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A single digit Holiday


Oct 11, 2012
Citrus Heights, CA
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Last year, my wife and I drove her sensible Ford Focus to Lombard, IL for the Thanksgiving holiday, from our home in Plymouth, MN. No matter what, I knew we were returning there in our Model S in 2013. I was pleased to see the Rockford, IL supercharger come online in September, and anxious about something in Wisconsin for the middle, but I knew Livewire could make it. After my summer camping trip to Wildcat Mountain State Park, I had acquainted myself with the J-1772 charger in Sparta, WI. I knew we could get to Rockford, and I was sure we could do this trip.

Livewire was definitely less excited about the trip. When we set out early on Wednesday morning, I had not accounted for the non-linear aspect of a full charge, and left with 197 rated miles instead of a full charge on my 60kwh Model S. This seems normal for me, I never manage to leave with 208 miles. I have heard that the 5.8 software does do some additional calculations, and I think next time, I'll read the kwh figure instead. Using the mobile application, the cabin was pre-heated by the time we were loaded up. I was pleased that the forward compartment did not share the air with the cabin, as our travel snacks were stored there in a cooler.

The passenger seat in the front row of my Model S is not called the passenger seat. It is referred to as co-pilot, but is more akin to the Radar Intercept Officer in an F-14 Tomcat. She had all the major in-kind responsibilities: watch road conditions on the primary console, fold out the mirror (accommodating our narrow garage) upon departure, and manage several controls as well as collect data feeds for travel. Preemptively, I alerted her to the news that the 5.8 software release contained a block for the LOW setting on the pneumatic adjustable suspension and that it would impact our range, theoretically. As the pilot, I was given regular feeds of information on traffic conditions and weather to make tactical decisions throughout the trip. For those of you who have managed to add a radar/laser detector in your Model S, you may as well go ahead and call that the Radar Intercept Officer's chair, giving the person in that seat the added responsibility of monitoring the aforementioned fuzz buster.

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The first report received was that Sparta, WI was showing a zero-degree air temperature. Forecasts indicated it would climb at least ten degrees by the time we reached it. With progress already made on our route on the South side of Lake Pepin, we could not alter course, and there weren't really any options, as we were locked in on a single recharge waypoint, averaging 325 watt hours per mile. Rochester had proven to be far too irregular to be a functional mid-point. I responded by holding the vehicle to 55 mph. Already being miserly with the air conditioning, and instead relying primarily on warm clothes and seat heaters, we were struggling quite a bit with window frost. I did learn that I'm the primary culprit. I know I have a high metabolism, and I give off a lot of heat (and moisture), so my window, and not the co-pilot's window, was far more coated with frozen condensation. Since moisture is the main concern, I donned a thick hat and focused my breathing through my nostrils. Consequently, the frost faded to tolerable corners. Passing through Pepin Heights, we noticed a Culver's which was advertising:
Mint Brownie Tuna Wraps
in big letters on their marquis for sale. Neither of us stopped to pursue the nuanced flavor, but were determined not to judge.

As we closed in on 80 miles range of Sparta, it became clear that our speed had to drop even more. I put it down to 50 mph and my wife found a surface highway to take once we were over the river into Wisconsin, where such speeds were not an offset to other drivers. It worked our economy down to 303 watt hours per mile. We arrived with 4 miles of range, which was less than the degrees left on the thermometer. After plugging in to the Chargepoint station, we wandered off for a second breakfast at our favorite place in Sparta. Knowing we had to charge for several hours, we enjoyed a leisurely time in Sparta, visiting a kitschy shop and then the inevitable yarn shop. My wife and I got a cold vibe off the shop owner, who clearly did not recognize a return customer, so we did not stay. Since the charging station is adjacent to the local library, which is one of the Dale Carnegie libraries, we went inside. My wife brought her knitting, and I sported some embroidery. We stayed until around 3:00pm and then drove East.
Sparta Winter SM.JPG
On our list of tourist attractions to visit during our travels was the yet-unfinished supercharger in Mauston, WI. Thanks to IslandBayy, we knew exactly where it was. We pulled up, parked, and walked around. Remembering his video, nothing had changed. Before we left, however, a patron of the Culver's where it was built had pulled alongside us and asked a question or two. We scouted to-do's in the area, and found a thrift store. This Culver's did not advertise the aforementioned entree, so we did not stop in and brave the bold flavor adventure.

