iMIEV Cross-Country Snow-storm Road Trip

by Ben N on November 20, 2015


For a long while now, I’ve been wanting to purchase a commercially-built electric car. After crunching some numbers, I realized that for a CHEAP electric car, my monthly payment would actually be LESS than what I am spending per month on gasoline right now.

I found a good price on a Mitsubishi iMIEV – the shortest range and least expensive commercially available electric car. It’s an economy car in every sense of the word. This one was in south-west Chicago, Illinois. I live about 40 miles west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

So, I thought “Why not have an adventure – buy an electric car and DRIVE it home!”

Seemed like a good idea at the time….

I had arranged for my brother-in-law, Fred, to drive me to Chicago Fine Motors. We left at about 11 AM, and it was about a two hour drive, taking the most direct route, and driving very fast. I was also a little concerned that the weather report had changed to the first real snow-storm of the season coming in, starting at about 9 PM.

Once at the car dealership, we were able to look at the car, and then take it for a short drive. Chicago Fine Motors was a pretty low key place. No sales pressure, and the guys were nice. I bought the car in a very simple and quick transaction. Unfortunately, the car had been outside, and only had half a charge. (Before driving to Chicago, I did confirm that the car had the Level 1 charging cable and the remote.)

By now, it was after 2 PM. I thought it would be best to get the car to a public Level 2 charger, and get a little juice in it while eating lunch. We headed up the road a few blocks to a local Chevy dealership. Right in front, they had a J1772 charger, with a Volt parked on one side of it (not plugged in or charging) and an SUV on the other. I went in to the service department to ask about charging. They were friendly, but gave me the “not my department” and directed me inside to speak to a particular sales person. I talked to him, only to receive a quick NO.

IMG_6523Basically, he only wanted me to charge if it was a Volt which I bought at his dealership. It’s not just that it was a no, it’s that they were TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY RUDE about it. No welcome to the dealership. No goodwill in anyway. Just pure negativity. Sorry, but how do you sell ANY cars with that attitude? A good sales person may have offered a reply such as: “Of course you can plug in, and what car can I show you while you are here?”

I may have been a customer who came to write a check on the spot for a brand-new car. Guess the dealer will never know. Instead, I left with a bad taste in my mouth.

I used the Plugshare app to find a public street EV charger. It was only 2 blocks up and 1 block over. I told Fred, and we left the dealership. He waved away directions, and said he’d just follow me. Due to the road, we could only make a right-hand turn (when we needed to turn left) which lead into an odd intersection and too much traffic going too fast. This also meant that I instantly lost my brother-in-law, following behind.

“ALL you had to do was keep me in your mirror!”
Frankly, I probably drove a little too fast. I was not feeling well and was frustrated by the dealership. I wasn’t concentrating on my driving. The moment I lost Fred, I knew it was going to be a hassle for use to get together again. It took 20 minutes simply to turn around and go the couple blocks to the charger – the one that Fred didn’t know exactly where it was. Worse than that, when I asked earlier about using his smart phone to run an app on the car, Fred said he didn’t have his phone with. I circled back to the dealership. (Just like in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, when a job goes bad, go back to the beginning…)
After waiting there a bit, with no sign of Fred, I headed to the charger.

Got that card handy?
Of course, I also didn’t have my ChargePoint card on me. The ChargePoint station has a phone number on it. By calling from a cell phone, as long as you already have an account, it’s still pretty straight-forward to get the charger turned on. It takes a few minutes though. My cold-weather gear and video camera were still in the back of the other car. It was now starting to get COLD. That storm front was coming in sooner than I had hoped.

My phone rang. On the other end was the scratchy static voice of Fred, clearly frustrated (“Where the hell are you!!?!??”) It turned out that he did have his phone with, but the battery was nearly dead and there was a bad connection. Over the next half hour, we would speak on the phone for a total of about a minute and a half, in garbled ten-second increments. Finally, we got talk time and a decent connection and I was able to give directions to where I was. It turned out that Fred was able to charge his phone a bit at the Chevy Dealership. So they won’t let you plug in your car, but plugging in your phone is fine.

Finally, I saw Fred driving down the street, and hollered to him. He drove past, swung around to come back, shook his fist at me a few times for losing him, and then let me hop in.

Gastronomic Adventures…

IMG_6528We rode down the street to find someplace to eat. Fred had never been to a White Castle before, so he pulled in on a whim. We went inside. The lady in line in front of us had forgotten her purse, so after ordering, the whole line stopped while she went to her car to rummage through it, eventually locate it, come back inside and pay. After we ordered, it was nearly 15 minutes before our order was ready, and even then, the order was WRONG! Oh well. At least there was the right number of burgers on the tray, so we ate them all.

I have no idea why anyone would eat at a White Castle unless there were mind-altering drugs involved.

IMG_6527I also remembered that the Chargepoint app on my smartphone would let me remotely monitor my charge. I checked it, only to see that the car stopped charging after only 20 minutes? WHAT!? It was only at half a charge, it couldn’t possibly be fully charged yet? I have no idea why it stopped charging!

Fred dropped me back off at the parked iMIEV. This time, I got my cold weather gear and video camera. I put on the extra sweat-shirt and had the gloves and hat handy. I gave Fred my USB cable, so he could charge his phone on the way home. It was now  after 3:30 in the afternoon, Chicago rush hour had already started, and I still only had enough power to go 30 miles! Where the streets lined up right, I could see the Sears Tower in the distance.

Before I left on the trip, I mapped out where there were fast-charge stations. After that, I did a “best guess” on how far I would be able to ACTUALLY travel per charge, and tried to plan so that if one charger was NOT available, I could still make it to another one. My plan was to get to the CHAdeMO at WATERWAY GAS & WASH. Heading straight north, through town, it ended up taking me  two hours to make it 22 miles. That’s Chicago traffic for you!

