“Or we could just kill you and take the car,”
…. is not what you want to hear on your first long-distance run, or first charging stop of your first long distance run…in the most expensive car you’ve ever purchased…late at night…in an unfamiliar parking lot…of an unfamiliar Walmart…in an unfamiliar town.
But here we were. He did just say that.
My electric car owning life flashed before my eyes. Just short of a month prior, we’d signed on the line for this 2019 Audi e-tron (a.k.a. Project e-tron). The first weeks of ownership were a whirlwind of learning the ropes. We bought a charger, tried out various charging stations in our town (no high-speed), commuted in it, and showed it off to curious friends.
It’d all been such an enjoyable experience that we decided to dive into the deep end of the pool. Avantoberfest was coming up in Lime Rock, CT and then on to Vermont ski country – all well out the e-tron’s 200-mile driving range… far-flung even from Electrify America’s 150 kW quick charging network of support. We wanted to see just how one deals with range and recharging in the new world of electromobility.
Worth noting, not all charging is created equally. Beyond the fact that an EV’s battery charges more quickly depending on the level of power it holds (think slow-fast-slow as percentage goes up), e-tron owners will encounter 3-4 levels of charging. For the most part, Electrify America will charge at 150 kW (20-30 minutes for 150 miles range, or about 45 for a full charge). Lesser but still “high speed” 50 kW chargers will give you about a percentage point a minute. 240V outlet chargers or Level 2 public chargers will do it in a few hours depending on power supply (about 5-9kW in our experience), while hooking up to a wall outlet could take more than a day depending on how low your battery is. The takeaway is to shoot for fast chargers where you plan to wait on a charge, utilize Level 2 when you overnight somewhere, and relegate wall outlet plug-ins as a last resort.
Planning is key, and so we examined the route and considered our stops. For this we utilized all the app-based resources we’d found. Electrify America and EVGo apps show their locations, plus the PlugShare community app tells you a more thorough offering across most networks, not to mention driver notes on current condition of chargers. Given even most chargers at gas stations aren’t actually owned and operated by the gas station, you’d be surprised to learn how valuable operation status is when planning a trip into unfamiliar territory.
We learned Electrify America had two locations along the way in East Stroudsburg, PA and Newburgh, NY… both at Walmart locations. From there, we’d overnight in Poughkeepsie, NY, where we could catch a 50 kW charger the next morning before going 30 miles to Lime Rock to meet the other Avantoberfest travelers. From there, we found two other 50 kW locations (Mass Pike rest stop and Bennington, VT city center) before arriving with the group in Stratton Mountain. We planned to stay in nearby Manchester because it too had a 50 kW charger in the city center. Our lodging was a mile away from the charger, but it was a fast charger and with plenty of restaurants and shops nearby.
Our plan for the return trip was much the same, though not being on the Avantoberfest rally meant we could head west to Albany for another brand new Electrify America location in a Walmart parking lot. From there, we’d bounce from one Electrify America location to another until we were home. We estimated 2-3 stops.
We also decided to bring an electric bike. We’ve had a Super 73 S1 fat tire e-bike for use at events. It mounts via a Thule EasyFold 2 hitch carrier made specifically for heavier e-bikes. The trip offered us a good chance for a first fitment of the rig on the e-tron’s hitch, and also to see what the resulting aerodynamic drag would do to range. Finally, if the Manchester charger wasn’t a fast charger, we could use the bike to get back to our motel.
With that we were off. On one hand, we planned all day to get there. Things got busy. We left late, and that brought us to our first charging stop after dark. The charging station itself was brand new… so new in fact that we were the first car most had seen there… and broadcasting on Facebook Live didn’t help to not draw attention. That’s when we met Jay and his girlfriend. They were nice enough and asked us all sorts of questions about the Audi and the Super 73. While we’d meant to wander inside the Walmart during the stop, they chatted on through the entire charging session.
Then, when Jay made the joke about killing us and taking the car, we decided maybe it was time to move on. By then, the charging had completed, so we set out for our next Walmart.
All kidding aside, the Walmart strategy works. The stores chosen are near the highway and usually open 24 hours. We met no further Jays at Newburgh’s Walmart, then headed north to Poughkeepsie by way of Hyde Park…home to Franklin D. Roosevelt and also the Tick Tock Diner. The latter is open 24 hours, too, so we could recharge on street tacos and banana cream pie before calling it a night.
