TESLA ROADSTER ADVENTURES: THE STORM

I just arrived back from my latest adventure #ChargeToTheCircle, where we drove four different electric cars from the UK to Nordkapp and back. I’ve been talking a lot about all the amazing, beautiful, and fun parts of our journey, so I thought I’d share one of the more challenging moments…

It’s close to midnight and I’m driving from the North down to the Arctic Circle “border.” We’re on our way back from Nordkapp and by this point have spent close to a week in constant daylight. My internal body clock has been much more confused by this than I expected, not helped by the fact that we have been camping for more than two weeks and following a strange and unpredictable driving/charging/sleeping/eating routine with our four electric cars.

But, this particular evening is different. The ethereal Norwegian superfog has crawled over the mountains, creating the first dark night I have seen in days and the extreme temperatures of 30+ degrees we have been experiencing have snapped into humidity laced with a biting breeze.

A storm is coming.

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We’re on our way back from successfully making it to our goal: Nordkapp, the most Northern point in Europe, a cool 5,000km (one-way) with a few detours to visit interesting companies, Ocean Conservation NGO’s, pretty roads etc. included. The 30kW Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3 have gone ahead by about 60km, on a slightly different charging schedule than the Tesla Model S and me, in the Tesla Roadster.

Something has happened to the bluetooth connection on the Alpine stereo system in the Roadster, so I’m listening to euphoric trance on a tiny Skullcandy Shrapnel wireless speaker sat on the passenger seat, along with most of my daypack luggage and my running shoes. (You never know when the opportunity to go for a nice run might arise and trust me, long distance Roadster driving demands some exercise to keep your muscles in check.) The small boot is pretty full of every charging cable I could possibly need and the Type-2 adaptor can.

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The scenery around us has changed. The dense forests have disappeared in this stretch and there’s no fjord in sight, so naturally I am pining a little. Now, vast moors expand into menacing, snow-capped mountains. We have become very exposed on our little raised single-carriageway and when the storm hits us, everything changes rapidly.

I’m tailing 50 metres or so behind the Tesla Model S, giving myself lots of room to regularly adjust speed to get the best range out of the Roadster. It’s a car you can essentially one-pedal drive in the right situations and considering I have no fast-charging options with this car, I want to make every KM count.

To be honest, I can’t wait for a bit of rain at this point. Who would have thought that the Arctic Circle would give me the most sunburn I’ve ever had in my life? But when the rain comes, it brings the clingy superfog down with it. The rain is fat and heavy with no warning. Multiple tails of lightning strike the tips of the mountains. Visibility has dropped dramatically and the wind has begun to make huge, invisible swipes at the little Roadster from all directions.

Within 30 seconds, the sky has disintegrated and I’ve suddenly realised there’s an unfamiliar lump in my chest. It’s fear.

I’m not safe on this road anymore.

Besides, in this weather, my range is going to drop massively. I might as well take a break until the weather clears up. My eyes snap over to maps and I still have an hour and a half of driving until I reach the next check point. The speed limit over most of these Norwegian roads is only 80km/h, so despite not having that far to go, I know that unless conditions massively improve I won’t be able to make it.

The wind takes another swipe at me from the side and I’m gripping the steering wheel tightly in both hands, releasing my foot to decrease speed and think about what I am going to do. I need to pull off the road, but there’s nowhere to do so here. To the side of the road is a drop, with no hard shoulder. I have no option but to carry on in the middle of nowhere, until I find a lay-by or viewing point to stop in.

The Tesla Model S ahead is becoming more distant, the much bigger car inevitably coping a lot better in the inclement weather. At least the roads here at this time are basically empty, I think to myself, slowing even more. But as the red lights of the Model S tail off into the fog, the white lights of a truck rise up in my rear-view mirror behind me and I realise I’m in real trouble.

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The Roadster is a little sportscar. Firmest of firm suspension and very low to the ground. No power-steering either, which makes me very happy in regular circumstances. It’s an incredible piece of EV history and one of the most pleasurable cars to drive of all times.

What the Roadster is not, is particularly visible at night. In the rain. In a fog. During a storm.

So, I calmly hit my hazards, knowing I’m going a lot slower than the trucker will expect and move over as much as I can so they can overtake me, which they do, at quite a speed without bothering to turn off their full beams. Fantastic.

Not only is the wind trying to force me off the road, but whenever my tyres make contact with a repaired stripe of tarmac in the perfectly-kept road, I’m losing all grip, sliding sideways. The ground hasn’t seen water in a while here so it’s just instantly pooling and flooding on the roads. My knuckles are turning physically white and I’m keeping calm by focusing on the beat of the music, whilst not daring to blink for a second. The rain is getting even heavier and I’m starting to wonder at this point how much the soft-top can actually take. I’m calm because that’s the best state of mind to be in at this moment, but I’m also starting to run out of options other than crawl on blindly with my hazard lights on.

But relief does finally arrive in the form of an orange indicator looming from the Model S up front. They’ve seen my hazards and after 30 minutes of agonising driving, they’ve spotted a big lay-by and are pulling in. I carefully turn into it myself and turn the car off, releasing my hands from the wheel. My finger joints are physically aching!

The thunder chases me into the Model S to warm up and hear that our teammates in the Leaf and i3 have also stopped further ahead. The only thing we can do, is try to get some sleep in the car until the weather clears up, then continue to the next charging destination.

 

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The Roadster would not be anyone’s first choice of car to weather a (literal) Arctic Circle storm. It probably wouldn’t be in the top 1000 choices. But once I stop and the danger is over, I can visualise myself out there behind the wheel of my little Tesla steed in what is possibly one of the most desolate pieces of landscape we experienced in our entire journey, on that isolated road at midnight. It was one of those moments where the universe reminds you how small you are.

To any onlookers, I would have looked like a rowing boat in the middle of a rough sea.

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I suddenly remember one of the reasons why I am on this adventure. I remind myself that I am out here to push the boundaries of what people believe is possible in these cars, and that I am pushing myself to the limit too. The emotional bond I’ve formed with the Tesla Roadster seems to deepen in that moment… The car that has given me so many driving smiles along the way that I’ve lost count.

Even now, I can take myself back to the exact feeling in the tiny cabin, soft roof being beaten with rain and my little speaker blasting out synths over the thunder (for the record, the bluetooth is STILL not working even now) and I can feel myself smile with the memory.

Because adventures are built on the challenges and difficult times, not on the easy moments. And sometimes the most beautiful part of reaching a goal isn’t the goal itself, but the road, both physically and literally, you take to get there. Even if that road is stormy and covered in mysterious, snakelike Norwegian superfog from time to time.

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