I was also kicking myself for forgetting to bring a CD or two with me. I don’t know all the Chicago radio stations, and the only ones in the presets were for Hip-Hop and Country! Because traffic was at such a stand-still most of the time, it did give me a chance to play with the radio. Clicking through the “Modes”, I found one called Music Server. Looks like the radio has a hard drive built in, not only that, but a whole bunch of music from the previous owner was already loaded in there. I got to listen to plenty of folk and acoustic guitar, including the OH BROTHER,WHERE ART THOU soundtrack, and even DON QUIXOTE as a book on tape!

“Free carwash with your free charge, sir?”
Waterway Gas and Wash looks brand new. Apparently, they had opened only a month or so earlier. An attendant waved me into the lot, and even pointed me unbidden right over to the EV Charger. I backed in, as the CHAdeMO port on the car is on the back left. The young man had never charged an electric car before, and quickly checked with another employee there about how it works. I was barely even out of the car when he already had me plugged in and charging. Talk about service!

IMG_6535I chatted with the two guys for a few minutes about electric cars. They were both excited to have me there, and even gave me a coupon for a free automatic car wash. I headed inside to use the Men’s room. They have a nice waiting area, and a convenience store of snacks and drinks. I got a coffee. The best part was an all glass wall that connected the room to the car wash. You could watch the cars going through just like looking at fish in an aquarium!

I took a look at their outdoor detailing area. It was nice. Multiple bays where you can get your car hand-waxed and carpet shampooed. I talked with the manager a bit. Nice guy. Everyone there was nice. By then, the car was charged, a total of 27 minutes from when I backed in to the space to 75% full battery. (Note that this ABB charger features both CHAdeMO and CCS charging!) I unplugged, then pulled around the building into the automatic car wash. The car was dirty when it was sitting at the sales lot (and white shows EVERYTHING,) but shiny clean after going through this wash. Two young men hand-towel-dried the car once I was through the wash.

IMG_6540Wow! If only every electric car charge was this good! I spent $2 on a coffee. For that, I got a free fast charge, a free car wash, hand-towel drying, and service with a smile. Too bad I don’t live in the area. I would definitely be back! (If you live in the area, please check them out. )

Back on the road, I headed north again. I took the side roads for a while, and then got on Hwy 94/41 North, sticking to 41 when they split. Not only does this road have less traffic and slower speeds, but it also takes me past a whole bunch of very interesting car dealerships, including Tesla. By now, it had also started to snow, just flurries at first, but worse was yet to come.

I drove past the entrance to Great America, past the Gurnee Mills Mall, and west to Ziegler Nissan. It was the last quick-charger in the state of Illinois! I pulled into the dealership and towards the Service side. Next to the overhead door was the charger. I backed-in and went to charge. It was a Chargepoint branded station. Again, if I had my card with me, I would have just swiped it and then been instantly charging. Instead, I was out in the cold again for a few minutes longer than I would have preferred, making the phone call to ChargePoint, and then having them manually turning the charger on for me. After that I headed inside, where it was much warmer and not snowing!

So THAT’s what a nice dealership is like!
The sales people at Ziegler were friendly. A woman asked me if I had any questions about the LEAF, which I was staring at, lustfully. It was a brand-new, loaded 2015 SL with surround cameras, premium sound-system, and those really sharp-looking rims. Very nice. It also cost five and a half times what I just paid for the Mitsubishi….

IMG_6543I told them that I was just charging my electric car, and wanted to browse while doing that. They also had a waiting area by the service department, with comfortable chairs, a television, and coffee. I asked if they had a Level 2 Charger available as well, and one of the employee escorted me to show where it was, on the other side of the Service Department door.

In all, the experience at Ziegler Nissan was the exact OPPOSITE of that at the earlier Chevy dealership!

By now, the snow was coming down fast, heavy, thick, and wet. It wasn’t too long until closing time anyways, and not busy at all, so the dealership closed up early. Fortunately, the chargers were all still available. I moved the car from the CHAdeMO over the the Level 2 Charger. The car has a “pre-heat” feature, where you can heat the car from WALL POWER when plugged in. This way, you can hop in a nice warm car, and NONE of the electricity to heat it came from the battery pack, thus giving you maximum range. Well, I also found out that you CAN’T use the feature when quick-charging. So, I used the Level 2 charger for a few minutes, just to get the cabin really warmed up and get the windshield clear. I also hadn’t though to bring a snow brush with me, so I would be wiping snow off the car for the rest of the evening with just my jacketed arm.

Northbound, longest stretch between chargers…
On the road again, I went north on Hwy 45. That’s a NON-Interstate road that parallels I-94. More importantly, it’s a little further west, and CLOSER to the next quick-charge station. The temperature was dropping. My butt was pretty nice and warm, using the heated driver-seat feature, but my toes were cold. I was only wearing typical shoes and socks, not wool socks and winter boots. The melted snow had already managed to soak its way in to my feet. I turned the heater on. On the car’s “miles to go on this charge” display, it plummeted from 50 to 30-something! Not good news. It was 43 miles to my next charging station! I turned the heat back off.

I continued driving, using the heat only as needed to keep the windshield defrosted. As I drove, my miles-to-go kept dropping. I checked Plugshare on my smart-phone for the distance to the next station. It was getting closer, but not quite as fast as my range was dropping. It didn’t look like I would make it. Was there someplace else to charge?

She’s not gonna make it!
The next closest public charging listed was at a Kwik Trip. That’s a chain of gas stations and convenience stores in my area. They have good hot food and coffee, and have become big supporters of CNG fueling. Most of the new stations also have a 20 amp 120V outlet with a little sign stating “EV CHARGING”. You can’t get a whole lot of power from those. It sure isn’t CHAdeMO. Heck, it isn’t even close to J1772, AND you have to remember to bring your own cord! Well, beggars can’t be choosers. At least there would be food and beverage there, as it was well past dinner time. That White Castle did NOTHING for me…  If nothing else, I could take a little break and run the heat in the car from the wall power. Even just that might be enough to help me get to the CHAdeMO charger.