Out on the road, the e-tron is a very comfortable car. The silence is relaxing while wireless CarPlay and touch screen MMI make managing entertainment and information for the trip markedly easy. The Level 2 autonomous function of Audi lane assist and traffic assist systems also make knocking down miles about as relaxing as it gets. Immediate silent torque delivery is also most helpful when navigating traffic.
Luck turned our way in Poughkeepsie. As it turned out, the Hyatt Place we’d booked had just opened. It was so new that its Level 2 complimentary charging weren’t yet found in PlugShare. We entered them and plugged in for the night, noting that we could have skipped Newburgh had we known. It would have saved us time, and also about $30 worth of charging.
The next day we joined Avantoberfest (walk-around video HERE and HERE and HERE) at Lime Rock and then made the 130-mile trip to Stratton Mountain with the group. We weren’t sure how hard we’d be driving, so we planned for Bennington with an emergency bug-out at the Mass Pike, if we needed it. Even with the e-bike on the back, we rolled into Bennington with some charge to spare.
At the event itself, the e-tron drew plenty of attention. This was the first electric at the event and, in most cases, the first e-tron anyone had seen. Given it was a car enthusiast event, we honestly thought we’d meet more critics. Most were curious about the car, and also curious about how we were contending with the charging network in remote Vermont.
The answer was easy enough. While 50 kW chargers weren’t the fastest we’d encountered, spending time in quaint Vermont city centers was relaxing. We enjoyed a meal and browsed small shops or grabbed a latte in a coffee house. Fresh coffee and baked goods definitely beat jokes about our demise.
One of the highlights of Avantoberfest is a Saturday morning climb up nearby Mount Equinox. Home to a monastery, this 3848′ mountain features a 5.2 access road to the top that plays home to an SCCA hillclimb and crazy bicycle endurance climb each summer, not to mention an off-road path-based Land Rover Driving Experience.
For Avantoberfest attendees, sometimes in aging original allroads, this steep 5+ mile climb can mean hot engine temps and even hotter brake temps on the way down. For those of us in the e-tron, it offered an interesting experiment of just how much power we’d use on the climb, and then how much we’d regenerate on the way down. You can watch that run in the video above, an impressive display but one that had our brakes squeaking a bit at the bottom. The e-tron ended up climbing and descending twice that morning – once on video, and one more time with the group (more video on that gathering HERE).
The only real charging challenge we found was our final day in Manchester. Fall foliage tourists converging on the picturesque town left Manchester’s cell network bogged. We wanted to charge before hitting the road, but the charger activation was app based. With no cell data available, this was a problem. Our solution was to have one of us prepped to plug in while the other walked 100 yards to the now closed coffee shop, initiating the charge on their still active wi-fi network and then yelling across the parking lot to plug in before it timed out.
The drive home was effectively our trip there in reverse. We added the Walmart in Albany, thinking that might help us manage the trip in two charging stops. However, return traffic was hustling, the weather cold, and the e-bike wasn’t helping our efficiency. We watched the range and the distance to East Stroudsburg closely. The math said we’d have 20 miles to spare, but the e-tron’s more conservative planning was guilting us into stopping in Newburgh. We chose conservatism and bailed out at Newburgh, which added 30 miles of charge. That extra range got us to our final charging stop. And, this time, we were happy to be back at that very same Walmart.
You see, Waze had taken us down a dark two-lane road through the Poconos. We were literally trailing a Department of Corrections van when the e-tron’s TPMS warning went off. With 20 miles left to Walmart, I paid more attention to the tracking of the car and pressed on. When we arrived without incident, we spent the time charging by purchasing a portable compressor with built-in tire pressure gauge. We topped off the pressures and realized the warning had come from the dropping temperatures and not a leaking tire.
We made our final return well after midnight and came to one main takeaway. Range anxiety isn’t that big of a deal. We planned around it and adapted. It isn’t so much normal, as a new normal with which you get acquainted.
Also worth noting; in the few weeks between booking our trip and hitting the road, no less than two Electrify America stations and our hotel charging point had come on line. While we have learned to plan ahead and plan extra time, we fully expect road trips, such as this, to become much less charging focused as the charging network becomes more ubiquitous.