Lita Elbertson and Michael Fritts have spent the last few weeks driving across the country.
It may sound like the typical road trip that many retirees fantasize about, but this specific trip is rather ... electric.
The duo are apparently the first to attempt to drive across America in a vehicle using no gas. The car of choice is a Tesla, a high-performance electric car. Fritts’ unique vehicle could be spotted Thursday afternoon in Durango, where they spent the night.
“Colorado is the 39th state we’ve visited,” Fritts said.
Their 40th state was Utah, but they backtracked to Durango before continuing on to New Mexico the next morning.
While in Blanding, Utah, on Wednesday, Fritts took the vehicle off-roading, which led to getting stranded in the Utah desert, he said. Luckily, four men arrived to help push the car out. Before the ordeal was even over, a picture of the incident was apparently circulating social media. A 9-year-old boy there told Fritts and Elbertson he recognized the two from the photo on the Internet.
With only 10 more states to go, the pair has experienced several memorable moments during the journey that commenced Aug. 20 in Vermont.
“New Orleans was really awesome,” Elbertson said. “Utah and Colorado are really beautiful.”
Elbertson was particularly excited to visit old friends throughout the states. Also, the realization that she had been to eight different countries and only four states motivated her to explore the beauties within her own country. Instead of the typical RV experience, she’s cruising in style.
“It’s pretty comfortable,” she said. “It’s like a rocket ship.”
However, unlike a rocket ship, the electric car produces zero emissions and runs on electricity. The car doesn’t have an engine. The space where the engine would be serves as additional storage space.
The car does need to be charged fairly often. They are following a Supercharger network – a map that shows all the Tesla charging stations nationwide. The closest station to Durango is in Farmington.
The stations are similar to gas stations with four to eight stalls but are free of charge.
Also, the stations are generally in plazas with strip malls, restaurants and shops, Fritts said.
“We’re very disappointed there isn’t a Supercharger in Durango,” he said.
A 20-minute charge goes a long way – about 150 miles, Fritts said. After a full-night charge, the car can travel about 250 miles. When they’ve visited cities without charging stations, they have been able to charge the car in a friend’s garage. They typically use the 220-volt outlet in the garage that is used for washer and dryers, he said.
Durango isn’t completely falling behind on the conversion to being electric-car friendly. During downtown sidewalk repairs in spring 2013, the city installed conduits by West Eighth Street and Narrow Gauge Avenue to one day be able to install future charging stations.
Amber Blake, multi-modal administrator for the city of Durango, said the Durango Transit Center has six level-2 charging stations for electric cars.
Though they are in use, she’s never seen all six of them in use at the same time.
“I think the supply is meeting the demand. However, I don’t know how many electric vehicles are in Durango or La Plata County,” Blake said
She doesn’t believe that companies are making enough electric cars available for consumers to buy.
The charging stations have an hourly rate of $1.80, payable via a prepaid ChargePoint card, which is available at the Transit Center parking office, the ChargePoint smartphone app and a credit card, she said.
Europe has embraced the electric car more than the United States. For instance, Norway offers its citizens various tax breaks for the use of electric cars, according to the Business Insider.
According to the publication, about 32,000 electric cars are now on the road in the Nordic nation, giving it the highest rate per capita in the world. Trends indicate that the sale of electric cars will continue to escalate.
In March, the Tesla became the highest-selling electric car in Norway, the Business Insider said.
The U.S. also offers a tax break for electric vehicles made in 2010 or after.
Many believe that electric cars are the way of the future. There are about 50,000 Teslas on the road worldwide. One drawback is affordability. Teslas can range from $80,000 to $100,000. The hope is that these vehicles will one day be affordable to the middle class.
“The transition to electric transportation is inevitable,” Fritts said.
Fritts and Elbertson have stayed with friends, at hotels and at RV parks when they’ve needed to rest and recharge.
They expressed gratitude for their friends Scott Paul and Brigid Korce, who live in New York, for letting them use their Durango home.
Traveling across the nation in an energy-efficient vehicle is not only environmentally friendly, but fun, they said. The two plan to end their trip later this month in Seattle, then ship the car to Hawaii where Elbertson lives. Fritts is a friend of Elbertson’s family. He lives in New York until winter, then he retreats to Hawaii, he said.
“It’s American culture: the road trip,” Fritts said.