I missed the turn for the Kwik Trip. It was on sort of a strange side road intersection. Zooming in on my GPS map, I also saw that there was a Chevrolet dealership just ahead. Hmmm. It wasn’t listed on PlugShare. What was the chance they had an outdoor L2 Charger available? I pulled in to the dealership. They were closing up for the night, just finishing putting away as many cars as they could to get them out of the snow. Right in front was an empty parking space and a Voltec charger! I parked, and with nobody to ask permission from, assumed it was fine, and plugged in. I then walked across the street to a Culvers restaurant, where it was warm and they have bacon-cheeseburgers.

In the time that it takes me to eat dinner, a level two charger will provide enough charge to go about ten miles. Perfect. I had about 5 miles to go. I could even run the heat now! I walked back across the street to the car, ran the heat from the wall power for a few minutes, and then left the lot.

Coming in to the main intersection, all traffic was stopped. Three cars were in the middle, no lights on, with no movement. As soon as I heard the sirens, I realized that the cars had been in a collision. It was surreal. There was no noise, no car horns or alarms. None of the headlights on the cars were even on. When did this happen? I literally walked across that very street only a few minutes ago. Sometimes snow plays tricks on the ears. I’ve never heard a time so quiet as a winter night with cotton balls of snow coming down.

An ambulance had already pulled up. Next, a squad-car came flying down the road, stopping right in the middle of everything, blue and red lights blindingly bright. Right where I was was quickly become an “incident scene”. By some luck, the left turn lane was still open, and the left green arrow lit. I was able to head out of the cross-road just as more squads pulled up and began barricading the intersection.

Only a couple miles to go… I can make it…

And I did. I arrived at GMR Marketing after 9:30 at night with less than 2 miles left on my range-o-meter. I easily found their public charger and parked. Unfortunately, the last person to use the charger hadn’t hung the cord back up right. With the power plug on the outside hook (instead of under the protective cover,) snow had landed on the plug and then packed in solid. I brushed the snow out as best I could, and then started blowing into the end to get the snow out from the tiny communications pins in the plug. Of course, I was looking ridiculous, blowing into this plug when somebody had come outside and started walking towards me. He was a company employee named Wally. (Heck, maybe he was the boss! I have no idea why somebody would otherwise stay that late at work on a Friday night!)

Wally offered to go back inside and get a can of compressed air. That way, we could get the plug cleared. While he was inside, I realized how DARK it was at the charger. In fact, there was nothing on the display screen. It was completely off. That’s when I looked over to the disconnect on the wall. It was in the OFF position, and locked there… Lock-Out/Tag-Out. It was completely non-functional.

I will admit that I was disappointed.

I had just driven over state lines, on my longest stretch between quick-chargers, making it there by a lucky chance emergency charge, only to find I couldn’t use this charger! Yipes!

I did still have a backup plan. There actually was another quick-charger. In fact, of any on the trip, these were the two that were the closest together. The next charger was located at ABB. That’s the company that MAKES a lot of these quick-chargers. They have one in their parking lot for both employees and the public.

But it was 3.7 miles away.

Wally said that he lived that direction anyways, and would be happy to follow me, just in case. I agreed, turned off ALL my accessories and  anything else that would use power, and started driving to the next station, as smooth and slow as I could. It was just a few miles away, but on a main road with hills. I gently pressed the accelerator, losing speed while going up one hill, I resisted the urge to turn on the four-way flashers. After I crested the hill, I was rewarded by getting up past 45 miles per hour, going down the other side, while using no energy.

At my only turn, the traffic light was red. I lightly eased into the regen braking, timing it so that I got to the light just as the green left-turn arrow appeared. It was all down-hill from there. Literally. Cleveland Avenue is HIGHER than the industrial park that ABB is in. All I had to do was take take two rights, coasting down the hill, and then a left in to the parking lot. I knew right where the CHAdeMO was. It was one of my exploratory side-trips preceding the “Loop the Lake” tour.

“So what’s this Turtle Mode?”
Just before I pulled in to the lot, a turtle icon appeared on the dashboard. I had managed to discover limp mode, but the charger was right there, lit up in all it’s glory, clearly ON and WORKING!

IMG_6550I thanked Wally for following me, and he drove off into the icy night. As I was headed inside to check with security, the guard was already coming out to greet me. He invited inside to the warm lobby. Since I hadn’t used this charger before, I had to sign a disclaimer, and then sign in for use of the charger. The guard gave me an RF ID Card and just asked that I bring it back in when I was done.

The charger worked great, pounding 40,000 watts into the battery. I checked my GPS. I was only 22 miles from home. But those were interstate miles, in the cold and dark. By now, the snow had also turned wet, clinging to all surfaceds and freezing in place. The entire front of the car dripped with ice. So much for the car wash at Waterway!

IMG_6552I unplugged even before the CHAdeMO was finished. I had gotten a fair amount of juice. I returned the RF card inside to the guard, where the other guard was explaining to the first the merits of the Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwich. “It’s spicy, but not TOO spicy!”)There was still one more stop I wanted to make before getting home. Marshall Auto Body was right on my way anyhow. Marshall has been a great supporter of electric vehicles. The owner and his son both have Teslas, the shop itself is one of the few certified to do body work on Teslas, and the roof is covered with 30,000 watts of solar panels. They’ve sponsored the National Plug-In Day event, where I got to test drive a Tesla Model S. (I even put the pedal to the metal on that test drive. Oh dear God, I do NOT need to accelerate that fast!)

IMG_6554IMG_6555They also have four different free-to-use chargers in their parking lot; J1772, Tesla, CHAdeMO, and CSS.

I blasted the heat on the way to Marshall Autobody. Pretty nice to go from “she aint’ gonna make it!” to heat running full tilt. Once there, I plugged in the CHAdeMO. It was 13 minutes from plug-in to back on the road. It was now after 11PM.

