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EV Trip Reports

August 28, 2018
Paul Gipe

EV Road Tripping: Bakersfield Bolt to Yosemite via US 395 and the "East Side"

In mid August we took our annual vacation to Toulumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. We drove the family car. Nothing special about that per se, we've been doing it for years. What was different was that we drove a Chevy Bolt EV, an electric car. And we drove it up the "East Side" on US 395, one of the nation's most scenic highways.

We could have done it easy enough in a Tesla. (We saw quite a few Teslas on the route.) But we don't own a Tesla. We drive a Chevy Bolt instead. (Some of have called the Bolt a poor man's Tesla because it costs a fraction of a Tesla, yet has the range of a Tesla--240 miles.)

However, there is only one charge location compatible with the Bolt on the entire 300-mile stretch from Bakersfield to Toulumne Meadows. That location, Mammoth Lakes, is 250 miles from Bakersfield--and on the other side of the Sierra Nevada.

We're a one-car family. And that car is a Bolt. We no longer operate a car with an internal combustion engine. In those circumstances where the Bolt won't meet our needs, we plan to rent a conventional car. Importantly, we haven't had to do so yet.

The drive from Bakersfield to Toulumne Meadows and return is one such trip where a rental might make sense. However, we've been adventuring with an EV for four years now and felt we could make the Bolt work. The trip would require more flexibility than most American would tolerate, but it could be done with minimum fuss.

And no, we didn't call AAA and had them tow the car to Mammoth Lakes. Though we know someone who did. . .

What we did do was break the trip up into segments doable with the Bolt. In a previous trip we proved that we could cross the Sierra Nevada and reach Independence, California 170 miles from Bakersfield. There we would charge overnight. (See Bolt EV Successfully Crosses Sierra Nevada Bakersfield to Independence.) From Independence, the next leg would take us to the ski center of Mammoth Lakes where we'd spend another night charging. From there it's an easy hop to the exhilarating drive up to Tioga Pass and then down into Toulumne Meadows. The route back, mostly downhill, would take us back to Independence for a night and then on to home.

Mobile Charging

Despite California's reputation as being EV friendly, there are still many places without charge stations. The East Side of the Sierra Nevada is one of those places.

There are no charge stations in Independence. However, Jim Getzinger at the Independence Inn installed a NEMA 14-50 outlet at his 6-unit motel several years ago in the early days of the EV revolution. Any EV can plug into the NEMA 14-50 outlet if it has a mobile charge cable and the appropriate adapter.

The NEMA 14-50 is a receptacle often found in big RV parks. It can deliver up to 40 amps continuously for about 10 kW of power. It's the big boy of non-commercial charging.

Both times we charged overnight at the Independence Inn using our Jesla mobile charge cable. The Bolt draws its full 7.4 kW from the Jesla and the NEMA 14-50 outlet, adding 7 kWh per hour to the 60 kWh traction battery. This will charge the car overnight.

We've been using the Jesla for such out-of-the-way road trips since we've been driving electric. It's one of the most powerful mobile charge cables on the market. The Jesla's not cheap, but it's rugged and reliable and is superior to the mobile charge cable that comes with most EVs. We never leave home without it.

$425 for Level 2 Charge

We needed one more charge to make the trip work. There are four resorts in Mammoth Lakes that offer EV charging to their guests. These are the kind of places that cater to customers in Teslas. In fact, the charge stations were donated by Tesla for this very purpose.

Tesla is not your typical car company. They donate several of their "destination chargers" to resorts requesting them. These only work with Teslas and not other EVs. (There are ways around this limitation, see First Use of JDapter Stub for Tesla Destination Charger to Chevy Bolt.) But Tesla also donates chargers that work with EVs using the J1772 standard, such as the Bolt. (Imagine GM or VW donating a charge station that would work with a Tesla.)

We knew this was going to cost us. These are not the kind of hotels we normally frequent. And if the new fast chargers planned for the East Side are ever installed we may never have to charge in Mammoth Lakes again. Yet it was a necessity on this trip.

Our destination was the Westin Monache Resort where the valets will park your car in the garage at one of the three Tesla destination chargers or at one of the two ClipperCreek J1772 chargers. The valets assured me they knew what they were doing. My rule from bitter experience is "trust but verify". I checked Chevy's app and even went down to the garage to confirm that our Bolt was not only plugged in but charging. The valets did indeed know what they were doing.

We had dinner and breakfast. The total tab? $425. That was one very expensive charge. The 40 kWh we added to the battery that night cost us about $10 per kWh. Ouch! (I now chuckle when I see some EVers complaining about some fast charging station costing them a few more cents per kWh than what it costs them at home.)

Nevertheless, the stop worked. The car was charged. We got to visit another part of California that we wouldn't have otherwise. And we didn't spend much more than we would have anyway on a rental car.

Prices for a weekly rental from Bakersfield were ~$350 for a compact car. We would have spent another $50 in gas for the 600-mile round trip. So it was a wash. The total car rental cost of ~$400 offsets that expensive night at the Westin Monache Resort.

Lunch Not Quite Enough

I checked with the hotel's staff. They will charge your EV if you're there only for lunch or dinner. You don't have to spend the night.

However, a two-hour lunch at Mammoth Lakes is likely not enough time. You should be able to get 14 kWh into the traction battery of a Bolt. That's putting you at the limit of the Bolt's range when accounting for the drive up to Toulumne Meadows, the energy used driving back and forth to trailheads in Toulumne Meadows, and then the drive back to Independence. We used 11 kWh ferrying to and fro during the week we were there. And Aramark, the new concessionaire, has discontinued the shuttles. Driving is your only option.

The Lodge

The Bolt delivered. We were the only pure EV at Toulumne Meadows Lodge, but we did see two Volts.

No one charged at the Lodge, though it has been done before. My advice is not to plan on charging in Toulumne Meadows. There is only a 120-volt outlet at the Lodge and it's in a traveled way, making any overnight charging problematic.

We did raise some eyebrows when people realized the car was electric. The ranger at the entrance station even commented on the car when we entered the park.

Bolt Performance

I entered each leg of the route into three trip estimators: EV Trip Planner, Green Race, and Chevy's Energy Assist app. The app delivered the best results for any of the estimators. The Bolt met or consumed slightly less than the estimates by Chevy's Energy Assist app for most legs.

This was our longest trip yet in the Bolt: 600 miles. For us, the trip was a success and our planning paid off. We drove our EV to Yosemite and spent a week hiking in the high Sierra.

By 2020 driving to Independence and other East Side communities on US 395 will be much easier. (See DCFC Stations Bakersfield to the Sierra Nevada East Side Coming.) However, CalTrans three DC fast charging stations are delayed for an unknown reason. Those stations are needed to make US 395 accessible for those EV owners from southern California who want to vacation in the mountains or ski in the winter and who don't drive a Tesla.



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