Sunday, August 2, 2015

Albany Trip I: Departure

EVT: Boston to New York on a single charge!

I just realized we never got to publish the blog posts outlining our trip to Albany, now over a year ago!  It was such a great trip and big moment in EVT history, I wanted to make sure that we at least had a post about it.  I tracked down our mile by mile notes that included a lot of great details over the course of the trip, and here's my four part, full narrative summarizing the team's final trike adventures!

Saturday, Aug 2, 2014
Day 1: Cambridge, MA to Florida, MA (130 miles)

The final week leading up to the big trip was spent making all of the necessary last minute preparations.  

We made sure to get extra safety gear, a bluetooth headset for the motorcycle helmet, and walkie talkies between the vehicles.  The van was packed with all the necessary spare parts and tools.

Joey and Hanna got the Xbee communication up and running so that the passengers in the chase car could wirelessly monitor the trike's battery pack.

Everyone went on a big team shopping trip the night before to get groceries for the weekend. John had to become the team dad and make the rest of us get our vegetables.  Joey stuck around for a couple of last minute tests and packing the van.  Jacob and Jarrod were up late reviewing the route one last time and preparing maps for each leg of the trip.

After a late night, we all ended up making it back over to N52, in one form or another...


John, Jacob, and Jarrod rounded up the vehicles the day before, with everything waiting in the garage.  The trip was only intended for one way, so we recruited Alban to come on the camping adventure with his pickup truck to haul the trike and trailer back to campus after we were finished.   Ten team members came on the trip, with the following driving arrangements: one person riding the trike, two people in the truck, and seven people in the passenger van.  The insurance for the rental agreement required the driver to be 21, so John and Michelle shared the driving responsibilities.  Alban drove his truck, and we rotated riding the trike in pre-planned 20 mile shifts.

The vehicles had been mostly loaded up the night before, and we put the remaining equipment in Alban's truck.  We prepared to roll out, with the trike waiting in the garage charged up and ready to go! 

The first day accounted for the bulk of the traveling, and we intended to cover 130 miles in order to reach the campground in Western, MA.  The driving was split in 20 mile shifts, with Roberto, Erich, John, Jarrod, Hanna, Joey, and Jacob going in order.

With a quick morning meeting, we discussed the itinerary and day's agenda that we put together the night before.  Jacob and Jarrod had traced the route on google earth and listed viable stopping points every 10 miles in addition to the 20 mile checkpoints.  Everyone got a packet of papers with the list of stopping points, maps and directions for their leg of the trip.  We also reviewed the Smith System for defensive driving and talked through the necessary safety precautions on the road.

Our sponsors Hugo from Beantown Tacqueria and Dave from Geoby also made an early appearance at the shop to see us off!

Not only had they shown support for the team throughout the trike project, but it was great to see them right before departing!  We were happy to have their logos prominently displayed on the trike cover!  

Slightly behind schedule, but still in great shape, we rolled away from N52 at 6AM with Roberto leading off on the trike.  

6:00, 0Ah - Roberto Leaves N52

We had put a lot of thought into organizing the pit crew in the van, hoping to keep everyone busy and engaged and to make sure that everything went smoothly along the way.  In addition to the van driver, one person was going to navigate and make sure we were on course, one person would be on their phone communicating with the trike rider, one person communicated with Alban in the truck via walkie talkie, the next rider in line would be studying the maps for their route to prep for their turn, and Jacob had his laptop to read the Xbee wireless transmission and monitor the battery pack live data.

It seemed like a good plan, but with the crew exhausted from the busy week and early morning, this was instead the resulting scene in the back of the trike...

It turned out to be a good thing, and everyone was well-rested in preparation for their driving shift, and the necessary jobs were covered.

6:50, 5Ah - A123 Facility

The first shift went as smooth as possible, with Roberto putting down a quick 10 miles to bring us to the A123 facility in Waltham.  A123 is one of our biggest sponsors and donated the battery pack used on the trip, originally used on the Isle of Man motorcycle in 2011.