Turning on to the interstate, I shifted from Economy to Drive, the car easily reaching a quick freeway speed. The rest of the ride home was completely uneventful. I pulled in to my driveway, opened the garage door, and pulled the car inside.

The total trip was 140 miles. Now here’s the kicker - I DID EVERYTHING WRONG!
I literally did everything that I SHOULDN’T, everything anyone with common sense would tell you NOT to do! I only had half a charge when I left the dealership where I bought the car. This car has the SMALLEST battery pack and SHORTEST range of ANY commercially available electric car. I was turned away from my first location to charge. I forgot my ChargePoint card. I was driving through heavy traffic – rush hour in Chicago! I was driving at night, in the cold, through a snowstorm. I wasn’t able to use the pre-heat feature when quick-charging. At one of my main quick-charge stops, the charger didn’t work at all! It’s the EXACT OPPOSITE of a Tesla, an economy car in every sense of the word!

All that, and the trip STILL went fine!

There are the nay-sayers. There are folks who think that electric cars are no good and they just won’t work for nearly anyone. Well, tell ya what. The car worked just fine for me, even in a crazy, cross-country road-trip, dashing through the snow.

I’ll keep you updated on my further adventures with this car.
In the mean-time, stay charged up!


PS: The next day, the Little Girl got to see the car. She loves it.





New Scooter/DIY Battery

by Ben N on November 15, 2015

People are ALWAYS asking me about good deals on electric vehicles or ways to use DIY to get a great price on a build-your-own setup.

That’s one reason why I was excited to get a call from Matt at Flux Mopeds. Flux has been doing some great work designing, manufacturing and selling electric scooters. In their innovative design, the vehicle uses a removable lithium battery pack. This solves a host of potential problems from “where do I plug in?” to “what about cold weather?”.

By taking out the battery, you can literally charge it ANYWHERE! At you desk at work, in your dorm room, in your kitchen – anywhere you have an electric outlet. Likewise, charging the battery indoors, separate from the vehicle, means you even have a warm battery pack in the winter. In many places, you can even park mopeds on the sidewalk or at a bike-rack.

When Flux told me they wanted to clear out their earlier models, still brand-new, but WITHOUT battery packs, it got my mind churning – what would it take to just build a battery pack for one!?

They agreed to loan me a cycle, so that I could design my own pack for it. Now I already happened to have some NiMH cells around. I originally purchased these as a used Ford Escape Hybrid battery pack. They are also very similar to what’s in the original Honda Insight.

The EM-1 scooter has a 60V nominal system, so I figured it would probably run on a range of something like 70 volts on the high end to 50 some volts on the low end. The NiMH cells are 1.2V each, with 5 already assembled as a stick. Essentially, each stick is 6 volts.

All I really needed to do was put 10 sticks of cells together. I still had some of the black plastic trays that were originally part of the Ford battery package. I cut the trays to have two which held five sticks each, and connected them together with the matching bus bars, positive to negative, positive to negative.

To connect the two trays together, Used a flexible braid, one of the original battery cables from when I pulled the NiMH cells from my Vectrix to upgrade to the LEAF cells.

After that, I stacked the two trays together, then wrapped them with tape. It was a solid block of batteries.

Lastly, I added an Anderson Disconnect to the pack. This is a standard industrial part. One of the really nice things about the Flux Moped is that it is NOT using proprietary connectors. Instead, it’s typical parts, easy for a to work with.

As always, a person needs to exercise caution while working on battery electrical systems. Short circuiting a battery can lead to some pretty exciting sparks. Even 60 volts is technically high-voltage (one reason why golf carts are usually 36 or 48 volts…) Wear safety glasses, use insulated tools, and exercise common sense.

Under the seat of the scooter, a metal box is in place, designed for the original removable battery. I noticed that it was only held in my one large machine screw, which was easily removed. Without that box in the way, there’s even MORE useful space under the seat. Potentially, some more of the plastic could be removed. It looks close, but I’m pretty sure that 60V of Nissan LEAF cells would fit in this scooter.

Another advantage of the removable battery pack is that the scooter doesn’t have a battery charger built in. Chargers are typically designed for a very specific chemistry and voltage. Since we are designing our own battery anyway, we can use any chemistry and a bit of a range of voltages. To charge, Just unplug the battery from the scooter, and plug in whatever charger is appropriate for the battery pack. This is the EXACT same system that electric forklifts use to charge. It’s simple, and has been an a common industrial practice for years.

After I had the battery pack together, I set it down in to the scooter, then physically secured it using some spacers I built.  Next, all I had to do was plug in the Anderson, flip the circuit breaker and turn the key.

The first time I did this, the cycle came right on, no unusual issues at all.

After that, it was time for a test ride.

The scooter rides great. It’s quick and smooth, without the noise and vibration of a gas engine. While it’s not as fast as my Vectrix, it’s a heck of a lot smaller, lighter, and easier to handle. That, and no motorcycle license required.

I mostly used the Ford Escape cells for this project because that’s what I had. This single string of NiMH cells is really only enough for just zipping around my neighborhood. If I wanted to use a scooter like this to it’s fullest potential, I’d likely build a pack from some brand new lithium cells, probably somewhere around 1.5 – 2kWh capacity. My buddy Dustin at Odyssy Trikes has been using LiMn 26650′s for his battery packs, and I’ve been impressed with the results. Those are the same chemistry as the Nissan Leaf Cells.

So, what makes sense economically for an EV?

Well, right now, you can buy a closeout scooter from Flux Mopeds for $950. That’s a BRAND-NEW scooter, but no battery pack. Their original scooter sold for $2,000, and the newer model goes for $2,400. If you can build your own battery pack for anything less than $1,000, you are getting a great deal. I just built one with parts I already had. Of course, most people don’t have those things just kicking around, but there are plenty of places that a person can purchase cells from, and it’s pretty straight-forward to build a pack by bolting cells together with bus bars.

