Getting home!

We had arrived in John o’Groats triumphant… but we were not at the end of our travels. The final destination of the night was a hotel in Thurso – pleasantly named “The Royal Hotel.”

Staring at each other blankly in front of the  ‘John o’Groats’ sign, Vince and I discuss monosyllabically whether we should find a place to sleep nearby or head for Thurso (baring in mind that it is quite late now and we were still on the verge of the car completely stopping if any hill was just too much for the range extender to keep up with it).

Perhaps we were already missing the challenge of getting to John o’Groats because we decided to head for Thurso despite the darkness and possibility of becoming stranded. Inevitability we couldn’t find it straight away… the most sophisticated and ‘smart’ navigation systems seem only helpful if you already know where you are going!

I nearly forgot to mention that we risked stopping on the side of the road (pulling away again might have been too much for the battery by this point) to call the hotel to double check the reservation (after looking at Vince’s phone I was unsure whether the booking had been completed). You might be able to imagine my mood… I had avoided the boot bed so far… but every possible snag still concerned me! Even though we’d driven over 1000 miles, I could still hear the boot bed calling. So I dial the number for the hotel and we end up talking to America (I think)… after being on hold for a while, and trying to explain that all we want to do is check our reservation… the line goes dead. Hmmm. I must say my faith in ‘services’ of any kind may have been dented on this trip.

We turn up (after looking at street view)… and the hotel wasn’t what we were expecting, perhaps not quite ‘Royal’ but an experience none the less! It turns out the reservation was fine… so again worrying and checking got us no where! We parked in the street as we were advised that there wasn’t really a police presence that would be around to ticket us. The room was… ok… big bathroom… even though it did seem to double up as a sauna. I think Vince and I were both relieved we wouldn’t have to sleep in the car (even though he already had many times on the trip). We got a Chinese takeaway and Vince got us a bottle of fake pink champagne to celebrate.

Friday 12th September

Day 5 – It’s not over yet.

I wake up feeling awful… perhaps the adrenaline has now left my body as the journey is over. Maybe I’d made the classic mistake of not saving enough energy for the return trip. Vince is convinced it was the glass of bubbly… hmmm.

As has become normality – in walks Vince to update me on the first 6 hours of his day, while I have been sleeping. It turns out that he’d gotten to know all of the staff in the hotel (classic), and someone named Angus had helped him to wire up the car to charge through an intricate network of extension cords and cracked windows through the slow ‘3-pin’ plug socket. We went from 3.5 miles in the battery to 30 (thanks Angus!). Having an electric car is certainly not boring.

I, of course… persuade… ok ‘force’ Vince to refuel on petrol as well – we go from 54 miles to 85 miles in the tank. So that’s a healthy total of 115 miles of electrical power to get us closer to home. We have driven 939.3 miles since Land’s End as well as the 345.7 miles to Land’s End from Cambridge – 1285 total so far! Can the i3 get us home too?! I was starting to think it could go anywhere… despite the charging network problems.

At 1:35pm we leave Thurso heading in the direction of Dunblane to stay at Struan’s house for the night (Struan is Vince’s business partner and friend who had advised us on the lovely scenic route to Inverness previously in the trip). Both tired and travel drained we quietly (well the i3 is pretty quiet) made our way to the next petrol station (we’d already learnt our lesson about trying to find charging points in the highlands)… it was hard enough finding a petrol station up here that was still in use!

We end up in Brora at 2:28pm (just 53.5 miles away) to fill up at the petrol station that had saved us the day before. We fill up the tank to 82 miles from 37 while the electricity stored in the battery reads 28 miles on the display… except when we pulled away it had 31 miles in the battery because actually the ‘smart’ sensors are constantly re-calculating… things.

We decide that as we’re no longer against the clock – except for the constant monitoring of the battery – we might as well do a little more sight seeing.

To Loch Ness!

We went the wrong way.

But we did get there in the end and walked around Urquhart Castle (The castle at Loch Ness). Everything was beautiful… and we found a man in a kilt! Kim, our contact at Chargemaster, had been in constant doubt that we could actually make it that far north in Scotland so had challenged Vince to take a picture with a man in a kilt to prove it.

And here it is!

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Vince and a man in a kilt at Urquhart Castle next to Loch Ness. Scotland!

Instead of going south out of Loch Ness, Vince thought it best that we travel north to Inverness and then down the A9 to Dunblane as this would be the quicker route overall. By this point I was just going along with any suggestions… I still don’t know whether it was tiredness or trust from the fact that we’d already gotten this far.

We end up driving right through the centre of town in Inverness to get to the A9.

It’s probably the right time to say that I’d already decided that getting a night train from Scotland to London might be the way to go… as my brain felt like mulch and I was considering match sticks to hold my eyes open. Vince and I discussed it – with our tired minds – and we decided it would work out if I got the train from Dunblane, rather than where the train starts in Inverness, as Vince was going to sleep in Dunblane anyway and meander down to Cambridge in his own time.

Decision made… believe me it took a long time to come to this decision (brain mulch is hard to use in processing rational thought) we head down the A9 towards Dunblane.

At some point we of course needed to find a petrol station going south on the A9… charging the battery directly seemed like too much of a difficult task in Scotland. You might think we would be totally clued up on the charging / refuelling business by now… but of course we had discovered that technology can let you down badly. So… BMW i3… tell us where the next petrol station is please… please?

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Great.

Next stop – Pitlochry. Will you have a working petrol station before the battery goes flat?!

Yes… thank you strangers on the side of the road that gave us directions. I guess this is another one of Vince’s lessons in ‘talking to people’ rather than relying on technology and planning.

With enough fuel in the tank to charge the battery we head to Struan’s house in Dunblane.

Arriving late we say hello to the Johnston family and Vince goes to bed. Struan takes (a very sleepy me) to Dunblane station – after first having a picture taken at Andy Murray’s golden post box! I must get that picture from Struan!

I buy the ticket and head to the platform with Struan. If you haven’t heard of a night train before (I hadn’t except for perhaps in Harry Potter), it’s where you either get a chair to sleep in for the 8 hour journey, or you get a little cabin room with a bunk bed. I was unable to reserve a bed as we bought the ticket too late… so with my standard ticket I was advised by Struan to get on the train and find an attendant to upgrade my ticket… and just hope that there would be a cabin free. He was pretty sure I would be fine.

After a little wait and banging my shoulders in the narrow train alley thing I speak to the attendant and… there is a spare cabin! Cabin 13… oh dear. Lucky for some.

I managed to get some sleep on the moving train in the little bunk, I’m not sure if I got any ‘real’ sleep… but it was better than if I had to sit in one of the chairs (that both Vince and Struan described as smelly and awful – Struan’s actual advice was that if I had to stay in one of the chairs that there was a kind of restaurant cart where you could buy a bottle of wine).

I awake and arrive in London Euston. Aletia picks me up at the station and drives me back to Cambridge. Home! This is where my journey ends. But of course Vince is waking up in Dunblane and still has to drive back to Cambridge in the i3! He has written a blog entry about his own return to Cambridge – which I will type up and put into a new post.

So what have I learnt? – a lot about electric cars.

That sometimes planning cannot help you. That talking to people can be better than relying on technology. That the UK is ‘not’ ready for the pure electric car. That we couldn’t have made it without the BMW i3’s range extender. That the BMW i3 (with range extender) is a very good car. That you cannot trust the ‘points of interest’ part of navigation systems to be up to date. And probably a lot more.

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who donated – the just giving site will be left up in case anyone still wants to donate.

I also plan on updating the gallery so you can see the journey for yourself!

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Destination: John o’Groats

Thursday 11th September

Day 4 of the Hum!

I awoke on this peaceful Thursday morning to the sound of running water… I thought I had heard it the night before but thought nothing of it (new place, strange sounds?) I then go over to the window and to my amazement there is a river… just outside – terrific! It is beautiful – as so many things along the way seemed to be – some more than others of course. Definitely not me by this point… I staggered over to the mirror (journey tired) and looked deeply into the reflection – “So Louise… onwards!!?”