Roberto tagged out, and Erich was in to take it the next 20 miles.  We took a quick break for breakfast, eating some awesome food that Jacob cooked for everyone!

Erich suited up, and we made sure to take a team picture in front of the A123 facility!

With that we were back on the road with Erich leading the way.  We encountered a bit of rain, but no major problems and a quick pit stop verified that the waterproofing was holding up fine.  He encountered a minor throttle problem midway, but resetting the controller resolved any issues.  Otherwise, Erich pushed West out onto increasingly rural country roads, and 30 miles were in the books.

8:26, 32.07 Miles, 18.4 Ah - Nashoba Regional HS 

Erich took the trike into Bolton, MA where John took over.  There was still a slight rain, but no major problems other than losing cell service in the rural towns, making communication to the trike helmet slightly more difficult.  

There were some problems with receiving the battery data, and Jacob resorted to just checking the battery data during the pit stops.

Otherwise, John's careful driving made for a smooth shift with no stopping, and the last of the rain passed during his shift.  Great weather remained for the remainder of the trip.

10:00, 53.11 Miles, 31.67 Ah - Princeton, MA
John pulled over into a small farm stand, and Jarrod was up next.  Everyone was up and out for a full pit stop, and we checked everything to make sure the trike was holding up over the opening legs of the trip. 

We had the pit stop checklist down from previous testing, and our schedule accounted for 5 minutes at each stop.  The gang usually took a bit more time to hang out and regroup but managed to stay roughly right on schedule.  The next driver would hop up, suit up with the helmet and gear, and sync their cell phone to the Bluetooth headset.  Someone would check the temperature on the motor, controller, and batteries.  We checked the battery data and recorded the energy consumption and time.  Someone checked the tires and tire pressure, and everyone else checked everything over looking for loose nuts and bolts.  

It was still early in the morning, but team morale remained high!  Alban, Roberto, and Alvaro held down the fort in the truck, blasting Reggaeton and giving the Tacoma the new name of Reggaetruck.  

10:45 chain derailed, 65 miles
Jarrod’s shift saw the first slight problems, but everything was fixed appropriately on the road.  Some roads turned out to be in unexpectedly poor shape, and increasingly hilly and pothole-ridden roads shook up the trike a good bit.

The chain ended up getting derailed, forcing a quick emergency pit stop.  Jacob made quick work of tensioning the chain, while the rest of the team had an opportunity to check and tighten up anything else that had managed to work loose.

We were back on the road in no time, with noticeably fewer cars on the road the further West we pushed onto smaller back roads.  Cruising along at 25mph turned out to be quite relaxing with no other cars on the road and the rest of the gang following along behind!  

11:32 tape mirrors

There was another quick stop, just to reset and fasten the components attached to the handlebars.  The phone holder, mirrors, and shifting levers had a way of rattling loose on some of the rougher roads.

Otherwise, the trike was holding up fine, handling stretches of gravel road with no problem.  Driving conditions couldn’t have been any better, a comfortable temperature, no more precipitation, and nearly no other traffic on the road.  Should there be any problems, fearless leader Roberto was always ready…

11:50, 72.15 miles, 42.26 Ah - Quabbin Reservoir
As we reached the 70 mile mark, Jarrod passed it off to Hanna in New Salem, by the Quabbin Reservoir.  

Aside a couple quick stops between the 50-70 mile marks, there were remarkably no other major issues considering that we hadn’t tested the trike under those conditions before.  The test run to Providence had only been about 70 miles and seemed like an exhausting day, but now we were just getting started.

After another quick pit stop and reviewing the map, we sent Hanna off and we were gone, just over halfway to the camp site.

We quickly found ourselves in an increasingly rural and scenic setting, surrounded by lakes and ponds.

The crew was keeping it together in the party van, and Joey was the designated sandwich maker for the day.  Having all the food in the van made it easy, and we were able to just keep pushing forward while eating on the road.

