Supercharging for Sport

Tesla announced its one-of-a-kind, long distance, fast charging network in late 2012. Since then, the network has become so vast and far-reaching that it is nearly impossible for any one person to catch them all. Yet that hasn’t stopped some Tesla owners from trying; at least for all the chargers on their respective continent. While Tesla certainly envisioned the network becoming a complex web of inter-connected routes, they couldn’t have possibly foreseen the game it would become.

As of today’s publication, there are 1,533 unique supercharger locations worldwide. There are 759 in North America, which includes the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Andy, who goes by the name Bighorn, has been to nearly all of them and is the current leader in this friendly competition. He and his 2013 Model S have traveled over 250,000 miles together, all for personal use. What makes his story unique is that he lives in Wyoming, far from the reaches of concentrated regions such as California and the NY-PHL-DC corridor. Just as impressive is how far he has to travel from his home state to get to most new supercharger locations.

Andrew from California, who goes by NKYTA – the name he and his wife gave to their Model S – once took the top spot from Andy. Literally. They met at a supercharger location in Wyoming where today’s leader Andy (Bighorn) plugged in NKYTA and passed off a ceremonious pair of maracas. Currently in 6th place, Andrew got his supercharging start in 2013, when he and his wife took a trip to Portland, OR. In 2014, there was news of the network expanding, which led to a trip to his hometown of Wisconsin, where he first met Andy. Shortly thereafter, the two learned of a post on the Tesla Motor Clubs forum of someone else who had charged at many locations. The contest was born. What makes Andrew’s story unique is that he set out on these long distance trips in a Model S that was one of the first 2,000 ever made.

Dawn from California, Andrew’s wife, was integral in their decision to reserve and purchase an early Model S. She also had the foresight to invest in the company early, a move that proved more valuable than anyone could imagine. Now a two-Tesla family, she is officially a contest participant herself, having driven her Model 3 to 84 unique supercharger locations and counting. Official contest rules state that participants must do at least 51% of the driving for a new location to count.

Among other contest rules is the requirement that you post your new chargers in an official discussion thread so that a moderator (or you, if approved) can update the contest’s data. The data contains links, calculations, color coding and more. The main leader board chart, below, offers a quick glance at standings. That quick glance however, is the result of hundreds of hours of programming and upkeep. Other points of interest aside from total chargers visited is your ranking among those who have reached each “century” mark. In other words, you are recognized whether you are the first, second, or 49th (like me) to reach 100, or any other multiple of a hundred.

Darren, who admittedly came late to the game when it was easier to get your first hundred than most folks in the top 10, happened upon the contest by accident. He already had well over 100 unique locations under his belt in 20 months of driving when he met one of the contest originators in December of 2017. After that, he was hooked and skyrocketed beyond his first century mark to his sixth in 2018 alone. He’s currently in third place and uses a data logger called TeslaFi to map out his own trips for a great visual of all of the ways he has seen and experienced the US, Canada, and Mexico.

“Half Dollar” Bill is the early contest originator who introduced Darren. What started as a forum thread evolved to a wiki and summary chart that he prettied up a few times by fixing the underlying html, despite not having a background in doing so. It was open for anyone to edit, but required knowledge of HTML so in essence, participants relied on a select few folks to update for them. Bill got his first 100 chargers by crossing the country in 2014 when there were barely enough locations to do so. That led to a brief stint in the top 10. He’s currently in 22nd place, with 236 chargers, and remains an important part of the contest as a data editor. Darren and others have since jumped in to help, as the complex functionality, vast number of chargers and ever growing participant list has made it a beast to maintain.

Because the supercharger network – and the contest itself – is ever growing, the wiki became too cumbersome and feature limited. In late 2018, Don from Virginia, who goes by theflyer, caught a case of wanderlust after buying his Model S in 2016. He and another competitor moved the data to Google Sheets. From there, Don created a public Tableau project that dynamically pulls data from the spreadsheet and provides living maps for competitors (43 competitor maps currently). The site has garnered over 10,000 views. In addition to the competitor maps, the site also offers a range of graphs and visualizations related to global supercharger trends. Since the competition is focused on visiting new superchargers, the default view on each map shows the superchargers that competitor has yet to visit, but a number of competitor maps can be easily flipped to show the trips they’ve taken. Tableau easily allows competitors to capture images like Don’s map below so they can be shared and to help convey how easy it is to go anywhere you want in a Tesla.

JSergeant who is currently in 4th place also helped, along with user tes-s, to move the data over to the current Google Sheet. The sheet allows users to edit their own column of superchargers visited, while locking all other content to prevent accidental changes or deletions. He first started manually creating Google maps for himself and a few top competitors, a process that was not sustainable over time. The latest iteration of the sheet, plus the public Tableaus, result in a dynamic and somewhat automated system. The folks highlighted here and other participants have spent countless hours to develop and maintain the data, and they do it all for sport. This contest is not official, bears no prize beyond bragging rights, and gains no fame beyond a small group of Tesla enthusiasts who may be aware of it. Yet it pays those involved back in a rewarding hobby, a sense of accomplishment, seeing the country from a unique vantage point, proving the ease of travel on the network and even forming lasting friendships with people you’d never otherwise have met.

Mike, who goes by ITGeek, is in 7th place with 450 even. When asked why he does it, he responded “Because they are there, which in itself provides a certain bit of adventure.” Tesla puts chargers in places that he had never considered going to before, but credits those back road routes with providing stunning scenic views that you would never get by just staying on the Interstates. In his words, “life has an unknown expiration date” and his intent to drive his Tesla, plus the desire to see the country, made this game the perfect match.

I’m personally honored to be tied for 49th place with 127 unique locations and to have shared meals with 4 of the participants I’ve highlighted above. My own map shows that I haven’t yet had the courage to venture too far from my east coast home but I hope to have the chance soon. I would need another hundred chargers to crack the top 25, and nearly another hundred beyond that to be the top ranking female in the contest. That honor is currently held by Vera, who goes by thinkje, in 13th place. She has been supercharging since 2015 but really got going in 2017 when she took several long road trips from her home in Maryland to places such as Custer, SD, Key West, FL and Seattle, WA.

As other electric vehicles come onto the scene, they will have to contend with the very real need for reliable and fast charging when drivers are away from home. Tesla has figured it out, and has unwittingly created a game that many enjoy. Who will be the next to build a network like this?

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