The Rivian R1T Net-Zero Camping Trip (That Almost Wasn’t)

rivian r1t Full Overview

People buy EVs for all sorts of reasons—fuel costs being top of mind recently—but at least a few buy them to be friendlier to the environment. Without getting into whether mining or oil drilling is more destructive, the simple fact is, electric motors operate more efficiently than internal combustion engines and don’t produce exhaust fumes everywhere you go. With that in mind, we decided to take our long-term 2022 Rivian R1T for an all-electric, fossil-fuel-free camping trip in the mountains. It didn’t quite go to plan.

The Idea

My camping trip in the R1T should’ve been the ideal use case for someone who’s buying a lifestyle truck more than a work truck. Our campsite near Big Bear Lake, California, is 109 miles from my house in Inglewood. With an EPA-estimated 314 miles of range and only a 218-mile round trip, we should’ve had plenty of buffer. That’s good because Big Bear sits at 6,752 feet, and Inglewood is slightly above sea level. Climbing the mountain would certainly eat range, but we’d gain most of it back using regenerative braking on the way back down.

Even better, I’d recently installed solar panels on my roof and programmed the R1T to only charge during daylight hours on the days leading up to the trip, so the trip would be powered entirely by the sun. We even left the propane camp stove at home and planned a menu that either required no cooking or could be done over an open fire. (Our Rivian doesn’t have the optional camp kitchen, which would have drastically increased our cooking options.)

Just to be safe, we didn’t plan to do much if any driving once we arrived. The campground was right outside town, so we could walk in if we needed anything small. The only real concern was overnight temperatures. Even in late May, when LA is already steaming hot, Big Bear still drops into the low 30s overnight, and we’d be there four nights.

Here We Go

It started off well enough. Based on my recent driving habits and with a 100 percent charge, the truck showed 292 miles of range in its most efficient Conserve mode (which decouples the rear motors to save power and lowers the truck for better aerodynamics). A little more than an hour and 76 miles of freeway driving later, we reached the bottom of the mountain with 227 miles of range remaining, slightly beating the truck’s estimate. So far, so good.

Climbing the last 33 miles, as expected, did a number on our range. By the time we reached the campground, range was down to 153 miles, and the battery charge sat at 53 percent. I didn’t worry too much about it because I knew we’d be regenerating power most of the way down those 33 miles on the way back.

The Catch: Phantom Drain

My bigger worry was losing range overnight. We’ve noticed the R1T loses a couple miles of range overnight, even in warm weather. With such a big battery and a home EV charger, it hasn’t been a concern for me. But EVs lose more range in the cold, which bothered me. Daytime temperatures would be a pleasant 60 to 70 degrees during our trip, but 30-degree nights were a potential concern.

Sure enough, I woke up the first morning to see the truck’s range had fallen to 132 miles, and the battery was down to 45 percent. After night two, range had plummeted to 98 miles and the battery at 33 percent. Still, that was nearly enough to get home, especially after regenerating some power and range on the way down the mountain.

Night three put an end to that fantasy. Range was now 63 miles, and the battery sat at 21 percent, meaning our R1T had lost 90 miles of range and 32 percent of its charge basically just sitting there. We asked Rivian about this outsized battery drain, and in addition to cold temperatures, the company cited the need to keep certain computers in the truck powered and ready so the driver can get in and go immediately instead of waiting for everything to boot up. After this trip, an over-the-air software update we installed included new code Rivian says will reduce phantom power drain by 15 percent. This was done by better identifying exactly which computers need to stay powered at all times and which can go into a low-power mode without hurting the user experience, Rivian says. We’ll see how much it helps this winter.

That was of little help in Big Bear, though, where it was time to start looking up public charging stations, of which the area had exactly zero. There was a Level 2 public charger at a cafe 17 miles away in Running Springs, or I could pay the local tow company $150 an hour for the privilege of using their Level 2 charger. A real estate office had a Tesla Wall Connector, but I didn’t have an adapter that would allow me to use it (a problem since rectified, thanks to Lectron).

Solutions-Oriented

Then I spotted a glimmer of hope. A few of the innumerable short-term rental cabins in the area were equipped with a type of Level 2 home charger from AllyVolt that allows it to be rented out to the public for a fee via their app. Unfortunately, none appeared to be online when I downloaded the app.

