Somewhere in northern Ontario, between Wawa and White River, I had my first true range anxiety experience. Unexpectedly, the Tesla navigation system started telling me to slow down if I wanted to make it to my next destination. This seemed odd as there was a charger before my next stop in Terrace Bay, or so I thought. That’s when I noticed that the White River Supercharging station was now greyed out on the screen and I was being routed to the next one. Clicking on the symbol, it was now showing as out of service. This left us with the decision to turn back and fully charge in Wawa, or press on.
This is how not to plan an EV road trip and how to avoid range anxiety issues.
Failure to Plan
Let’s back up. I had just finished an amazing trip around the Gaspe Peninsula and was now making my way west. That first EV road trip was meticulously planned, largely because I had gone 1,500 km off the Tesla Supercharger network. It was my first trip with the new car so I put the time in to ensure there were no unexpected issues.
After that, though, I was largely using Tesla Superchargers. I quickly got used to the convenience of just plugging in my destinations in the Tesla navigation system and letting the car tell me where to stop and how long to charge. It really is great.
This convenience/laziness spilt over into other aspects of my trip, largely what to see and do and where to stay each night. I think the main reason why I eased up on that front was that I had just picked up a friend in Sudbury. Up to that point, I was on my own. Now with a companion in tow, I felt more relaxed. In reality, isn’t that how a road trip should be?
This failure to plan kicked off a series of EV road trip failures and lead to some serious range anxiety.
EV Road Trip Fail #1 – Book Ahead
Instead of booking a place to stay in Wawa, Ontario, we decided to just roll up and see what was available. This was EV Road trip mistake number one. In the middle of nowhere Northern Ontario, we were scrambling to find a room for the night.
To be fair, who would’ve thought Wawa, Ontario would be sold out on a Sunday in September, in the middle of a pandemic no less? We spent 45 minutes calling and eventually driving from one shady motel to the next in search of a room. As the list shortened I avoided reading online reviews as the words “bedbugs and cigarette burns“ jumped off the screen.
After some shifty work rearranging some rooms, the manager at the Mystic Isle Motel made space for us. I am happy to report the rooms are clean and cosy.
EV Road Trip Fail #2 – Check What There is To See, Do & Eat
With a room secured, we topped up to 90% at the Wawa Supercharger and then took a walk into town. With a night to kill we were curious what Wawa had to offer. Turns out, unless you are into large sculptures of Canadian Geese, not much.
The towns main strip was deserted and shuttered and it was a far walk to get to from the charger. Again, it was a Sunday in September and in between waves of the pandemic so there should be no shock here. Still, even finding a place to eat was a challenge.
On the positive, we ended up at the Kinniwabi Pines Restaurant and had one of the most unique dining experience of the trip. One look at their menu and you can see why. Everything from Canada to Trinidad, including the kitchen sink.
EV Road Trip Fail #3 – Check on That Charger
Eager to leave Wawa and its Giant Goose behind, we left town bright and early. Perhaps it was from this eagerness we did not punch in the next stop into the Tesla nav, rather just headed west. Had we done so, we would have known in advance that the Supercharger in White River was currently down. This would’ve made us top-up to 100% in Wawa before leaving town to ensure we could make it to the next charger. Now, it was too late to turn back.
Instead, we pressed on hoping the station would work. We checked PlugShare, a user-driven charging app, and reports were mixed between not running and working despite the screen saying otherwise. Although it would’ve just been an inconvenience and possibly a day spent trickle charging in White River, the feeling was real. This was range anxiety, and I did not like.
On The Positive, I was not Alone
As we rolled up to the reportedly still down Supercharger, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. After a quiet prayer under my breath, I opened the charge port and waited for my fate. This reminded me of a time I nearly ran out of gas crossing the Coquihalla in BC. It didn’t feel good then and does not feel good now.
The charger seemed to take a little longer negotiating with the car and after a couple of tense seconds, to my pleasant surprise, started charging. 😅
With that, we were able to let the car top up while exploring White River, the small town where the actual bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh creator A. A. Milne, was from.
Interestingly, I was not alone with this issue that day. A little down the line there was a log jam of traffic held up by a Tesla Model S doing 70 km/hr in a 110. I ran into this owner later in the day at the Nipigon Supercharger and he was in the same pinch. One exception was he did not try the White River charger like I did. Instead, he had to limp his way along to make it to Nipigon.
Take My Advice
Although the station was working fine for me, the lessons were there. To avoid range anxiety in the future I will now check the status of the stations before departing each morning and while on the road. I will also carry a CHAdeMO adapter to ensure other charging options are available to me. In this case, Petro Canada‘s electric highway.
Lastly, I will book accommodation in advance (preferably with charging options) and ensure there are things to see and do as to avoid another Wawa experience. So, essentially, taking my own EV road trip planning advice.🤦♂️