Family completes first cross-country Tesla Model S drive using free energy

January 28, 2014

Range anxiety has been a hot topic when it comes to electric vehicles. Tesla has fought hard to convince skeptics that EVs remain a viable option for everyone, not just for those that never leave the confines of their hometown. One key ingredient in achieving this is Tesla's "Supercharger" network — a matrix of free, solar-powered charging docks that provide range for about three hours of highway driving in just 20 minutes. And with 71 Superchargers now in place, the question has been when a Model S owner could drive from coast to coast using only free Tesla energy.

That historic voyage wasn't completed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk or a group of his employees. The feat was achieved by Model S owner John Glenney and his daughter Jill on Sunday, making the coast-to-coast trip in less than a week.

Glenney, 62, has been a Tesla owner for three years, originally buying a Tesla Roadster and driving it from Washington D.C. to San Francisco in October 2011, charging the car via any outlet he could find while waiting hours between charges. As an owner of three Model Ss, Glenney thought it would be fun to attempt the trip, retracing the journey Musk and his brother took back in college, with his daughter Jill, 26, by his side.

For Glenney, the voyage began in Kentucky, where he drove to Jill's home in Hoboken, N.J. to pick her up and establish the east coast starting line. From there, the drive required traveling through South Dakota, rather than the more direct route through Nebraska, due to the current location of Tesla's chargers.

Perhaps the biggest issue faced by the father-daughter duo, though, was the incredibly frigid weather, playing havoc on the Model S's 85 kWh battery, spending days of their drive below zero degrees. The roughly 270 mile range of the Tesla was depleted, in some case, to around 150 miles. This meant arriving at charging stations with as low as 11 miles of juice left.

One Supercharger was blocked with snow, leaving it completely unusable. After a panicked phone call to Tesla, the man on the phone told the pair to get some sleep and he'd see what he could do. By the time they woke up, the pump was cleared and ready to charge.

During the drive, Glenney posted his journey to Tesla's online forum, not expecting there to be much interest. But the forum blew up, with commenters offering words of encouragement as well as statement like this below:

"I hope to tell my future grandkids in 20 years that, 'Yep, the first cross-country trip on Superchargers alone was back in January 2014. And I followed along. I think we knew then what a milestone it would be."

One section of the route that concerned Glenney was past Denver and up Silverthorne hill. Commenters recommended he charge fully in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before making the severe ascent, while others offered to bring the pair some backup "juice" if need be. In the end, Glenney posted that it was "anti-climatic," arriving at the next charge station with 35 miles left to spare, "Not including the 17 miles Tesla hides from us for emergencies," he said.

By now, the news had reached much of the EV community, and many wanted to meet at various stops to buy the duo dinner or simply wish them good luck. After passing Colorado, the road to Los Angeles was calmer. Temperatures rose, allowing Glenney and his happy battery to skip some Superchargers and blast forward, making up time. Upon arrival at the Hawthorn charging station in Los Angeles at 5:45 p.m. on January 26, after leaving New York on the morning of January 20, a dozen or so well-wishers arrived to congratulate them both. With Glenney driving from Kentucky to New York first, he traveled a total of 3,619 miles and consumed 1,366 kWh of energy. When the main leg began from New York, Glenney utilized a total of 28 Superchargers during the trip.

The next day, after Jill had taken the redeye home the previous night, Glenney took a leisurely drive up to Tesla's facility in Fremont, Calif. Having been promised a brief tour, Glenney was shocked to see hordes of people lining the factory, clapping and cheering for him becoming the first person to travel cost-to-coast using free energy from Tesla's Supercharger network: "I only wish Jill was still here to see this," he wrote on the forum.

According to Glenney, there are still some folks who don't understand why he and his daughter did this: "Because we can," he says.

"I had to play some John Denver during the drive to honor a guy who would have understood."