Route del Sol: A journey fueled by renewability


Tatum Luoma and Sam Hicks

Environmental advocate Joel Hayes is mid-way through his mission to drive a completely solar powered van from the Arctic Circle to Argentina

On the night of Nov 6, Joel Hayes was found in a dimly lit parking lot off of Santa Clara Street. Circled around him were Ventura locals, asking questions about the massive, solar powered van he stood in front of. Hayes, a native to Australia, is on a mission to drive a completely solar-powered vehicle from the Arctic Circle to the base of Argentina dubbed the “Route del Sol.”

The motivation behind Hayes’ journey is to raise awareness about climate change and bring people together around the common interest of environmentalism. 

“I studied climate change adaptation at University and I guess, well, I spent a lot of time in nature and traveling and all that sort of stuff, and I just realized that what I was doing for the

The Route del Sol van has a battery storage capacity of 120 kwh (kilowatt hours). With correct angling towards the sun, the van can get 50 kwh of energy per day. Photo by: Tatum Luoma

planet wasn’t as much as I could be doing. So my motivation is sort of based around environmentalism, ecology, but also humans. I really like people and I don’t want them to go through pain and struggle and I think that’s what is going to happen in the future if we don’t do anything about climate change,” said Hayes.

Hayes’ van is retrofitted a 7.9 kilowatt solar array which with proper angle adjustment towards the sun can get 50 kilowatts per hour of energy a day. Combined with a 120 kwh charge

capacity, the van’s battery storage tops even the best commercially available electric car, the Tesla Model S, which has a total charging capacity of 90 kwh. The differences being that the vans 50 mph top speed  pales in comparison to the Tesla top speed of 155 mph.

“This has got more energy storage, but the difference is that those are sedans that can sometimes go up to 400 miles [on one charge], whereas I’m in this fridge that catches a lot of wind resistance,” commented Hayes, “The drag coefficient is super high on this vehicle. With my 120 kwh I don’t get nearly as much range as a Tesla.”

Hayes began his journey in the small Alaskan town of Coldfoot in August of 2018, stopping in the Pacific Northwest for about three and a half months during the winter.

“[I] started up again in the spring and we have crossed the border since then,” Hayes stated with excitement, “So I’d say we’ve been traveling like ten or eleven months now.”

He continued, explaining that “it’s really hard to say how much longer it’s going to take, but it’s going to take as long as it takes. A good figure from here is probably a year or another year and a half to get to Argentina.”

When asked about Route del Sol, senior Nathan Johnston commented that, “I think what [Hayes] is doing is really cool. I actually haven’t heard of this before,” he continued, “but I hope that Hayes is successful in his journey and that he makes an impact.”  

Throughout his solar powered journey, Hayes stops at random locations to charge his vehicle and see what that area has to offer. For Hayes, not knowing who he will meet or what he will find is part of the beauty of his trip.

“Sometimes I stop because I’m just purely interested in what’s going on and I just want to check out that feature or that group or that person or whatever. Sometimes its specific, but most of the time I end up in a place that I have no idea [about], no idea who lives there or what is there and I love that, it’s amazing,” he added.

When asked about the challenges of living in a van for months on end, Hayes explained that other than hygiene (finding places to regularly shower), life in a van has treated him well.

“I don’t mind not showering, especially in this sort of weather. Being comfortable with hygiene is a huge thing for sure, I like being clean, but I just jump in the ocean. Most beaches have an outdoor shower, and if not, I don’t mind being salty.”

“I was just parked at the beach in Summerland and someone came past and was like ‘You want to come and have a shower at my house?’ and I was like “No I’m fine!’ That’s the kind of hospitality I experience purely because of the vehicle that I’m driving and the message that it’s bringing to the world,” commented Hayes when asked about the people he has met on his journey. Photo by: Sam Hicks

As Hayes continues his journey, he will have to cross numerous borders throughout Central and South America. He has already crossed the Canadian border and will soon the Mexican border. Hayes maintains a positive outlook on these potentially dangerous crossings.

“I mean every border crossing in Central America sounds pretty scary, but what are you going to do? You have to do it anyways. And I think it’s pretty misunderstood. I think a lot of the time, especially in North America, you guys get fed a bit of misinformation. People are just really kind down there regardless. Definitely there’s corruption and all of that sort of stuff, but you just deal with it as it comes. I would be stupid to say that I’m not apprehensive to some degree about what potential dangers can exist, but that has existed the whole journey already.”

In addition to energy alternatives and environmentalism, Hayes has a moral tenet that has developed over the course of his van travels. “The biggest thing that I have learned so far on this trip, and it caters specifically to young people, is to chase your dreams,” Hayes described. “If you believe in something, if you love something, make that your job. That is your job as far as I’m concerned. Don’t waste your life living someone else’s dream, do what you want to do. And you’ll find if you leap over that edge, the universe will embrace you, especially if it’s good. What I’m doing is good. And as soon as I made the decision to do these things, everything just miraculously fell into place.”

To follow Hayes on his solar powered mission, find him on Instagram and Facebook at @routedelsol and Twitter at @Routedelsol.