Thursday, October 31, 2019


This post serves to memorialize our first electric car road trip, and the seven things we learned along the way. For that reason, it's mostly going to be about public electric car chargers... high excitement indeed.

We wanted to go to Squamish for the weekend to visit visiting friends, and also resident friends. It's not quite winter yet, the weather forecast looked good, and it's a 1000 km round trip which isn't exactly cheap to do in Big Stupid. So, we (mostly I) thought for reasons of economy, science, and adventure we should take StEVe the electric car.

I looked at Google map. I looked at Plugshare. I did some rudimentary arithmetic, and came to the conclusion we would need to charge the car somewhere after conquering the wilds of the Okanagan Connector, and again somewhere before we got to Vancouver. This seemed almost too simple, which of course it was.

Fast chargers everywhere - we are living in the future already
After a reasonably prompt start we wasted an appropriate amount of time getting stuck in traffic in Kelowna, doing Kelowna chores, and buying food... then we headed up The Connector and found the decent weather, rather like myself, had taken the afternoon off. 

Not quite the road conditions I was hoping for
Learning experience #1 was that driving through deep snow uses a lot of power. This is perhaps obvious, but there's not much you can do about it when there's deep snow to be driven through. Happily just after the summit there's a rest area at Loon Lake with some thoughtfully placed fast chargers - in the middle of nowhere.

Learning experience #2 was that not all fast chargers are as fast as you would expect. Whilst finding car chargers of any kind on a mountain pass in BC is a wondrous thing, we were later to see that Loon lake doesn't offer your fastest charging fast chargers... but at least we could make a snowman.

Learning experience #3 came on the descent from The Connector. Last winter I learned that regenerative breaking and snow aren't friends - lift your foot too fast and you lock up the front wheels, with the only way out of that situation being to step back on the "gas". Whilst that sounds thrilling, I'm not a fan, so I just turn off the re-gen in slippery conditions and use those old-fashioned brake things. Of course this means no battery charging on the downhill. Disappointment.

Some loons, charging their car at Loon Lake
...and this was before only 2 hours into the 11 hour trip west.
So off we went again. Unfortunately The Connector was only the first mountain pass of the afternoon as the joys of the Coquihalla (or indeed the "Highway Thru Hell") came next. Predictably, a thrilling mix of snow, rain, and general dankness was served up and StEVe's battery suffered the consequences. As unlikely of a place as Loon Lake seemed for car chargers, Britton Creek is even more so. Three gleaming actually-fast chargers in a row cranking out 50 kW, in the snow, surrounded by mountains and trees. How convenient.

Two chargers checked off, we stopped in Hope for a much needed coffee break and plugged the car into the thoughtfully placed charger on the street where the Blue Moose is. At some point on this trip I had the thought that keeping our Jetboil stove in the car for these trips would make coffee preparation while charging a thing in those wilderness rest-stops. That thought may have come on the way home, but for the sake of storytelling continuity let's pretend I had it while drinking coffee and charging the car.

At this point, with the perils of the mountains behind us, our charging and driving plan was complicated by news of over an hour delay on the highway heading into Vancouver. Rigorous Googling revealed we could divert into Langley and charge the car at either a Harley Davidson dealership on a BMW dealership. This all seemed rather unlikely, but we chose to vorsprung durch technik and visit BMW. That decision appeared to have been a good one, until the charger stopped working and told us to go away. We had planned to stop for groceries at a shop with a charger in the parking lot anyway, so undaunted we continued. 

Learning experience #4 came in the form of the realization that "fast" is a relative term. The Superstore "fast" charger did at least have the decency to have a sign on it apologizing for it being so slow. Having bought some bananas (probably containing more energy than what the charger managed to add to our battery) among other grocery items, we headed for Horseshoe Bay in search of a charger that could help us get to Squamish. 

To cut the rest of this part of the tale short, we made it to Squamish, having stopped to charge the car no less than six times... though only successfully doing any charging at four of them. Given the experimental and rather ambitious nature of our journey of 500 km over two mountain passes, in the snow, with four people*, five bikes*, and a huge roof-box, that didn't seem all that bad. At least we didn't get towed.

*Some small people and small-people bikes included

We had an excellent weekend and over Saturday night charged our car the way nature intended... in a driveway, while we drank beer inside with friends. In contrast, according to the internet, "plug rage" is now a thing and people don't like to charge their cars at home, or their friend's houses. Learning experience #5 was the confirmation (via true facts) that using public chargers is only a thing to do when you're on the way somewhere and stopping there when you don't need to is just silly. 

Squamish Electric Road Trip

Before long, Sunday afternoon appeared and in setting off home we had a few things going for us. Better weather, a better idea of what we were getting ourselves into, and calculations courtesy of the incredible ABetterRoutePlanner, (learning experience #6) which told us to do this:

Passing through Abbotsford, things were going incredibly well... so we decided to ignore the route planner calculations and hope we could make it to, you guessed it, Hope. Coasting into Hope with all the low battery warnings flashing (familiar to us from our arrival at Britton Creek on Friday), we plugged StEVe into his feeding hose and went to the playgound, and then the Blue Moose. Probably our slickest charging performance so far.

