Winter Drive from Seattle to Huricane Ridge in a Tesla Model Y

Map courtesy A Better Route Planner

One of the many barriers to electric vehicle adoption has been the range and the charging speed of the vehicles. The first generation of cars was great around town, but they were no good on long trips and the range dropped significantly in cold temperatures. Today I took my Tesla Model Y on a drive that would not have been possible in my old electric car. I drove over 230 miles, round trip, in winter, to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center. That is a mile high in the Olympic National Park on the Washington Peninsula. It involves two ferry crossings, the world’s longest floating bridge on saltwater, and driving through clouds — and it was easy.

In the wintertime, early electric cars used to lose a lot of range. My original BMW i3 had a summertime range of close to 80 miles, while the winter range could be close to 60 miles. The charging speed was another concern. After driving 60 miles, it might take hours to charge up again because there were not many rapid chargers at that time.

The 2020 Model Y came with a 314-mile range, and then Tesla sent an over-the-air update and increased it to 326 miles, for no extra charge. The Tesla Supercharger network is extensive, and a person usually only has to stop for a few minutes, if they have to stop at all. Tesla recommends only charging to 90 percent under normal circumstances, so my car usually says that it has 286 miles when I leave the house.

I had wanted to drive to Hurricane Ridge for some time because the views are amazing, but the weather had not been cooperating. This morning I checked the forecast and the Webcam at the Visitor’s Center. There was a short window of clear weather predicted. It was time to hit the road.

I found the address of the Visitor’s Center, looked it up on Google Maps on my phone, and then hit “Share.” I picked the Tesla app and shared the location. That preprogrammed the destination in the car’s navigation. Then I opened the Tesla App and turned on the climate control. That warmed up the car — using house power, not battery power. The Model Y heat pump is incredibly fast at warming up the car and can bring the temp from 45F to 68F in just a few minutes. By the time I was ready to leave, the car was warm inside.

I set out from south of Seattle and arrived at the Edmunds Ferry just in time to board. Internal combustion cars are required to turn off their engines while they wait for a ferry, and while they are on the ferry. If the engine is not running, they do not have heat or air conditioning. An electric car has no engine, so there is no exhaust. I was able to wait with the heat on — and even play video games while we were crossing Puget Sound — because I was not smogging up the boat.

COVID restrictions mean that drivers have to stay in their vehicles on the Washington State Ferries. This is fine with me.

At every opportunity, I used the Tesla AutoPilot to drive. It does great at taking over on all of the long, boring parts. The reduction in driver fatigue is significant and noticeable to me, anyway. I drive when the road is fun, or weird, or deathy. Many of the roads in the National Parks in the Western United States were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. The CCC was almost a forced labor program for unemployment benefits and the roads that those people build would never, ever, pass any kind of safety review today. They are generally hung on the side of sheer drops with no guard rails or safety features, whatsoever. That was the ultimate destination today, and I must admit that I did not let the AutoPilot drive on that road because an error would mean that archeologists would be finding me and my Tesla at the bottom of a ravine a few thousand years from now.

Anyway, the drive to the park was easy and uneventful. My oldest son accused me of purchasing a Tesla just so I could put it on AutoPilot while eating a Blizzard, and I must admit that it is a benefit of ownership.

A Blizzard, Car Talk, and AutoPilot.

Once I pulled onto the road up to Hurricane Ridge, the real driving started. The CCC road was just a twisty and deathy as all of the other CCC roads in National Parks that I have driven. At one point the road passed through the cloud layer and all of the windows inside the car fogged instantly! That was exciting on a narrow, twisty, mountain road with no shoulders. Fortunately, the Tesla HVAC made short work of it and I could see again. Eventually, the navigation screen turned white with only an arrow for the car and a dot for the destination. We had passed beyond the range of cellular data. Tesla’s navigation uses Google Maps and it does not pre-download maps. This is not an issue in the city, but in the West, a person does not always have data coverage.

Soon after passing through the clouds, the road turned to slush, and then ice. My car is equipped with 20-inch wheels, All-Season tires, and all-wheel drive. The car is pretty heavy which is good and bad. The weight helps it dig into the snow for traction, but also objects in motion tend to stay in motion, as Mr. Newton taught us. When snow becomes ice, weight can be an issue. Anyway, the Goodyear tires are communicative if you pay attention, and they will let you know if they are pushing instead of turning. The regenerative braking of the Tesla means that you control the speed with the accelerator, only, and you can keep all four wheels pulling you where you want to go. All-Season tires are a compromise, but these do just fine if you work with the car. If you drive in the snow a lot, winter tires would probably be a good idea.

I arrived at the top of the mountain without issue. When I got out of the car, I could barely stand because there was a solid layer of ice under the car. I took some photos and walked around a bit and then headed down the mountain.

Google Maps shows a blank screen. This is why paper maps still matter.
The Olympic Range ahead. Solid ice, below.
A mile(ish) high.
The whole drive up there is feels like you are in a National Geographic special.

In the short time that I was at the top, the weather had changed. The cloud layer had intensified and rain had started. In my opinion, driving down a CCC road is a Tesla party trick. There is so much control with the regenerative breaking that there is never a feeling of impending doom, and the car is charging the battery the whole way down as the motors turn into generators to resist gravity. I have driven down 6 mountains on CCC roads in a Tesla now, and it is the best part of the trip.

I told the car to navigate home and it suggested that I stop at the Superchargers at Sequim. This is where Tesla has an advantage over normal rapid charging. The car knows where they all are, prepares the battery by warming or cooling it so it can charge as fast as possible, and tells you how many minutes to charge. You just drive up and plug it in. That’s it. You already have a card on file. The car and the Supercharger already know who you are. So there is nothing to do. The Sequim Supercharger was charging at a rate of over 500 miles per hour so I just stopped for a few minutes, and then headed home.

Supercharging at Sequim on the way home.
The car could charge to 90% in 30 min, but I only stayed a few minutes because it was enough to get home.

The rest of the trip was non-eventful. I took a ferry back and then drove home. At home, I plugged into my Tesla Wall Connector which takes longer than a Supercharger, but the car will be ready to go in the morning. I didn’t feel tired or sore after spending most of the day in the car, and at $0.0269 / mile from the home charger, the lunch at Dairy Queen was more expensive than my electricity.

Charging at home with my Tesla Wall Connector

There are two important things to take away from this road trip. First, electric cars have reached the point where you can just get in and take them any place you can take an internal combustion car. This is important because making these cars a no-brainer to use means they will be easier to adopt. Second, the Model Y did not do “as well” as a gas car on this trip — it did better. The creature comforts, the driving performance on icy, mountain roads, and the ease of use are just not possible in any internal combustion car today. Electric cars will not take over because people will want to save the planet. They will take over because they are better.

If you want your own Tesla, here is my referal link that will give is both a few miles of Supercharging.

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I’m a Dad, a Project Manager, and a Seattle resident.

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Tod Bookless

Tod Bookless

I’m a Dad, a Project Manager, and a Seattle resident.

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