Downstairs Vince and Struan (Vince’s work colleague and friend) are having a meeting about work stuff. As soon as I walk in I’m sure I just pointed out of the window and shouted “RIVER!” – this particular view was one floor down from my room. I forgot in that moment that Struan actually lived in Dunblane… so of course he was not overly phased by the river, but definitely appreciated it (by taking his dog for a walk along it most mornings).

The three of us settled down to a fantastic breakfast (served by the wonderfully delightful owner). Struan had many great ideas of a scenic route to Inverness which would involve taking the tourist road – and with his advice we wouldn’t miss a thing. As Struan is Scottish, and it is easy to see his love for Scotland, Vince and I were sure his route would be worth taking. I was, however, starting to get anxious whether the BMW would really make it… it did manage Shap Fell… but… the highlands?! Would I have to sleep in the boot bed, that I have so far managed to avoid, due to the i3 just saying “No more!! please no more!”?? – We shall see.

Vince decided that it was the right time to sit at the piano in the dining room and play Beethoven just before we left… Why? Maybe he was getting withdrawal symptoms from Classic FM.

11am – 632.4 miles into the journey, 34 miles of electricity in the battery and 57 miles of petrol in the tank… we set off for the A9 and to the NORTH!

According to the BMW sat nav, it is another 244 miles to the hotel booked in Thurso (north coast, west of John o’Groats) – and we should reach it at 15:41pm. Except we are taking a couple of scenic routes… because if you were here, you would to… right?

Along the way we arrive in a small village near Crieff – I forgot to write down any detail because I was too excited about a little scenic spot nearby… but it’s not too far from where we left. We technically also stopped because Vince and I have spotted a post office – prior to our departure (from Cambridge to Land’s End) he had gotten one of his cars clamped for not having a valid tax disc (oops) – so we stopped to see if this post office will do it. It doesn’t… but we decide to explore anyway! Vince wandered off somewhere, I don’t think I even asked where by this point. Soon after, he joined me in my own exploration of the village – near some ruins of a church. Vince and I took a few photos – especially of the Scottish flag nearby!

We were advised by the post lady to try the main post office in Crieff up the road, as they still did tax disc’s… so off we went. When the car stopped again Vince pointed down the road (in the opposite direction to the post office where he was going) and said “go and walk down there… there’s a lovely school somewhere.” (Was it something I said?) – Down the hill I go… wondering what it would be like to live in a place like this, all quaint and lovely – peaceful and friendly. Well… right now it is anyway, don’t we all ‘see’ that other places are nicer? who am I kidding – this place is great. A little further down the road and the ‘old lovely school’ that Vince suggested turned out to be a modern concrete affair… so I turn around and head back. In true Vince style – as soon as I walked up to the post office he walked out (I won’t question it) – he was clutching the tax disc triumphantly. Back to the car. After fending off a wee cute spaniel doggy which seemed interested in the boot bed, we set off in the direction of John o’Groats.

1:04pm – 684.2 miles in we get to Pitlochry – 23 miles of electricity and 32 miles of petrol left. I had pestered Vince to fill up, as I was getting increasingly anxious about the availability of petrol stations – we already had problems with charging in Carlisle, what was it going to be like further on!? We filled up the 9-litre tank with 6.08 litres (sometimes station attendants would comment on the small amount, they probably wish they hadn’t… as they then got a full lesson in the BMW i3 and also why we were this far north in one – though the surprising thing was actually how interested everyone seemed to be). The fancy dashboard screen told us we had 80 miles now available to us of petrol charging abilities. Woo let’s go!

One of the places Struan pointed out to us was Dalwhinnie distillery – When I saw it I cried for Vince to stop the car so I could take a picture. This led us into a brief discussion about whether we should stop in for a tour or not (as it’s said to be a lovely sight). We quickly reminisced our visit to the Eden Project, though lovely and glad we went, it left us ridiculously tired and passing out at a random services in the darkness miles from our agreed stopping point for the day. So we drove on.

To Inverness!

3pm – We arrive at Asda – the most northerly Chargemaster charging point – as explained to us by Kim, Vince’s contact at Chargemaster. We are 771 miles into the journey with 6 miles left in the battery and 39 miles of petrol in the tank. This post is a 7kW Type 2 fast charge that should take around 4 hours to (mostly) fill the battery. I could mention a story here… about how people with petrol engined cars shouldn’t park in an electric vehicle charging bay… when Vince is around – but perhaps best that I don’t. Suffice to say that three cars, only one of which contained an apologetic driver, got some talking to. One of the two non apologetic car drivers was there for a quick stop to use a cash point – which was located right by the charging posts… hmmm possible oversight there by whoever installed them?

Tangent alert – Are we not living in a world where we HOPE that the majority of vehicles will be electric soon? I mean… after being in the i3 for a while you start to look at other vehicles on the road as if they are steam trains. I mean, they’re cool and everything… but seriously? I’m bringing this up in the hope that one day electric charging bays would actually be full (or at least used often!). So telling petrol engined car drivers not to use the bays, even for a minute (like with disabled ones), should be in practice already so people get used to it? We can only hope.

After a relaxed baked potato (and slice of chocolate cake Vince offered me after I’m sure he saw me eyeing it up) and a chat with the the lovely staff member at the Inverness Asda cafe about a sight we must see (a castle… I can’t remember the name of)… Vince called Kim to discuss our charging point options further north. Turns out Kim doesn’t believe we have made it to Inverness! So we took a photo of the both of us pointing at the Asda Inverness sign (which she believed was photo shopped due to the lovely weather! – apparently we need a photo of Vince with a man in a kilt to make her believe us – challenge accepted). I suppose it’s a good time to point out that every one of the charging network’s we’ve called seem astonished at the idea that anyone would attempt this journey in an electric car… fill us with confidence huh! Inverness is the last ‘safe place’ for the electric car from what we’ve been hearing – though Kim has managed to find us some other posts, not on the Chargemaster network, further north. They all seem to be the 4 hour charging type… one is in Tain, another in Helmsdale, one at Wick police station (hmmm – perhaps we’ll need Vince’s friendly communication skills for that one) and another in Thurso (where our hotel for the night is located).

With all this information written down we are starting to feel slightly confident that we’ll make it. Until we reach the car.

I bet you can guess what happened?

It hadn’t charged… it hadn’t even added 1 mile to the battery. It was now 4:20pm – and the numbers all looked the same (after stopping for an hour and 20 minutes to charge) – 39 miles of petrol, 6 miles of battery charge and 771.5 miles in. I did all I could do… laugh. We then discovered that the post, which worked fine when we plugged in, was now switched off. Had the lovely and reliable BMW i3 (the only reliable thing on the whole journey) blown up the post?! Maybe. Who knows in this complicated charging network world we live in. We tried plugging in to the neighbouring post, just to check if we were unlucky (again), but lost patience within about 2 minutes when it didn’t appear to be working either. Kim said it would have worked if we’d waited… but by this point… waiting was doing nothing for us.

So we set off again (after getting some petrol at Asda – bringing our tank to the equivalent of 85 miles capacity). After all this messing about it was now 4:51pm and we still wanted to get to John o’Groats before dark and take pictures! We realised we might have to rely on the range extender for a while… but bear in mind that all the range extender does is charge the battery to run the electric engine – making the car a fully electric vehicle (just with the clever idea of making sure you don’t need to stop and charge every hour – rendering the car mostly useless in my opinion). The BMW i3 sat nav told us there was 119 miles to go… all of a sudden we had a new lease of life (considering how far we’d come) and Vince put his foot down.

To John o’Groats!

Kim rang us again after we had left Inverness to tell us some specific details of the posts further north. Looking at our total range we decided to head for Helmsdale as it seemed to have both a charging post and a petrol station – perfect!

I usually leave the pictures for the gallery… but I’ll make an exception on this occasion.

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This is Helmsdale petrol station – look closely. It appears the brand new BMW i3 smart navigation system (of which the software was updated only days before we left) is… out of date? It can’t be… what MAY be is that no one bothers to check these things? or no one takes information off the internet when it is no longer valid? So what seems to be happening, is what happened when people didn’t realise that the Earth did NOT have an infinite amount of space to bury it’s rubbish… nor infinite amounts of oil… seems to me that the internet is one big garbage tip that no one can be bothered to clean up (well… they probably can… but who really wants that job? no thanks). Can you tell that by this point in the journey my mood had begun to swing between laughing at misfortunes and/or becoming incredibly sarcastic? Vince asked some people at the local pub where the charging post could be found… we were directed here:

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The charging post in Helmsdale – you can see the symbol of the electric car charging bay at the bottom, and what I can only assume are the remnants of a ripped up and concreted in charging post above (formally owned or managed by PodPoint).

