Thursday, September 15, 2022

Rivian towing - first experiences

Back in June, we collected Tug-E, our new Rivian truck, from the Illinois factory and brought it to New Mexico to meet Howie, our travel trailer.  They got along fabulously right from the start.

We didn't exactly know how easy it would be to set up the hitch and connect the trailer.  Happily it worked perfectly, with enough room at the back of the truck to add the hitch and no issues with the electrical connection.  All hooked up and ready for our first all-electric towing experience:

Towing performance is better than we could have imagined - the trailer just follows along like it's a part of the system, we hardly know it's back there.  We're pleased, Howie is pleased, and Tug-E is like, "This is what I was built to do."

We started east and then north, initially on a downhill and without any wind.  So it was an easy ride to our first charging station.

Which we pulled directly into - that was great (and a rare occurrence):

We had a solid tailwind for the rest of the day, which helped with the truck's efficiency (miles per kWh).  Until it got hot and we turned on the air conditioner, but overall our range was probably around 150 miles.  We kept our hops between chargers to less than 100 miles since we were just figuring things out with this new setup.

John got really good at unhooking and re-hooking the trailer over the next few days, because most of the time we needed to drop Howie in order to charge the truck.

Setting up in a Walmart parking lot (always being careful when lowering the truck tailgate not to bang it into the jack):

A typical drop point:

A typical charging station that doesn't have room for anything on tow:

Pretty quickly we figured out that the truck clearance can be set to various heights, from 8" to 14", and the truck will move itself there.  Which is super helpful for lowering the hitch ball to slide under the receiver, then raising it into place.  Reverse the process to unhook.  This saves a lot of manual cranking of the trailer up and down (because John has never felt the need to get a motorized mechanism to assist with this).  And makes me laugh every time - we had no idea this benefit came with the truck (and perhaps neither did the Rivian designers).

We made it to Denver, no problem!  We overnighted at the Cherry Creek campground, which is a nice place to stay except we realized that we should be prioritizing places with electric hookups.  Charge-as-you-go is easy without a trailer in tow.  Charging while towing takes a lot more planning, and overnight charging should be part of that plan when possible.

Danny took a nice picture of our house, near his house:

Going north on I-25, I was a bit concerned about the distance to our next destination in Wyoming.  Without the trailer it would have been no problem.  With the trailer, and a strong side wind in the forecast, we weren't sure what to expect.

The last DC fast charger before leaving Colorado, with the bonus of being able to position ourselves so we didn't need to unhook.  Also with what is now a common occurrence, a conversation with someone who is very curious about the Rivian, how it tows, what the range is, etc.  John is great about talking to everyone who wants to chat, thank you John!

Cheyenne really needs a fast charger.  Looks like there's one "coming soon", let's hope that happens.

We made it over 100 miles to Wheatland, with the side wind really affecting our efficiency (which we could monitor as we went).  With another 37 miles to go and perhaps not enough charge in the battery, we pulled into town and found a level 2 (medium speed) Tesla destination charger at a hotel.  Thankfully the hotel people didn't mind us using it.

Our DC fast charger sessions typically last around 30-80 minutes, a nice amount of time for a pit stop, a snack (or a full meal), shopping, and/or a walk-around break.  The length of time depends on whether we need to get close to a full charge vs. being OK with around 80% battery for the next section.  Charging speed slows down between 80 to 100%, so if we don't need that much it isn't usually worth the wait.

A medium-speed charger is a good deal slower than a fast charger, regardless of battery state of charge.  We parked at the hotel for almost 3 hours, added 19 kWh, and decided that would hopefully be enough to get us to the next campground.

It was still windy...

We drove the next section of highway fairly slowly, in light traffic thankfully, and then turned toward the campground.  It was next to a lake, mostly downhill.

One funny moment was when our GPS told us to "Turn right on a street" - what?  Usually it tells you the name of the street.  Oh!  It actually was "A Street" (parallel with B and C Streets) - how often does that happen?

Our range indicator had a slight glitch, or else when you reach the bottom of the battery barrel you actually have 635 more miles remaining:

We held our breath until we pulled into our campsite.  OK, that worked, but it wasn't ideal!

Pleased to be in the quiet woods - and parked at a 50 Amp electrical post:

Our Rivian came with a charger that can plug into a 50A RV post, not a normal EV accessory.  We are definitely making use of it.

The next thing we learned is that a level 2 charger (which a 50A outlet is) takes a long while to fill up a battery as big as ours.  We had not run into this with previous EV's.  Tug-E has a 135 kWh battery.  Great for range!  Will not fill up completely (starting from near-empty) overnight!

We stayed until check-out time, luckily not in a hurry, and got it up to 82% state of charge (SOC).

