Charged For Adventure

Charged For Adventure

Photo by
Atli Freyr Steinsson

“Hey, Tesla, take me to the Westfjords.”

There are two types of people — those who love camping and those who don’t. Thinking about these polar opposites, I always recall a New Girl episode where Schmidt exclaims, “Camping?” to which Winston adds, “Like we’re animals?!” Somehow, I ended up in the first group. I absolutely love camping. 

There’s something weirdly calming about waking up on a half-deflated mat with drops of fresh dew falling on my forehead. Or eating food that I’d normally consider an effortless “meh” lunch, like pasta pesto always tastes better when cooked on a Primus in a slightly scorched pot. Or even forgetting about my skincare routine to the point where a splash of water on the face will do just fine. I love waking up to complete silence, not the din of construction that often serves as the soundtrack to my mornings in 101.

For someone who spends most of their time in the city, mostly stuck in a cramped space staring at a laptop, camping is one of my few chances to reconnect with nature. Call it meditation, if you will.

So, when Tesla offered up a car for my visit to the Skjaldborg Documentary Film Festival, I decided to take it to the extreme and test Tesla’s much-talked-about camping mode. “Do you want to sleep in the car?” my publisher asks, clearly puzzled.

With my travel partner on board and our car fully charged, we leave Reykjavík after work on Friday.

Photo by Atli Freyr Steinsson

We start with over 450 km of range displayed on the touchscreen and a 386 km drive to Patreksfjörður ahead, but things are not as smooth as they sound. The EV range depends greatly on the terrain, driving speed and other factors, so we know we’ll need to charge along the way. But first things first: food. If you’re hungry and plant-based in Borgarnes, here’s a pro tip — head to the Settlement Centre restaurant and try their chilli sin carne, a hearty meal for a fraction of the price of a dinner out in Reykjavík. 

60 kW, Staðarskáli

Travelling with an EV means having to think ahead. Do I really want to see another seal beach? Or can I wait for a toilet break until the gas station with an available charger?

Calculating in the head that we would need approximately 20% charge to use the camping mode, we make our way to the only Tesla Supercharger in the northwest region, located in Staðarskáli. Somehow, I had always assumed that a Supercharger meant the car would receive a mega boost of charge — plug it in and you’re ready to go. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work quite like that. The Supercharger, however, reduces charging time from four or five hours to just over 80 minutes. 

While we wait for the car to fill its “tank,” we browse through the features of the brand new Model Y. With a gas station soft serve in one hand, we find an option to turn the touchscreen into a fireplace, and no, it’s not as lame as those Windows screensavers. The feature activates hot air circulating around the in-car “fireplace” with flames flickering on screen and the sound of a crackling blaze on the soundsystem. There’s also Netflix, so you can binge on your favourite TV series while you wait for a full charge, plus a bunch of video games you can play using the car’s steering wheel. 

“In the breaks between sorting out the logistics of charging the vehicle, I remind myself that I’m here for the festival fun.”

Once charged, we continue our way westbound. With the thrill of navigating countless potholes along Route 60, I think, “Does this country really need a Ferris wheel?”

15,9 kW, Patreksfjörður

Wild camping is strictly forbidden in Iceland and while in theory, getting away with sleeping in the car in such a distant location sounds like a feasible feat, we opt for a legit option — the Patreksfjörður campsite, offering modest facilities limited to a kitchen and toilets. But first, we make a brief charging pit stop, ensuring we have sufficient battery power to comfortably spend the night inside the car.

When we arrive at the campsite around 1:00 a.m., exhausted from the trip, it’s one of those moments where you just want to sink into bed and fall asleep. But I won’t be seeing my bed for the next three nights and also, let’s not forget it’s May and we’re in Iceland — the midnight sun is shining. Confused whether it’s still sunset or already sunrise, I go to the Tesla’s settings and turn on the “camping” mode, a feature that keeps the car’s interior temperature at whatever level you set it, while regulating airflow and allowing you to use lights, charge devices and play music.

Once the setting is selected, a little tent appears on the screen. It takes us some time to figure out how to install the sun shades, but once we do — the car is converted into a cosy lodging for the night. With a giant inflated mattress, pillows and duvets from home, it’s nothing short of a glamping experience.

41,75 kW, Patreksfjörður

In the breaks between sorting out the logistics of charging the vehicle and downloading not one, but four different apps throughout the trip, I remind myself that I’m here for the festival fun.

Photo by Atli Freyr Steinsson

Skjaldborg is a breath of fresh air, metaphorically and literally — with the seasalt breeze caressing my face as I enjoy a pink sunset during one of many festival parties (all together with using this time to charge the car). It’s a gathering one could hardly expect in a place as remote as Patreksfjörður. A mismatched crowd of seasoned filmmakers — including close collaborators with no one other than Werner Herzog (sparking rumours of his potential visit) — plus amateurs just dipping their toes in the industry, close friends and complete strangers, young and old but all thirsty for a good documentary.

Whether laughing their asses off as they watch a film about one of Iceland’s few country singers or crying as the credits of a documentary about a deadly avalanche in Suðavík roll by, the audience is very involved. The films are discussed at length at afterparties, between screenings, and once the lights dim you can hear whispers alike, “Are you seeing the next one?” 

“Once charged, we continue our way westbound. With the thrill of navigating countless potholes along Route 60, I think, “Does this country really need a Ferris wheel?”

We enjoy all the benefits of being festival pass holders — including free entry to the local swimming pool. With no showers available at the campsite, our Tesla rolls by the Patreksfjörður pool every day. One day, we even manage to use the parking charger, while soaking in the 40-degree hot pool and overlooking the stunning fjord. It feels like the festival is everywhere — even the few pool visitors on a Sunday morning are fitting in a dip before the next screening.

Skjaldborg’s side events are another story. Seriously, name at least one other film festival in the world that offers a home-cooked meal, a limbo competition and a parade that the whole town participates in.

39 kW, Patreksfjörður

Opting out of one of Skjaldborg’s two fish parties, we take off on a more scenic adventure to a beach. Our destination, Rauðasandur, which literally means “red sand,” was recently recognised as one of the best beaches in the world by Lonely Planet. While the views take your breath away, getting to the beach is not for the faint-hearted. I catch my breath as our Tesla navigates the steep, winding road leading to the beach. Mother sheep and their newborn lambs occasionally jump onto the side of the road, making me marvel at how they manage to keep their balance.

Photo by Atli Freyr Steinsson

Stretching for over 20 kilometres, the coastal path lies between Rauðasandur and the birdwatching paradise of Látrabjarg. Despite its name, the beach doesn’t actually have any sand; its red hue comes from scallop shells.

“Waffles,” reads a sign on Franska kaffihúsið as we drive by. “Yes!” exclaims the moviegoer who sacrificed her lunch break for another film. But the café is closed, probably not opening until later in the season.

Despite the wind rocking the car slightly, Rauðasandur is peaceful. No other humans are to be seen, probably for a few kilometres, it’s just birds — forever hungry noisy seagulls and tiny oystercatchers that seem like they hatched just earlier this week. 

Photo by Atli Freyr Steinsson

I put on extra layers, arm myself with a film camera and a pair of binoculars, and step into nature. A beach walk in Rauðasandur is quite different from other beaches highlighted in the Lonely Planet guide. After just a few minutes, the wind makes being outside unbearable and despite summer officially arriving in Iceland a month ago, I regret forgetting my mittens in the car.

I look at what looks like an endless horizon, the birds gracefully defying the elements and dream of returning to this place when the air doesn’t feel like a freezer.

Kilometres driven: 898 km

Charges: 5

Car provided by: Tesla

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