It’s time I gave some more context – we have 16 miles of petrol in the tank and 6 miles of electricity in the battery. So our options are limited. Vince goes back to the locals to ask for some further advice (sarcasm alert – because advice from people has helped us so much so far). It seems our only option is to go BACK down the road to a place called Brora – 11.4 miles away – in the wrong direction. Quick Maths anyone? Yep – if the petrol station in Brora is anything like that in Helmsdale (not in business since about 10 years ago)… we’ll only have 4.6 miles of ANYTHING left to run the car when we get there. I think it was around this point that the boot bed started speaking to me “Louiiiise… you’re going to have to sleep in meeee…” – I think delirium had set it. I even wrote in my journal “oh noooo!” – just in case I forgot how I felt at this point.

With a bit of economical driving, Vince managed to get us to Brora by 6:50pm with 10 miles of petrol in tank and still that 6 miles of charge in the battery. Remember that these numbers are pretty much vague (oh sorry, I mean ‘smart’) figures produced by the BMW i3 smart e-Drive thing (I think) that calculates all this stuff as we go.

2014-09-15 19.26.15Again I shall break out the “Hoorah!” – the petrol station is open – it was due to close in 10 minutes… (I don’t even want to think about that). While Vince is filling up – I notice a little sign saying ‘card payments are not accepted on transactions under £10’ – considering every re-fill has been under £10 it’s lucky we went to Helmsdale and back then! Thank you silver linings.

We now had 84 miles in the tank and 5 miles of battery charge – John o’Groats was 62 miles away. Vince decided to put the pedal to the metal so we could make it before the light faded.

Soon after that I looked over at the dashboard and noticed that there was only 1 mile of battery usage left. I pondered briefly before saying aloud “what happens if that hits zero? Does the car stop?” All of a sudden I felt a pulling sensation as Vince took his foot off the accelerator – it seems we had both forgotten that though we had petrol to charge the battery… we couldn’t drive faster or harder than that of the range extender’s ability to charge it. I can tell you now that this was a real moment of panic… I looked at the road ahead and there seemed to be a steep and unforgiving hill climb. Oh dear.

Vince feathered the throttle and somehow we made it to the top… 900.5 miles in we still had 43 miles of petrol in the tank and Vince had managed to get the range extender to charge the battery up to 6% (something in the BMW i3’s computer doesn’t actually allow us to attempt to charge it any further than the previously noted amount – or something like that… I was confused by this point – but I do remember thinking that this was silly).

It was now 7:49pm and the light was REALLY fading.

“Let’s not take any risks”

Something I have written in my journal in huge letters. Straight out of Vince’s mouth… I’ve never heard anything like this from him and I doubt I ever will again! Very close to our destination I got a feeling that maybe my ways were rubbing off on him. No idea if that was a good or a bad thing, but mostly I was just relieved that in saying this he meant – “Let’s stop here for petrol.” we had entered Wick. We refuel to 83 miles in the tank, still hovering with our 6 miles of electricity – we switch the car’s headlamps on and just hope we can make it the 16 miles to John o’Groats. Passing the Police station (where Kim told us of the possibility of a charging post, we make the decision to keep on driving – as all of our experience had told us that the likelihood of it working (and charging anywhere near a helpful amount) in the time we had available to us (still hoping the light doesn’t COMPLETELY go by the time we get to our destination) was too risky.

You may, or of course may not, have noticed that we have been unable to directly charge the battery so far today. In that case, would the answer to the question “Is the UK ready for the electric car?” be ‘No’? – Perhaps, if you want to drive through the highlands of Scotland anyway… or you want to drive around in England but are not a patient person. One thing is for sure… the RANGE EXTENDER saved us. It seems that where technology and charging networks are today, getting an electric vehicle to ‘replace’ your petrol car, would only be practical if you took the range extender option.

Where was I? … Oh yes… we’re nearly there!

At 8:08pm, 909.1 miles into the journey, I make the suggestion to check our hotel booking. Considering the lack of telephone signal where we are, this involved stopping the car. We had booked a twin room at ‘The Royal Hotel’ in Thurso… however on calling it seemed we were talking to an American company who were checking the reservation remotely… any request I made for the phone number of the actual hotel was ignored. On hold for what seemed like forever, as we were asked to ‘hold on for one moment please’, resulted in us being hung up on… or it cut out… who knows. But we had no idea about the booking… (Seemed I just couldn’t get away from the possibility of the boot bed).

With darkness looming all around us, we saw some lights flickering in the distance… was that John o’Groats?

YES! We excitedly began to search for the sign that proved we had made it. We had no idea so Vince asked the only people around – a very kind couple named John and Mary McManus, who were walking their German Shepherd ‘Cole’- They not only pointed us in the right direction (of two John o’Groats signs) – they also helped us to take pictures! We knew we were lucky that they had been there. Some minutes later, after lots of torch positioning, we came out with this:

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There will be more pictures in the Gallery!

We made it! – So… the BMW i3 electric vehicle with range extender CAN drive from Lands End to John o’Groats! even with us in charge of it.

Hoorah!!!

We got there at 8:30pm – 75 miles of petrol in the tank, 3 miles of electricity in the battery and a total of 917.7 miles driven since Lands End.

For us though, the journey was not over. We still had to make it to the hotel in Thurso… AND THEN BACK TO CAMBRIDGE! – I plan on writing that story on this blog over the next day or so. Vince also plans on writing a post about the car itself, from the driver’s perspective – so look forward to that! (he’s already challenged Jeremy Clarkson to a race, so why not give car reviews a go as well?).

But in the mean time, Vince and I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who donated to this wonderful cause – Mesothelioma UK. I’ve just checked and the total stands at £1,912 – which is absolutely fantastic. The whole adventure was so we could raise money for Carole’s chosen charity – and though I have written a lot about the car and the journey… Carole was always in our minds and our hearts throughout the trip. We always knew why we were doing this and always will – So thank you so much for reading this, thank you for donating – and thank you for making this so special. THANK YOU!!!

Vince and Carole 1

East Coast USA 2009

Wednesday’s here!

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write anything (due to the journey being even more exhausting than I had anticipated!) Only now, Monday 15th September, do I even feel the slightest bit ready to attempt this… *stares off into distance…* – Ok I’m ready! I’ll be uploading photos in the gallery soon – after I’ve sifted through the 200 or so!

Wednesday 10th September 

Day 3 of the Hum!

Waking up at Charnock Richard Services, 403.3 miles into the journey, I expect the day to unfold just as the others… full of much surprise and head scratching.

Indeed the first event I am made aware of fulfils both of these expectations. Once again Vince enters the (twin) room, wide eyed after being awake for hours, ready to tell me of his morning frolics. He has again attempted to charge the car in the wee hours. Luckily (you may think), the services have Ecotricity charging points, the currently seemingly reliable rapid chargers that only take 30-40 mins to charge the car. Oh by the way, because electric cars (and charging them) aren’t, of course, complicated enough… rapid chargers only really charge to about 80% of the battery capacity as not to ‘blow the battery’ or something… charging also slows down towards the end of a charge due to the resistance caused of a ‘nearly full battery.’ So when I say 30-40 minutes… I (think I) mean that’s how long it takes to get to 80% charged… hmmm.

So yes, Vince wanders over to an Ecotricity charging point, I imagine with a grin on his face at the impending certainty of an exciting reliable combo rapid charge. When he discovers a lot MORE about charging posts… Ecotricity… and other things than he’d bargained for.

Vince “had started to become slightly concerned that the charging failures we had met – continuously – may be down to the BMW i3 itself”… all this wiggling cables and posts encountering errors because of the car… nooo!!