Hanna ended up running into a bit of a problem as we continued moving.  We ran into a series of unimproved dirt roads, and with no alternative routes, we had to see how the trike fared off of the asphalt.

Jacob and Jarrod had made sure to plan the route mile by mile, but somehow there had been no indication on Google earth that these roads were dirt.  In any case, there was no hope of reaching New York with the addition of any major detours, and we had to continue down the winding dirt roads.

12:45 push at dirt road
At a couple points the trike lost traction on the loose terrain, and Roberto and Jarrod had to hop out and give a push to keep Hanna going through the hills.

It was okay though, Roberto continued to save the day in the bright yellow suit...

1:30, 88.6 miles, 51.73 Ah - Lake Wyola, MA
Hanna managed to keep the trike under control through some incredibly rough roads, and brought us to a lake recreation area. 

Travel was a bit slower on the dirt roads, making for a long shift.  We all took a break to regroup at the lake, and checked over the trike to make sure that everything was still in good shape. 

At 90 miles in, it was great to see the waterproofing of the trailer holding up.  The fiberglass fairing on the Providence trip had let a mess of salt and sand sneak into the battery compartment, but the new and improved cage passed the Johnny quality test!

2:10, 97.58 miles, 54.95 Ah - Scenic Overlook, Sunderland, MA
Hanna continued, taking the trike near the 100 mile mark before passing it off to Big Joe in Sunderland, MA.

3:10, 114.1 miles, 66.71 Ah - Flat tire by farm, Ashfield, MA
Joey took the trike up to 115 miles with minimal problems!  His run was so smooth that there weren't even any stops along the way, and we regrettably don't have any pictures of him!
However, his run did end with a flat tire, but overall we were in great shape.  We were prepared with the necessary tools, and the sight of us fixing the tire attracted the attention of some new fans driving by!  We kindly declined their offer to race their truck with the trike...

We replaced the tire with plenty of time left in the day, and Jacob was up for the last round.

3:40 - Leave Farm, tire fixed

We were steering back into a more populated area as we approached Pittsfield, but the camp site was a mere 20 miles away!  Last up on the schedule was Jacob, who had been sitting all day and was itching to take a turn on the road.  Nicknamed ‘Crazy Jake’ after a series of stunts that included rolling the trike during testing in the parking garage earlier that summer, Jacob was ready to prove that he could bring us home and close out the long day’s journey!

4:22 - Savoy, MA

The team was still enthusiastic, although ready to reach the campground and finally get out of the car.  The repairs on the fly had gone as well as we could have planned, but everyone hoped to not need any more.  Exhaustion was beginning to set in as Roberto stared at the road.

5:11,135.3 miles, 79.97 Ah - Savoy Mountain State Forest, campground

Day 1: 58.2 Wh/mile
As the roads snaked through the mountains, Jacob brought the trike up to the camp site.  

After a number of full-time UROPS for the team and countless hours spent working on the trike, Jacob had put as much time as anybody else into the trike project.  As we were about to round off a successful first day of travel, we were happy to conclude part one by following Jacob to the Savoy Mountain Reserve.  A mere 50 miles from the final destination, we finally had time for some much needed resting and regrouping.

Full trip outline and details here

Albany Trip II: Camping

Saturday, Aug 2, 2014
Camping: Savoy Mountain State Forest
Florida, MA
As we reached the address of the campground, we realized that Jake’s work wasn’t quite done. A couple more miles needed to be traveled uphill on a dirt road leading into the camp site.  We hadn’t accounted on it, but Jacob made it up without any problems.

After checking in, we got the trike parked and covered at the campsite, and set up the tents for the night.  Roberto proved his stories of living in El Salvador, and showed everyone that he really could open up a coconut with a machete…

Fortunately there was still plenty of time to chill with the gang and hangout before nightfall.  The state park with the mountains and lake provided a great venue for spending a night away from the city.  We all went swimming, played football, and fishing with Alban.

We moved the bench seats out of the van and around the fire, with Eagle Scout Johnny keeping everything running smoothly around the camp fire.  With everyone focusing on the trike, we didn’t have many opportunities to just hang out earlier in the summer, and the camping turned out to be a great team bonding experience.

