Tuesday, 17 June 2014

WAVE 2014 Afterword

It's been a long day and so waxing lyrical might be the trend for this entry. Generally I don't like waxing anything but since I feel comfortable with lyrical I shall give it my best shot without wounding anyone.
Sitting in a moving vehicle powered by the sun traveling the black ribbon of road unfolding before me as it slipped through the forest was something more then simply a drive. The trees we passed on this sojourn, the wisdom they hold is truly something to behold, to honor and respect. These beings have been here so much longer then we humans, they have withstood the passage of time on slippered feet quietly observing the changing seasons and the folly of humanity throughout the ages. Yet as I sail by on 4 wheels in an electric vehicle I feel an intense sensation of safety, of being protected and held in the embrace of the natural world. I feel as though the trees know I am but one small ally and their intention is to cover my back and gently push me forward to achieve the intended goal of saving their brothers and sisters in the Atlantic Rain Forest. There is no translation needed as the ambassadorial birds sing of natures plight and my understanding is complete of what they request of me.


WAVE 2014 DAY 6-7

The day started out fine with breakfast, coffee and orange juice. Following the usual procedure we loaded our suitcases, unplugged and hit the road. We were on our way to Interlaken, a beautiful day through beautiful scenery past open sided tunnels. Hidden under pages from the road map to block the sun from the face of the android pad I was reading the numbers, which meant the state of charge, current and voltage. Everything was going perfectly when suddenly the Tapir made itself known with an odd sound and we began losing speed. We pulled off the road beside a lake about 5km from Interlaken. The scene was a picture postcard of glistening blue water, coots swimming by and sailboats moored hither and hither in the water. The leaves on the nearby trees glowed in the sunlight, a few clouds rested in the blue sky. Gordon turned the ignition, the motor worked but we weren't moving, not even an inch. We clambered out and Gordon crawled under the buggy close to the rear tires. He was lying on his side and so only his bum and legs were sticking out from beneath the buggy. I looked around and across the road was a rock face with new plants growing from the rock. The sun beat down making that rock face visibly warm. As I turned to look at the lake and then to see what Gordon had been able to discover, I saw a duck couple, male and female, waddling towards us. The male seemed to lead and his mate followed about a foot behind him off to his left. As he waddled past me, he looked up, decided I was harmless and settled comfortably in the soft grass. The female decided to take a detour. Instead of following her mate she turned slightly to the left and headed straight for Gordon's bum! All I could think of doing at that moment was to think as strongly as possible to the duck, "I don't think this is the time or moment to bother Gordon right now. He's trying to figure out what has gone wrong!" Mrs. Duck stopped in her tracks and looked at me. She cocked her head to one side while giving me a look of, “oh, ok, no worries.” She then waddled back a few steps and settled down in the soft grass while keeping an eye on Gordon's bum and all was peaceful in her world. Mr. Duck, however, paying no attention at all to anything else, simply preened himself the entire time. 
Well, we needed help and it was just our luck that Roberto happened by. He is on one of the support teams. Unfortunately there was nothing he could do and so it was decided I would ride with him into Interlaken and help would be sent back to Gordon waiting with the Tapir. Long story short, it was the left rear wheel bearing and drive shaft connection that had given up the ghost, however Gordon managed to drive the Tapir into Interlaken, limping, followed by the WAVE support crew. The buggy was eventually towed to a local service station, checked again and diagnosed with the only therapy being it needed to be left there and picked up later with the truck and trailer and taken back to the U.K.
Later that day everyone arrived on Mt. Rigi where the prizes would be awarded and a fabulous meal would be served including a trio of Alpine Horns being played. I must say that the sound produced was exquisite and at the risk of sounding corny, was truly heavenly! 


As the prizes were being awarded Gordon arrived just in time in the electric support car to receive third prize overall shared with the Swiss TV crew. He also won for the best charging and Gordon and I were given our participation certificates. We had made it despite the trials and tribulations and the Tapirs’ motor and battery packs came through with flying colors!


Sunset as seen at Mount Rigi




WAVE 2014 DAY 5

Today was to be new tire day. After breakfast we loaded up the Tapir and headed off to look for the garage we had spotted the day before. We drove through one small town but the garage did not magically appear. However, in the next town it was exactly where it was supposed to be and we pulled in. Gordon explained the situation and showed them the problem where upon they told us to come back in an hour. Gordon replied, We are here on a special mission and there are 3000 people waiting for us! They said they would get on it immediately and they did. The two front tires were taken off and the new ones put on and we were road ready and champing at the proverbial bit.