After waving access cards and following the familiar instructions on the post, Vince plugs in the rather large rapid charging cable into the car… and waits. In his own words “it connected then died then refused to connect again.” I believe at this early stage in the story I reserved even a change in my tired facial expression as I was sure there was more to come… there was. After the rapid charger deciding it was not going to work for him, Vince attempts to plug the car into both of the ‘type 2’ fast charging (3-4 hour) sockets. “No Joy” – He then called the Ecotricity help line, at what I can only imagine was in the darkness during the smallest of hours.

After voicing his concerns about the i3’s possible problems, the operator (Richard Bachelor) replied with a certain “No way,” – stating that the car would not be the problem. Apparently Richard also said that “the posts seldom work.” I guess I should have called this guy during my pre-HUM research?

Turns out that the posts, or rather the connections on the posts, were not connecting to the car properly – like an ill fitting plug. Ecotricity man Richard then advised Vince that a “high level group of car and charging post manufacturers had been inspecting the problem.” – They seem to have tried a “fix” on some of the posts already (obviously not this one then?) and were waiting to see if it worked.

On the plus side! – It wasn’t the car! Yey! Good old i3. Just problems with the only reliable posts that we had found then.

Vince was then left to do what we all inevitability end up doing sometimes, when being given impossibly annoying situations by brand new super technology… use an older version. So instructed by Richard – the Ecotricity helper still over the phone… at silly o’clock… – Vince shifts his gaze to a seemingly insignificant, by comparison, older charging ‘post’ nearby. Apparently “these are the oldest charging network points and are always reliable” – indeed. Except it wouldn’t be a Vince story if it ended there… THAT post, that older, extremely reliable post… didn’t work either. Of all of its working counterparts around the UK, that specific one (plus one at the University of Coventry) – did not work.

Luckily… we were at one of the few service stations with a bridge over the motorway connecting the two services, so Vince travelled to the over side (southbound) to test out the posts there. After much fumbling, due to the inevitable necessary wiggling of the cables, Vince managed to charge the car. I’d like to point out that we are on a MAIN motorway… so I hold my breath for what the highlands of Scotland may bring!

So all of this… and we, well I, hadn’t even started the day!    

We leave Charnock Richard services at 10am with a long day ahead of us – we’re planning on making it all the way to Dunblane today. We have 55 miles of petrol in the tank and 76 miles of charge in the battery.

We take the route which involves travelling up the M6… and Shap Fell – a rather persistent hill climb.

I find a note in my journal scribbled with excitement, pencil etching deeply into the page with the word “BEAUTIFUL!!!” Nuff said? – I’ll find the pictures and upload them to the gallery soon. Of certain note is that the i3 actually MADE IT up the hillside on the electricity we had in the battery! (We kept the range extender switched off).

At the top we stopped at Tebay services (11:20am) – 466.7 miles into the journey, 55 miles of petrol still left in the tank and 4 miles of electricity, surely we can charge here? Vince stands still for a moment as he exits the vehicle and then turns to me. With a smile Vince tells me to “just breathe in that air!” I believe he has been here before as he notifies me of the delectable pies on offer in the restaurant. However first, we must find a charging post. We walk around and ask a few people… directed to a large out building we wander around and find a Tesla charging bay. Now… Tesla is another type of electric car, but not actually a normal one like the BMW i3 or its counterparts. It is a super car. The Tesla made the journey from John o’Groats to Land’s End in 2011 – with two drivers taking turns at the wheel who were extremely experienced with electric vehicles. You can look it up online to see how the journey went. As not all people are going to own a super car in their life time, Vince and I made the decision to make this journey as a guide and first step for the average car driver, to bring the ‘normal’ electric car into the spot light. So our journey is indeed, as stated on our Just Giving page, the first time a normal electric car will make it from Land’s End to John o’Groats – erm… with range extender!

So yes, we are at Tebay services and next to the incompatible Tesla charging point is another incompatible charging point – I think it might be a ‘Commando’ point. I mentioned in an earlier post the problems with compatibility of charging points… the BMW i3 accepts Type 2 Mennekes (fast) and Combo (rapid) – while others can take Commando (fast) and Chademo (rapid) – there might even be more I don’t know about!

But we’re here… and it’s beautiful… so let’s eat pie.

Vince comments on how this services “is NOT a service station.” – I would actually have to agree – it feels like we’re on a mountain in Canada or something. The views are spectacular, the food delicious and all I can sense is tranquillity. Though I do also get a feeling that the lowering levels of oxygen at this raised altitude may have begun to affect me? I think too little oxygen and too much caffeine made my company not so peaceful, as Vince went off to ‘explore’ at some point.

So we leave (at 12:27), bellies full – the car low on electricity with only 3 miles of charge in the battery and 55 miles of charging power in the petrol tank. We are aiming to charge and fill up in Carlisle, our next stop. Vince has developed a driving method to make sure the range extender works to its best charging ability – a smooth ride… downhill driving also helps.

We try calling Kim, Vince’s contact at chargemaster, to find our next charging post – but no answer. We try calling an Asda in Carlisle – but we’re hung up on.

I believe I convince Vince to pull into a MOTO services… we’re down to 36 miles of petrol, 5 miles of electricity in the battery (thank you range extender) and are 494.5 miles into the journey. It is 1pm and we begin our hide and seek game with the charging points… and lose. Vince comments that perhaps they only expected Tesla’s to make it up the hill. Oh well.

Onwards!

We finally find the Asda in Carlisle (506.7 miles in), assured by the evspeak online forum, that there is a compatible type 2 charging point here. So we drive around… and around… and ask some staff. “Oh no, nothing like that here.” – Argh. We fill up with petrol just in case our charging abilities are stifled completely this far north and fill the 9-litre tank to an equivalent of 96 miles (5 miles of charge still left in the battery) thank you range extender!

I continue to search zap-map and ask the BMW i3’s smart computer thing to find us a charging point… until score! A BMW retailer pops up! Off we go! Certain charging heaven!

1:30pm – We pull up grinning and Vince goes off to ask the staff about their charging facilities. After some time… seems not all the staff are familiar with the i3… we are directed to a bay around the corner with two type 2 (fast) connections. We park up, retrieve cable from boot and start the process of swiping our card when… we realise the thing isn’t switched on. So off Vince trots to find some help! While I’m waiting a ‘product genius’ walks over to the post – I grab his attention and ask “what’s going on?” – I’m told that only yesterday the whole area we are currently standing in was flooded with “monumental sewage problems” – nice – so they turned off the post but it may also have been damaged. Ok. Wish I hadn’t touched it now… (I had opened up the socket things to look inside and could only see dead spiders and cobwebs… ick – used often then?). He mentions a charging point in the work shop around back, so I ask the man to go and find Vince to ask him what he wants to do. Vince soon returns and we discuss our options.

We decide to go inside and have a cup of coffee. Vince is falling further and further into a sleepy pit and I am working on how caffeinated a person can get before losing the ability to close one’s eyes.

THEN! The lovely people at the Carlisle BMW retailer advise us that there are TWO Asda’s in Carlisle… and that we went to the older one. Of course we did! So new post code in hand – CA1 2EA – we head off to charge the car! Which we haven’t been able to do since we left this morning! And… Success! it is there! and it works! – It’s a Type 2, so a full(ish) charge will take around 3-4 hours. Vince decides to have a nap while I go off to work on the blog post from the day before.

About an hour and a half later I regroup with Vince (after meeting a lady standing by the post and explaining to her what we are doing) and unplug the car. We are 509.9 miles into the journey with 78 miles of petrol and 32 miles of charge in the battery. It is now 3:55pm and we are still heading for Dunblane.

Thinking I’ve caught Vince in a receptive moment, I ask whether he wants to call Ecotricity again – to check whether the charging post I’ve found along the route is working. A couple of minutes later he’s speaking with Owen Pearson – who informs us that the one in Pirnhall near Dunblane is indeed working! (According to his computer). He also informs us that he’ll be off duty by the time we get there… I wouldn’t blame him if this was more than by chance!

Bellies rumbling again (571.3 miles into journey), we decide to stop at a Welcome Break in Abington (5pm – 16 miles of petrol and 31 miles of electricity left) – we may also have hit upon a huge kW capacity type 2 charging post! (Yes… I really was as excited as I sound… by now numbers were taking over my mind! Luckily Vince used to be a maths teacher… he was pretty much my calculator the whole way). Before searching for the post, we fill up with petrol to allow us 76 miles of range in the petrol tank.

