Preparing for the Fool's Errand I
Why and how I plan to cross the continent in an electronic vehicle (EV)
A common symptom of being raised on the prairies is an addled approach to long-distance driving. When I was in my early thirties, single and covering the Alberta legislature in Edmonton for CBC, it seemed normal to me to drive home to my parents’ place in Winnipeg—a 2800 km. round-trip—for a Thanksgiving or Easter long weekend.
I rose at dawn, listened to the CBC morning show between Edmonton and Lloydminster, then Gzowski on the way to Saskatoon. Somewhere before Regina, I would lose interest in the radio and begin experiencing a cosmic communion with self. By Brandon I would be so bored I wanted to stick pins in my eyes. Then a few days later, I repeated it all in reverse.
My time is no longer as valuable to me or to others as I once thought it was, and I no longer have the endurance of Ernest Shackleton as I may once have imagined. Besides, my current car is a 2020 Nissan Leaf, whose manufacturer boasts, completely unreliably, of a 400 kilometre range between charges. I couldn’t drive 14 hours straight even if I wanted to. Which I don’t.
But I still want to go on a long road trip.
I am trying to cut down on the amount of air travel I do, mostly for environmental reasons. So in a couple of weeks I am planning to embark on a roughly 10,000 kilometre round trip through Canada from Ottawa to Victoria, returning via the United States.
I am trying to make a virtue of the necessity that the EV will slow me down. I will not attempt, as I did when I first had the car, to drive 800 kilometres in a day. Instead, I will try to keep it to 450 or 500. Instead of driving across Northern Ontario in a lunge of a day or two, as native Manitobans are inclined to do, I will take six or seven days. I hope to stop, hike, and visit with a friend or two along the way. Maybe I’ll learn something and share it here. I hope to take some photographs and post them too.
I’ve reached a stage in life when renewing old friendships and exploring new ones is particularly important to me. I am a widower, with two kids in college whose lives are inevitably developing along their own trajectories. We are very close but live increasingly independent lives. So, I am hoping to visit with a lot of friends and acquaintances on this trip.
Among the downsides of long-distance travel in an EV is the charging. Not just that EVs need charging more frequently than internal combustion cars need a fill-up. It is that the charging takes time. In my Leaf that is a minimum of 20-25 minutes, and it can be quite a bit longer, depending on the quality of the charger and how often you are charging in a day. (If you “fast-charge” more than once a day, each subsequent charge typically takes longer than the previous one because the car is programmed to avoid allowing the battery to overheat.)
When I first got the EV, I thought I’d just go for a walk while I charged. I like to walk. What I hadn’t reckoned on is that most chargers are not located at the foot of kilometre-long trails with beautiful waterfalls at the end. More frequently they are either in the parking lots of big box shopping malls or in highway truck stops stranded in farmers’ fields or industrial strips. Too often, instead of walking, I found myself drinking bad coffee and scrolling Twitter.
However, on a winter trip to Quebec City last year, I noticed that as soon as we settled into the molded plastic chairs at a roadside St. Hubert, my daughter, Sophia, would pop open her laptop and attack her schoolwork. This Substack is modelled on her approach. I am hoping to use the EV charging time to process photographs and write these posts so that it does not all seem like wasted time.
My other model for this trip, which I mentioned in a previous post, is a longish trip I made to the UK and Norway last spring. In the UK, I spent most of my time in the company of old friends from my university days and my sister and her husband who live in Dorset. I really loved it. But as an introvert, that degree of socializing also taxed my reserves. When I got to Norway, I had plenty of alone time. I loved that too, but in a different way.
On this trip, I will once again be visiting with many friends on my outward journey across Canada. In Victoria, I plan to meet up with my oldest friend, Ross, who shares my enjoyment of photography, and we are going to spend a few days exploring the US Pacific Northwest with our cameras. From there, though, I will take a more solitary path across the centre of the continent, eventually making some social stops to visit friends in the South and Midwest.
My plan is to set out right before April Fool’s Day and take roughly two months for the round trip. I can’t say for sure how often I will post, but I imagine it will be several times a week. If you are interested, stay tuned. Next week I will share a companion post on the more technical aspects of long-distance EV driving, which is aimed at people who have one of these cars or are considering buying one.
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