The red 2017 Bolt LT I leased for 30 months next to the blue 2020 LT that I turned the red one in early for. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]

Denver to Santa Barbara in a Chevy Bolt 3 years later: Is it still news?

Our 2017 Chevy Bolt charging at the Green River, Utah KOA at the end of Day 1 on a three-day, 1,200-mile road trip from Littleton, Colo. to Goleta, Calif. in Summer 2018.

editor's blog logoThree years ago, my two daughters and I did a 2,400-mile round-trip road trip in my leased 2017 Chevy Bolt from our home in Littleton, Colo. to my sister’s family’s home in Goleta, Calif.

That was definitely an unusual feat back then, especially considering the fact that there were zero DCFC stations, sometimes called fast-charging stations, for non-Tesla vehicles for a nearly 350-mile stretch of I-70 to I-15 from Grand Junction, Colo. to Cedar City, Utah. How unusual something is/how unique it is typically determines if it is considered news, at least by way of mainstream journalistic standards.

Three years later, starting tomorrow, I will be doing the same 2,400-mile round trip, this time in a leased 2020 Chevy Bolt and this time with just one daughter (one cannot come due to school starting). There are now four non-Tesla DCFC charging stations along the same stretch of 350 miles of highway that three years ago had zero, a fact that forced my daughters and me to take three days for a trip that normally should take just two days.

Does this mean this 2,400-mile round-trip road trip has become so routine, so easy, so “no problem” that it is no longer unusual and no longer unique and that it is therefore no longer “news”?

I would say the answer is no — and yes.

There’s still plenty of room for things to go wrong, in particular, non-functioning DCFC stations along this key stretch of lonely I-70 Utah interstate. And the density of non-Tesla EV charging along this 350-odd-mile stretch of highway is nowhere near the density of gasoline stations.

Also, probably 1%, or less, of traffic flowing over that stretch of USA interstate highway is being done in a non-Tesla all-electric EV such as my Chevy 2020 Bolt on any given day, or in any given week, month, or year.

The charging station route I have planned via the app Plugshare for our Littleton, Colo. to Goleta, Calif. road trip.

So, in those ways, my trip with Kyra, who is about to turn 15, is anything but routine.

On the other hand, it is not as unique nor as “risky” as it was three years ago. Indeed, I am just beginning to wrap my head around a few basic facts that are fundamentally different this time around from our 2018 Denver – Santa Barbara road trip in an all-electric Chevy Bolt.

It’s kind of weird…VERY weird… but I just might be able to drive as fast as I want to. There is no gap between DCFC stations for the entire 1,200 mile trip from Littleton, Colo. to Goleta of more than about 150 miles. My Bolt has a range of 259 miles. I probably could — and this still seems just plain weird — drive the 80 mph speed limit in Utah and also run my AC and not have to worry about possibly running out of charge — because there are enough DCFC stations along the way to make up for the fact that driving 80 mph with the AC on in an EV sucks down range VERY quickly.

Three years ago, with far fewer DCFC stations and even huge gaps with no charging at all, not even so-called Level 2 charging, which takes about six to eight times, or more, longer than charging at a DCFC station, there was NO way I was going to be driving at full speed and the AC cranking, especially not up mountain passes. I drove 65 to 70 mph on flatter stretches of I-70 in Utah and 55 mph up some of the mountains along the way. Plus, I was constantly switching between having the AC on and recirculating the air in the car with no AC on — to also spare more kWh in the 65 kWh battery pack for propelling us forward rather then cooling us off.

Those kinds of sacrifices are anathema to 97% of Americans. No way are they going to slow down and tamp down on the AC on THEIR road trip. The ONLY real reason I was making those sacrifices three years ago was because the charging/fueling infrastructure was woefully insufficient. Indeed, if there were not enough gas stations along various stretches of middle America highway, drivers in gasoline cars WOULD have to make the same sacrifices — slowing down, in particular, to save on gas.

This time, apparently, I do not need to make the same sacrifices as three years ago — which is the way it SHOULD be (although there is definitely something to be said for way more Americans actually thinking about, and caring about, how much energy they are consuming when driving somewhere).

BUT, I concede, I am still rather anxious.

a solar EV in front of a garage with solar panels
My 2020 Chevy Bolt parked in front of the solar system that fuels it. [Photo by Christof Demont-Heinrich]
So, when I leave Littleton, Colo. tomorrow with a full “tank” of solar gas — I have solar here at Highline Crossing that helps to fill my Bolt’s battery — and, more than 300 miles of stated range, and only 170 miles to drive to an Electrify America DCFC station in Glenwood Springs, or about 200 miles to a Chargepoint DCFC station in Rifle, Colo. if I choose to go further, even though I should not be anxious and have nothing to worry about even if I charge up to the Eisenhower Tunnel, which is a 6,000-foot elevation gain from Littleton, I concede I will still have some anxiety if I drive 70 mph the whole way up to the tunnel and the whole way to Glenwood springs while also possibly also having the AC on.

