On June 11th, 2013, my wife and I set out on an incredible adventure into the wild heart of British Columbia. Our purpose? Both to explore the vast "outback" of our adopted home and its many natual treasures, and also to test the limits of EV touring in a Model S in a way we believe had not yet been attempted. Our route included the famed Cariboo-Chilcotin Circle Route, with time in WA State added to visit relatives: up Vancouver Island, by ferry through part of the Inside Passage to Bella Coola, east across the Chilcotin Highway, south into WA State through Kamploops, Kelowna, and Grand Coulee to Clarkston, then back home via Ellensburg and Seattle. The total distance travelled was 1,867 miles (3,005 km) at an average efficiency of 315 Wh/mi (196 Wh/km).
The heart and challenge of the trip was the Chilcotin Highway, Hwy 20, which stretches 284 miles from the shores of a deep inlet of the Pacific at Bella Coola, over Heckman Pass (4879 ft), and across the Chilcotin plateau to Williams Lake. The most infamous part of the highway is "The Hill", an unpaved ascent from the Bella Coola Valley floor on the west side of the pass, with grades of up to 18%, no guard rails, and sheer drop-offs of many hundreds of feet.
The road was built by the local people with just two bulldozers and a blasting crew in 1953, when the government deemed it impossible, and is so also called "Freedom Road." The route is the one shown to Alexander McKennzie by the native people of the area, allowing him to find an overland route to the Pacific 12 years before Lewis and Clark made their more publicized voyage.
Our trip was also inspired and greatly helped by the installation of many 70A J1772 charge stations by Sun Country Highway. An early achievement of SCH was covering the entire length of the Vancouver Island Highway from Victoria to Port Hardy. We used their charge stations in Courtenay, Telegraph Cove, and Port Hardy, before boarding the BC Ferries' Queen of Chilliwack for the 13 hour day trip to Belle Coola.
The ferry trip was beautiful and mostly peaceful, except for a portion of the crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait, where the big ocean swells come off the Pacific, no longer blocked by Vancouver Island. The little ferry rolled, pitched and yawed through the big waves, throwing spray as high as the upper decks. Maggie and I managed to ward off seasickness, but just barely! We arrived in Bella Coola at 11pm, and made our way to the Eagle Lodge east of town. Here our Model S began a diet of 120V charge stops, that would last until Williams Lake. But given that this extraordinary valley was our sight-seeing destination, we knew that over the five days we would be in there, we would be fully charged and ready for the fearsome "Hill" to come. We also knew that those electrons would not have far to travel to our Tesla's UMC, since we were in the heart of BC Hydro's hydroelectric generating assets.
The Bella Coola Valley is like a wilder and much larger version of Yosemite. It is a deep U-shaped glacier-cut groove surrounded by sheer granite walls and towering snow-capped peaks draped with hanging glaciers. The Bella Coola and Atnarko Rivers are prime fly-fishing grounds and home to much wildlife, including Black and Grizzly Bears, and many Bald Eagles. The climate is much drier than further west nearer the mouths of the many inlets that dice the Canadian Coast Range, and we were surprised to find it quite warm, early in its own spring, only weeks from the last snow falls.
After two days of driving and hiking in the lower valley, we moved up to Tweedsmuir Lodge, the premier destination resort in the valley. This elegant historic lodge is home to Bella Coola Helisports, which provides world-class heli-skiing in winter, and heli-hiking and guided expeditions on the trails and rivers in summer. We opted for a day of nature hiking with Doug Baker, a knowledgeable and friendly naturalist who has lived in the valley 16 years. Our trek produced many wonders and wildlife sightings, especially close encounters with a Bald Eagle and many other birds. The bears, however, would keep their distance this day, something my wife was not entirely disappointed by. The second day we did a drift down the Atnarko and Bella Coola Rivers with Kenny Corbould, whose parents had built the present-day lodge, and who knew the wild river like the back of his hand.
Once we had conquered The Hill, using about 25 kWh just for the 30 mile ascent, the rest of the Chilcotin Highway was an easy relaxing drive with beautiful vistas of the leeward slopes of the Coast Range. This is rugged country with few inhabitants and NO official charge stations. We knew we would need a charging stop before Williams Lake, so had reserved a cabin and an RV spot at Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort on Puntzi Lake. Once there, it turned out our hosts Merry and Andrew had one accessible 14-50 outlet on the outside of their cafe building, so we charged full without difficultly overnight. A gloriously clear waxing moon watched over us that night, and in the morning we saw white pelicans gliding over the lake.
Once in Williams Lake, we headed to the one EVSE we had seen posted on PlugShare in this whole region of BC, at Thompson River University. This was to be our first experience with a new Canadian entry into the networked EVSE fray, AddEnergie, out of Quebec City. Their distinctive tall blue aluminum J1772 stations are only 30A, but they have recently made a push into BC, and cover areas in the interior no one else has yet reached. They are also all currently free. We signed up for an account online after our departure from home, so had not received the RFID card. That was no issue though, since their friendly staff could be easily reached by phone to unlock and authorize the station. It also turned out that we were the first people to use this station, and the gentleman on the trades faculty who installed the units greeted us at the curb excitedly. He brought over a PR person from the University, and we were interviewed and posed for pictures.
Cutting this charge a little short was the only range-anxiety inducing mistake of the trip. Heading south from Williams Lake, a very strong headwind and rain lowered our efficiency to the point that we thought we might not quite make our next and familiar charging stop, an SCH-installed 70A station at the Holiday Inn in Kamloops. So Maggie began scouting for an RV Park while I drove in hypermiling mode. We made it to Cache Creek, but dared go no further. We were directed to an RV Park with only TT-30 (120V, 30A) outlets, but thankfully this TMC community had provided me with the advance knowledge to build a working adapter for this outlet, which Tesla does not directly support. We patiently did email for an hour or two while we accumulated enough charge to feel safe to go on. We reached Kamloops with 13 km of rated range showing after the big regenerating downhill into town; at the top of that hill, we had only 8 km!
From this point, the trip became more routine, since we were in areas we knew better, and were more populated with charge stations. After several days at Maggie's parent's home in Clarkston, WA, she stayed on there, and I completed the last and very familiar 450 mile leg through Ellensburg (thanks @TomSax!) and the Seattle area on my own. I just barely made the last ferry home to Salt Sprig Island that night, after a quick stop at the Ferndale Event Center charge station, with just enough range to get into our island town Ganges. Thanks to a recently-installed Sun Country Highway charge station at our community centre, Artspring, I was able to charge enough to make it up the 1,100 ft climb to our mountainside home at midnight, June 25, two weeks after our departure on this wonderful trip.
Some might have thought us crazy for venturing so far from the beaten path in an EV. Our comfort in doing it boiled down to two words: Tesla Service. We knew that with a Ranger Anywhere Plan in place, even if a disabling problem were to arise, Tesla would be there to rescue us. They even offered to check on the car periodically by remote monitoring, with our permission, to make sure all was OK. In fact, we had not one problem through the whole trip!
I hope our adventure convinces many in this community, as well as many yet considering a purchase, that this car is really ready for the open road-- the long and winding road. Even beyond the reach of Superchargers and even L2 EVSE's, if one is just a little patient, extraordinary voyages into the wild on this beautiful continent await Model S.
P.S.: More images from the trip are available for viewing here: https://www.icloud.com/photostream/#A35n8hH4nPRM5