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June 17, 2015
Paul Gipe

EV Trip Report: Bakersfield to Ridgecrest via Mountain Mesa


We wanted to drive our 2015 Nissan Leaf to Ridgecrest and have dinner with our niece before her assignment at the Naval base was completed.

The Leaf is a battery-powered Electric Vehicle (EV). There’s no gasoline engine. A trip to Ridgecrest from Bakersfield isn’t significant for a gasoline-powered vehicle; it is for an EV. The Leaf only has an 84 mile range and that’s before you take into account crossing the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

While not our longest trip in the Leaf, the trip to Ridgecrest was challenging because of the distance—more than 100 miles--the climb over Walker Pass, and the area’s remoteness. To our knowledge, the route we chose had not been done in any EV except possibly a Tesla. There were no charging stations noted on Plugshare.com between Bakersfield and Inyokern, and the lone station in Inyokern was reported to be hostile to EVs. It was a veritable charging desert.

The Route

There are two routes to Ridgecrest from Bakersfield. Most people would take Highway 58 east, the main route through Tehachapi and Mojave, then up 395 through Red Rock Canyon and finally again east to Ridgecrest. The more direct route is Highway 178 through the rugged Kern River gorge via Lake Isabella, Mountain Mesa, Weldon, and Walker Pass.

The route through Lake Isabella and over Walker Pass is not only more scenic, it’s more fun to drive. It’s also better suited to today’s consumer-oriented EVs. Speeds through the canyon are often less than 45 mph. There’s little traffic on the highway through the south fork of the Kern River to Walker Pass, allowing the leisurely pace that’s well suited for efficient EV performance.

We chose the Lake Isabella route. It’s a little more than 100 miles from Bakersfield to Ridgecrest. That’s beyond the range of the Leaf on one charge and there’s a significant amount of elevation gain between Bakersfield and the high desert where Ridgecrest is located. We determined that we’d need an intermediate stop to charge up before tackling Walker Pass.


Caution: It is the amount of kWh that you need for each leg that is important on a road trip with multiple legs. This determines the amount of time you need to charge. The times given here reflect the voltage and current delivered at each stop. “Your performance may vary,” depending upon the EVSE you are using and the current and voltage available at your charging location.

Note: Previous trip reports have assumed there are 21 usable kWh in the Leaf's traction batteries. We drive a 2015 Nissan Leaf. There are reports that the 2015 Leafs may have 22 kWh rather than 21 kWh of usable battery capacity. The number of usable kWh affects the calculation of the kWh used in each leg of these trips by up to 5%. In this trip report, our Leaf is assumed to have 22 kWh of usable capacity.


As in our other trips, we used EVTripPlanner to estimate how much battery capacity we would need. We then checked this against a tabular estimator based on Tony William’s Nissan Leaf Range Chart. The goal was to reach our way points with a comfortable reserve margin of 20% to 25% State of Charge (SOC) to keep my range anxiety under control.

The first leg of the trip would take us to the vicinity of Mountain Mesa and Weldon, a distance between 45 and 50 miles and an elevation gain of 2,700 feet.

Then began the search for a place to charge somewhere in this stretch of highway. The one station nearby, Rivernook Campground, was too far north. We first considered a long layover at Audubon’s Kern River Preserve near Weldon. When that didn’t pan out, we looked for an RV park and landed on Lake Isabella RV Park near Mountain Mesa.

RV Parks have utility hookups and often these include 240 volt, 50-amp service. That’s more than a Leaf needs and better than the 30-amp service that can be found at truck stops using Shorepower pedestals.

The next leg of the trip would take us from Mountain Mesa up the south fork of the Kern River to Walker Pass then down into Ridgecrest.

The climb to Walker Pass requires a 2,800-foot elevation gain, but the route then drops 3,000 feet to Ridgecrest. 

An EV road trip like this requires a portable EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment). While we planned to charge at a wall-mounted EVSE offered by a Plugshare user, Alan Kirk, in Ridgecrest, the charge at the trip’s midpoint would demand a portable EVSE that we carried with us.

Portable EVSE—Moving up to a Jesla

As I’ve noted previously, see 500 Miles in an EV—Some Observations, some EV owners have never ventured beyond commuting distance and some have nothing more than a trickle-charge EVSE in their trunk. Some may not even know they have an EVSE in the trunk.