And yet I should make it, no problem. The same is true for the next stretch of highway from Glenwood Springs to Green River, Utah and from Green River, Utah to Beaver, Utah, or maybe all the way to Cedar City, Utah, where Kyra and I will be staying overnight at a hotel. There are two DCFC stations between Green River, Utah and Beaver, Utah, which are only 183 miles apart as well. So, I should be able to drive normally, even 80 mph, with the AC on.

And yet … I will probably still be cautious, and will likely drive 70 to 72 mph across flat(ter) stretches, instead of the 80 mph speed limit, and 60 to 65 mph up steeper mountains — it is important to note that with regenerative braking we EV drivers get all of that range we lose driving up mountains back again when driving down, sometimes even more! And I will still be watching my use of the AC, much to my daughter Kyra’s chagrin 😜

But, really, I probably won’t have to do any of that because in the Summer of 2021 there is a lot more non-Tesla EV fast-charging infrastructure along I-70 in Utah than in the Summer of 2018.

And if I don’t have to make any adjustments in my driving as compared to people in their ICEs/gas vehicles, well, then my trip isn’t really “news” any more, as it was back in the Summer of 2018. This is because it will be rather like a trip in an ICE: Nothing special, nothing all that new, even B-O-R-I-N-G, all because the added fueling/charging infrastructure allows the trip to much more routine, and routine things simply are not “news”.

That noted, the DCFC charging infrastructure still needs a bit more density along that stretch of I-70, I think, before it truly becomes so routine that it is boring and nothing special. There are at least six gasoline fueling stations in Green River, Utah, each with likely at least six, and possibly even 12 pumps. There is only one non-Tesla DCFC station in Green River, with four charging slots. Plugshare, a charging station location app that is tremendously helpful to EV drivers, shows that some of those four slots have not been working lately, with possibly just two functional.

EVgo solar canopy EV charging station
A Chevy Bolt fills up at a DCFC station complete with a solar canopy.

If all of the slots fail to work, I could be in trouble because I might not have enough range to make it to the next DCFC station in Salina, Utah, 107 miles to the West. If there were several non-Tesla DCFC stations in Green River, Utah, if one cluster of charging slots at one station did not function, I could easily go to the next, or the next, or the next, just as ICE drivers could drive to another gas station in Green River if one of the six, or more, there shut down for some reason.

Until we reach that kind of density of DCFC charging along interstate in wide open places like Utah, me doing a long road trip in a non-Tesla EV along that stretch of highway will continue to be different than doing it in an ICE/gas vehicle. It will therefore be more newsy than people doing this trip in a gas car, which, frankly, is nothing special, at least not from an ability to complete the journey with no fueling issues and no need for any driving speed adjustments, AC/heat adjustments perspective.

My hope, though, is that sooner rather than later, fast EV charging along all wide open spaces in the United States will catch up to gasoline infrastructure and my long-distance non-Tesla EV road trip — and yours, everyone’s! — will be supremely routine, easy, not require any real sacrifices — though again, it is better, in my view, if more of us reduce our energy consumption and drive a little bit more slowly — and therefore no longer qualify as “news” in the sense that my trip in 2018 qualified as news and this trip in 2021 qualifies as news, though, again, the current trip is not as “newsy” as it was in Summer 2018, or at least I hope it will not turn out that way 😜

My planned route for Littleton, Colo. to Goleta, Calif. ==>

DAY 1 — 564 miles

  1. Littleton, Colo. to Glenwood Springs, Colo., Electrify America DCFC station: Distance travelled = 167 miles
  2. Glenwood Springs, Colo. to Green River, Utah, Electrify America DCFC station: Distance travelled = 161 miles
  3. Green River, Utah to Cedar City, Utah. Electrify America DCFC station: Distance travelled = 236 miles [Might stop to charge at Electrify America DCFC station in Beaver, Utah, which is 182 miles from Green River, Utah]

Overnight in hotel in Cedar City, Utah

DAY 2 — 534 miles

  1. Cedar City, Utah to Jean, Nev., Terrible Herbst/Chevron DCFC station: Distance travelled = 199 miles
  2. Jean, Nev. to Palmdale, Calif., Palmdale Park & Ride EVCS DCFC station: Distance travelled = 208 miles
  3. Palmdale, Calif. to Goleta, Calif.: Distance travelled = 127 miles
My 2017 Chevy Bolt Charging at a DCFC station in Cedar City, Utah in Summer 2018.