Washington’s Cascade Loop is now an electrified scenic byway, and a trio of Nissan LEAFS are trying it out.
The electric cars pulled in to recharge at the electric vehicle charging stations at the Outlet Shoppes in Burlington on Tuesday. They had made it about halfway through their three-day journey on the 440-mile Cascade Loop in north-central Washington, which includes the North Cascades Highway and Highway 2, passing through mountain scenery, the Methow Valley, Leavenworth and other scenic spots.
The trip is intended to show electric cars can be used for long-distance travel, as well as to celebrate the growing number of charging stations along the Cascade Loop. There are about 60 chargers along the route.
Ron Engeldinger, one of three travel writers recruited to complete the drive, was the first to arrive in one of the three cars Nissan USA in Bellevue provided for the trip.
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“I’d never been in an electric car before (Monday). It’s great,” he said.
The other writers, Holly Smith-Peterson and Alison Highberger, had never driven an electric vehicle before either.
Project lead and Plug-In North Central Washington volunteer Jack Anderson brought up the rear as “chaperone” of the trip, following in his own electric Tesla Model S.
Before the group hit the road, the writers had “normal apprehension like, ’What would happen if I ran out of charge?’ “ Anderson said.
“Nobody has freaked out or anything,” he said.
Even when Smith-Peterson got dangerously close to “empty” she didn’t panic. She pulled over and asked a farmer in Twisp, in the Methow Valley, if she could plug in at their home.
“I just misjudged my distance. You have to very carefully watch your battery. It was a lot of uphill. I didn’t know the terrain, and I misjudged,” she said.
Smith-Peterson, 49, is a freelance writer based in Fox Island, near Tacoma.
Engeldinger, a 65-year-old freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, said he was enjoying the adventure, but could see why some people have anxiety about driving electric cars.
“If you’re a nervous person — there are some gauges in there that tell you how much charge you have — and if you’re going up a hill and those gauges start going down, you might get nervous,” he said.
The LEAF is advertised as having a range of about 80 miles. Engeldinger said he made it 62 miles from Newhalem, on the North Cascades Highway, to Burlington, Skagit County, on Tuesday on a full charge, arriving with 35 percent remaining.
The ’ electric vehicle tour was organized in collaboration with Plug-In North Central Washington, the Cascade Loop Association, Nissan and AAA Washington.
“This is the first time we’ve done this. We just got the last charging station in Newhalem, and we’re really the first electric scenic byway in the world,” Cascade Loop Association Executive Director Annette Pitts said.
The association is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the 440-mile Cascade Loop in collaboration with local chambers of commerce along the route.
The complete Cascade Loop was just recently “electrified” with about 60 chargers total thanks to Plug-In North Central Washington’s installation of two temporary chargers in Newhalem, Anderson said. Seattle City Light plans to install a permanent charging station there in December.
Plug-In North Central Washington is a subsidiary of the North Central Washington Economic Development District that operates as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, Anderson said. The goal of Plug-In is to foster the adoption of electric vehicles for transportation and agriculture, and promote tourism in Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties.
The Cascade Loop passes through those counties, as well as parts of Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Snohomish and King counties.
“You can do the whole Cascade Loop, and it’s beautiful,” Smith-Peterson said. “And it’s going to be a lot less expensive because you don’t have to do all the gas.”
The Seattle Times contributed to this report.