Running out of ideas, I put out the call on MotorTrend‘s Slack channel. Road test analyst Alan Lau came through with EVmatch, an app that allows owners of Level 2 home chargers to share or rent their chargers to other users. There were a few in the area.

I wasn’t ready to give up, though. The R1T charges at about 13 miles per hour on my home charger, meaning it would take at least 3.5 hours to get the truck back up to 109 miles of range, and I knew I’d lose more range on my final night in town. Spending half the afternoon at some nice stranger’s charger wasn’t how I wanted to spend my last day camping.

That public Level 2 charger in Running Springs, though, was still in range and on the way home, so even if my battery was very low by the time we left town, we could head there and charge while we ate. We had no delusions about charging enough to get home at this point. The goal was to get enough juice to make it to a fast charger at the bottom of the mountain.

As expected, range fell again on night four. Checking the Rivian app when I awoke, I was greeted with 34 miles of range and just 12 percent battery left. By the time we got in the truck, it was down to 32 miles and 11 percent.

Time To Execute

We decided to make for Running Springs, and if all went well, we could skip the stop and coast down the hill to the faster charger at the bottom. We knew we could get to the cafe; it was only 17 miles away. In theory, we could even make it to the fast charger, which was 31 miles away.

There’s a catch, though. Big Bear Lake isn’t the highest point in the journey between there and my house. That would be Lakeview Point, which sits at 7,112 feet, 360 feet higher. Those first 10 miles out of town, driving with the climate control and stereo off, the windows rolled down slightly (but not too much), were nerve-wracking. We reached Lakeview Point with 23 miles of range left and the battery sitting at just 8 percent.

We made it. It was all downhill from there, literally. By the time we made the Level 2 charger in Running Springs, the battery was up to 9 percent, and range had increased to 26 miles even though we’d driven 7 miles down from the point. Even better, we had less than 15 all-downhill miles to go to the fast charger. We went for it.

Success

Fifteen miles of regenerative braking later, we rolled into a Walmart parking lot with 46 miles of range and the battery charged up to 16 percent. It was only a 50-kW charger, about as slow as DC fast chargers get (save some truly slow 26-kW stations), but it’s still at least five times faster than the best Level 2 charger.

If only I could get it to work. First, the charger refused to authorize my credit card. After entering my card data into the EVGo app, it fired up, only for the truck to shut it down over a software glitch. A half hour of messing with both netted us 4 miles of range and a 1 percent increase in battery charge.

A full vehicle reset on the truck (done by holding the leftmost steering wheel button and the emergency flasher button simultaneously for several seconds) fixed the glitch. The truck estimated a full charge would take two hours and 45 minutes, but we didn’t need a full charge. It was only 78 miles to my home charger.

Forty-two minutes later, slowed by running the truck’s AC at full blast while charging to combat the 95-degree outside temperature, we left with the battery at 41 percent and 123 miles of range. I added 45 miles of buffer mostly so I could continue to blast the AC while driving 80 mph all the way home, neither of which is great for efficiency.

With light traffic, it was an easy drive home, and we arrived with 46 miles of range and 30 percent battery left.

Mission … Accomplished?

Not only did we make it with only one unplanned charging stop, but my goal of using zero fossil fuels also remained intact. The fast charger had a sign announcing it was powered entirely by renewable energy, in this case from the enormous wind farm in the nearby San Gorgonio pass that utilizes near-constant winds to provide all of the electricity to this part of the county.

What’s more, my specific charging problem was solved less than a month later with the installation of Big Bear’s first public 50-kW DC fast charging station. A mile and a half from our campsite, we could’ve stopped on the way out of town and let the truck charge while we ate lunch. Or we could’ve dropped the truck off at the charger earlier in the trip and gone to eat or even walked back to the campground.

EV charging infrastructure is growing so fast now, especially with the passage of the federal infrastructure bill, it’s popping up all kinds of places that used to be charging deserts, making issues like mine a thing of the past. It’s reached the point that I’ve started telling people they don’t have range anxiety; they have charging anxiety, and the cure is coming soon.

Bottom line is, although this particular trip got stressful, there were viable solutions, and I made it out fine with a little on-the-spot planning. What’s more, this exact scenario no longer exists. Yes, EVs do still have some limitations compared to gas-powered vehicles, but they’re not hard to work around, and they’re shrinking every day.

For more on our long-term 2022 Rivian R1T …

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