Off we drove into the distance ahead of us. Things were going well but due to the tire exchange we were running late. The afternoon began and we made it to Broc, plugged in, ran to grab a sandwich from the catered lunch, nothing for a vegetarian, the first time on this WAVE, grabbed a banana and an apple, Gordon grabbed a sandwich and then 3 minutes later were told it was time to leave. PANIC!!!!! We needed to charge, we needed to eat something but we also didnt want any penalty points. So off we went in search of a plug and no penalty points. We stopped at a furniture-building place in an industry area and the guys there allowed us to plug in. The sun was absolutely brutal and we eventually left in search of a less heated place. A couple of hours later we stopped at a gardening center. Gordon spoke to a woman there who instructed us to drive around the back and there we would be able to plug in. We did as we were told and, sure enough, we could plug in and charge the phones as well. It was fantastic there, surrounded by plants, veggie plants, fruit trees and the Alps outside. They let us stay until they closed at 18:30 and we hit the road again. This was going to be an epic plug in day whether we liked it or not! We had been driving for quite awhile when it was again time to plug in and wound up at a refrigeration company. We had literally just driven up and climbed out of the buggy when a truck drove up and parked. A well-dressed woman got out and asked what we were doing and offered to help. Once we were plugged in she went to the nearby house and let out a young dog who ran around like a maniac. She needed to leave and told us that her father would be coming home soon and that he knew we were there and why and everything was ok. She drove off in a small car and 10 minutes later her father arrived. Jacques introduced himself and was very interested in the Tapir. He told us he had driven on a motorcycle to China and upon arrival they refused him entry. He was still intent upon making the complete trip.

The batteries were now charged and we could leave and so we piled in and off we went. We had been munching on fruit bars, rice crackers and cheese and honey throughout the day and we getting hungry for something more substantial. We arrived In Murten fairly late, had missed the dinner and needed to find a place to eat. Our stuff stowed in the youth hostel we wound up at a café where several other teams were enjoying a few beers and munchables. Bread pizzas were ordered and we swallowed them whole. The rest of the evening passed with much joking around and laughter and pretty soon we all headed back to the youth hostel and some much needed sleep.

WAVE 2014 DAY 4

Today we are going up the Furca Pass, at 2436 meters, the highest one in Switzerland. We were ready and began our drive. As we approached the beginning of the Furca Pass we happened to pass Urs on his electric bicycle. We tooted and waved and Urs waved back enthusiastically. In my eyes Urs would be the hero of the day. After all, it was the Furca Pass and to get over it on an electric bicycle was going to be no mean feat! Driving with the inimitable plug hunter himself I knew that should it be necessary to plug in somewhere he would find one without any trouble. We continued on and eventually reached a point where we needed to plug in and as expected the plug hunter hunteth and the plug hunter pluggeth! Lo and behold there was THE spot and we could stop and plug in for some battery juice insuring our safe and continued passage over the pass. Gordon climbed out of the Tapir, hauled out a cable, walked over to the steel hut on stilts, climbed the few steps and attempted to climb onto the thin railing in order to reach the targeted plug. This was not working too well for the railing wobbled dangerously. As Gordon climbed back down Urs appeared on his e-bicycle, got off and began to shove his bike behind the steel hut on stilts. Odd! Two minutes later a police car drove by, passed us all and continued upwards a short distance. They stepped out and proceeded to watch us all. Gordon asked Urs who has a wiry build that would enable him to perform such an acrobatic feat, if he might try climbing up to plug us in and so he did and succeeded. Once he climbed down he told us of his plight. All that we understood was that the police were not going to allow him to continue over the Furca Pass. I couldnt believe it since, as he told us this two cyclist came barreling down towards us from the opposite direction. What the frack was going on? I took a few photographs and when I turned around the police were there, talking to Urs and shooing us away. Ms. Cop came to me and said that if we needed help we could use the orange pillar like thing to call. This orange thing had a fence around it and so I replied that I had no idea that that thing was used to call for help and that we did not need any help we just needed to plug in, pure and simple. She showed me that it was open on one side and again I claimed innocence and she believed me. Mr. Cop, in the meantime, continued to talk to Urs who eventually called Louis in desperation. They were going to arrest him, as it turned, for stealing electricity. Pfffffffffff, how much might that have cost, 10 cents? Maybe and for that he was to be arrested? Insane!!!!! They were also upset that Urs had photographed them so in my urge to take more photos I made a point in asking if they minded if I took some shots. Since I had gotten Ms. Cop to laugh, I was free to do what I wanted. The police were now on the phone with Louis who was able to convince them that Urs was kosher and all was good. They finally let him go and on we all continued up the infamous Furca Pass.
We lost sight of Urs as we climbed and about halfway we stopped to take some pictures. The view was staggeringly beautiful. Some of the peaks were covered in snow while other baked brown in the sun. One view offered a rippling, almost like water frozen in time, stretch of mountaintops that shone blue in the sunlight. Clouds overhead moved in an almost deliberate manner until one cloud appeared that looked like an animal running headlong, leaning into a turn, as it raced across the sky. I was witness to the Glaciator desperately trying to keep those peaks covered in snow, battling against the change in climate that we humans had caused.



