Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Road Trip: Lake Arrowhead

She's not a fan of photos...
We don't often get to take our pup out of the local area where we live, so every once in a while, we make the effort to find a place to go that is within driving distance and is pet friendly. Last year, we were out in a more rural part of San Diego county, near the Temecula wine country. This year, we decided to try for a weekend in the mountains of San Bernardino County. Lake Arrowhead, one of several lakes nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest, was a place that we frequently visited as kids. I have fond memories of various trips with family so it seemed fitting to do a trip there, though this would be a much nicer and much more outdoorsy trip than the ones of my childhood.

This would also be our first long distance drive in the Bolt so we took some extra precautions, charging up the Bolt's battery to full for the first time since we got the car. Google Maps showed our driving distance as about 100 miles with around 6,500 feet of climbing in the last 20 miles. We also spent some time to make sure we knew where the charging locations were along our route in case we needed to top off on the way back. My rough calculations indicated that we had plenty of range on the battery to make it to the top of the mountain, but it never hurts to be prepared. Of course, we needed not have worried as the Bolt performed admirably.

Starting our journey, the car showed 280 miles of range. Highway driving always takes its toll and the range estimator started to fall quickly as we settled into the flow of traffic, cruise control set and lane keep assist activated. The first 80 miles were largely uneventful and we were fortunate to have nice weather the whole way, meaning A/C use was minimal. Before long, we were off the freeway and starting our ascent into the mountains. Highway 18, better known as the Rim of the World Highway, is surprisingly fast for much of the way, with a 55 mph speed limit and lots of sweeping corners. Since it has two lanes in each direction most of the way, slow traffic is usually not an issue as passing opportunities are plentiful. With 266 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Bolt never felt under-powered and since it required no air for combustion, there was no loss of power as we reached over 1-mile above sea level. I found myself easily able to pass other traffic as we silently glided up the mountain, framed on both sides by ever denser forest.

Our cabin for the weekend was located in the Arrowhead Villas community just to the south of the lake itself. Densely packed onto the side of a steep slope, I steered the Bolt through a variety of switchbacks to eventually reach almost the very peak of the large hill where we arrived at a beautiful A-frame cabin painted a stark shade of scarlet. Our hosts had kindly provided a parking spot with easy access so we parked the Bolt and unloaded our provisions for the weekend. As soon as the car was cleared and our pup was situated, I looked for a way to get the car plugged in to provide a little bit of charge, finally settling on a method that had the cord going over the side of the balcony, but worked well enough given the location.

Despite all of the climbing and the rather high average speeds, we had managed to arrive at our destination with fully half of the battery's charge remaining. The range indicator showed 100 miles left as I plugged the car in. Even at that state of charge, I was pretty confident we had more than enough power to get us home considering the first 20 miles or so would be entirely downhill. Still, plugging in on the Level 1 charger offered us a little extra piece of mind as we would likely be driving the car around a bit over the next few days. With the car plugged in and the cabin warming, we settled in for the evening.

Bright and early the next morning, we took the pup for a short walk around the neighborhood, enjoying the crisp morning mountain air. After enjoying a filling breakfast, we relaxed for a bit and decided on our plans for the day. The idea was to go for a hike with our pup so we selected an easy path around nearby Lake Gregory, where water access is still public, unlike Lake Arrowhead where most of the water access has been privatized. Set up as a regional park with a public access water park during the warmer months, Lake Gregory is surrounded by the same beautiful forest as Lake Arrowhead and has a few miles worth of easy hiking trails cleared the entire way around it. We find a place to park the car and make our way down to the edge of the water.

The trail is about as easy as they come, well-marked and packed dirt with the occasional bit of pavement. The crisp mountain air had warmed up nicely as the sun peaked in the sky, offering up wonderful weather for our hike. We meandered along the path around the lake, giving the pup lots of opportunities to explore since this was the first real hike that we had taken her on. A few sections of the trail were under construction or otherwise obstructed by other hikers, but for the most part, we got to lope about at a leisurely pace around the lake, watching squirrels do battle or catching sight of the local water fowl at play. It was quite a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning.

After our hike, we grabbed a bit of lunch at a local market and sat by the lake, enjoying the peace and quiet, our pup hanging out in the car under the shade of a grove of large pine trees, windows open so she could enjoy the fresh mountain air. Lunch finished, we returned to the car to seek out one last spot before we called it a day. The Strawberry Peak Lookout Tower stands on one of the high crests and, on a clear day, provides visibility for miles. Rangers use this location to keep an eye out for potential problems, including the ever present brush fires that have ravaged much of California this year. The road up to the tower was paved, but worn, rutted, and crumbling in places. The further up we got, the worse the weather became and pretty soon, we were blanketed. When we finally reached the base of the tower, the cloud cover had gotten so thick that visibility was basically non-existent so rather than waste our time climbing to the top of the tower, we took a quick look around and decided to just call it a night. We returned to our cabin for an evening huddled with our pup in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn.

On our final morning, we took it slow and just relaxed. With the weather overnight having dropped a fair bit of rain on the ground, we felt it was smart to bide our time and not rush to depart. When the sun finally started to peak out from behind the clouds, we packed up the car, bid farewell to our weekend getaway, and took the pup for one last joyride around Lake Arrowhead itself.

Having been largely commercialized, public lake access is difficult, so we opted instead for a little drive around the lake, picking the roads and neighborhoods we could access that were as close to the water as we were allowed. Winding our way through tiny side streets, up against a collection of spectacular looking homes, many with extraordinary views of the crystal clear waters of the lake, it was quite the sight to behold. Doing the drive in the Bolt meant we could glide along on a Sunday morning and silently appreciate our final moments by the lake before making our way to a local cafe for lunch. In true Arrowhead fashion, the weather changed almost instantly, going from bright and sunny to foggy and overcast without warning as we pulled up to get lunch. With the weather as cool as it was, we opted to let the pup stay in the car to sleep while we ate.

The drive down the mountain was great fun. Putting the Bolt in high regen mode allowed me to complete the entire downhill section of the drive almost entirely without using the mechanical brakes. Plan sufficiently far enough ahead of corners and it was possible to use the full 70 kW of regen braking to slow for corners while putting power back into the battery nearly the entire way down the mountain. Grab a handful of the regen paddle on the left side of the steering wheel and modulate the throttle to adjust the precise amount of regen needed to smoothly clear the corners or pull the car out of L on steeper sections to pass slower cars. Silently sliding past muscle cars, SUVs occupied only by the drivers, or loaded family sedans and watching them stare with incredulity as the frumpy little Bolt eases past without so much as a care in the world is surprisingly great fun.

We managed to get home by mid-afternoon as there was little traffic. Pulling into the garage, we had used only around 25% of the battery to complete the trip. That is half of what we expended getting up to Lake Arrowhead, showing just how effective regen braking can be if used correctly.

If nothing else, the Bolt proved itself more than capable as a car for regional trips. We drove more than 250 miles over the course of weekend and never once plugged into anything more than a Level 1 charger, which means we basically charged the car like a big laptop on wheels. Never once did we worry about running out of charge and upon returning home, we just plugged it into our Level 1 charger at home and left it until full. The Bolt is truly a marvel of modern engineering, even if it looks a bit goofy. For those that worried the older generation of EVs was insufficient for their needs, the current group of EVs hitting the market are proving that range anxiety should really be a thing of the past, especially here in Southern California where public charging is rather plentiful. If we can enjoy an entire weekend in the mountains outside LA without worrying once about having sufficient range, then most people should be able to make their daily commutes without any problems.

The EV is ready to take on the world!