To carry on where yesterday’s blog post finished, the team left Tennant Creek with only thirty minutes left to race. As the team was preparing to leave the control stop, the Philippine team’s batteries caught on fire. By the time our team members saw what was happening they had already smothered the batteries with sand (fortunately, their top shell was off), but the lithium ion batteries continued to burn. The officials cleared the area without any injuries. Our caravan left without seeing the end result, but we hope the Philippine team will be okay.
At 4:56, CalSol ended up at a dirt pullout along the side of the road about 25km out of Tennant Creek. Although right next to the road and bordered by burnt trees and termite mounds, our campsite had enough flat ground for the team to camp and ample space for all our vehicles. Now used to the daily routine of setting up camp, our team had Impulse’s shell off and angled towards the sun in no time, and soon after, all are tents were up and we were eating hummus and crackers by the R.V..
Pam and Jim Cartland prepared us another wonderful meal: ramen coleslaw with almonds, rice and lamb curry, and for dessert some delicious fruity casserole (Yummy!). Some of us are probably eating better food in the middle of the Outback then we did back in Berkeley! With such a scrumptious meal in our tummies, not even the passing road trains could wake us up when we went to bed.
Morning started earlier, as we had to beat the sun up to get our shell in position by the time she peeked her head above the horizon. By 7:30, everyone had packed, eaten, prepared their lunch, and run through their race checklists. We used our free time to adapt a classic Cal football cheer (First and ten do it again!) to make clear our intent to make it to the next checkpoint within 5 hours; “First and five, let’s go drive, Go Bears!”. Soon 8:00 rolled around and we took to the road. The R.V. returned to Tennant Springs to pick up needed supplies while the rest of the team turned South towards Ti Tree, the control stop of the day.
Early on, we realized that Mother Nature was conspiring against us. With patchy clouds and an ever present haze due to residual ash left from the brush fire of the previous day, she tried to screw up our plans of reaching Alice Springs under solar power alone. Fortunately, we had a full battery pack thanks to our four hour layover in Tennant Creek yesterday so we decided to risk it and drive fast. The drive down was relatively uneventful. Recon stopped off along the way to take photos of Impulse as she passed noticeable landmarks, like the Devil’s Marbles and a small hill (yes in the Outback this counts as a landmark). Jessica started off driving Impulse in the morning. About two and a half hours down the road, Nicole switched in, taking just a few minutes to completely change drivers. She took Impulse into Ti Tree at about a half hour past noon, despite nearly being run off the road by half a house loaded on the back of a road train and almost slowing down to let a billowing dust devil stroll across the road.
The sky steadily worsened as we headed south. Even though we eventually escaped most of the haze, frequent cloud cover did not help charge our steadily discharging batteries. With the batteries draining faster than expected, our ambitious goal of making it to Alice Spring was steadily becoming less and less of a possibility. The final stroke was dealt when we noticed a single battery module draining faster than the rest, falling dangerously close to being fully discharged. In the case of Lithium Ion batteries, a very low voltage can cause catastrophes to happen. Although we were only 45km out, the team decided for safety’s sake we should trailer the car forward. Due to some miscommunications between Recon and the Caravan caused by poor radio reception within Alice Springs, the team had quite an adventure finding a place to camp for the night. In the end, it was decided that it would be best to camp on the side of the road out of town and roll downhill into Alice Springs in the morning. We ended up on the side of dirt road leading to an airfield.
Although cranky and upset about coming so close to Alice, the team quickly got about trying to solve our battery issues. While the electrical team worked late into the night, the rest of us went to bed with the plan of waking up early, trailering to a location with better light and coasting down to the control stop in Alice in the morning. It was a rough day for all but in the end we covered more solar kilometers and had a higher average speed than any other day in the race, which is something to be proud of.