We had indeed struck gold in the Type 2 fast charging world… an Ecotricity post that allowed a 43kW charge – as opposed to the 7kW types that took around 4 hours. Considering a rapid charge (30-40 minutes) boasts 50kW of power, I could only imagine that this particular charge must take about an hour? I should mention yet ANOTHER detail in the charging world – there are AC and DC connections… the rapid ones are usually DC and the Type 2’s AC… Even now I couldn’t tell you what that means.

We plug in at 5:12pm – surrounded by a group of Chinese men who are interested in the car (they’re taking pictures of the car while I’m taking pictures of them). Vince communicates with them and later tells me that he was able to use his fluent mandarin… … … hmmmm.

Inside the services I stare longingly at the pies while Vince proclaims that these are real Scottish pies. And I must tell you they are… amazing. Two pies in one day… woops.

At 5:55pm we go back to the car and discover that 43 minutes of charging on a Type 2 fast connection has given us an extra 33 miles of electricity in the battery (now 63 miles). So it really does pay to take notice of the kW of each post you want to charge at! The petrol gauge has also jumped up to 81 miles in the tank for some unknown reason! Oh well, not going to question it!

Off to Pirnhall services we go!

We arrive at 6:52pm – 622.2 miles into the journey – with petrol tank still full (81 miles), but down to 16 miles in the battery. Luckily we find another 43kW post here and charge for 72 minutes (8:07pm)- bringing the battery up to 42 miles worth of range. I have very little in the way of ‘notes’ to explain what went on during this stop… I can only fathom that it was dark and I worked on the blog with a cup of tea. I believe my caffeine intake on this particular day was quite interesting.

The B&B – Ciar Mhor.co.uk

We had booked a b&b in Dunblane for the night – as advised by Struan. It is called Ciar-Mhor – and it is beautiful. I was so taken aback by the place that I completely forgot to write down the time we arrived – But I do know that we were 632.4 miles into the journey with 57 miles of petrol in the tank and 34 miles of electricity left in the battery.

If you EVER find your way up near Dunblane – please stay in this b&b. I am struggling to find the words that would do it justice… the views… oh the views. You are on the river! I woke up – drew the curtains and there was a river! what?! I will post some pictures soon. The breakfast was also out of this world – Vince even asked if he could come back on the way down just to eat breakfast there! (as the rooms were fully booked the night he would have arrived). The owner was extremely friendly and helpful – we felt comfortable and were looked after the whole time. Vince and I both contemplated what it would be like to live in the b&b… that’s how good it was.    

With our separate two rooms I settled down to sleep – going over the day’s events in my head – wondering how I would ever find the time during the journey to write it all down for the blog. And of course… I didn’t.

Wait for the post about Day 4 of the HUM – Thursday’s journey! We were aiming to go from Dunblane to John o’Groats by night fall! – I endeavour to post it either by tomorrow night or the next – Shortly followed by the pictures from the trip.

More is coming!

Don’t lose hope! All is well!

Wednesday and Thursday’s blog WILL be written! – It seems travelling from Land’s End to John o’Groats whilst staring at the numbers on the i3’s display screen thing (equivalent to having your petrol in the red the whole journey) is quite tiring!

I shall write when my eyes are open!

SNEAK PEEK!! WE’VE DONE IT!!!!

 

A little more planning

Monday’s post is below this one so please scroll down and read it first if you haven’t already – it was posted late as finding time to write, charge laptop and connect to the internet (while also being awake enough to see what I’m typing) has been a challenge in itself!

Tuesday 9th September

Day 2 of the Hum!

I awake to the knowledge that I had slept through the night – hoorah! (9am) – I must admit to not having slept well the night before, which may have contributed to Monday night’s… I can’t think of another way to put it other than asking you to imagine my eyes wide, eyebrows pushed up and a slanted curve of my closed mouth…

Vince enters the room, naturally having… you guessed it… been up for hours. I believe during this jolly jaunt he completely filled up the car – I received a whatsapp message from him around 7am-ish with a picture of the computer display thingy reading all meters full. So we are ready to start the second day of The Hum!

So where are we exactly? Well… I fell asleep without actually knowing! – it appears to be a services along the M5; east of ‘Burnham’ and south of ‘Weston-super-mare’. Didn’t think to catch the name on the way out either (I am reminded of that saying… all services look the same?) – These views are also, by far, tainted by the Land’s End experience.

This is actually the day in which I learned a little more about Vince’s way of doing things – the outlook of experiencing things, in order to learn, rather than planning before the experience and missing out on something.

With that in mind, Vince proclaims that we should plan where we are to sleep in advance, as not to have a repeat of last night’s horrors – agreed! Vince had also realised that adventures should be left for AFTER the main driving of the day, if it can be helped – as not to end up dribbling down our chins and wandering around in circles in the dark.

I ask Vince how the morning charging session has gone (during which I was probably cosily sleeping at probably around 2 or 3am…). It seems that the problem of ‘does the post work’ is a more common one than anticipated – even at this stage! Vince’s story finds me imagining him standing next to the car (in darkness), staring at the post (already connected to the car)… listening for various electrical clicks to decipher whether the current is indeed charging the car or not. His explanation of a solution was to wiggle the cable in the socket… wait for a click… take a few paces… hear the click of the post encountering an error… and repeat… four times – until the car ultimately charged… (possibly due to Vince’s, now, thorough experience in wiggling). He tells me that the display now reads an electrical mileage of 77 miles. We are 190.3 miles into our approx 900 mile journey.

We stop at a services 328.8 miles into the journey (2:50pm) with the battery holding 4 miles of charge and 20 miles of petrol left in the tank. The story is all too familiar… we are made aware of a rapid (30min) charging post on some website, go to FIND it – and it either doesn’t exist or doesn’t work. It also appears that these Ecotricity ones aren’t as frequent as we once thought! There IS, however,  a type 2 (fast) charging point in the vicinity (I wonder what amp thing it is). We plug in and wander inside the services. I have forgotten something in the car so off I go again (luckily not too far as the charging points seem close to the service’s main buildings in most cases). Of course… what has happened? no no, I didn’t dance around the i3 in some kind of rain making ‘charging dance’ – but it might have helped more than some things we’ve tried – the post had encountered an error and stopped charging. I fix the problem (the clicks sounded good anyway) and return to Vince inside the services for some food. Some time passes, with possible additions to my sun burn, and Vince goes to  check the car. Again the post had encountered an error and stopped charging! ah well… seems only to be expected by now! The numbers now read 16 miles for petrol, 31 for electricity and it is 4:16pm; so it has charged an equivalent of 27 miles worth of driving in about an hour and a half. The next stop is to fill up the petrol, apparently driving across the services to the petrol station takes 4 miles of electric charge! – it doesn’t actually… well… I don’t quite know how it works – the car tries to figure out constantly how many miles you have left dependent on various factors… so petrol tank full we have 74 miles of petrol and 27 miles of electricity in the battery. Can you tell it’s become quite distracting always having to be aware of these numbers? Vince, who is actually doing the driving, says it’s quite fun balancing the two as you can tell the car whether you want to use the range extender or not at any point you wish (below 75% of the battery capacity).

We set off to our next destination – the room we have booked IN ADVANCE! along the motorway.

After missing the turning due to one of Vince and I’s long philosophical, political… errrr… conversation about life the universe and everything… we discover an odd way to enter a services through a strictly NO ENTRY route. I shriek at this point, while Vince (who admitted this later) slowed down to prolong my agony.

At 6pm we finally arrive at Charnock Richard services near Preston, 402.1 miles into the journey, 62 miles of petrol still in the tank and a battery drained down to 6 miles of charge. At this point I sit down in the restaurant, exclaim my desire for a real meal and a nice beverage, Vince goes for a nap, and I start talking with the waiter named Jonathan – who turns out to have done a car journey for charity with friends himself! It’s called the ‘Ramshackle Rally” – I believe he drove to Italy for a very worthy cause in a car dressed as a bull! The service wasn’t bad either.