Next stop was Britton Creek, and from there we (I) thought we could make it all the way to Kelowna, pick up a little more charge and then home. Then "range anxiety" got the better of me and I imagined being stuck on The Connector in the cold and dark, with only hungry bears for company. So... we stopped at Loon Lake for 15 mins extra power. This turned out to be completely unnecessary (learning experience #7) since the enormous downhill into Kelowna gave us back around 50 km of range - which was sadly not quite enough to get us home. Sigh. So we made another 15 min stop at our first paid charger of the trip. This is where the $3.68 cost of our journey was incurred, and I'm sure will become the norm for public fast charging. After all, nothing worth having comes for free.

Final conclusions from our experiment were that even in the cold, with a lot of stuff, big mountains, and completely compromised aerodynamics - Vernon to Vancouver can be done with two 45 minute stops and a 15 minute one. One of these stops (Hope) has a playground and a coffee shop, and another (Britton Creek) would be nice for a picnic if it wasn't freezing. All in all, I see potential for electric road-tripping, just not in the snow.

Monday, October 21, 2019


To finish my most prolific blogging spree since January 2016 (perhaps not in word count, but number of posts must count for something), here are pictures from Aiste's second birthday celebrations:

Aiste's second birthday


Yesterday we took our annual spin along the Myra Canyon trestles. This year 's fresh new features included: Some dirt-road testing of the electric car, the arrival of winter when we were at the furthest point out, and the opportunity for me to ride Vapor Trail back down the hill at the end of the day.

Now that Tav can pedal a bike, we have an inconvenient speed difference between Aiste and everyone else, though I'm sure that situation will resolve itself over the next year or two.
  Myra Canyon 2019

Facilitation of carrying bikes on the electric car involved putting  bike rack on the back of it. I had some help...

Helpful helpers, helping.

Friday, October 18, 2019


In the aftermath of Aiste's 2nd birthday party, which I think we'll be discovering the debris of for months to come... here's something about my birthday and me in general.

Back before I spent most of my time distracted by two small (but rapidly growing) reproductions of myself and Lina... I mostly spent most of my time distracted by bikes. To be honest, I do still spend quite a lot of time distracted by bikes. So, in my 42nd year of life I was amused to find out I was ranked 42 in our district in my BMX racing class.  The fact I have a BMX race ranking for the first time at the age of 42 is perhaps even more amusing in itself, but let's not get into that.

It's like "Where's Waldo", but not so much fun
Since bikes are so important, I decided to attempt to keep myself relevant this year and sell one of my "old" bikes and buy a new one. After a great deal of time wasted on the internet investigating fashion-bikes, I essentially bought the new version of what I had before. This one was made by someone in Taiwan instead of Chris Dekerf in Richmond, and whilst I will never know the name of the person in Taiwan who put this frame together, I can say that they did it very nicely - thank you whoever you are. Over Thanksgiving, Jacek commented that this bicycle looks very long at the front and very short at the back. I think that pretty much sums up everything important about it, other than that it's yellow.

A yellow bike. It's like an orange bike, but more zesty.
My actual 42nd anniversary of life happened on Amami Island (refer to previous blog post), and notably involved catching the best wave I caught of the trip, on a deserted beach, at sunset. So that was good. It also involved a party at some kind of holiday camp with an alarmingly steep driveway. It was all quite unexpected and excellent.

Pesky kid getting in on my birthday action

I was told that's my name... but I should probably confirm that.
I'm no numerologist... but when I showed up to my first cyclocross race of the season, can you imagine what I would not have expected my (randomly-assigned) race number to be? Yes, it was 42. Clearly, evidence of a mystical alignment of forces beyond our comprehension (probably mice).

Not evidence since you can't seem my number, but you can see that I enjoyed this pile of sand.
In summary, I'm 42, my race number is 42, and perhaps it's all to do with mice. I have a couple of 'cross races left this year, and I'm going to ask if they have 42 left in the box... just in case.

Japan Part 3: Amami Island

The Amami islands are something I had not heard of, and judging by the lack of other people visiting there I'd say I'm not alone in that. However, if you imagine Hawaii but with Japanese culture you'd be close (at least superficially). The reason we ended up there is hard to explain, so I just won't.

However, I will explain that we hung out and ate excellent Italian (yes, really) food at the Paradise Inn and stayed at the wonderful, and inexplicably named Villa Funny. If you ever have a hankering to visit a place with deserted beaches, goat milk ice cream, and a small but eclectic selection of tourist attractions you could do well on Amami.

Someone's been paying attention...

Mangroves in Japan. Japangroves?

