Expedition: Gatlinburg


Back in August, Ashley and I decided to get a new car. Our Land Rover had been in the shop quite often over the last six months. The cost of gasoline had started to wear on me. I had been lusting over a particular electric vehicle over the past few months. After calculating the cost of the vehicle and researching our charging options, we finally decided to buy an electric vehicle: the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace.

Since August, the I-Pace has been our only vehicle. I adore this vehicle. It is a delight to drive. The acceleration is thrilling (0-60 mph in 4.5s). The lane assist and heads up display are superb. The design of the exterior is bold and attracts attention whenever we are out. We opted for the model with the wheel package upgrade; the 22 inch rims are the largest I have ever driven with. Due to the extended wheelbase (with no internal combustion engine in the front, Jaguar has moved the front wheels up significantly), it has taken an adjustment on our part to become accustomed to the new turning radius. I always felt our Land Rover LR4 had an astonishing turning radius for such a large vehicle. The I-Pace’s radius seems much more arching, not quite as maneuverable in tight spaces. After a few weeks of driving it, we were still adjusting. At nearly six weeks with the vehicle, I finally feel at ease with the new radius.

We have done quite a bit of local driving (around the middle Tennessee area) as well as quick excursions to Clarksville to meet up with family. These round trips have been well within the I-Pace’s advertised range of 234 miles. However, October is a special month in my family. My father’s family travels to Gatlinburg every October for a family vacation. Approximately fifteen relatives rent two cabins in the Great Smoky Mountains. We were aware of this upcoming trip and, with a little research, we knew the mileage there would be approximately 223 miles: just under the advertised range of the I-Pace. Not being the gambling type, I made a plan to stop in Knoxville to make use of a DC fast charger (0-80% charge within 40 minutes). My plan called for a fast charge in Knoxville, some light level 2 charging in Gatlinburg while we played, followed by a fast charge just south of Gatlinburg (in a state park) on the last day of our trip, then finally a fast charge in Cookeville on our way home. All in all, four days, three fast charging periods, a few slower charging periods. Best laid plans…

The first part of the trip was a success. We made it to Knoxville with about 15% battery remaining. I should have started the trip in Eco mode; we possibly could have made it to Knoxville with 20% remaining. One thing I did not account for in my planning: steep inclines and the power drainage when climbing steep grades. The interstate from Nashville to Knoxville has a few areas of steep grade, but has long stretches of shallow grade inclines. The part that scared me most here was knowing we had more to climb once we started approaching Gatlinburg. No bother; my estimates planned for some wiggle room.

We got to the cabin fine. The next issue was the lack of charging in Gatlinburg. There are chargers, but they’re all on the Blink network which is apparently very flaky. Additionally, these stations were not well maintained and most were not functioning. The ones that were functioning were frequently blocked by internal combustion engine vehicles. Fabulous.

We did find some refuge in Pigeon Forge at the Tanger outlets. However, traveling to these outlets and back would zap about two hours worth of charging at the outlet. We would need to stay at the outlets for more than two hours to have a positive impact in our charge. No bother, I still had the fast charger just south of Gatlinburg at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Until I didn’t. I started to get a bit panicky on Saturday and decided I needed to ensure the charger there was functioning. After some research, I discovered the fast charger at the Sugarlands Visitor Center has been out of service for months. This is the time to become concerned.

I brought my trusty slow charger with me, one that I can plug into a wall outlet. It’s less than ideal, but if I’m going to be stationary for hours and hours, I could accumulate some charge. I quickly hunt for a receptacle outside our cabin and find one. I plug in, only to see a bad omen: fault code. Something with the plug is not sufficient for my charging needs. I will not be getting any charge at the cabin.

I start planning. There is a fast charger in the wrong direction. It’s the closest and we easily have the range for it. We can stop there on our way home. I also look and realize we are technically in range of the fast charger in Knoxville. This charger has the benefit of being located on our route home, as well as being familiar (this is where we charged on our way to Gatlinburg). After eating breakfast, I become resolute: Knoxville or bust.

We opt for the shortest route (mileage is our axis and ally at this point). The roads are smaller roads and highways. Even better, since this will require slower speeds and thus extending our range. We plan our route, ensure we’re in Eco mode, and we go on our journey. I am happy to say we made it to the fast charger in Knoxville, with 15% to spare. Relief.

Now that we are home and I have had time to reflect, I realize a few things. The first: I still love this vehicle. It makes me incredibly happy when I drive it. The second? I need to start trusting my math and the vehicle’s range some. Especially knowing what I can do to increase the range of the I-Pace. I do wish the fast charging network was more saturated. I hope these chargers will roll out in more places, especially along interstate highways. I figure more electric vehicles being sold will lead to more fast charger installations. I hope I can trust this instinct as much as I can trust my math when planning out trips.