After finally having written and posted Monday’s blog entry I retire to the room (having asked the reception guy if there are any spare blankets – he responded by getting me an extra double duvet) So a cosy sleep it shall be. Probably more cosy than Vince’s naps in the i3 – though he really does keep saying that the car is ‘warm and cosy’. I think out of the three of us, the i3 is the one with the least resting time – but… 402.1 miles in… we’re still alive and yet to find the car as a melted puddle of plastic on the ground. So I end the day as I started – hoorah!

A day for learning

Monday 8th September

And we’re off!… nearly.

You may have noticed that this post has arrived a little later than the last. Well it turns out that our first day held within it a huge learning curve. With hindsight, I suppose, it was only to be expected.

You may also have seen from the gallery that we spent a lot of time on Monday morning gallivanting around Land’s End in search of good photographs and memories. We also found good discussion with new friends; either about to set off on their own journey to John o’Groats or because they were simply interested in the car. It’s funny how enthusiastic you can get about a car that you’ve had to almost gently persuade to do its job in fear of complete disaster, i.e. – PLEASE DEAR GOD CHARGE THIS TIME!!! Even now I sit here and think only fondly of the i3… with RANGE EXTENDER… may I quietly add.

So photos taken, poses completed and strangers met, we set off… at 12:54pm… woops. Vince and I could debate at length who’s fault the late departure was down to… though we have learnt on some occasions just to smile and carry on. Ohhh I nearly forgot to mention the hotel itself! Remember that I am physically writing this across the day of the 9th, so I am looking at my notes and pondering my memories during this recital. Probably a good thing that I’m writing this today and not last night… anyway I am jumping ahead here.

So… I wake up to an excited Vince entering the (twin) room; as he has been up for around 4-5 hours already taking photos, finding a charging point and taking in the views (which I will discuss later if I remember). It is now 8am. As soon as Vince mentions the ‘views’ I jump out of bed and pull open the curtains which follow on to a modest private balcony with, in my opinion, the best sea views from a room in the entire hotel. I didn’t remember to take a photo of that particular sight, but if you visit the gallery you will get a glimpse of some of the views I’m talking about. The charging point Vince visited at silly o’clock in the morning (advised to us by the lovely staff of the hotel) turned out to be an incompatible one (I will explain) so he ended up with the 3-pin type… which I’m sure you may remember from our Little Chef encounter.

There appears to be competing ‘charging types’… I’ve mentioned that there is slow, fast and rapid already somewhere… now… within the fast and rapid types there are two competing types… or… connections… like the difference between a UK and European plug socket. So not only are we attempting to locate a charging point in the first place – and hope that it’s a rapid one… and works – we also need to search for a compatible connection! Argh. A further point to add is that Vince did show me this charging point on our eventual exit from Sennen and commented on the nature of chargers enjoying a seemingly aloof status even when you know you are only a few meters away from one… I swear Vince and I will be epic hide and seek players after all of this.

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the outstanding breakfast that the Land’s End hotel offers to it patrons. I’m aware that I’m starting to sound like a salesman (a good one at that) but I believe that if you find something you like or enjoy, you should share it.

Yes… we have appeared to have had a cushty beginning to the apparent first day of our journey, but please remember that we are doing this while keeping in mind the ‘average’ person’s travels. If you went to somewhere you’ve never been, would you not look around… even Jeremy Clarkson stops and points the camera at the view. Is travel not in and of itself a way of getting somewhere you want to SEE? I have perhaps gone off on a tangent here?

About to leave, Vince bumps into a man named Barry Adamson – who turns out to be THE man that has worked on the Jaguar range of electric cars, the Nissan Leaf (electric) and the electric version of the Lotus Elise (from what I can remember)… (?!?!)… only Vince.

And……….. we’re off!!! With 0 miles on the trip meter, 42 miles of Petrol in the tank, to charge the battery if need be, and 42 miles of electricity in the battery already (12:42pm). When I saw the numbers 42 staring at me I (unfortunately for him) shouted in Vince’s ear “The meaning of life!” – for those who know the reference… Vince and I took this as a very good omen for the journey. For what is a journey without life in mind! – or something.

15.9 miles in we stopped to fill up our small 9-litre petrol reserves… and I was feeling sick. The on board computer now displayed a petrol value of 77 miles and a battery level of 44 miles (why? – because the car’s smart e-drive thing calculates this mileage stuff as we go – so we managed to gain 2 miles on the battery for free! – or because the range extender added something to it – who knows). After paying for the petrol Vince appeared with some chocolate raisins to help settle my stomach. I’m not too sure if that is a ‘thing’… but I only had a few so wouldn’t know! But as ever it is the thought that counts!

We planned to go through Barnstaple due to Vince’s sister, Sylvia, writing a book about the area (my facts are vague), however not knowing exactly which sites of Barnstaple to go to (as Vince had forgotten the book) we carried on our original course.

A thought worth mentioning…

Vince’s philosophy, or what I can make of it, (to name but one!) appears to be along the lines of ‘try, experience or fail… learn from it… then enjoy and do better if need be.’ I bring this up as we learned a lot from Sunday’s travels… while also being able to experience a lot. It appears Vince is trying to teach me how to plan only when necessary… instead of planning yourself out of a possible good experience. We learnt that motorways were not the enemy; due to Ecotricity’s charging posts, so far, being faultless – and because of the extreme lack of reliable charging points elsewhere.

Onwards

So on the motorway, running down the battery… I spot a brown sign for ‘The Eden Project.’ Now two things went through my mind at this point (and I will admit to the order) – firstly… “ohhh I’ve always wanted to go there!” shortly followed by “I remember finding out that there were charging points there…” So I quickly convey all of this to Vince, and with a neck braking turn of the wheel we’re off to the Eden Project! which turned out to be about 10 miles off course… woops. I held on nervously to the vague recollection that though the posts were only ‘fast’ ones… there was one that held a higher charge than the other. To explain… the three categories I’ve mentioned do exist – slow, fast, rapid – but within those (ahhhh!) there are ALSO different amps/voltages… or whatever. So a fast charging point could allow 7amps, or 32amps or electricity… or something… so the higher the better to charge faster (remind me again why we didn’t plan this trip?). I remembered there being one of each kind at the Eden Project… which was confirmed by a patient look at zap map on Vince’s phone (the website that shows you SOME of the charging points in the country). We arrive at the (huge) car park and decide, owing to our previous experiences of aloof charging points, to call the Eden Project customer services line. Quite promptly a kind sounding lady tells us of ‘3 charging points in the banana car park’.

We are now, by the way, 61.8 miles into the journey; with the range extender keeping the battery hovering around 3 miles of charge and 76 miles worth of petrol… following?

We find the banana car park – after one wrong turn – and locate the charging point in a little wooden enclosure… I start walking around it hoping to see something relating to amps but find nothing. Not knowing if we’ve gotten lucky or not we plug in anyway (without card to wave as this one is owned by the Eden Project! – I think). This is the first time that I notice the ‘display thing on the car’ telling us what the time will be when the car is fully charged. I think it said something ridiculous like 5 hours… (what happened to 3 or 4?!) – so I gathered that this MUST be the lower of the two posts and exclaimed that we should look for the other. I walk around in this hide and seek game for a while before giving up. Whereby Vince shrugs and says “Oh well,” – in true Vince fashion – “let’s have a look inside the Eden Project while it charges a bit, we still have the range extender to find us another charging post later.” – Yesss!!!

Without going into any detail (ha!), as such things are probably best left for another time, the Eden Project was amazing! We didn’t want to spend too much time inside as the journey of course beckoned; so a quick, sweaty, walk around the tropical rainforest – a glance at a roaring dinosaur – and a land train pulled by an (electric!) tractor – found us back at the car park with the i3. What better place to stop on our electric and (mostly) sustainable journey than a place which inspires such values. The car was now charged to 53 miles in the battery and we set off again! I can’t remember the time… I think I was still too excited about the plants and things.

Quite late in the afternoon we arrive (back) at Exeter services to use the trusty Ecotricity post we had used only one day before. We are now 139.6 miles into our 900 mile journey. Now… according to my notes we may not have topped up the petrol here… but by this point… and I’m picking up on something I mentioned earlier… I was exhausted – and so was Vince. I remember sitting in the services, with my laptop,  trying to find a hotel to stop at for the night and failing miserably due to my forgetting what numbers meant. Vince had a brief nap in the car while it charged. Upon his return I looked up meekly and voicelessly demonstrated my lack of ability to complete the given task. Suffice to say Vince booked a room somewhere and off we went again (with I THINK 43 miles of petrol in the tank and 66 miles of electricity in  the battery… my squiggles on the page are less legible than usual by this point).