An overcrowded beach on Amami

Strange fruit

Tropical goats

Another one of those beaches, over-run with a tourist.

Paddling home

The deck at Villa funny. Not particularly funny, but very nice indeed.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Japan Part 2: Tokyo (twice)

Due to our travel arrangements, we visited Tokyo twice. The second time around we actually visited Narita, which is where the other "Tokyo" airport is. It's nowhere near Tokyo... but since we'd already been there that worked out.

Bright lights and a big city were what I was expecting, and we certainly found those things in actual Tokyo:

Country folk looking at tall buildings

Perhaps exactly the sort of thing you should expect to see in Tokyo

The real reason I wanted to visit the Tokyo tower

Shinbashi station - not the set of Bladerunner, but could have been, and the only place I've ever seen a bar with no chairs or tables and a capacity of about 8 people. When you have 30 of them on the same street I guess that works just fine. 
It does turn out though that there's plenty in Tokyo that's not illuminated, crowded, or tall and made of concrete:

Adventure tree in the imperial palace gardens

Steps up to Zojoji temple

Zojoji temple

Some tourists at Odaiba Oedo Onsen Monogatari
Somewhere among all of this we managed to end up getting the train home during rush-hour with two sleeping children in the stroller. Whilst I can't pretend that was a calming experience, I can't imagine anywhere in the world it would have gone better than in Japan. The level of tolerance for foreigners doing nonsensical things was pretty incredible.

Then there was our visit not-really-Tokyo on the way back from Amami island. This only happened as we needed to fly back from the island on one day and not leave for home until the next, but it turned out to be a fun day none the less.

Something to aspire to next time I paint the ceiling

Not a bad way to wait for your flight home

Japanese shopping malls - superior facilities to Vernon (no surprise there)
In the third and final installment we will re-visit the week we spent on Amami Island, which was entirely unlike Osaka or Tokyo.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Japan Part 1: Osaka

We went to Japan for two weeks. This was precipitated by a paddle board race in Osaka, but all going together and seeing some Japanese things seemed like a good idea - so that's what we planned. In no particular order, my objectives for our visit were:
  • To eat interesting things
  • To find a beer vending machine
  • To find other strange vending machines
  • To experience extreme claustrophobia on public transport
  • To take photographs of nonsensical (to me) signs
  • To go to an onsen
  • To bring home some strange Japanese things
  • Perhaps most of all, to be confused and excited by things I don't understand
I'm please to report that all but one objective was achieved to my satisfaction. And so the story begins (after the being kept awake by Aiste on an aeroplane for ten hours part was over) in Osaka...

It turns out that in contrast to other counties I've been to where I'm unable to read anything or say anything beyond "hello", "thank you", and "I don't understand", Japan is very easy to get around. This is largely because Google map will tell you how to get around, Google translate will allow you to read things (with often hilarious results), and you can get a Japanese SIM card for your phone at the airport for a reasonable price to make all that work. I guess without Google we'd all just have to go back to gesticulating wildly and then getting lost and confused... those were the days. You can also get a card that allows you on pretty much every form of public transport without needing to understand the ticket machines. As if all of that wasn't convenient enough, it turned out this was just a taste of the bounty of convenience that Japan offers.

The internet told me that Osaka was a more jovial place than up-tight Tokyo, but having never been to any Japanese city I had no idea what that might really be like. I did notice plenty of people jovially riding their bikes the wrong way on the bike path and on the pedestrian only sidewalk. Osaka is definitely the place to go if you want to witness expert handling of folding e-bikes with various child carriers and umbrella holders attached. I almost considered buying one so I could join in.

SUP racing absorbed our first few days, which for the first time was in a place where I could actually see some of what happened. All the races were based around an island in the Tosahori River, which meant Tav, Aiste and I could get around and catch the race at various points. To make a long story short, Lina got bronze in the sprint races and got a really nice stained glass medal... which becomes more significant later in this tale.

Trolls on the bridge

Sprint race action

Podium crasher (not Lina)

Someone's children making a spectacle of themselves

Someone's children making a spectacle of themselves again

There was also time in Osaka for some wandering and noodle-eating among the SUP paddling. I did  achieve the dream of finding a beer vending machine on the street... though it wasn't beer o'clock yet so I simply admired the convenience it could have afforded me, and forgot to take a photograph of it.

Other notable (to me) sights were some splendid examples of impractical fixed-gear bicycles, a very fierce looking Toyota Prius, and a playground that featured a concrete crater that you could slide down the inside of after scaling the back of it with the help of some chains.

Dotonbori river fashions


Hipster bicycles are international
One mean looking Prius

Osaka Castle

Tav about to drop into the moon-crater slide
With plenty of objectives left on the list, our next stop was to be Tokyo for a couple of days on our way to Amami island.

Here are some more photos that I didn't put in the last post on here:

Japan 2019 leftovers

And here's a premature look at how I did achieving my "funny signs" objective:

Japan 2019 funnies