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Pole to pole in an electric car

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No range worries here – we speak to eco-adventurer Chris Ramsey about his and wife Julie’s epic upcoming trip. From the magnetic North Pole in the Arctic to the South Pole in Antarctica, the intrepid pair will cover some ferociously off-grid territory in a fully electric Nissan Ariya.  

 

Chris, this sounds like an incredible journey. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.   

I started out in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen. Around ten years ago, I was researching renewable energy and I came across an advert for a Nissan LEAF. The tech was in its infancy then, but I was intrigued. I borrowed one from a dealership and set out on a road trip. I set up a social media channel, Plug In Adventures, and shared the journey online. 

Because it was so new, people loved seeing an electric car in real-world situations. I drove to London then all three UK capital cities, and back. In those days, the infrastructure was nothing like it is now, so it wasn’t the easiest journey – but I was hooked.

I came back from the trip and told my wife Julie we were getting rid of our old car and buying a Nissan LEAF – and we still have it! It has the same battery and brake disks and pads, too. 

That was really the springboard for me becoming more eco-conscious. I became more and more frustrated and concerned with the oil and gas industry’s impact on the environment. I tried to change it from within but, after getting nowhere, I left. 

Now, I’m lucky enough to be able to follow my passion, sharing the important message of electric cars and sustainability. 

What was your next move?

We looked at every aspect of our life to make it more sustainable. We’re not perfect, of course, but eco-living is right at the heart of every decision we make. And we wanted to spread the word.

In 2017, Julie and I decided to take our LEAF on the Mongol Rally, becoming the first electric car ever to take part. We covered 10,000 miles from the UK across countries like Turkmenistan and Russia. And most of these countries had no charging infrastructure at all. 

We set off with a normal European two-pin charger and simply turned up to cafes, hotels and petrol stations and asked to plug in. I think we only got turned down twice, so we basically drove most of the rally on the kindness of strangers. 

Pole to Pole 

And now onto Pole to Pole – your most ambitious trip yet. 

Yes. Julie and I were brainstorming what to do next. We wondered what questions still need to be answered about driving electric. And some of that is range and the impact of climate on the battery – what happens when it’s really, really cold? I considered going around the world in an electric car, but when I checked it out it seemed too easy. There’s a decent charging infrastructure for most of it – which is a good thing.

But then I thought of pole to pole. No one has ever driven from pole to pole, even in a petrol or diesel car. This is a world first. 

I got in touch with Arctic Trucks, who are pioneers in Arctic expeditions, and they loved the idea. They were already looking at how they can start making electric part of their business. They’re going to be supporting us for the Arctic and Antarctica part of the journey. 

We share a goal with Nissan of increasing the take-up of electric cars, so we were really excited when Nissan agreed to be the official partner for our expedition. We’re going to be driving a modified Nissan Ariya, with another one travelling behind as a support vehicle. 

The adventure was on!

Talk us through the journey.

The plan is to set off in March 2023 from the Magnetic North Pole in the Arctic. We’ll then pass through North, Central and South America, before dropping into Antarctica in late November. 

The reason for the timings is that 70% of our route through the Arctic is on sea ice, and the road closes early to mid-April as it starts to melt. It’s the same road that you might have seen on the TV series Ice Road Truckers. So it’s fairly daunting! 

The car will be modified – mainly around bigger tyres and raising suspension. We also took a few things out to help reduce weight. The sea ice we’ll be driving on will only be around 30-40cm thick. We’ll be dropping our tyre pressure down to around 3-4 psi so they’re super soft and expand and displace the weight. It’s actually mimicking a polar bear travelling over ice. They spread their weight and kind of shimmy across it. 

All of this should reduce our chances of falling through the ice – and ensure we leave a minimal trace. We won’t be racing or causing any damage. 

Clearly for much of the journey, you’re not going to have access to charging stations – what’s the plan?

Charging in the polar regions is obviously a challenge. We’re currently working with several companies to develop new solutions for portable charging. It’ll most likely be a combination of wind and solar charging. 

No one’s ever done this before. We’re going to be in some of the windiest and coldest regions on the planet, so we don’t know how the charging equipment will cope. Will the wild winds sabotage our equipment? The temperature will be anything from 30 to -30 degrees, and with wind chill we’re looking at -50 or -60 degrees. So we don’t know how that will affect things. But I believe we’ll make it work.  

And what are your biggest concerns, aside from that?

Polar bears. They’re our biggest challenge and most serious risk. We’re in their home, and we’ll be camping. So it is a concern. Sorting out all the paperwork for 20-plus border crossings is also pretty tricky. 

The one thing I’m not worried about is the electric car. The car will manage. It’s great having Julie on board, too, as we both have different strengths – I’m very techy and she brings a good balance.

We’re going to be travelling for 100km a day, on average. And then we’ll have to charge the car. It’s not going to be an easy journey. 

What about the carbon impact of the expedition? 

That’s hugely important to us. For the whole expedition, we’ll be limiting as much carbon output as we can.

We’ll also offset our journey along the way. For example, we’ll be visiting reforestation projects and planting trees – we plan to offset at least four times the amount of carbon that we’ll use for the expedition. And those trees will continue year after year. 

A big part of your journey is about spreading the word, isn’t it?

Absolutely. We’re going to be sharing the journey on social media. And along the way we’ll be visiting NGOs, companies, schools and amazing individuals, doing simple and large-scale things to combat climate change. There’s such a lot of doom and gloom, but the solutions are out there. The challenge is our minds. As humans, we fight change. 
That’s why we’re bringing a film crew. We want to find out what’s going on and share a message of hope and inspiration. 
    

Chris Ramsey is an electric adventure pioneer from Aberdeen. He and wife Julie run Plug In Adventures, which was born from a combined passion for adventure and electric cars. Its aim is to engage with the public in unique and different ways, championing everything to do with electric cars.