We cooked hot dogs and marshmallows, and then went for a midnight hike through the woods.

Everyone managed to survive the night, with Alban sleeping in his truck, John under his mosquito net, Jarrod and Joey sleeping in the van, and everyone else content to sleep in the tents.  

Except for Alvaro, who was deathly afraid of a bear finding him during the night, and slept curled up in the bed of the truck…

Then we were up and at it in the morning, with mountain man Alban cooking the bacon and oatmeal over the fire as we cleaned up the camp site.  

We prepped the trike for the voyage, and gave it another good inspection before taking it on the road.

After a few team pictures, we talked through the plans for the day, Jarrod gave a quick pep talk, and we were back on the road!  Only 50 miles away from Albany, we had high hopes of closing out our goals from the past two years!

Albany Trip III: Final Stretch

Sunday, Aug 3, 2015
Day 1: Florida, MA to Albany, NY (60 miles)

We were hoping that day 2 would be a piece of cake after the 130+ miles that we put down the day before.  The original itinerary put us in Albany around 2-3pm depending on traffic around the city, and with a 3 hour ride back to Cambridge, we could be back before sunset.  But with the wear that the trike sustained, the team was in for a much longer day.

10:05 - Jarrod leaves
Jarrod started off the day, planning to trade off in 10 mile shifts, hopefully concluding with Roberto bringing the trike into Albany.  We only needed 30 miles to take us across the state line, and a little over 50 to reach the Capitol. 

Successfully making it to Albany required navigating some of the steepest roads through the Berkshires, hopefully giving us valuable data on the regenerative braking, but undoubtedly posing some challenges.  The day almost ended early with Jarrod taking the trike down the steep dirt road leading out of the camp site.  Jacob did well bringing it up the hill, but it was tough going down without building up speed.  In swerving around a pothole, the trailer skidded out behind the trike and nearly dumped the vehicle into a ditch beside the road before Jarrod got it back under control.

10:55 - Loses regen down hill

Another tough moment came several miles later, when the regen controls temporarily stopped working.  Unfortunately, it occurred down a steep hill with no locations to stop and reset the controller.  After nearly a mile of steady descending with just the mechanical brakes holding back the trike and 300lb trailer, the drum brakes heated up enough that the trike wouldn’t stop at the bottom of the hill.  Swerving into the intersection, Jarrod couldn’t get the emergency brakes to work and luckily didn’t get hit by a car before turning it uphill and stopping.

11:15 - Stop, brakes overheating

It was all hands on deck to get the trike back up and running.  After a quick couple repairs and allowing the brakes time to cool, everything appeared to be ok.  The aggressive camber of the front wheels on the tadpole trike had led to visible wear on one side of the tire, so we also took the tires off to flip them around.

It wasn't quite the start we had wanted to the day, but a great team effort got the trike back on the road.  Two hours had passed with only a little over 10 miles traveled, but we were back on the road at noon.

12:00 - Go!

12:20, 149 miles, 86.89 Ah - Cheshire Elementary School

After about 12 miles through farm country, Jarrod passed the trike off to Hanna at the Cheshire Elementary School.  Brakes appeared to be once again fully functional and good to go.

12:25 - Kid driving electric police car!

We finally crossed paths with another electric vehicle! A young kid at the elementary school drove past us in an electric powerwheels police car.  He and his dad stopped to check out the trike for a few minutes, and we were able to make a few more fans!

We were behind schedule, but at least there was a view!  Back on the road, there was nothing but hills, trees, grass, and farms.  Still about 35 miles left to go.

12:46 - Power failure, contractors open

1:25 - Lanesborough, MA
Lunch, ice cream, debugging...

We had only been a bit behind schedule when we hit another major roadblock.  The controller kept losing power while Hanna was driving, and she had to keep resetting the controller.  After slowly creeping down the road, Hanna pulled over into an ice cream stand/country store to regroup.