Nowadays, lithium cells can be had from Chinese resellers for as low as $150 per kWh. Basic battery chargers can be very affordable as well. Potentially, you could have your own battery and charger for only a couple hundred bucks.

Add in the fact that you have NO maintenance on an EV other than adding air to the tires, and getting a deal like this is a “no-brainer”.

If you are interested in one of the closeout Flux Mopeds EM1′s, take a look at their web page at:

You can also see a review I wrote previously at:

Till next time, stay charged up!


{ 1 comment }

Ben on the Radio!

by Ben N on September 30, 2015


I’m on the radio!

I got to appear in a ten-minute segment on Wisconsin Public Radio’s CENTRAL TIME – the afternoon news magazine show.

It’s a short segment, so it wasn’t a whole lot more than an introduction and a handful of questions, but it was still a great time talking to the radio hosts about my Loop the Lake Trip!

You can listen to the program by clicking this link! ctm150930l2


Back from Loop the Lake

by Ben N on September 12, 2015


Well, I just got back from my Loop the Lake trip around Lake Michigan.

All I can really say was that it was AMAZING!

I toured the the north shore and crossed a bridge that was 250 feet in the air and longer than the Golden Gate. I rode the “Tunnel of Trees”. I met up with others and formed an electric biker gang. I stumbled in on the oldest book store in Chicago (which is in Indiana!) I toured power plants and saw National Lakeshore sharing the same beach with steel plants, State Parks with Coal Plants. I stayed up all night with hackers working on software and electronics. I jammed with jazz musicians. I ATE a front yard while charging from solar panels. I met amazing people from all walks of life.

And I did it all without a single drop of gasoline.

The total trip ended up being 1276 miles. I averaged the equivalent of over 300 miles per gallon, and I never ran out of battery power (although I had to get creative more than once!)

While I’m back home, I’m getting ready to leave again already. I’m traveling to the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA this coming weekend, and then back to Milwaukee for the Milwaukee Maker Faire the following weekend. Plus, I still have to work in that time as well!

As soon as I get a chance, I’ll start going through my daily log and create individual entries on each day of my trip. Every day was an adventure and each day was better than the last.

If by chance you happen to be one of the people I met during my trip PLEASE contact me! You can just leave a message right here in the comments. It’s moderated and goes right to me, rather than being published instantly, so you can even include contact info without it going out to everyone on the internet.

It really was quite an adventure. I would do it again in a heart-beat.

Stay charged up. I know I am.


PS: Here’s a link to an article by the Kenosha News.

PPS: I’m retro-actively filling in my travel journal, placing the entries chronologically as they happened. Click here for the details of Day 1 of my Loop the Lake adventure.


Loop the Lake: Day 3, Crossing the U.P.

by Ben N on September 5, 2015


I woke up this morning to a pretty quiet RV park.

I made my instant oatmeal and also realized that I didn’t actually like Starbucks’ Via “Columbian” instant coffee. I’ve also found myself stuck a few times charging in a location nowhere near food. In town, I had seen a Super Walmart. After packing up camp, I headed there. The Walmart also had a McDonalds inside, so I got myself an Egg McMuffin and some real coffee. I also picked up a few provisions: some bread, fruit, and chocolate pudding cups. Even in the rain and the cold, I could be happy if I have chocolate pudding.

IMG_5291I headed north from Escanaba on Highway 2. In Gladstone, there was a neat little park right on the lake. I don’t know why it is, but people always seem to have strange taste in public art. There was an unusual sculpture, which I couldn’t figure out if it was art or playground equipment. After starting to climb on it, I realized it WAS in fact art. Mostly by the fact that it had sharp edges, rather than rounded one. On closer inspection, I could see the impression of seams and stitching cast in the concrete. Somehow, this sculpture had been made by SEWING a cloth shape, then pumping concrete in to it!
Gladstone also has one of the coolest old Police buildings I’ve seen in a long time – a stone and brick building that beams with civic pride.

Today, I would have to cross the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I wasn’t actually sure how I would do it. It’s about 140 miles from Escanaba to St. Ignace, and there’s NO public EV charging in between. Indian Lake State Park would be a good first stop for the day, but I could find a good second charging point. There’s only a few small towns on the way. Other campgrounds were all rustic. There was a KOA campground, but it would be a long detour out of the way. Oh well, I would decide when I got closer.

IMG_5295I followed Highway 2 north and then east, entering the Hiawatha National Forest. It didn’t take me that long to realize that Highway 2 was the main road in the area. I had planned to generally follow backroads as close to the lake as possible. This road WAS the one closest to the lake, but also a main road. Only a single lane in each direction, traffic was full speed. There was very limited passing zones, meaning I had to ride as fast as I could just to keep from backing up traffic, but also draining my battery considerably faster than it would otherwise. Going very fast in a straight line in heavy traffic was not my plan for the trip. When I stopped to get a photo of the National Forest sign, I parked my cycle on the side of the road, as far off as I could but still uncomfortably close to traffic. There just wasn’t a better place to pull off. When a semi-truck blew past, I could see the cycle wobble on the side kickstand, the rush of artificial wind twisting and pulling it. Side-winds weren’t a problem at all, while riding, but I might need to be careful if some wind kicked up while my bike was unattended.

IMG_5298I got off at a rest area – the only turn from the main road I had seen in miles.
I checked the map and got a drink. The morning haze was burning off and the sun was finally coming out. A couple of locals were hanging out, chatting.  Of course, they were interested in my unusual motorcycle, and we got to talking. The one was a Vietnam vet in the Navy, he was especially interesting in the technology of the cycle and compared it to the old submarines and other seafaring technology. They asked where I was going. After I mentioned the Mackinac Bridge, the horror stories started freely flowing.

“Oh ya, camper trailers blow over all they time, dontcha know!”

“I saw a semi-truck flip over in a wind-storm once der.”

“Their pavin’ the lane, so yull have to ride on the grate!”

“They shudder down for Labor Day, so yull want to make sure you cross before then!”