Time to rethink some things based on our learnings so far:
 - Aim for fewer miles (and fewer charging sessions) per day, otherwise it turns into quite long and sometimes tiring travel days, especially if we need to unhook multiple times to charge.
 - Travel slower.  Take access roads and local roads when possible.  55 mph does wonders for improving efficiency vs. 65-70 mph on the highway where we feel like we're in the way if we drive any slower.
 - As we suspected, following interstates will lead us to the highest concentrations of chargers, especially fast chargers.  However, there are still some states that don't quite have the infrastructure in place yet to make this work with ease for our range while towing.
 - Use RV parks for overnight charging as part of the strategy, to reduce the number of midday charger stops.  State parks sometimes have 50A plugs (like Glendo State Park, the photo above), but you have to search for those.  We love Harvest Host locations, but most of them lack electrical hookups so we don't use them as much at this point.

And actually, it's easier to have our house attached in order to stay at RV parks.  A few allow tents, but not many, and even then we might not have access to a 50A plug.  Until all hotels have chargers in their parking lots (and we appreciate the ones that do!), a cross-country trip with just the truck entails more DC fast charging stops along the way.

With this in mind, we added (on the fly) an RV park stopover to our next long Wyoming segment.  We still needed a couple hours of level 2 charging to get us there.  Another pleasant "don't need to unhook" situation:

Finally back to a fast Electrify America charging station in Gillette along I-90, yay!  Also a tailwind for the day, making it easy to get to our destination of Sheridan for the Bighorn race.  Beautiful scenery on the way there:

Enjoying our comfortable and quiet ride, happy that we were going to get to the start of the race in plenty of time:

A brief stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield on the way north after the race:

A quieter scene than it once was:

Normally at an RV park you back into a site so you can unhook and use the truck for other things.  Since we were here for just one night, and more importantly, because the electric post was at the back of the site, we drove straight into this one so we could easily plug in the truck:

There aren't a lot of fast charging stations in Montana either.  By this point we weren't in a hurry anymore, so we shortened up our driving days, canceled the Harvest Host stays, and booked RV parks where we could fully charge Tug-E each night.  Much easier!

Checking out the Yellowstone River, which had A LOT of water in it last summer, as you might have heard:

John got to do some trail work again this summer, just a weekend this time but at least it was something.  It was a plush assignment because we got to camp with Howie at the park and John didn't even go backpacking or sleep in a tent.

And great for me - Lewis & Clark Caverns is a fun park with a bunch of trails, and I spent every day running all over the trails there, while John and the crew did improvements on them:

Thank you, John and crew!

Finally, to complete our western loop, we worked our way south through Utah and then east to Colorado.  I collected a bunch of driving and charging data that I'll compile (soon? eventually?) for our All-Electric Project website (which seriously needs some updated truck pictures!).

For now, a few more Rivian photos to finish this blog post, just because.

The next phase of driving was more focused on elevation changes (hills) instead of wind.  The truck efficiency was pretty good, averaging about 1.2 miles per kWh.  We got better at estimating how far we could go in various situations (climbs and descents, weather, speed), did better planning with the RV park locations, and had zero concerns about making it to the next charging station.

Always thrilled to find one where we can stay hooked up (usually easier in lesser populated areas):

A fun little side diversion near Provo - a trailhead accessed by a steep-ish dirt road, which Tug-E handled easily.  We put it in Off-road mode and on max clearance because why not.  We're just getting started learning all the things this truck can do:

One final charging station picture, at a closed café in Green River - would have been nice if the place were open so we could buy something, but on the other hand we probably wouldn't have been able to do this:

Rock art we found during a run on the eastern side of Utah:

Then it was on to western Colorado...  Almost full circle in one blog post, thanks for following along!

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Planes, trains, and EV-mobiles

Three months ago: June was the start of the crazy travel days.  We'd gotten close to taking delivery of a Rivian R1T electric truck in May in Texas, but the first one designated for us had some issues that delayed everything.  Eventually we were told they had assigned us a different (and problem-free) truck -- and was there any chance we wanted to pick it up at the factory in Normal, IL?

Yes we wanted!  That sounded like an amazing opportunity that wouldn't happen often in our lives.

The main question was how to get Bev (our Chevy Bolt) to Texas to sell to John's parents.  Well, also how to set up some rather convoluted travel plans to move all the people and vehicles in all the directions they needed to go.  Our first pass at a plan yielded the answer "I don't see any reason we CAN'T make this work" and so we replied to Rivian - yes, Marcy will be picking up the truck on Thursday!

Luckily for us, we had a place to park Howie with friends in New Mexico for several days (we were just starting out on a driving tour from Flagstaff toward the Bighorn race in Wyoming).  One piece figured out.

We knew we wanted to sell our old Dodge Ram for parts and remove it from commission.  Tug has been our faithful vehicle since 2007, taking us and Howie all over the country.  It was time to give Tug a rest.  And to remove one diesel-consuming and slightly-stinky internal combustion engine from the road.