We called a break for lunch there, and took a look at the wiring in the back.  Roberto and Joey traced the problem back to the main Kelly connector, and after cleaning it out the power appeared to stay on. 

On the bright side, we had a good chance to calm down and get some food.  There were enough curious bystanders that we got to do some outreach and tell them about the project!

There was still plenty of time left in the day, but the slow pace was still concerning considering the 30 miles we still needed to cover.  The problems kept coming too, as Hanna got back on the road but only was able to travel about a quarter mile before once again losing power to the trike.

2:41 - Berkshire Hills Adventist Church 
Re-crimp, check connectors...

We pulled over in a church parking lot to work through the problem and discuss our possible options.  Joey went to town checking and remaking the connectors, trying to diagnose the problem.  We found that a problem was being triggered in the battery management system as the pack was discharging.  With limited options, we decided to bypass the BMS and connect the pack directly to the controller, and we would continue moving forward.

Joey reconfigured the setup and established the correct connections over the contactors.  Slightly concerned with the reliability of the trike moving forward, we decided Roberto and Jarrod would finish out the ride from there.  Jarrod suited up for another quick shift and took it back out.

4:20 - Jarrod leaves church 
26 miles from Albany

The trike gradually became slightly slower, with several steep hills providing a struggle.

5:20 - 12v battery died 

5:25 -Cross border into NY state

6:10 - Roberto takes over at gravel yard

Roberto took the baton again, with 15 miles left to go.  We had assigned him the very first shift as well as the very last, partially because he undoubtedly deserved the honors, and partially because he had the most riding experience in urban traffic.  

6:26, 180.1 miles, 104.1Ah, 58Wh/mile
Reprogram controller, lower minimum voltage

Jacob had to reconfigure the controller settings with a lower minimum voltage cutoff so that we could keep moving, but even when the trike was properly functioning, progress was substantially slower.  With a combination of exhaustion and frustration at the prospect of turning around after coming so close, the gang turned to John, always calm and collected.  Hanna got the picture of him above, appropriately chilling in front of a Johnnycake Lane street sign.   

6:43 - Stop at Rite Aid
Jacob checked the controller settings again in the Rite Aid parking lot, with Roberto just a few miles outside of the city. Roberto had stopped because he was worried about a potential problem with the DC/DC converter, but everything appeared to be fine after a quick diagnosis.

7:26,187.9 miles, 106.3Ah - Last roadside stop
Roberto kept rolling, and was fully prepared to bring the trike in even if he had to pedal to drag the 300lb trailer himself! 

7:39 - Crossing pedestrian bridge

There was one last pedestrian bridge, and once crossing in the bike lane, Roberto had finally made it to the city.  We ran after him on the pedestrian bridge while Alban and John drove into the city, and we all finally made it to the New York State Capitol building.  

8:12 - Albany State House, pictures

As we made sure to get plenty of team pictures, we were as exhausted as we were happy to have finally made it there.  The event turned out to be a great going out celebration for former team leader Roberto, who finished graduate school two months earlier, and had been committed to the team throughout the trike project.   

John was a senior and had just graduated as well, and he had been the only active member involved with the old EVT team.  To commemorate his four years of involvement with the team, we pushed him the rest of the way up to the steps of the building.

Final Trip Statistics
  • 190.7 miles
  • 107.2Ah
  • 11.1kWh
  • 55.9 Wh/mile
  • 7.6% regen
  • 8.25Ah regen
  • 29.6 mi/hr max
  • 15.5 mph avg
  • 11hrs,53 min

As the sun was setting in New York, we packed the trike and trailer back up into Alban’s truck.  With a mere 3% of the energy left in the battery pack, it was time to take it all back home.  John and Alban drove us back to campus, with a celebratory team dinner along the way.  The trip certainly wasn’t a flawless run with the trike, and we had a lot left to process and consider in the ensuing team meetings.  But after everything we’d been through over the course of 2 years and 200 miles, it felt good to be able to say that we finally made it from Boston to New York on a single charge.