme song and Hasselhoff Voice Control.

We’re not what you’d call “car people” but the Tesla definitely has charm. It’s the ultimate conversation starter, and often elicits a thumbs up as we’re driving down the highway.

After a screening of Triple Divide in Wheeling, West Virginia, one young woman decided to take the plunge and buy an electric hybrid. One young man named Noah traveled 50 miles with his grandparents to a screening in Lexington, Virginia just to get a chance to see a Tesla up-close. He says he’s saving up, not for a Tesla, but to build his own electric car in the future, remarking how he wanted to thank Elon Musk for recently open sourcing all of Tesla’s patents. (Psst! Tesla, you may want to hire Noah. He’s a recent Public Herald member too.)

More from the road soon… subscribe to our feed at PublicHerald.org. Stay tuned on Twitter with #TripleDivide @PublicHerald.

Public Herald Editor-in-chief Joshua Pribanic stands with a family who's thinking about buying a Tesla for their next vehicle. photo: Melissa A. Troutman

Public Herald Editor-in-chief Joshua Pribanic stands with a family who’s thinking about buying a Tesla for their next vehicle. photo: Melissa A. Troutman

About Melissa Troutman

  • Jordan Northcutt

    It was good meeting you two last night! Good luck on your ventures and I look forward to keeping up with your stories!