A few more pics were taken and we climbed back into the buggy and headed off for the top of the Furca Pass. Once we arrived we were met again by an astounding view and a group of soldiers having ice cream! They immediately glommed onto the Tapir asking questions and mumbling to each pointed at our front tires. There was quite a bit of hmmming and uh huhing when they announced that if we were to be stopped by the police and they happen to notice the condition of our front tires we would not be allowed to continue. You see, the front tires, suffering an orthopedic condition, were some what pigeon toed and stood more on the inside of the tire then just flat on the ground. Due to those facts the inside of both tires were now, basically, bald while the outside had serious tread. We thanked them for their advice, talked about their socks, which anyone who was at EMPA last year will understand and off we drove. The decision was made to get our hands on new front tires ASAP!


Upon arriving at our destination for the evening and night we were all treated to various presentations about the area and the state of glaciers today due to climate change. When the latter was finished the speaker asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand and asked if he had any hope that these glaciers could be restored. He basically evaded the question stating that hope means getting emotional and emotions did not concur with scientific findings and research. I retorted with the fact that to continue with only research would not work, that emotions are a part of the equation to get the job done and it was time we got our hands dirty, into the soil and make the much needed changes to slow climate change and eventually to stop it.


WAVE 2014 DAY 3

Another day begins; coffee and breakfast carry us into the dining room as we carry our luggage outside. The buggy is loaded, the batteries loaded and after breakfast we are loaded. The road greets us wishing us happy trails and off we go into the day. As I mentioned before the Tapir is a prototype and prototypes can offer unexpected surprises. We were driving the days a to b when the eventual switch to the other battery needed to be made. In order to do that we needed to stop, turn the engine off and then turn the big switch right behind between the seats. Gordon reached back, grabbed the switch but it wouldn't budge. After a few moments he attempted it again, no go. He turned the ignition, drove another couple of kilometers, stopped and tried again. The switch turned and off we went. Something still wasn't quite kosher. 


For some reason there was hardly any charge left at all and confusion insured wondering if we were switched to the top battery back or the bottom one. Regardless of what we thought we had to stop and do it quick before we just stopped in the middle of the road. Gordon turned the switch one direction and then the other and discovered the switch was switching too easily. We drove another 100 meters and stopped in front of a cafeteria coffee shop. The owner was not pleased when I asked if we might be able to plug into the socket outside and, no, we couldn't order any coffee or anything for that matter. He eventually allowed us to plug in while Gordon took the right side panel off to get to the tool kit. There were now a variety of things strewn along the side of the Tapir. Gordon took the switch off and discovered the inside had melted and other parts had simply vanished. Like a proper surgeon he performed a bypass and that solved the problem. It would take more time to switch from one pack to the other but we were now able to keep going! He wrapped it all in tape, the bypass, protecting from getting a shock and besides our hair was curly enough. 

WAVE 2014 DAY 2

The time had come to present the WAVE vehicles to schoolchildren in a few towns which meant, as far as I was concerned, party time! They are the best audiences ever thanks to their curiosity, honesty, warmth, good humor and their wonderful feeling about the natural world. Since every member of every team had received a toy pig in Hohenlohe, a breed that had almost been wiped out and was subsequently saved from total extinction, one of our piggies was also serving as the navigator, or at least as far as the kids were concerned. As we drove into the first town the sidewalks seemed to be covered by school kids, all waving, clapping, cheering and some waving flags. The pig, who shall be referred to as P.W. (Piggie Wiggie) came alive and wiggled and jiggeted about in utter ecstasy at seeing all the kids. And the kids cheered louder and waved more furiously while pointing at P.W. Once we had gone through the WAVE arrival arch we parked the Tapir, unzipped our doors and climbed out. At that very moment we were surrounded by a large group of kids varying age between 10-15 all completely captured by the Tapir. Their looks of surprise were priceless and they had many questions. I went off to grab a coffee and break my head deciding which delectable local pastry to choose. Charged with coffee for my own battery I strolled back outside and was immediately sour rounded by a small group of kids. They had all sorts of questions, not only about electric vehicles but also the environment and the connection between the two. These likes were on the ball, awake and aware. As I answered each question one would finish answering before I could finish. We were all on the same page and I congratulated them on this fact. I eventually asked them if they would like to see the Tapir and received a very enthusiastic answer. In true John Cleese style I said, "Follow me and walk as I walk!" So began the silliest small parade ever. Every jousting leg, outstretched arm was perfectly copied and all were laughing as we approached the Tapir. Their jaws dropped, their eyes blinked in surprise and they loved it! We visited more schools and saw many more kids that day all convinced that our fearless Piggie, P.W. was our faithful navigator.

It was time to charge, have a chat with other WAVErs and get moving again. This would mean, as it had meant on other days, that the numbers had to be read and those numbers were the State of Charge (SOC), current and voltage of the battery pack being used at that time. These numbers would give us an indication of battery use, how it was being used as well as achievable distance. All improved on a daily basis and Gordon's motor was working a charm and very willing and able to just drive forever. A real workhorse fed by the batteries, which extended our range daily. After all, let us remember that the Tapir is a prototype and as prototypes go this little buggy definitely can rock n roll!!!!