Today’s consumer-oriented EVs can be more than just a commuter car for intra-city trips. However, to use them effectively intercity requires careful planning, and a portable EVSE that can deliver more than a trickle charge. This is obvious to EV pioneers, but is not so apparent to newbies.

Newcomers may mistakenly believe the hype that California has a vast network of charge stations. While the Golden State has many stations, they are mostly in the major conurbations of San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Bay area. Once you venture beyond these regions into the hinterlands, the stations are few and far between. Often there are none. To travel in these regions with today’s EVs requires flexibility, ingenuity, and a portable EVSE that you can use wherever the opportunity presents itself, such as charging at RV parks.

For us, having a portable EVSE is part of the cost of owning an EV. It was an anticipated expense. Immediately after installing our home EVSE, we shipped off the EVSE in the Nissan’s trunk to EVSE Upgrade. It was money well spent. On the road we could charge at more than 3 kW instead of the original 1 kW trickle charge rate. This made travel out of the southern San Joaquin Valley possible.

Once you make the decision to charge along the road with a portable EVSE, you quickly learn that the faster—that is, the more kW you can deliver to the car—the better.

EVSE Upgrade is a nice package. It fits into the pouch designed for it and can be used with several different adapters. We’ve used it on road trips at least seven times and it never let us down. We used it to charge at both 120 volts and at 240 volts. It offers good value. If you’re a Nissan Leaf owner, your choice for a portable EVSE often comes down to an EVSE Upgrade or a portable EVSE from ClipperCreek. To me, this is the minimum every EV driver should have.

However, our 2015 Leaf can draw more than 6 kW from an EVSE. It can draw as much as 27.5 amps at 240 volts. To minimize the amount of time spent charging at intermediate stops, we would like to fully use our Leaf’s onboard charger. This realization very quickly leads you to Jesla from Quick Charge Power. The Jesla is a Tesla mobile EVSE modified to work with the J1772 standard plug, such as the Leaf requires. It’s a surprisingly compact package that can deliver up to 40 amps continuously at 240 volts. It’s not cheap, costing nearly three times more than EVSEs from either ClipperCreek or EVSE Upgrade, but it can deliver all the power our Nissan Leaf can take and probably as much power future Leafs will require as well.

On this trip we used the Jesla for the first time. It nearly halved the time required to charge up for the next leg of the trip relative to the EVSE Upgrade, which we also carried. When you have a long day ahead of you, charging faster may be worth it. It is to us. Others may reach a different conclusion.

Charging en Route

En route we charged at three different locations: Mountain Mesa, roughly mid-way between Bakersfield and Ridgecrest; Alan Kirk’s in Ridgecrest; and at the Clarion Inn in Ridgecrest.

Mountain Mesa: Lake Isabella RV Park

For this trip, a charging stop in Mountain Mesa or Weldon was critical. Both are on Highway 178.

Audubon’s Kern River Preserve is in Weldon and they have a TT-30 outlet on a shed. The TT-30 would have given us 2.9 kW with the Jesla. That’s better than a trickle charge at 1.4 kW from a regular outlet—but not by much. However, the reserve manager, Reed Tollefson, wasn’t confident in the wiring of the old ranch house the preserve uses. The wiring had never been upgraded and they had repeated problems with overloading circuits. The nearby KOA wasn’t much help either. They only had TT-30s as well.

However, the Lake Isabella RV Park in Mountain Mesa has three sites with NEMA 14-50, and several with TT-30 outlets. This is a low-key and old-style RV park—none of the sites are pull through—but they were game to let us charge for the $10 we offered.

We arrived from Bakersfield with ample reserve, 35% SOC. We checked in, paid, found our site, and plugged in. The Leaf completed the handshake with the Jesla and we were charging. On a NEMA 14-50 outlet, RV parks typically provide the full 50-amp rating. In this case, the Jesla would allow us to charge at the full rate the Leaf is capable of: 6.6 kW.

We got out our camp chairs and cooler and set about making ourselves at home. Then I posted Lake Isabella RV Park on Plugshare.com as a new public charge station.

The power pedestal included a very old kWh meter. Sure enough after one hour it registered 7 kWh had been consumed. After two hours, we’d consumed 14 kWh and raised the SOC from 35% to 93%. We’d put a little more than 12 kWh into the Leafs traction batteries during our two-hour stay.

I’d estimated that it would require from 12 kWh to 16 kWh to drive from Mountain Mesa over Walker Pass to Ridgecrest. With the 35% reserve margin we arrived with in Mountain Mesa, we were good to go.

