Thoughts and Stories from the Electric Car Challenge: Reinventing of the Great American Road Trip
“Dude, we just drove 3000 miles across the country … in an all electric car!” I said to Men’s Health senior editor Eric Adams. The reality of what had just happened over the past 12 days was finally sinking in when our team of drivers popped open a bottle of champagne after parking our car at the Santa Monica Pier in California.
The road trip, dubbed The Electric Car Challenge by the magazine, was never just about the drive. It wasn’t even just about the car. This trip transcended that and became so much more meaningful. It would be a test of self and of relationships—relationships forged with new team members and a test of an existing relationship with my girlfriend Nicole.
When Eric first asked me about joining him on his mission to be the first team to drive an all-electric car from New York to Los Angeles without a single drop of gas (“petrol” for my British readers), I instinctively said yes, as I normally do. It’s usually only about two weeks after I agree to do something of this nature that I ask myself what on Earth did I sign myself up for!?
A Mixed Bag
The team consisted of a mixed bag of personalities, carefully hand-picked by Eric himself. The team was a science experiment in itself. Eric was simply wondering, “What would happen if you put a racing driver, a TV personality/X-games winner, a beauty queen, a former Navy SEAL, a bartender, a popular sex columnist for Men’s Health, and a Men’s Health editor in a Ford Focus Electric to go across country to do something that everyone said was not possible.” He got his answer over 12 action-packed days in April.
The trip officially started on Wednesday April 11th, 2012 as Tanner Foust and I drove our Ford Focus Electric right off of the main Ford display at the New York Auto-show and set out west.
Our first stop was High Bridge, New Jersey where we were welcomed like heroes. This small town is as friendly as it gets and even came with its very own purpose-built electric car charging station. Local politicians came out to greet us, and the town’s pub put on a display of cheese and biscuits. “This is going to be great,” we thought. Unfortunately, High Bridge was a mirage of the reality of what the rest of the trip would be like. We were welcomed heartily in most places, but it was never quite the reception we received at the outset, and over the next 12 days the team encountered many testing situations that pushed each and everyone one of us to the breaking point, only moments away from failure or becoming stranded.
The car had an approximate range of 80 miles and would require 3 hours to completely charge the battery. I say approximately 80 miles, as we quickly found out that there are several big factors that determine the car’s actual range—namely, the incline of the terrain and the amount of opportunities there are to brake, thus recharging the battery using the on-board regenerative braking system. Depending on the terrain we either completed 86 miles with 20 miles left in the battery, or trickled into an RV park on ZERO miles after only 70 miles of uphill terrain the whole way.
Go-Karting Standoff: Circuit Pro Vs. Rally Pro
Tanner and I were whisked off to Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, an indoor Kart track in Allentown, Pa., while the car was charging at the first stop for some high-octane fun. As the two token racing drivers on the trip, Eric wanted to quickly establish the pecking order, just for fun. I’m proud to say that I kicked Tanner’s butt! Sorry mate, the numbers don’t lie. Granted I may or may not have a slight weight advantage, but I will take my victories wherever possible.