That’s all I needed – MORE encouragement to stay on schedule. The locals were friendly. Other than being far enough away from home that the accent was starting to sound funny, it was a pretty good time. I waved to the guys and hit the road again.

IMG_5300By the time I was close to Indian Lake State Park, I didn’t have much battery left at all. I was glad to be on a side road, just so my voltage wouldn’t be dropping so fast! In a few miles more miles, I made it to the entrance. The park has a great campground, picnic area, boat launch, and swimming. I said hi to the rangers at the entrance, and explained to the one that I would like to use the campground to charge. She said that was fine. Not too long ago they had an electric car come in to do the same thing. She gave me the name of the camp-host and asked me to check in with him, so I would know where to charge.

I pulled forward, away from the booth for a few minutes while I checked the park map and stowed my gear. Behind me, several motorcycles pulled up. I could hear the riders talking to the same ranger and bits of “Electric!? and “No way!” caught my ear.

IMG_5302As soon as they were done, the riders pulled up by me. They HAD to check out this electric motorcycle. The one guy was all decked out in black leather and chains, NRA and American Flag stickers on his windshield. His friend had a Hawaiian shirt and rode a Goldwing. Super-nice guys, they were out on a road-trip to have a good time, same as I was. In fact we had already met… sort of.

“You must have ridden through Escanaba three times last night!”, said the leader.

Me: “Um, not quite, I was going back and forth trying to find that campground on the south end of town.”
Him “We were at that motel. Saw you go past a few times. Actually heard you the last time, the bike sounds so different! And I don’t know of any campground on the south side. You should have kept going and stayed at the RV park on the north end of town.”

Hmmm. So that south-side campground really DIDN’T exist. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t find it! We chatted a few more minutes, snapped some photos, and then were on our way.

I headed down towards the campground. Not finding the camp-host, I simply went straight to an unoccupied site and plugged in using my 240V RV adapter. Next, I checked out the campground, first finding the bathroom. On the side of the building was a sign for Pizza Hut, including their phone number for delivery. FINALLY! I could charge AND get food at the same time! I pulled out my phone, made the call, and placed a delivery order for a pizza, going through the laborious process of selection of sauces, toppings, and crusts. Once I had ordered, the high-school girl on the other end of the phone said, “Wait. Hold on a minute.” Pause. Mumbled sound off the phone. “Sir, we don’t deliver until after 4:00.”
My dreams were dashed. No hot pizza lunch! Couldn’t she have stopped me at the VERY BEGINNING when I said it was for DELIVERY!?

IMG_5313Oh well, I pulled some of the gear out of my cycle and got to the Walmart bag. I sliced open a loaf of bread and topped it with Buddig beef in a pouch. It was actually surprisingly good and inexpensive. I was depressed enough from pizza disappointment that I also downed two of the four chocolate pudding cups. (What?! They’re small! I have a fast metabolism!)

It was a great day at the beach. While I usually think of Lake Michigan as extremely cold (especially this far north,) plenty of people were making the most of the last weekend of summer. Folks were boating, swimming, and playing volleyball in the lake. I also used a little bit of time to shoot some more video. I still had no idea where my next charging stop would be.


IMG_5316With a full battery, I headed back out. Eastbound, it wasn’t far until I was running through downtown Manistique, and stumbling right into the annual Manistique Merchants Car Show. At least one of the downtown streets was closed down. Classic cars lined it, likely every muscle car in the UP. To my left was a parking lot, being used to display snowmobiles. It was still open, so I pulled in to park. Heck, I parked right on the end and instantly became an unofficial entry in the show. I had JUST CHARGED, so I didn’t want to spend too much time here, but it was pretty neat looking at the snow machines. One was even a customized racing snowmobile. As I looked at the vehicles on display, other folks came over to check out my cycle. I spoke with one guy who was especially interested. When he found out that I didn’t even know where I was going to charge yet, he recommended a bar that his friend ran. “Just talk to Sherry. Tell her Emery sent you! She’ll let you plug right in. You can’t miss it.”

IMG_5319I got back on the bike and headed east out of town. There was a park there that I had to stop at quick to check out the boardwalk. Manistique has a nearly two-mile long riverwalk and boardwalk following the coast along the south side of town. I would have LOVED to have walked the whole thing, but my goal for the day was to get to the other end of the Upper Peninsula, instead of spending an hour enjoying a hike. I’d have to skip the water view. Almost as interesting was some of the signage. You know you are in the U.P. when there are more references to “Snow Machines” than to bicycles!

Continuing east on Highway 2, it was again back to fast traffic and no passing zones. I made a quick stop or two at rest areas on the way, more to get out of traffic and let my battery rest for a minute. Finally, there was something interesting on the side of the road.

IMG_5324You really can’t miss the sign for Honest Injun’s Tourist Trap. The building itself looks to be a ramshackle series of shed’s held together by brightly colored paint. It would have been almost as much at home in the Caribbean as in the U.P. This junk store has it all, from motorcycle helmets to old windows, telephone pole insulators to LPs. Inside, I asked the proprietor if there was someplace I could charge. The “Honest Injun” looked pretty caucasian to me, but he may have been able to claim a little bit of East Indian heritage. He told me of an extension cord under a coffee can outside. Sure enough, I went the long way around to find an extension cord, propped up on a wooden stake, protected from the rain by an upside down plastic Foldgers can. Two other extension cords came off this one. I plugged in, gritting my teeth, hoping not to blow a fuse for the entire establishment. This was definitely the jankiest charging I had done so far.

IMG_5327After plugging in, I explored the shop. There were plenty of treasures to be had, if one dug through the piles and the dust. By the electrical insulators (usually sold nowadays as curious paperweights,) I found one made by Pyrex. Recently, I’ve been on a Retro Pyrex Collectors Group on Facebook. Those folks love showing off rare and unusual patterns of 1950′s mixing bowls. I had no idea Pyrex also made glass for the utility market!