When we reached the summit of Walker Pass our SOC had dropped to 43%. This was a bit unnerving, but I knew we had a long downgrade ahead of us and I tried to use regenerative braking as much as possible. By the time we joined Highway 395 our SOC had increase to 47%.

We reached Ridgecrest proper with 35% SOC. We’d completely used the two kWh we’d put in the car at Mountain Mesa.

Our destination was Alan Kirk’s home EVSE.

Ridgecrest: Alan Kirk

It’s hot in the desert this time of year and it was hot by the time we reached Alan Kirk’s charge station in the late afternoon. It was 35 C (95 F) in the shade—and there was very little shade.

Alan has generously offered his charge station on Plugshare.com. His home is several miles south of Ridgecrest near the Community College down an unpaved road. You can not only charge your EV, but you can charge it on solar electricity—at least partly. He has several WattSun trackers generating more than 3 kW in his back yard and if ever there was a place for solar, it’s Ridgecrest and the Mojave Desert. (Our Leaf can draw more than 6 kW, so at least half of our charge would come from his solar system.)

It’s the kind of location where you really need to know where you’re going or your GPS is working flawlessly. Mine wasn’t. I use Plugshare on a BlackBerry Z10. Now Plugshare doesn’t have an app for BlackBerry. We have to “sideload” Plugshare’s android app from a site where the apk file is stored. (Google doesn’t play nice with BlackBerry and won’t let us use their site.) For the most part Plugshare works on the BB, but not always. And this was one of those times.

We finally found his mailbox tucked under a Greasewood bush (Larrea tridentata) and drove up to his garage. Kirk has placed his Open EVSE beside the garage door so others can have access when he’s not home. (We’d posted a message to him earlier and knew he wouldn’t be around.) We pulled up and plugged in.

The car shook hands with Alan’s EVSE and the car started charging. There’s a digital display on the Open EVSE and it registered 28.3 amps. That was about right. The Nissan Leaf draws 27.5 amps when it’s available.

Alan notes on Plugshare that his Open EVSE is “30 amps”. That didn’t’ make sense. He must have meant it’s capable of 30 amps continuously. In North America, circuits are rated for their intermittent use. When in continuous use, circuits are de-rated by 20%. In Alan’s case, his Open EVSE kit must have been “rated” at 40 amps or 50 amps as explained on the OPEN EVSE web site.

We needed a charge. We were there, and so I thought, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

We got out our camp chairs and set the cooler with our ice-cold drinks between us and hunkered down for a peaceful—if warm—two hours.

After about half hour, I checked to make sure we were still charging. We were, but there was something odd about the EVSE’s display. It had shifted to a temperature mode and was showing 50 C and rapidly flashing in the background the kWh delivered. It was also showing 15 amps and not 28.3 amps we started with. This was disconcerting and I began to monitor the display regularly.

The temperature on the display continued to climb. After an hour, the temperature on the display reached 54 C and I decided we’d take our chances elsewhere. I didn’t want to damage Kirk’s equipment—or his house--if this wasn’t normal operation.

In talking with Alan later and reviewing the Open EVSE forum, I learned that the EVSE was designed to cut the current by half at about 50 C to prevent overheating the circuits—or worse. The design calls for cutting the current in half again at about 54 C. This was when we disconnected so I don’t know if it was about to cut the current to 8 amps or not.

The EVSE’s display said we’d drawn 5.5 kWh during the one-hour session. The SOC readings suggested this was in fact what we had put in the traction batteries.

I figured that if we could charge overnight on a 120-volt circuit at our motel, we’d have enough with what we’d put in the batteries at Alan’s place to get over the pass.

When I went to disconnect the J1772 plug on the car I had another surprise. I pushed the button, the buzzer sounded, the dash lights flashed, but the plug wouldn’t release. Now I was really concerned. I’d read horror stories on mynissanleaf.com about some J1772 connectors not releasing. I tried not to panic and repeated the sequence, the plug still wouldn’t release. The third time was the charm and it released and I breathed a sigh of relief. The middle of the desert was not the place to trouble-shoot a Nissan Leaf.

We packed up our gear and headed off to the Clarion Inn.

Ridgecrest: Clarion Inn

We checked into our hotel and located a 120-volt receptacle on the wall of the conference building. The receptacle was damaged. (You have to wonder what people do to receptacles to bugger them up so bad.) One side was unusable. The other side of the duplex was workable, but borderline. I tested it with my meter and the ground was good—if you wiggled it just right.