John driving Tug one last time while I followed in Bev:

John found a place in Albuquerque that would give us a few dollars while promising that the truck would not be driven again (as much of a guarantee as we could hope for).  Thank you Tug, you were an awesome adventure vehicle!

John dropped me off at the airport and then started driving Bev toward east Texas.  I hopped on a plane that took me to Dallas way before he arrived:

Then it looked like he might catch up, as my flight to St. Louis was very delayed and I got to hang out at the gate well past when most airport people left for the night.  We had a helpful gate agent, and most importantly Southwest never gave up on our flight.  It finally took off - way late - thankfully not cancelled!

I slept on the flight, got another 2 hours of sleep at the hotel near the airport, and got up in time to catch a train from downtown St. Louis.  A fun view of the city on the way out:

The train took me directly to Normal, IL - thank you Amtrak!

Normal has a cute little downtown:

A friendly Rivian guy picked me up, gave me a quick (and very fast!) demo of the truck's acceleration capabilities (wow!), and brought me over to the plant.  It was great to see a live, working manufacturing plant, after seeing it in the early and much-more-empty stages about 3 years ago.

In 2019 when Howie was in the Rivian parking lot:

This time I was allowed into the lobby:

I got a tour of the plant, so exciting (but no photos please)!  Lots of trucks rolling off the line, glimpses of the upcoming R1S SUV, and a really good look at the new electric Amazon vans.  Can't wait to see all of those out on the road.

And then - hello Tug-E, it's great to meet you!

The cleanest and shiniest this truck will ever be, so pretty:

Marcy approves:

They took it apart so I could see the battery sled... not really, of course, this is a reference model:

Quick paperwork, and then a detailed walk-through where I asked a ton of questions.  Lots to absorb, and it's a good thing there's a comprehensive owner's manual on board.

And then they let me take it home!  My only regret was not making sure the highlight photo was safely saved on my phone.  I did a yoga pose on top of the gear tube seat from inside the traffic circle in front of the plant, and it was an awesome picture but apparently my phone didn't care for it... ah well, first world problems.

Our first charging session and a chance to run into Walmart to grab a phone charger cable for the USB-C plugs in the truck:

Look Ma, we have a Rivian finally!

It didn't take long to get the hang of the driving.  I really appreciate several of the driver assist features, such as when the truck will slow itself down to stay a certain distance back from the vehicle ahead of it.  The regenerative braking is of course, excellent (it's not easy driving a gas car now, expecting it to slow itself down and all that good one-pedal driving stuff).

Me and Tug-E made our way down Illinois and through some other states and eventually to Little Rock.  Two of my favorite things in one picture:

Messing around while waiting at a charging station - yep, I fit in the gear tube (was there ever any doubt?):

John and I reuned at his parents' place, where Tug-E got an inspection by the locals:

Back to one vehicle again, finally, and an all-electric family for the first time, yay!

We had to use some level 2 (medium-speed) chargers on our way west, as our normal cross-Texas route doesn't yet have enough level 3 (DC fast) chargers.  It would have been quicker to stay on interstates, drive a few extra miles, and charge a lot faster along the way.  We're learning it.  One of our options at a car dealership (thankfully under covered parking):

Howie, meet Tug-E:

Next up - all-electric towing!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Back in AZ...

I may be setting a "jump around" record for blog posts this year.  We've hit some super-busy (non-writing) spells, which I'm excited to report about eventually.  Some of the busy stuff was simply a bunch of training while we were in beautiful places.

Like Arizona!  We made good use of our time there earlier this year.  Here are some "catch up" photos.

A couple excellent training hikes near Sedona with Taylor, Andrew, and Basil in April:

The view north from Wilson Mountain, looking toward the San Francisco Peaks on the horizon:

On another day, climbing up toward Sterling Pass in the same area:

Sedona scenery always makes me smile:

Checking out Vultee Arch, an interesting and less-visited feature:

Thank you Andrew for taking care of some trail work!

Basil also attempting to "help"

Getting in a bit of trail running amid all the climbing training:

Local fauna:

Having a great day with friends:

One of my first in-person Rivian sightings, this one at the public charging station in Flagstaff.  So curious about it, as we were about to get our own just like it!  Must be patient.

Taylor and Basil joined us in May for a super-neat hike up the side of Humphrey's Peak to the site of an old plane crash.  Wow, we had no idea just how many plane parts are still up there!

We wandered up and down the hillside checking it all out:

Quite the curious thing to see, worth the detour from the main trail:

Inspecting various pieces to decipher what they were:

That one's fairly obvious:

And finally, a June run in Sedona with John, always finding different things to take pictures of:

Such a photogenic place:

Cathedral Rock, which John climbed up to while I did a longer loop around it:

Can't argue with this for a training ground:

Thank you Arizona!