In another wing of the building, there were microwave ovens, boat parts, and snowmobile carburetors. In the main room, the “Injun’” himself was very quiet – perhaps in an eastern trance? There wasn’t even any music playing. He said that can’t get any radio stations out here. I looked around and saw all the old LPs and record players. Hmmm. Too bad there wasn’t some way he could’ve played back RECORDED music…
In another room, I did find some pretty cool post cards of the Upper Peninsula that looked to be from about 1960 – new old stock – “A souvenir Color Folder of HISTORIC HIAWATHA LAND”. I also picked up a small blue antique bottle for a few bucks. I thought the BROMO-SELTZER bottle would make a neat decoration my bathroom at home. Nothing like late 1800′s hang-over cures for use in decorating!

IMG_5323I had charged for about half an hour, but at only 1500 watts, that was maybe 7 miles of charge. Using only a single 15-amp circuit maybe fine for overnight charges, but for charging during the day on the road, it was nearly useless. I kept heading east. What was the name of that bar? Wolf Trap? Red Wolf?
I did eventually find a dive on the side of the road with the word Wolf in the title. While the neon sign claimed that the establishment was open, the dust and lack of visitors said otherwise. A sign listed that they also had campsites in the back. I rode around behind the building for find a few sites in poor condition. Small electric outlets on rusty conduit poked forth from the ground. I tested them, and they weren’t even powered up, not that I would have trusted that wiring. I checked my volt-meter, wishing it was higher, then continued on the main road again.

There simply was no place to charge on this road. I could make a turn, heading out of my way to the north to get to a KOA campground with RV power. But being 15 miles out of the way meant I would lose 30 miles round-trip, along with the charging time. The only other town of any type the whole rest of the day was a small place called Naubinway. I zoomed in on my GPS map. There was an odd little peninsula sticking out into Lake Michigan. I zoomed in even more, until the words PUBLIC MARINA appeared at the very tip of the peninsula. What are the odds that they would have power there? I made my bet, rolled my imaginary dice, and rode east towards Naubinway.

By the time I made it to Naubinway, I was coasting on electron fumes. The town was a single street. Lining it was a pasty shop, a bar, a coffee shop, Italian restaurant, and a bank. Two blocks of side streets held modest single-story houses. I was hungry for dinner and disappointed to see that the pasty shop may have already closed up for the season. Outside the bar, a couple was leaving on their Goldwing. I asked if they were local and knew anything about the marina. “Nope, just passing through.” Friendly though, they asked a few questions about my bike before they rode off. I looked and saw that there was an electric outlet on the outside of the bank. If I used that for charging, I may as well set up my tent right next to it and spend the night – I’d never make it to St. Ignace.

IMG_5332I turned down the side-road in the general direction of where the marina should have been. I found Marina Drive and followed it south. The road curved and then revealed a rather nice park area. A large group was barbecuing and drinking beer, camp chairs set up around a fire. Past them was a bathroom and changing house and finally the concrete dock-works extending out over the water. I rode right out onto the pier to see a could it be? Yes! Short white plastic posts stuck up on the edge of the piers. SHORE POWER!

I pulled up to one and flipped open the cover. Obviously not used often, thick spider webs clung inside. On the left of the compartment was a 30 amp twist-lock electrical connector. Aha! I was ready for this. I brought along several twist lock adapters with me. I pulled one out to plug in. It didn’t fit! I had a 240V 30A Twist-Lock! This was a 120V 30A Twist-Lock. I reached back into the cycle to see what other adapters I had. I DID have a 120V twist-lock, but this one was 20A. It also EXACTLY didn’t fit.

There was a plain 120V outlet as well, but that would take forever to charge. I was at my wits’ end, standing on the end of a pier, sticking in to the northern-most point of Lake Michigan, with no Public EV Charging within a day’s travel. Just about ready to completely give up, I realized that the BACK of the shore power post ALSO had a cover. Lifting it up, there was an additional two 20-amp electric outlets with standard connections. I could simply plug all three chargers into the outlets, on separate circuits, and have my full-speed 3500 watts of charging.

My spirits buoyed, I plugged the chargers in and set the stopwatch feature on my phone. At that point, I also realized that there were additional power posts, and that if I parked the bike right, I could have reached multiple outlets with my extension cords. Hunger and fatigue had robbed me of my basic creative problem-solving skills.

GOPR6701_trim_showingcordsatmarinaBy now, a family had come over to the pier. They were interested in the cycle and asked far more than the usual questions. As we talked, I asked if I could film a bit of them for my documentary. I pulled out the GoPro and let it record while we talked. Kathy and her family were just out to spend the Saturday having some fun, soaking up the sun, going swimming, and generally enjoying the holiday weekend. The younger members were all avid swimmers, doing flips and cannonballs into the Great Lake. Their black labs had a good time too.

IMG_5348They were getting ready to pack up about the same time I was, and offered me a ride in to town. It wasn’t far by car, but probably a 15-minute walk on foot. I gladly accepted the ride in the minivan, with enthusiatic labradors breathing over my shoulder. I thanked them for the ride as I was dropped off outside the two restaurants in town. FINALLY! I managed to be charging my motorcycle AND get some real food at the same time! On my right was a pizza place, and my left was a cafe sandwich shop. I love pizza, but after Pizza Hut had broken my heart at lunch, I took a left into THE ANCHOR cafe.

THE ANCHOR is part coffee shop, part cafe, part gift store, and likely serves as the unofficial town hall. The girl behind the counter was all smiles as I asked what was good here. Of course “Everything” was the answer I was glad to hear. I did see pasties listed on the menu and didn’t want to miss my chance at this classic “Up-North” food. I also ordered a cup of soup and some real coffee. On the far side of the restaurant, a local musician was strumming a guitar, playing what I would consider good folk music – Sting, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Buffett. Most of the small crowd looked to be relatives.