When our petrol reached 4 miles and the battery 44, it was time to stop… and so we did… another services (190.3 miles into the day). We fill the 9-litre tank and computer says yes – 84 miles. I could say a lot about what happened next… but I think the best way to describe would be to say that Vince and I discovered what it was like to (not) get along while we were both exhausted. I also appear not to be as ‘hardy’ as I used to be… so after a small walk around the services (for which Vince highly disapproved of and tried exceptionally hard to talk me out of due to the shady characters around) to regain my composure… I fell (what felt like) face first into bed – after a very encouraging phone conversation with my partner, Aletia – there’s nothing like a call home to give you the strength to carry on.

So what did the day teach us? – in a sentence – to look after ourselves as the car cannot drive itself (yet), and nor the blog write itself (ha).

Zzzzzzzz………….

Getting there

Sunday 7th – I have been keeping notes in a journal throughout the day as typing and updating a blog while trying to work out how to travel long distances in an electric car was extremely difficult. So what is written below has been typed up in a McDonald’s at a service station and our ‘Lands End Hotel’ room – while very tired!

Getting there to Land’s End

Of course I inevitably slept in… a little. Vince was up at 4am and also commented on his “long sleep” at some point today. We agreed to attempt the journey to Land’s End in one day using the range extender (petrol engine that charges the battery), which still involved an early departure. However with Vince packing and answering emails, me saying good bye to the cats and the both of us attempting to load up the car… we left at 10:45am. The ‘mileage’ on the display read 79 miles of electricity, at full charge, in the battery and I forget now but I think around 80 miles of petrol.

McDonald’s – Considering the Hum has not yet started… it appears we have had a very long day already, which isn’t over yet. We have already had a number of adventures (calamities?). Vince has succumbed to tiredness, perhaps from such an early rise, and is napping/sleeping in the boot bed as I sit in McDonald’s (free wi-fi and plug sockets) to type up some of my notes from the day.

The first point of interest in the day would be, of course, our first stop! (12:24pm) at a Little Chef near Aylesbury. Due to previous research we’d discovered that Little Chef had recently rolled out fast charge points to all of it’s restaurants. So with this in mind we pulled up and Vince, upon my request, began teaching me how to charge the car. I should point out that we only worked out how to use the ‘trip mileage’ on the i3 7 miles into the journey, so when I write total mileage for today bear in mind that it’s actually plus 7 miles! Therefore the Little Chef we stopped at (reading 51.2 miles on the trip meter) was actually 58.2 miles into the journey. So Vince is teaching me, quite… patiently? to charge the car. It’s all plugged in and… ‘ka-thunk’ – error – nothing. The Type 2 fast charger (3-4 hour charge) doesn’t work… and the regular 3-pin 12 hour charger does not work. We try calling ‘ChargeMaster’ who manage these particular posts, but no answer. “Oh well” we think… “let’s sit down to have a coffee and use the range extender to get us somewhere else.”

The waiter (Steve – the mechanic who can re-wire a car and, like Vince, owns a few classic cars) comes over and asks whether we’d like something to eat. Vince and I start explaining our predicament, in that we didn’t want to waste time sitting around while the car wasn’t charging, so we wouldn’t stop to eat, but would like a coffee. At this point Steve the waiter told us that the charging point had never worked as it wasn’t properly connected to the mains… Oh… helpful. Well actually he was, he pointed to the mains sockets in the restaurant, by the tables, and suggested dangling our regular 3-pin charging cable through the window… Ok. So Vince ran out to back the car up to the restaurant window, clipping another car in the process – the parking sensors appeared to fail in warning against the oncoming danger (details were offered but not taken – no damage I think), while Steve hung out the window to catch the cable. All plugged in, we decided to eat something. Upon leaving the restaurant the very helpful encounter seemed to have charged the car enough to give us one extra mile in the battery… so range extender it is.

Onwards!

While driving along I managed… somehow… to convince Vince that it would be a good idea to find one of the rare Combo rapid charging points (30 mins charge) which does not reside on a motorway – usually ones that the BMW require are on motorways. The downside was that I had found one in the middle of Bristol (Temple Gate Car Park)… that took forever to find; many a trip round an awful one way system arguing about Temple Mead and Temple Gate. We also drove around Bristol station a few times where Vince began pointing out Brunel architecture and explaining to me something about broad gauge train tracks. With petrol and electricity running out we tried using a combination of the BMW’s smart navigation and Vince’s Samsung phone (to look at maps and the zap-map website) to take us to this elusive car park. Eventually we did find it… tucked away (4pm now)… and when I saw that there WAS indeed a rapid charging point I was quite relieved. So out we get, this time ‘Charge Your Car’ access card in hand; flash card at charging pillar, plug cable into car, wait to see if it works…. it begins to charge!… all excited we start to relax and smile. Naturally 2 minutes later the post encountered a fault and stopped working – “Sigh”. Vince tried calling the Charge Your Car network help number, which just kept ringing – no help for electric car drivers on a Sunday. We looked at each other bemused, only able to console ourselves by finding the Type 2 charging point in the next bay (3-4 hour charge). So we plugged in, paid the £4.50 parking fee (which we only meant to pay £2 of – silly non user friendly machines…), and went to find some facilities. I’ve left out a lot (all) of the squabbling that happened throughout this experience…

We sat and shared a toasted falafel wrap (another thing I’d convinced Vince to try – he seemed to like it though) inside Bristol train station. By this point we had travelled 137.5 miles, had 16 miles of petrol in the tank and 7 miles of electricity left. Vince then decided that instead of sitting around and charging for hours, when our only mission today was to get to Land’s End, we would unplug and find a petrol station. Back to the car!

Of course the charger had stopped working at some point during the charging session as an error message displayed on the pillar. We did however manage to gain about 20 miles of electricity for the battery. Though I am learning that these numbers are dependent on many factors and change often depending on the gradient of the road, speed, acceleration and so on. I suppose that’s the same for petrol cars too?

Off to find a petrol station in Bristol – which only took about 1.5 miles… taking the petrol charging capacity to 85 miles while the battery still had about 20 miles of charge in it now for some reason.

Motorway time!

Now on the M5 we continue to practice finding charging points by using the on board BMW i3 computer thing. First it tells us that the closest one is 150 miles away… however when inputting our destination again the car worked out that we didn’t have enough charge for the whole journey so offered to find a charging point for us… Ok… Oh now there are closer ones? Thank you car.

However deciding that petrol may be the safer way to actually get to Land’s End we pull in to Exeter services at 6:45pm (214.7 miles into journey to Land’s End) and fill up the 9-litre petrol engine again. This time the petrol gauge goes up to 89 miles while the battery hovers around 26 miles stored.

A stroke of luck finds us looking for a place to park in the services and spotting an Ecotricity rapid charge point! No map or website I was using seemed to know of its existence. Wave card, plug in, cross fingers. IT WORKS! At this point Vince would probably say that I was full of excitement and joy… I’d probably describe it more as delirium… but yes I was happy about the find and joyful that it actually worked!

After spending only 10 minutes inside the services we went back to the car and found it had charged over half way already! We hung around, staring in awe at the speed of the charge, when a group of people came over interested in the car. Vince and I told them about the journey and why we were doing it and then discussed the car, range extender and charging facilities (and that they aren’t so reliable at the moment… but currently many places are trying to improve their services). What seemed particularly interesting was when Vince mentioned that many of the charging points were actually free to use. In true Vince style he then took two of the group around the car park to demonstrate the quiet and power of the car. I think they liked it.

McDonalds – I may have been quite tired at this point as I forgot to write down the mileage for where we stopped. But while Vince filled the tank with another 9 litres and proceeded to have a nap in the boot bed I wandered over to the McDonald’s, at whichever services we were at, and plugged in the laptop to begin typing this post! An hour or so later Vince called and we were off again, this time no stops between us and The Land’s End Hotel.

