Photos by Joel Gregory Hayes & Keegan Taccori, Courtesy RouteDelSol.com
In the world of unique camper builds, there is an almost infinite pool of inspiring vehicles out there. Trust me, I’ve done a lot of digging online and across social media, and I’m still surprised on an almost weekly basis by what I come across. A big part of that variety has to do with the individuals who upfit these vehicles: they all have a unique set of needs and sense of style, and this is reflected in their design choices.
One such rig that recently grabbed my attention is a 2010 Navistar E-star International owned by Joel Hayes. Joel, with the help of friends along the way, is driving this fully electric vehicle from Alaska to Argentina. But he’s not just stopping at charging stations along the way to get power. Joel’s van has a massive 8-kilowatt solar array that produces all of the power he needs to keep his vehicle rolling. So he’s charging as he goes.
Joel’s trip is more than just an adventure; it’s a demonstration of the viability of sustainable energy in a real-world application. His project is called Route del Sol, and Joel is already well on his way to South America.
Why Do It?
Driving a solar-powered vehicle thousands of miles across multiple continents is a huge undertaking for many reasons. But the importance of making this journey is much bigger than creating nice photos and videos or having a memorable experience. Joel and his team are using the trip as an opportunity to spread awareness about sustainable energy. They do this through a mix of one-on-one interactions, public speaking engagements, meetings with politicians, and through their social media accounts. They are even filming a documentary along the way called Surface Area which explores topics of energy, climate, culture, people, social disparity, and global consciousness.
While the documentary is still in progress, the Route del Sol YouTube channel has a lot of video content from their journey so far, including VLOG episodes that include a mix of everything from daily experiences and travel to more educational content. I found one video about their visit to a micro-hydro-electric power station in Alaska that powering 72 homes from little more than a stream especially interesting.
Challenges Along the Way
As with any ambitious project, Route del Sol has encountered challenges along the way, including police encounters, border crossings, the emergence of Covid-19, and most recently, a big problem with their solar array.
While driving south in Baja, a small oversight combined with windy conditions resulted in the articulating solar panel structure being ripped away from the vehicle roof. Unfortunately, the damage was catastrophic.
When this happened, it seemed like Joel’s journey was over, given the challenge of repairing the damaged solar array. But that was three months ago, and he has still been putting together content and publishing it on YouTube. Since the damage occurred, the Route Del Sol website has begun accepting donations to help with recovery and repair efforts. But beyond a handful of pictures and a link to donate, there is very little information regarding the journey.
Will they continue? Will they make it all the way to Argentina? You can be sure that we’ll continue following along, with hopes that Route Del Sol can get back on the road and make their ambitious dream a reality.
Learn more about the vehicle and the journey on the Route Del Sol website.