IMG_5351I grabbed a seat, and gulped down my potato soup, glad to have hot food and be sitting somewhere other than a tent. The coffee was good and it didn’t take long until I had my pasty with a side of gravy. MMMMMM. So good. In case you’ve never had one, a pasty is a savory pie, filled with meat, potatoes, and onion. Everyone makes them a little different, but they are all good. I think the secret ingredient in this one was rutabaga.

After I finished eating, I sat and listened to the music. Tom Evearitt was the local musician playing that night. It was an informal affair, with him cracking jokes when somebody would go use the rest-room, which happened to be DIRECTLY next to where he was playing. At one point, somebody else who had brought his guitar began strumming along.

Only an hour or so ago, I was panicking on my gamble of finding some usable electricity. Instead of being stuck on the side of the road in the cold and the dark, I had just finished a fine hot supper, still had some coffee left, and was singing along to Wagon Wheel (Rock me mama like a south-bound train….) the lyrics of travel hitting me emotionally.

Where ever you go, there you are. I think that’s the best part of travel. You never know until you get there.

I walked back from town, towards the marina, still glowing with music chords and caffeine. It was now dusk and I could feel the temperature drop and the bugs started coming out. As I got closer to the marina, I had a realization, and my chest tightened in panic. When I pulled out on to the pier to find shore power, I never turned the bike around. It was leaning TOWARD the water on just the side stand. With one good gust of wind, MY MOTORCYCLE COULD HAVE BLOWN RIGHT INTO LAKE MICHIGAN!
I tried quelling my fear – “Nope, it’s not that windy out….” But I walked faster anyways. I was already imagining having to call my brother and get him and his pickup truck out, with a municipal winch pulling a dripping motorcycle out of the lake.
When I finally got back to the marina, I almost couldn’t look, but sure enough, the motorcycle was right there, still on the pier, and just fine. The water was actually so still that someone was fishing standing up in a canoe. I knew my fear was completely unfounded, but I was still glad nothing happened. Looking where the power post was, it likely would have kept the bike on land even it it did tip. Or would it? I’m really not sure how strong those things are!

IMG_5355I zipped the winter liner into my riding jacket, put on my rain pants (as an extra layer for warmth and wind-protection) and again headed east, for my last leg of travel across the Upper Peninsula. It got dark fast. Then cold. This time, at least I was wearing the right clothes. Then the fog came. Then mist, obscuring my view through my helmet’s visor.
I did find that if I flipped up my visor and hunched over so that I was looking right over the top of the windshield, I had a clear view and didn’t get go wind-blind. All I had to do was keep following the road. At least there was starting to be less traffic, but what there was was oncoming, with high-beams blasting me.

IMG_5356Eventually, I made it to St. Ignace. In the far distance, I could see the Mackinac Bridge, lit up at night. I pulled in to a gas station to get my bearings, use the bathroom, and figure out how to get to the Straits State Park. When I asked the clerk there, he knew right where it was. “My daddy worked his entire career there. I practically grew up in the place.”

The park was just down the road, with only a turn or two to get there. I easily navigated my way there. Unlike most of the U.P., the city had streetlights and reflective signs!

At the park entrance, there were several cars ahead of me in line. That seemed pretty strange for almost ten at night. As I got closer, I saw the sign “CAMPGROUND FULL”. What was I thinking!? A popular camp-ground on a Saturday night on Labor Day Weekend!?

I had come this far, and I wasn’t going to stop now. I pulled around the line of cars, pointed at my park sticker as I passed the ranger station, and zipped in to the park. I had a pretty small vehicle and I’m sure there would be SOMEBODY not using their electric outlet. The campground was in full party mode. Michiganders were drinking, setting up lights, burning fires, and in an otherwise festive mood. This was NOT a park to get away from it all in. It was packed. Not a single parking space or camp-site stood empty. I continued to circle.

At one point, I found a site with a car parked at it, but that’s it! No tent. No other signs of the use at all. I hopped off my cycle to look closer. There was power there too, but no people to talk to. There were people at the site next to it. I took a few steps over to see several people around campfire. I was greeted by one of them, along with a Burmese Mountain Dog. The man told me that he though the campers from that site were actually at the NEXT site over. I kept walking to the next site. There, I found three couples of retirees around a fire, sipping wine. I explained my situation (Travel, Electric Motorcycle, Camping, Need…. Outlet….. ) They were very friendly. It turns out that at many campgrounds, you may only park two cars at a site. These folks were meeting as a group of six at one camp-site, but were traveling separately. They pretty much reserved the second camp-site as just a place to park their car. “Sure you can plug in there. You can put up your tent too, if you want!”

Wow. I just went from “Sorry, the park is full” to “Hey, why don’t you use our camp-site and electricity for free!”
I plugged in the bike, unloaded my gear and set up my tent. The whole time I was doing that, I was sort of also unintentionally eavesdropping on the next site over (the guys with the big dog.) We got to chatting, and they invited me over. The man’s name was Jason. He was there with his wife, some friends, and it was actually an extended family tradition to come to this park every Labor Day Weekend. In total, they had about 40 people with them. They handed me a Labatt Blue Light (Imported from CANADA!) and we were up until WAY TOO LATE. When I realized what time it was, I also noticed we were being way too LOUD!

“Don’t worry, we bribe the rangers. Tomorrow, we are doing a pot-luck, just like we do every year. We’ll have so much left-over of good food, we take it to the rangers. They always OVERLOOK if we are a little unruly!”

By then, there was quite a few people gathered around the fire, including Jason’s Dad, who regaled us with drinking stories, including how HIS father would sit and drink a 12-pack of beer out of a special wooden bench designed for just such a purpose – the one that man happened to be sitting on right then. Another family member was shocked when I didn’t know of a certain brand name of liquor – some sort of flavored brandy that was a local favorite.

By then, the day had finally caught up with me. Tomorrow, I would cross the Mackinac Bridge, travel the lower peninsula of Michigan, and meet up with another electric motorcyclist.
But that’s tomorrow.
I curled into my sleeping bag and let the wind and the rain rock me to sleep, like a south-bound train.