The Hotel – About 365 miles from our starting position and over 13 hours later we arrived at the very dark hotel in the hopes that there would be someone there to check us in.

Well… I am now typing this in the hotel room so a successful day! Time to sleep and wrap up this post. Tomorrow we shall begin the HUM!!!!

 

 

Donations and Updates

The fund is currently up to £1,619 with a target of £2,000 – Thank you so much to all who have already donated! It seems we may pass the target soon!

We have noticed that there have been some large donations and for this we are extremely grateful. We wouldn’t however want this to put off anyone who was thinking of donating a smaller amount, say £5 or £10, as even a £1 donation would be gratefully received. We all know the very APT phrase, especially where donating to charity is concerned, that ‘every little helps’. Plus don’t forget that ‘little’ is subjective anyway.

Vince wanted to say that “Many a Mickle makes a Muckle” – as his Scots friends would say. Or as his mum used to say “It’s the thought that counts.”

The Car!! (seems to be a kind of prototype…) as on Sunday Vince reported an unusual noise at the rear… “where the range extender lurks”. I should note that quotations are from Vince’s playground of a mind. Everything is meant for the purpose of fun, is mostly safe, but ultimately constructed for play. And what is play? A joyous and outward form of imagination. I doubt one could understand Vince without knowing that he has a large capacity for imagination. Perhaps this adventure is a trip down the rabbit hole? I digress. Vince reported an unusual noise at the rear of the car “where the range extender lurks.” The range extender failed to maintain the battery level as it usually does. Which is not great news considering we may be relying on it during the trek across the highlands of Scotland (I keep bringing up this area of our journey… I think this will be the most testing… we shall see). Perhaps I will stay in the boot bed most of the time and consider myself as Alice, except in someone else’s world.

As a result of this peculiar noise and the i3 seeming to shudder along, “the car was taken in to Elms to have it’s fault codes checked” (what?). “On re-start everything has worked fine since, so it might be an electric glitch that has re-set itself.”

Some time yesterday, I forget, a man from Elms dropped off the i3 at the house; all fixed(?). Vince tells me the software has been updated (the car has software?). You see this particular i3 was one of the first in the country as it was the demonstrator for Elms. Thus Vince technically bought it second hand. The point to all this is that said software was outdated and required 3 software updates. Vince has pondered whether this may be the reason the car would not ‘rapid charge.’ We shall, as ever… of course, find out.

Vince has driven nearly 3,000 miles in the car (in two months) and “simply cannot stop driving it.” This bodes well for the journey, however I do have many fingers crossed that the car holds out to John o’Groats; considering we will be doing the whole journey unaided without a convoy of helper vehicles. For some reason the image of the Scottish Highlands just creeped into my mind. No idea why.

Oh just to update you on today’s playground activities, we were going to leave yesterday for Lands End, and then today, but I may have convinced Vince to depart in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Why? Because I’m not ready! You know that feeling before something exciting, but kind of frightening, is about to happen? Yes… I have that. Vince is bounding around, perhaps like the rabbit who must not be late? I am Alice… confused and mystified – being told not to worry, and just to enjoy. Ok.

One week to go

Only one week stands between us and go time.

Firstly, Vince wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has donated so far. If you haven’t read it on the Just Giving site yet, here it is:

“I am enormously grateful on Carole’s behalf for so many donations already and for the kind, thoughtful and accurate comments about Carole as a teacher. She loved teaching and her pupils (but hated admin!) and would have been very moved that so many are returning her love now.” – Vince

The money raised so far stands at just over £1,300. Thank you! There is still time to donate for those that haven’t yet! Click on the Donate tab above or click on this link: Donate

A lot has been happening since the last update. Vince has been very busy contacting friends and family, schools and Unions that Carole worked in and also various companies such as BMW  to promote the Hum, all of course with the intention of raising money for Mesothelioma UK. There is a list somewhere of all the people that are helping us by promoting the Hum on their own newsletters and blogs. I endeavour to find it and post it here as a thank you to all of them.

As the number of followers rise, due to this wonderful promoting, I become increasingly aware that my blog writing skills may need practising. So here I am. Hello! If I haven’t said already, my name is Louise Rayner, navigator, researcher and recorder of things (from the mundane to the out right mysterious) – which will of course inevitability transpire due to Vince’s nature (nurture?) – have you met Vince?

The car has had a couple of hiccups so far… the slow charge (regular 3-pin house plug method) melted. But that’s all been checked and replaced. I’ve also been made aware that on a separate occasion Vince was happily driving along (humming along?… sorry) when the car decided to proclaim a fault. Something along the lines of “Drive straight to the dealership and do not turn off the vehicle.” Because that’s not at all worrying. The conclusion seemed to be technical… a minor (possibly reoccurring) glitch in the computer. What?

Other than that, the car seems to be running well! Vince is going to show me how to fold the seats down in the back so we can create storage space and… a bed. It is raining today, I’m pretty sure Vince mentioned we may take a tent with us. Hmm. Boot bed is sounding rather comfortable right now.

I have just mentioned to Alex, Vince and Carole’s son, that it appears Vince’s way of doing things is rubbing off on me. My organisational skills (others would call them my incessant OCD planning skills) have fallen by the wayside and I find myself a week away from a 900 mile journey, in an electric car that will need 4 hour charge breaks every 100-200 miles, through Devon and the Highlands of Scotland… not exactly knowing what is going to happen. Alex grinned at me and said “yes, but dad’s way always seems to work out!” I am starting to feel a certain faith in his way of doing things. However, all will be tested when I am searching for a place of privacy in a muddy field? I’m sure I would end up retreating to my boot bed curled around this laptop writing about it and hoping I have signal to inform you all!

Ready… Set…

Well, what can I say? With Vince at the helm it feels like the adventure has already begun! I hope you are enjoying the pages in the tabs above this blog, of special importance is of course the ‘Why are we doing this?‘ and ‘Donate‘ sections.

So why does it feel like an adventure? In true Vince style it of course started with a simple yet noble idea, “I want to drive the BMW i3, the one I got for Carole, from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for Mesothelioma UK… it hasn’t been done before without all the fuss of experts and technical entourages… so let’s do it… let’s find out if it’s possible and raise money for Carole.” I am of course paraphrasing but you get the point. Simple task? Actually no…

So why IS this going to be so difficult? For starters the journey is roughly 900 miles and if you’ve read the page ‘Why are we doing this?‘ you may have noticed that a fully charged battery goes for about 100 miles (when driving economically of course). A slow charge takes about 12 hours (3-pin household plug), a fast charge takes around 3-4 hours while a rapid charge takes roughly 30 minutes… but we are yet to find one that works and it also costs a bit extra to charge!

Luckily, the range extender can charge the battery on the move to ensure we actually make it to a charging station in the first place! It will be interesting to find out how often we have to stop to charge, how long it takes to charge and how much it costs!

Oh by the way, charging isn’t as straight forward as you may think, especially when you’ve decided to hop through counties! After a little, not so straight forward, research I’ve discovered that there is no single national network to charge your vehicle; you need to do some preparation. There are regional ones and national ones, which sometimes overlap… and often the charging posts aren’t managed by the people/companies that own them. This all means that we are now in possession of 6 ‘access’ RFID cards, 2 mobile phone apps and quite a few helpline numbers (some posts are entirely pay-as-you-go, some are free and other’s you sign up to in advance). After ascertaining which card or app to use (depending on the charging point) you swipe it over the post and hey presto… electricity. The only other issue seems to be the possibility of discovering you don’t possess the right plug for the charging post you’ve parked next to… another benefit of the range extender! But what is an adventure without difficulty and uncertainty along the way?!

I’ve considered planning the whole thing so we know exactly what charging posts we’ll need to go to depending on miles driven and so on… but the problem here is that a charging post may be out of action, it could be extremely difficult to predict the exact electricity usage and range and most importantly… Vince is adamant that planning it would be totally boring.

Conclusion… we will begin driving on the 8th September, RFID cards and apps in hand, not use motorways (boring and drains battery quicker going at faster speeds) and pack enough warm clothing in case we end up camping in the Scottish Highlands.

Vince says – “Told you it was easy.”

Louise says – “erm!”