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Heading onward on our journey, we stopped at the Sandrift Resort in the Wisconsin Dells with 15 miles remaining. Although it was closed for seasonal guests, it did have the electricity on and instructions to deposit payment into the night key drop. We opted to charge there, as it charges 25-30% faster than the J-1772 in Sparta. Set up for charging, we wandered into the rather quiet and shut-down Wisconsin Dells busy streets, a quiet walk in temperatures as high as the mid 20's. We found a Tex-Mex restaurant that was open and stopped in for dinner. After dinner, we knitted/embroidered a little, then walked back to our car. Calculating the mileage to Rockford, we had just about enough charge to get there going 55 mph again, with an expectation of the same energy efficiency as before.

The stretch between the Wisconsin Dells and Rockford, IL was a fair bit hilly. It made me anxious. When we were within 4 miles, we had 8 miles of range averaging 279 watt hours per mile in an almost tropical 22 degrees Fahrenheit, so as we pulled off the road, I enabled the A/C. In retrospect, I probably should have toughed it out, because it triggered some electronic drain suddenly. Once we were at the Rockford Supercharger, we were unsuccessful in charging the first two stalls we tried. I thought there might be something up, and I called Tesla Supercharger service. Initially, the person on Tesla Supercharger support said there wasn't a supercharger in Rockford. After identifying that I was certain I was looking at Supercharger hardware, I was put on hold for a bit. Then, the fellow who responded said I may not have it enabled, since it was free for only the first 1,000 miles. I told him he was mistaken and that it was on my delivery invoice from my delivery in February. I really don't know what that was about, but my wife pointed out that it was probably a holiday crew, so I let it go. The technician eventually got into the system, affirmed that one of the posts was experiencing a fault, and guided me to one that checked out 100%. At this point, the car was at zero miles and an angry red bar appeared on the main display. We plugged in and the technician stayed on until it reached maximum charge rates. My wife and I made a brisk exit from the station over to a restaurant that was still open and stopped in to use the washroom and order some hot cocoa. Our server had fewer than six tables at this hour and was quite slow to bring our order. By the time we received our beverages, Livewire was at 50% charge. Upon completion of our refreshment, I walked up to the register to pay, not wanting to waste any time. It was already past 11:00pm and we were quite tired.
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Leaving my wife to drive the remainder, I settled in for a nap, which was possible as we had ample charge to get to Lombard, and full highway speeds were an option. On the way there, my wife stopped several times. No, a single mug of hot cocoa hadn't caused this. In point of fact, it was the abundance of toll stations across the freeway system in the state. When we finally arrived in Lombard, I was pleased that my call from the Wisconsin Dells to make sure our room was held had been made, arriving close to 1:00am in a hotel booked solid for a convention on a holiday weekend can be complex.

During our holiday, we stopped in at the Oak Brook mall for our Thanksgiving dinner (and a partial recharge at the Tesla parking area), gave at least one joy ride to a new friend and guest at the hotel, and also drove to a friend's place in Glenview on Sunday. This friend of mine owns a BMW M5. I had wanted to let him drive my car to put it through its paces, as he is a very capable, advanced driver. He tested it very aggressively and navigated some areas for testing the handling he calls "the maze." It was the first time I had ever been frightened in my car. My friend has better reflex timing than I do, especially as a driver, and this was the moment he proved it. Watching the road, I could not keep up with his maneuvers mentally. I know he is fond of his BMW M5, but we'll see what he does in the next year. I sought his approval years ago before buying the Model S. I was pleased that the vehicle finally earned that approval it always does: the unmistakable grin. After a few hours of hanging out and charging off his NEMA 5/15 (110v outlet), we headed out to Rockford again, and were passed by a local Signature Model S on surface streets.