After dinner, we got out our Jesla, set it up to use the 120-volt receptacle and carefully plugged it in. The Jesla displayed it was a good connection. Then we plugged into the car. We were charging and with a 12-hour stay at the motel, we should reach 100% SOC by the time we left in the morning.

The Jesla is not an inexpensive piece of hardware. I didn’t want to lose it to theft on the first trip. We also needed a full charge to get back over Walker Pass and I didn’t want someone walking by to unplug it. The Jesla has a useful feature in this situation. The J1772 plug allows the disconnect button to be locked so the plug can’t be disconnected from the car.

I locked the Jesla J1772 plug, put our hang tag on the plug, and placed a placard in the window that says Do Not Disconnect. Both the hang tag and the placard have my mobile number. I also informed the night shift coming on at the motel to prevent some attendant from unplugging us at the wall outlet.

When we left the next morning, we had 100% SOC and had put nearly 11 kWh in the traction batteries overnight.

Because of the damage to the wall outlet, I didn’t put the motel on Plugshare. Before we left, I explained the problem to the day staff and told them they could fix it for less than $100. When they do, I’ll add them to Plugshare.

We left for the return trip with a slight detour in Inyokern to see our very first Tesla Supercharger station. No place for us to charge, but it was nice to see something in Inyokern.

Return Trip

We reached the summit of Walker Pass—now a 3,000 foot climb—with 57% SOC. We had plenty of charge to make it to Mountain Mesa, so it was time to simply enjoy the ride.

I found Eco mode with the addition of B mode a handy way to drive in the mountains. I hardly ever braked on the road down to Mountain Mesa, using B mode in the curves instead.

When we reached Lake Isabella RV Park we still had 42% SOC and it was already getting warm. Bakersfield was heading for 104 F we were told. We plugged in and had lunch. We’d only need an hour of charging with Jesla and the 50-amp service at the RV park.

Again, the kWh meter indicated we used 7 kWh in the one-hour charge session. We raised our SOC to 83%. We’d arrived with 46% SOC. We probably could have charged only a half-hour with the Jesla connected to the NEMA 14-50 and that would have been plenty to get home within my comfort zone.

Results

We use 50 kWh on the trip in total. Interestingly, we used 14.3 kWh from Bakersfield to Mountain Mesa and again from Mountain Mesa to Ridgecrest.

We used less on the return trip, 20.9 kWh, likely because the return trip is overall downhill form the High Desert to the San Joaquin Valley.

As in our other road trips, we found that slight alterations of the route significantly change the amount of kWh needed. As Tony Williams advises, “Plan the drive and drive the plan.” For example, I used EVTripPlanner to estimate the kWh needed to reach the RV Park in Ridgecrest and not Alan Kirk’s home. Alan’s home is 3.5 miles further. The one-way trip to Alan’s house consumes about one kWh, roundtrip consumes nearly two kWh. That’s 10% SOC. We had ample reserve so this wouldn’t normally present a problem. However, we only charged one hour instead of the two we planned, forcing us to rely on a dodgy duplex outlet at the Clarion Inn more so than we had expected.

Again, this trip confirmed that it’s best to use both EVTripPlanner and the tabular estimator based on Tony Williams work and not to rely on either alone.

EVTripPlanner was on the money for the first leg, but substantially underestimated the amount of energy needed for the second leg. In contrast, the tabular estimator for the descent from Mountain Mesa to Bakersfield pegged the amount needed.

The tabular estimator for this trip is available for down load. Users can simply substitute their trip data (miles to travel, ascent, and descent) for those here. The table presents the results as a range of values to reflect the uncertainty of real world use.

We charged four times on the road, twice using the Jesla EVSE. Now that it’s summer in this part of the world, charging for one to two hours at an RV Park to get to our next destination can become quite uncomfortable. In short, it’s hot out there, often very hot. To use our Nissan Leaf for such trips, we want to minimize the time we sit around—outdoors—waiting for our SOC to reach a level we need for the next trip segment. The Jesla, despite its cost, allows us to minimize our charge time while on the road.

To our knowledge, this is the first time a consumer-oriented EV has reached Ridgecrest via the Kern River Valley. Drivers in Bakersfield and those in Ridgecrest can use this data to plan their own trips to Lake Isabella and environs or cross the Sierra Nevada at Walker Pass.


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