The dim glow of a full moon prevents the desert from falling into complete darkness as the bright lights of Las Vegas gradually recede from the rearview mirror of our 2013 Tesla Model S sedan. It's 3:30 am on what barely registers as a Saturday morning, and we're heading northeast on an utterly deserted stretch of Interstate 15 that carries a posted speed limit of 75 mph. Up ahead, Utah awaits with long stretches where 80 mph is permissible.
All signs, pardon the pun, point to a swift journey on this leg to our third Supercharger stop at Beaver, Utah. Circumstances seem to be ideal in our bid to best Tesla's own electric vehicle L.A.-to-New York cross-country world record time of 76 hours, 5 minutes.
Co-conspirator Kurt Niebuhr and I are doing this according to Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash rules, which can be distilled into one sentence. Start at the Red Ball Garage on East 31st Street in New York City and drive any route of your choosing to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California.
You may have noticed we've made one small modification. We're going the other way. There are two reasons for this: (1) We live on the Left Coast and; (2) this is the direction Tesla went. As for the route, we have little to choose from because we're bound to the current state of the ever-expanding Tesla Supercharger network.
In stark contrast to that brashly illegal 1970s competition, we've got no radar detector, no CB radio with which to monitor the location of Smokey Bear. For us, these measures are unnecessary. Extreme speed results in greater battery drain and extended time parked at Superchargers, and the charge rate drops considerably the longer you're plugged in.
Besides, the original Cannonball was a middle finger directed at the federally mandated 55-mph national speed limit. Today we can trot along some 20-25 mph faster than that without arousing Smokey from his Krispy Kreme-fueled slumber.
Going Fast by Driving Slow
And yet, here we are poking along at 52 mph in the slow lane some 7 hours after we paid the bill at the Portofino Inn's Baleen restaurant and crept out of the parking lot on a Friday night at 8:26 pm Pacific Daylight Time.
This 223-mile run from Las Vegas to Beaver will be the longest leg of the trip. Such a distance is routine with a full battery on flat ground, but Beaver sits at an elevation of 5,891 feet, nearly 4,000 feet higher than Vegas. Making matters worse, the road dips to a 1,500-foot low point and scales a 6,500-foot mountain pass in between.
Tesla doesn't think we'll make it. They're so concerned, in fact, that one of their operatives called me before we got under way after seeing my trip announcement. They don't yet consider this "corridor" viable. Their planned Supercharger at the midway point in St. George, Utah, hasn't yet received its construction permit.
But I've run numbers of my own. I reckon we can squeak by if we run this leg at 50-55 mph. Kurt and I are on our own, you see. We don't have a support van, video truck and 15 or so Tesla staffers to help push.
Tesla's people remained unconvinced, and they reminded me of the Cedar City KOA Kampground that sits 50 miles shy of Beaver. "Pull off and plug in with your NEMA 14-50 RV adapter if you have less than 50 miles of range at the exit," they warned.
The sun begins to peek over the horizon as we nick through a dog-eared corner of northwestern Arizona and cross into Utah near St. George, elevation 2,860 feet. The crucial 6,500-foot summit looms 95 miles ahead.
Early risers begin to flash past at 80-plus mph, but there aren't many on this Saturday morning. I continue the steady march up to Cedar City, elevation 5,846 feet, with one eye glued to the mirror.
After another tedious hour spent reliving 55-mph speed limit flashbacks, Kurt and I exchange nods as we trundle past the KOA. The range meter says we have 60 miles in the tank. The summit is one final climb and 43 miles distant.
The gap between projected range and distance-to-summit continues to narrow until, finally, some 4-plus hours after leaving Las Vegas, we cross the high point with just 9 miles remaining. The Beaver Supercharger is just 7.5 miles ahead, but it's also 609 feet below. We allow our speed to creep up to the posted 80-mph limit and exhale.
Minutes later our Tesla sits plugged in with the same 9 miles of range showing on the meter. Kurt and I disappear into the nearby Timberline restaurant to fill our own bellies with some much-needed coffee and a full breakfast.
The Worst Is Over
Batteries take on miles more quickly at a Supercharger when they're empty. It's not unlike filling a glass of water with a pitcher: You can dump in a lot at first but must ease off near the end and resort to a trickle if you want to fill it to the brim.
We're having none of that. Our plan is to arrive as empty as we dare and add little more than what we figure is necessary to get to the next Supercharger. I monitor progress using the Tesla iPhone app while we eat. After 45 minutes we unplug and get under way with 208 miles in the bank. Green River, Utah, is 189 miles away and 1,800 feet below.
But I get too exuberant on the climb up a pass on Interstate 70 and have to rein it in a bit. Still, we're able to bypass the Supercharger at Richfield, Utah, and roll into Green River with 8 miles left after averaging 64 mph.
Kurt and I swap places and I prepare to grab some shut-eye. But first I fiddle with the Tesla's stereo and discover Radio Le Mans buried deep in the Internet radio menu. It allows us to listen to exotic hybrid prototypes from Audi, Porsche and Toyota duke it out in France while we traverse the Rockies.
As I doze off, I realize we'll be at this nearly three times as long as the competitors in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In the Zone
Shadows are growing long as we descend the Rockies into the western Denver suburbs and head north toward Wyoming. Through the night we establish a routine where one of us drives while the other snoozes, the only interruption being the 40-minute Supercharger stops that come every two hours or so.
