SACE's Electric Transportation Equity Manager recently embarked on a quintessentially American pastime with an electric twist – taking a road trip in a Tesla Model X! Learn how her EV road trip of firsts from Knoxville, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia went.Madelyn Collins | June 29, 2023
Hello! You may be familiar with me as the newest addition to the SACE Team, the Electric Transportation Equity Manager. Since my first day, I have been diving into the exciting and constantly innovating world of clean energy in the Southeast and all the work and opportunities the space brings.
Recently, I embarked on a quintessentially American pastime with an electric twist – taking a road trip in a Tesla Model X!
This road trip was very special to me, as it was the first long-distance road trip I’ve ever driven, and my first time driving long-distance in an electric vehicle. And to top it off, I reached out to a fellow clean transportation colleague, Wesleigh Wright from East Tennessee Clean Fuels, to join me, and to my surprise, it was her first time inside an electric vehicle!
Here’s how the road trip full of firsts went down as I was Driving on Sunshine from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia.
The Journey Begins
Although the road trip officially started on June 7th, I checked out the 2016 Tesla Model X. Checking out the vehicle from SACE was a smooth process except for one thing, I realized I didn’t have access to at-home charging!
I live in a flipped house that was originally built in the 1940s, and as most other flipped home residents know, every other month, you discover new ways some corners were cut to save on costs. My recent flipped home discovery was that no electrical outlets were installed outside during the renovation, so I can’t plug in the EV to charge. I’ve always known that at-home charging was essential, as over 90 percent of EV users charge their vehicles at home. Installing a new outdoor outlet costs money, labor, and time I didn’t have, and it made me more deeply realize how important it is for communities to have access to different types of charging.
Fortunately, the road trip was not thwarted; SACE offers free charging at the office. I got a good charge and gained a new profound appreciation for workplace charging. It also allowed me to feel more confident, simplified my route, and gave me enough charge to run a few errands and show a few friends in my community the new wheels before I headed out the next day.
Before I Put My Foot on the Pedal
On the morning of June 7th, I hopped into the EV to pick up my road trip partner, Wesleigh. Before I even put my foot on the pedal, I double-checked that the settings in the EV were to my liking.
Luckily for my road trip partner experiencing her first EV ride, I’ve been in an EV before, so she had a pro at the wheel. Okay… to be fair, my prior behind-the-wheel-EV experience was a 5-minute test drive at a Ride & Drive years ago. However, I got an EV 101 hands-on driving course on some Knoxville roads the day before, so I felt confident enough to tell Wesleigh she was in good hands. If I can handle Knoxville roads, I can handle Atlanta roads! (Keep reading to see how naive that sentence was.)
As I said above, a huge lesson I learned in my EV 101 course was making sure you have the settings of the EV to your liking, especially in the Tesla. My current car is a 2015 Chevy Sonic with your standard knobs and buttons and, to my frequent frustration, the classic roll-up windows. Trading my vehicle for the week to drive a high-tech, electric vehicle with working AC felt like stepping solidly into the future. But stepping into the future means getting used to change, and the one thing that challenged me the most was getting used to having a giant tablet as your central control for almost everything. During my EV 101 course, I made the mistake of not turning on the AC before I left. Driving around on a hot Tennessee day can be uncomfortable, to say the least, and not knowing where to find the controls on the tablet, I chose to ride in a hot car over searching for the correct settings while driving.
So, following my own recently discovered advice, I plugged in my destination, put on the AC, double-checked I knew where all the controls were, and then headed out to pick up Wesleigh.
Picking Up My Road Trip Partner
Arriving to pick up Wesleigh, I was very excited to show the vehicle to her. One cool thing about driving an EV is sharing the experience of interacting with new technology. Although often shaped and outwardly designed like other vehicles you may see on the road, an EV just sticks out and feels like something very different when you’re near it. Whether it’s how extremely quiet the car is without the roar of an engine or the added storage you have in the “frunk,” there’s always a little surprise in store with an EV. Picking up Wesleigh, I had two specific surprises in mind I wanted to show her.
The Tesla Model X has doors called “Falcon Wing” doors. Similar to a falcon, the doors swing open in a flying motion. When I first saw them open, I wanted to share that joy with Wesleigh. I was able to capture the moment and see the reaction I expected.
The second surprise I had in store for her was what 0-60 mph in seconds feels like. Wesleigh cannot drive, as she doesn’t have a driver’s license. So it would be up to me to drive and show her what an EV can do. I started the experience by asking Wesleigh, “Do you know what torque is?” After she said no, I put pressure on the pedal and heard her gasp as the vehicle quickly shot us forward. “Wow,” was the first word out of her lips, and I smiled, knowing driving this EV would make this a road trip one to remember as we made our way to our charging destination, Chattanooga.
Charging in Chattanooga
The drive from Knoxville to Chattanooga went without a hitch. As we were listening to tunes and getting pumped for the Southeast Regional Environmental Justice Conference, the GPS guided me to a set of Tesla Superchargers at the Chattanooga Mall. A useful feature of Tesla’s is their GPS technology. When you set a route to a destination, the GPS will automatically factor a charging station into it; no other apps are needed. This helped with my range anxiety, as I always had the reassurance of how many miles I would have left when I arrived at the station.
Once I arrived, I let Wesleigh figure out how to charge it. As you can see in the video, the experience was intuitive and took little time to figure out. You just plug it in. And once the vehicle is ready to hit the road again, a notification will ping from the Tesla app on your phone. Charging in Chattanooga was one of my favorite parts of the road trip. Usually, when you have to get gas on a trip, you find the nearest gas station, hope you get a somewhat clean bathroom, maybe eat something real quick, and then head out. It’s always a rushed and not very pleasant experience. Charging a vehicle is different. Since you know you’ll be at this stop for a while, it forces you to slow down and take a mindful break. That was my first time at the Chattanooga Mall, and it felt like I could just take a breather and explore a little. It also made me realize that we shouldn’t build charging infrastructure like we’ve built out gas stations. Charging stations should always be a space for humans to recharge too.
Back on the Road
Now rested and recharged, Wesleigh and I hopped back in the car to continue our journey to Atlanta. It only took 30 minutes for the vehicle to hit the charge we needed, so we were still on track to arrive in plenty of time.
Back on the road, the drive was smooth until suddenly my speed dropped to 10 mph. I knew I was in Atlanta. The traffic was no joke, and I dealt with the stop-and-go congestion.
Nevertheless, the Tesla made the crazy traffic easier to handle. The feature that helped me the most on this trip was its many sensors and cameras. While driving, I could see every car, bike, and human around me on my dashboard in real-time. And where my eyes would have potentially failed me, or I couldn’t possibly see, the vehicle had sensors or cameras in place that could cover any human error I made and warn me to brake or slow down. I can say the Tesla Model X is the safest car I’ve ever driven, and it helped me navigate and ease my anxieties about driving to Atlanta and in the city for the first time.
The trip took over 200 miles, 4 hours, over 80 songs, and three missed exit ramps, but we finally arrived at our destination safe and sound with 28% charge left.
Driving the Tesla to Atlanta was a rewarding and educational experience, and I’m grateful to have shared it with Wesleigh and provided her with a memorable experience. With a taste of what technological change and progression feel like, we were both ready to learn and collaborate with others at the conference on making technology like this a vehicle for crafting a just and healthy environment.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Electrify the South program leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to accelerate the equitable transition to electric transportation across the Southeast.