Randy Denmon (left), Dean Lewis (right) on shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatamala.
Driving Straight Off the Grid
By Bill Moore
Randy Denmon and Dean Lewis drove a Tesla Model S from McAllen, Texas to the Panama Canal in 2014 and by sheer luck, pluck and the odd angel of mercy, they survived to tell the tale, now out in hard cover. EV World's Bill Moore catches up with him the week after it's published.
I knew Randy Denmon was a civil engineer, often taking on projects for the oil and gas industry in and around his native Louisiana. He's also obviously an adventurer at heart, taking his Tesla Model S where, Star Trek-like, none has gone before: across the barren, crime-plagued deserts of northern Mexico, though the heart of the Toltec and Mayan empires, traversing Central American countries with unsavory reputations for corruption and murder; through dense, verdant jungles; pass steaming volcanoes to the Panama Canal.
What I didn't realize is that he's also a published novelist writing Western genre in the spirit of Zane Grey and Louis L'amour. So, churning out a page-turner on his and Dean Lewis' month-long drive through Mexico and Central America in a Tesla Model S now seems a forgone conclusion, though it took him three years to make it happen. In between, he drove the Model S to Alaska, completing at least the North American segment of the Pan-American Highway, though through much of Central America, calling it a "highway" is being charitable.
Reading "Off the Grid", you come to appreciate a lot of things about life in a "first world" country, where electricity is not only dependable and pretty readily available, but relatively standardized. While Mexico is certainly better than Honduras, the further southeast Denmon and Lewis drove, the more challenging the drive became in an all-electric car.
And then there's the border crossings!
When I first caught up with them during their 2014 drive, they'd just crossed into Honduras after, effectively, being legally robbed by corrupt border guards. While not every Central American country makes driving a motor vehicle across the border as pulse-quickening or hair-raising, none of them are easy, with the process lasting from a couple hours to all morning, eating up valuable daylight. Denmon decided early to only drive during the day, stopping late in the afternoon to find accommodations where they could plug in the car and charge it overnight. You don't want to be a gringo whose 21st century electric car has run out of juice at night on a lonely road in Central America!
In this Skype video interview, Denmon shares some of his experiences, but to get a real sense of what they encountered and what they feared -- two Americans disappeared on the same Mexican highway they had crossed just the week before -- you need to read the book.
Interestingly, during the intervening months since their journey, Tesla has installed a number of Supercharger stations across Mexico, so getting to Mexico City could be less challenging, but driving a shiny new Tesla worth $100,000 probably still isn't a good idea, amigos.
Originally published: 27 Apr 2017
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