Stranded in a Tesla

The following story is true. And like most good stories, it comes with a lesson.

It started way back in the summer, when my wife and I were invited to a September wedding in Newry, Maine, near Sunday River ski area.

We not only decided to attend, we also decided it was an opportunity to go back to the University of Maine in Orono, a place I hadn’t seen since I left forty years ago.

Then we decided to extend the trip by adding Canada and upstate New York state as well, making a true nine-day road trip.

And of course we took the Tesla, even though venturing into some less-populated regions would make charging the car a bit challenging. After three years of ownership and 41,000 miles, I’m not afraid to push the envelope (given the support of thorough research).

Day One took us from Salem to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where we had lunch on campus at what I sarcastically call the Malcolm Gladwell cafeteria. Gladwell had recently written an article claiming that the food at Bowdoin was too good, and that Bowdoin should spend more of its money on financial aid to needy students. The food was indeed very good, but just as good was the rebuttal of Gladwell’s argument by my brother-in-law, who works in the College administration, and had hard data.

We charged the Tesla on campus during lunch. Free. Then headed north and charged briefly at the Supercharger in Augusta. Free.

Arriving at Orono, we had a tour of the campus from my niece, a recent graduate who now works at the university, and then a delicious dinner at Fiddlehead restaurant in Bangor—one of the best meals of the whole trip.

We charged the Tesla overnight at a Nissan dealership next to our hotel. Free. But the charger’s circuit breaker quit when it was half full, so Day Two saw us crossing the river to Brewer and topping off at the new Supercharger there while reading the morning newspaper. Free.

While there we met a man who had both a new Tesla and a new baby—which explains why his wife was sitting in the back seat.

And then we drove west to Sunday River, which has a series of Level 2 Tesla chargers. Free.

Found the Airbnb that we were sharing with eight friends.

Enjoyed the wedding on Day Three.

Here’s the bride and groom. It was chilly.

September wedding in MaineAnd Day Four saw us heading north into the wilds of northwestern Maine

Here’s a view of Lake Mooselookmeguntic.

Lake MooselookmegunticWe drove through Canadian customs at the remote Coburn Gore checkpoint (one lane—no waiting), and rolled into Lac Megantic for lunch.

Lac Megantic is notable for the 2013 accident when 74 freight cars, full of crude oil from North Dakota derailed in town, killing 47 people and obliterating scores of buildings.

We charged the Tesla at the MusiCafe during lunch. Free.

Charging the Tesla at the MusiCafe And then headed for Quebec City, where parking in our hotel’s underground garage was free for electric cars. The charging was free too.

Day Five we toured Quebec City.

Day Six we drove to Montreal, and enjoyed a fantastic lunch at restaurant Bouillon Bilk as we entered the city.

The underground garage in this hotel was not free, but charging was.

Day Seven we toured Montreal.

One highlight was the beautiful Notre Dame Basilique.

Notre Dame in MontrealOn Day Eight, when I entered the car, I was greeted with a message announcing that an over-the-air update was available. Updates tend to take an hour or so, and run automatically, just as for smartphones. So as usual, I told mine to begin at 1 AM the next morning.

Then we drove back into the U.S. through the border crossing at Blackpool (several lanes, less than 10 minutes wait), and stopped at the Plattsburgh, New York Supercharger (free again), before driving into the Adirondack Mountains to our friends’ house in Keene Valley, a remote and beautiful place we’ve visited many times.

I plugged the Tesla into the 110 volt current in their shed, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening together.

Day Nine was our day to head home to Salem, but when I opened the car door at 9:00 AM, all its displays were blank, save for a message that appeared very briefly that said the Tesla update had failed or was incomplete!

Such a thing had never happened before, but very quickly I realized that the cell phone service in the area was so bad (usually non-existent) that the update had not completed!

So, I walked back to the main house, got on the landline phone, called Tesla Service in California, and described my dilemma to a pleasant young man named David

He checked the car’s logs, confirmed my diagnosis, and spent a little time trying to wake the car up remotely, without success.

And then we started talking about alternatives.

They could send a technician with a laptop to complete the update, but availability was thin.

They could send a flatbed to take the car back to Montreal where there was a Tesla service center—a journey of 113 miles.

They could send a flatbed to take the car to the Albany service center where there was a Tesla service center—a journey of 120 miles.

Or they could send a flatbed to take the car to the Boston service center—a journey of 279 miles by the fastest route.

None of those alternatives were especially appealing to me, particularly because the flatbed driver could only take one passenger.

So finally, we decided that they would send a flatbed and it would drive the car toward Albany, hoping to pick up a cell signal along the way that would enable the update to complete.

At that point, which was about 10:30, I went back out to the car, to take some of my wife’s gear out, not knowing whether I’d be back later that day or not.

And lo and behold, the main screen lit up in full color, with a message saying “Update Complete.”

Apparently, the cell phone network, meager as it was, had finally completed the task.

So, I got back on the landline to David in California, told him that the update had succeeded and that he could cancel the flatbed, and that we were headed home.

He said he’d keep an eye on us, just in case, but the fact is, everything went smoothly from there on.

We stopped briefly on the way home at the Supercharger in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Free, of course.

And then we drove home.

So what was the lesson? That’s easy, never do another update unless I’m home in my own garage (where the wifi network makes it fast) or in a place where I’m very confident about the signal.


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