California to Alberta: The story of a Chevrolet Spark EV owner

Ryan Stanfield next to his Chevrolet Spark EV
Ryan Stanfield next to his Chevrolet Spark EV

An EV Owners Blog from Ryan Stanfield

Ryan Stanfield is the proud owner of a Chevrolet Spark EV and a member of the EV Owners Club of Canada. Recently, we caught up with Ryan and had a chat about life as an EV driver and he had quite the story to tell.

Ryan was in the market for a vehicle below the $30,000 threshold with the best performance and driving range and settled on the Spark EV. At the time, the Spark EV wasn’t available in Canada, so Ryan went to California to purchase it. After the papers were signed and with keys in hand, Ryan needed to get his Spark EV over the Canadian border and what better way to do that than to drive.

So, Ryan set out on his Spark EV road trip. To put things in perspective, California to Alberta is a 2,900 km trip that takes close to 23 hours of straight driving. Of course, that kind of range just isn’t possible in an EV without stopping to charge along the way. In total the trip took Ryan nine days to complete.

Despite range limitations, Ryan is a converted EV driver for life. The savings on fuel alone cover Ryan’s lease, (that’s like driving a free car!), and he has left behind the clunk, noise and crude vibrations of a gas engine forever.

As a member of the EV Owners Club of Canada, Ryan feels the most important thing EV drivers can do right now is spread awareness, because once drivers get behind the wheel of an EV, there’s no turning back. What follows are some excerpts from Ryan’s EV experience road trip journal.

Day Two – Breaking records and laws

It was a rainy day in Bakersfield, California, which set the tone. First, I had to pick up my car from another hotel that I parked at a couple miles away. I was trying to stay on the cheap side if I could, but hotels were a necessary evil. After getting a lift to my car, I drove it back to the hotel where I was staying and loaded up.

I didn’t think this would be the case, but Day Two would be my record setting day in terms of the number of miles driven. There were two fast chargers on my route spaced about 100 miles apart. Also, Hwy. 99 North runs through a central valley that is very flat with a slight downhill slope. Needless to say, my driving efficiency was quite high and the weather was decent most of the way. In total, I needed to stop four times, twice at Level 3 and twice at Level 2.

For the Level 2 stops, it’s not that hard to find a place to hang out at like Starbucks, a restaurant or inside a dealership. I had built up a significant amount of grading over the last couple of weeks, so spent a lot of my time taking marking. If you feel like driving has become too mundane, I assure you that getting an EV will quench your appetite for crunching numbers and there’ll rarely be a time for a dull moment on your long distance trip.

Although I did have a record setting day in mileage (about 515 km), the victory was dulled by an unfortunate traffic stop. Less than a mile away from my exit in Atwater, a CHP officer pulled me over for not driving with my headlights at dusk. The sun had set at about 4:45 pm and the officer pulled me over just before 5:00 pm. I angrily had a subway sandwich while my car quick charged and carried on.

The rest of the evening went off without a hitch. Despite having to brave some heavy rains in Sacremento, I was able to make it to my destination in Willows, California by about 11:30 pm.

Day 5 – Supercharger Heaven

I was most looking forward to this day because I had the most quick charging stops along the way (Salem, Portland and Arlington). Fast charging for EVs is a real game changer, making long distance travel possible. Waiting for 30 minutes isn’t bad; grab a cup of coffee, walk around, grab a snack, use the restroom, etc. and your car is ready to go.

The first stop into Salem was probably my closest call of the day. I had only 2 miles of range left when I arrived. A few folks who were at the motor pool where the charger was located commented on how few people they had seen using it; either as a consequence of how fast it is, or perhaps it was in a location that many did not see fit to put a fast charger.

The common practice of placing these chargers is in the most heavily populated areas, which makes sense in the economic short term for the charging equipment provider, but in the long term it doesn’t really do anything. After all, for around town trips, a fast charging station isn’t necessary and Level 2 is more than enough.

My next stop was Portland. Portland hipsters wish they were as trendy as me in forgoing convenience during this road trip. Someone else was plugged in at the dual standard SAE Combo/CHAdeMO station. I tried out a trendy pizza shoppe while my Spark charged. I wish I could have stayed longer in Portland, but the dynamic of fast charging on long road trips means I needed to move on quickly.

About an hour and a half down the road, East of Portland, I arrived at my next stop. I remember being very flustered about the legalities of importing my car into Canada. I thought I needed to officially import it, but I later found out that this was not necessary because of my temporary residence status provided by my student visa. After a rather long stay at Starbucks, I headed over to the last stop in Arlington for my final quick charge, which I might add, is a perfect place for one. I ended the day in Richland, WA, where my journey would start slowing down.

Day 8 – The Canadian Rockies

Heading into Canada, I noticed a distinct temperature drop of three to four degrees. This would most likely continue as I climbed into the more mountainous regions of Canada. Temperatures would mostly be below zero from here on.

Because of the extreme weather and sparse charging infrastructure, long distance travelling in Canada is a touch more difficult, but possible and I made it. Nine days later a trip that should have taken two days was over. Range limitation is a very real thing when driving EV, but all it takes is a little creativity and patience.