Morning breaks halfway across South Dakota, where we stop for a Supercharger/supermarket breakfast in a town called Mitchell. A local electrician pulls up and starts asking questions while we slurp coffee and munch on Fig Newtons and store-brand breakfast pastries. He apparently helped install this Supercharger some weeks ago but hadn't yet caught anyone using it.
Minnesota turns into Wisconsin as Kurt and I debate the various flavors of Rockstar energy drink. Our collection of empty cans is getting quite diverse, but the overwhelming number of Lemonade ones suggests it's the clear favorite.
The Central Time Zone and the straight emptiness of Interstate 90 are very good to our overall pace. And we somehow miss the heavy rains that led to the flooded westbound lanes, violently churning freeway culverts and inundated roadside farms we see at one point as we sail past.
Taking a Toll
Illinois marks the beginning of a phenomenon I hadn't built into my time estimates: the toll booth. Every state from here on out has them, and we've got to pay manually because I didn't bring my FasTrak transponder from home.
Our average speed suffers as we stop to alternately take tickets and pay them. My wallet begins to bulge with receipts that will ultimately represent as much as one hour lost to this maddening process.
We cross into Eastern Daylight Time late at night in Indiana almost exactly two days after we left the Portofino. Everything is locked up for the night as we plug in at the Mishiwaka Supercharger in a mall parking lot at 1:40 am near the campus of Notre Dame. We catch a few winks while the car charges for 37 minutes, a near exact match of our trip-average Supercharger dwell time of 38.3 minutes.
The sun comes up as we sit in a bank parking lot in Macedonia, Ohio, on Monday morning, the final day of our record attempt. We've got another 554 miles to go. Things are looking very good indeed as we unplug and roll out at 7:56 am EDT.
Construction zones slow our progress as we cross the hills of Pennsylvania, but the locals set a good pace for us to follow. After a stop in Hagerstown, Maryland, our route skirts north of Baltimore when traffic is light. Before we know it we're plugged in at the Newark, Delaware, travel plaza, our last stop before New York.
We chow down and allow ourselves 52 minutes of charge time so we have enough to get back out of New York, too. A local Tesla Club enthusiast chats us up after he sees our filthy, bug-encrusted Model S with California license plates. He snaps a few pictures before we part ways. The New Jersey Turnpike is dead ahead.
It's going on 6 pm and commuters are flooding out of The City. The dark red lines on the traffic map dictate which tunnel we'll take: Holland. Before we know it we reemerge into the sunshine in Lower Manhattan.
At this point the Tesla team turned south to City Hall, but our finish line lies 2 miles to the north at the Red Ball Garage on 31st Street. There's traffic, of course, but the seemingly random movements of the pedestrians are a bigger worry.
Our reverse Cannonball Run ends unceremoniously as we pull up to the curb for a photograph at 6:47 pm local time, exactly 67 hours and 21 minutes after we left the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach. We've beaten them by 8 hours, 44 minutes.
We not only beat Tesla, we beat our target time of 69 hours, the interval between the approximate end of regulation in Stanley Cup Game Five in Los Angeles and the start of Game Six here at Madison Square Garden. Exactly 1 hour and 13 minutes remains before Game Six would have started, but the Kings clinched the Cup in double overtime as we left home.
Just as well. We didn't have tickets anyway.
The Alex Brothers
Our deed done, we have one more stop in mind: Tesla's New York City showroom. They close at 7 pm and it's 1.6 miles away. We have no time to dawdle.
Two guys named Alex are just locking up as we roll up to the front door at 7:02 pm. They have no idea who we are and have a hard time believing our cross-country claim at first.
But they come around quickly as they examine the car, the pile of Rockstar cans and our general lack of hygiene. The trip odometer has some outrageous numbers on it, and it's pretty obvious that Kurt and I are spent. We can barely muster smiles as they snap pictures of us in front of the showroom.
As we say good-bye they direct us to a nearby parking garage near the Hudson. Kurt and I walk to the nearby quay wall to watch the sun set over New Jersey.
And then it dawns on us: We have to drive back.
But not before we get a good night's sleep. And before that we have an appointment with a couple pints of Guinness that should pair quite nicely with our new world record.
Total Time: *67 hours, 21 minutes (Tesla: 76 hours, 5 minutes)
Total Distance: 3,331.9 miles (Tesla: 3,427 miles)
Driving Time: 52 hours, 41 minutes (Tesla: 60 hours, 8 minutes)
Average Driving Speed: 63.2 mph (Tesla: 57.0 mph)
Average Trip Speed: 49.5 mph (Tesla 45.0 mph)
Average Distance Covered in 24 hours: **1,187.3 miles
Supercharger Plug-In Time: 14 hours, 40 minutes (Tesla: 15 hours, 57 minutes)
Number of Supercharger Stops: 23
Average Supercharger Plug-in Time: 38.3 minutes
Number of Other Stops: 0
Average Consumption Rate: 317 Watt-hours/mile
Total Consumption: 1.06 Megawatt-hours
Total Fuel Cost: $0
Extra Distance and Time Due To Cannonball Start/End Instead of City Hall-to-City Hall: 21 miles, approximately 45 to 50 minutes.
And, lest we forget:
Total L.A.-N.Y.-L.A. Round Trip Time: **6 days, 23 hours, 4 minutes (less than a week!)
*L.A.-N.Y. World Record and Cannonball Record for an Electric Vehicle
**Possible EV World Record
These will most likely remain "unofficial" records as the Guinness paperwork is fairly exhaustive. Fingers crossed.