When we arrived in Rockford, it was after 5:30pm, and the mall there normally closed at 6:00pm on Sundays. We walked around and were entertained by a laser-based obstacle course business, and footnoted it for another day. When we returned to our car, we were met by a passing motorist who had a few questions about Tesla. Additionally, a second Model S had appeared. It was black and from Illinois, with no badging for what sub-model it was. My wife authenticated into Plugshare, but nobody had checked in. The driver appeared finally (we were waiting for a nearly full charge) but she was both with a friend and on the phone. Both the driver and the friend seemed possibly under 21 years of age, so we dismissed the lack of even a return wave hello as a possible indication that perhaps the driver was a relative or friend of the owner. I commented to my wife that because of where the charge stations were, our trip back would be shorter one. With the route out from Chicago starting with a supercharger 80 miles out, then the NEMA 14-50 next, instead of 180 miles out starting with a J-1772 (at 18-20 miles /hr for charging), it worked out to at least an hour faster.
Rockford SC SM.JPG
Arriving in the Wisconsin Dells after 8:00pm on Sunday, we did not have an abundance of activities to pursue after plugging in at the Sandrift Resort again, but decided to walk a different direction this time. We found a pizza place that had gluten-free options and late hours. The television in the bar was playing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and we complemented our meal with hot cocoa again. When we arrived back at our car at the Sandrift Resort, there was a guest who pulled up, staying at the cottage; we talked for a little about the Model S and winter driving while I dropped off my second payment.

On our drive to Sparta, it was again quite cold and very late. Upon arrival, I decided to run the heater, and my wife and I napped in the car for several hours, lacking other options. I had confusing dreams about the streets being much more hilly and flooded and a pack of wild dogs running around. Before dawn, I woke up, checked the miles, and felt we had enough to make it, leaving without a full charge. Driving into Minneapolis, there are always places to charge, as Plymouth is on the far side of town. I simply had the urge to leave suddenly.

This apprehension seemed far less odd as we progressed along the North end of Lake Pepin. Wet snow suddenly was falling, rapidly. At one point, I came around a corner and a snow plow pulled out in front of me. Traction control engaged, and unsure of my stopping distance in the sand-flavored slushy, I took to the opposing lane on this empty road, but had plenty of stopping power. Everything seemed to slow down at that point in the drive. Since rush hour was closing in, I asked the co-pilot to identify a more populated route, which may have already been ploughed. Along the way, we made a quick, necessary stop at a service station on some smudge of a town on the map, much to the excitement of a young man in an automotive relic, which may have been a Datsun, who stopped his morning for some quick photos with his cell phone. With traffic in full swing as we reached the metro, I drove at the speed of traffic and we arrived home with miles to spare, averaging 280 watt hours per mile on the last leg.

By Thursday, the supercharger in Mauston was operational. Tracking progress on the forums, by the time I want to drive somewhere else (possibly excepting Fargo) in my Model S, it will not be an adventure, but a leisure experience. In reviewing this trip, two things stood out: my wife and I were either smart or blessed and should have had some kind of range shortfall, and we spent more money in tolls than electricity for the entire trip.


Nov 23, 2012
Great write-up! How did you possible get your Kw usage down so low ?!!!! I am consistently in the 400's, and even in the summer, I am in the 300's!


Oct 11, 2012
Citrus Heights, CA
@rekoh: First, I'm driving a 60kwh so my mass is lower. Second, pay attention to the speeds I mention as well as temperatures (which were lousy, in this story). Third, note that I was very warmly dressed and minimal in my use of air conditioning. Note the photo of me wiping frost off my window. Also, this is a road trip story, so I was driving a long distance. When I'm around town in winter, I am usually in the 325-350 wh/mile. I very rarely use the full potential of my vehicle's acceleration. I invite you to bring up the efficiency since last charge on your display and take a 55 mph drive for at least 20 miles. Don't forget to off the climate control and pre-heat the cabin before you unplug.


New Member
Jan 8, 2014
Vexar, how do the frigid temperatures we have been having recently affect the battery life? Do you find you get significantly less distance with negative teen temps?


Oct 11, 2012
Citrus Heights, CA
@Degalock, the battery is fine in the cold. Remember, it's the chemistry that matters most here. Don't think the traditional "Lead Acid" chemistry rules apply here. Also, don't forget there's full climate control in the battery. I would like to amend my comment about temperatures in city driving to say it's not inclusive of the coating of ice that is present on Minnesota freeways, and that I've been closer to 400 wh/mile when there is slush and ice under my tires (and the cold limits my regen.).

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