Veggie Voyagers

Couple travelled 30 states and 3 Canadian provinces between 7/07 and 5/08 running their 1987 Ford truck on straight veggie oil. The blog continues with a focus on the natural world and energy politics from a personal perspective

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Manitowoc and Two Rivers, Wisconsin, seem unique to me in how farm land, wildness, marinescape and industrial meet with an older, more rusted, white brick sturdiness that speak to the industriousness and strength of the people and the struggle to forge lives that aren’t totally dominated by hard labor.

Michael has spent the last week working on the veggie voyager but also playing Scrabble with his siblings, working puzzles, and enjoying his family and the dogs that liven up every get together. (I’m including a picture of Cooper who reminds me very much of Oscar the Grouch but leaving out the prize Frisbee champion Sir Barkey Von Chaser.)

I’ve had a lazy week, borrowing my brother in law’s gas guzzling van each day to go to the library in Two Rivers, 12 miles away. I’ve also gotten in some fine bike rides along the coast trail and a canoe trip foursome along the Manitowoc River out to Lake Michigan to see the salmon. The river water is the amazing impenetrable orange brown color of rust.

We are at a point in the trip where we have many completed books that I wanted to trade out. Yesterday I stopped at a sign proclaiming “used books.” This place though was built in 1850 and is now a museum. Upstairs, in a ballroom with murals and waltz music, lined with the artifacts of disappearing generations, I glided around alone and happy to find five copies of Tricycle, the Buddhist review. In the first one I opened, I found an article entitled “Meeting the Buddha” (Winter, 1995.) In it, the author Andrew Schelling says that the impulse to ramble is as old as human kind…the hunter, the nomad, the rambler and finally, the pilgrim. He asks, “How can we separate the notion of pilgrimage from the primal instinct to set out on a walk, shake off the householder’s dust, and simply see something new?” The word pilgrim, along with its Latin root, “peregrine”, simply mean a person who wanders “across the land.” Another author, in the same journal, Wendy Johnson, wrote that when Thoreau walked through the winter forests of New England, he followed his affections. A town is saved, he reflected, not more by the righteous people in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.

We are pilgrims who aren’t going anywhere in particular, especially now when we are enjoying where we are in the sense of “a body at rest tends to stay at rest—entropy”. In the almost endless points of place we may find ourselves we are always present to the end point of our continuum. Here in Manitowoc, Michael and his two brothers and two sisters grew up. Our multiplier intersection is the current focus point of my pilgrimage and I am grateful for their acceptance and kindness and for what I discover and enjoy on my own.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Wisconsin now

We left Minneapolis for Northfield, Mn. where 99% biodiesel is sold. Northfield is the home to both St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges as well as being the home of a Malt o Meal factory and where the Jessie James gang was broken up after a famous bank robbery. It seemed like a place I would want to live, with three used book stores, rolling hills... beautiful old downtown. Once through there, headed toward Red Wing, we saw lots of genetically engineered corn production areas though and I realized I wouldn't want to be near there.
Once we crossed the Mississippi River and headed south on the Wisconsin side I could have been happy following the mighty river all the way to New Orleans. However, we made a side trek 9 miles up off the river to see the birth place of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books I had loved as a child. Later, we left the Mississippi again to follow the Buffalo River, up to state route 10, while listening to The Secret Life of Bees and Wisconsin Public Radio (at last! The "ideas" network, AKA Radio Worth Listening to!) We camped in a mosquito patch and took out of there early in the morning after it became apparent we were hostages in the camper.
The trees are becoming gorgeous. Outrageous red tips against deep greens and sculpted reds and yellows that find their own balance in being "ordinary" forest margins that just make your heart fill with wonder. We were also able to see Mennonite people out harvesting with their horse drawn equiptment and the beautiful Wisconsin dairy farms that are picture perfect, one after another.
The best part of that day was seeing Michael's Aunt Shirley, her husband Al and their daughter Karen. Karen was disabled when she was a young woman by a cardiac arrest caused by having a congenital long Q-T interval, a cardiac conduction defect. This isn't as rare a disorder as you would think and is one of the reasons healthy youth sometimes mysteriously die during sports events. Karen's parents have created a wonderful, loving home and it was a gentle and comfortable place to visit. Happy Birthday to Aunt Shirley! (The photo here is of Michael's mom with Shirley and brother Bernie when they were young. I regret never getting to meet her.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Land of sky blue waters

In Minneapolis

One of the things to know if you go online to check where you can get biodiesel is that there are two kinds. B5 and B100. Unfortunately, we spent energy locating biodiesel in Bismark, N.D., only to find out it was only 5% soy.

Michael processed oil in Dawson, N.D. in their community park. Dawson is a town off the Interstate (94) of only 25 families. They have an impressive wall of the names of those who died in war, plaques for their central beliefs as well as a WWII tank in the middle of their very small central hub….we tucked in out of the wind, behind all this.

That night we drove into the night and slept at a truck stop for the town of Jamestown, home of the world’s largest Buffalo museum. North Dakota suffers an overdose of Lewis and Clark but they do have the impressive corridor of river that brought that on them.

The Missouri levels are way down, as they have been over the last years, especially in fall. There are very few boat ramps that actually end up getting you on the water but the state does sport a lot of what they call “pothole” lakes that sparkle as you drone past. My dreams filled with prairies and the few privacies of hedgerow windbreaks and tall tulles.

We were searching for showers when we crossed the state line at Fargo and Moorhead. I was disappointed that Fargo wasn’t seedy, like the movie. Actually, from then on it seemed like the affluence scale shot way up. There were more and more of the suburban houses that look the same wherever you go.

We searched out the two Chinese restaurants in Fergus Falls, Mn but the renderers had their oil already tied up. While doing that my door practically flew off its hinge and from that point on would not open without a crowbar.

After Michael pumped in our last 4 gallons of veggie we just hoofed it to the Eden Prairie Costco (within the 3.5 million population of Minneapolis) to purchase soy oil which brought us the last miles to my cousin’s home in Mendota Heights.

I don’t have to tell you the glories of a king size bed and a full size house so I’ll just add that I am very grateful to have my aunt and uncle still alive and intact. I finally figured out about loving one’s family rather late in life and I am just deeply warmed to be with my cousins and their spouses. Enjoy what life gives you! (The pictures are of my aunt and uncle, cousins, their spouses, and some of the restaurant, kitchen and University Arboretum scarecrow props we found to be ourselves or mug with.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Missouri River

Long day. Michael is processing and it’s getting dark here in the day use area of Lewis and Clark State Park, North Dakota. I just got back from a grueling walk with Sasha along the Missouri. I was in my usual “airy fairy” state of delight with nature, remembering my childhood wanderings in Missouri, the clay along the river edge was cracked mosaic and filled with the hoof and paw prints of deer, raccoon and other critters I don’t know. I think Sasha was trying to encourage me to head inland when I suddenly went to my knees in the clay. Even though I couldn’t get my shoe out without reaching into the mud to retrieve it I was still in a state of delight, enjoying the cool steel grey of the river ooze that’s just under the top layer of sandy brown. Just as I was getting enough mud out of my shoe so my foot could go back in it, Sasha started tugging at her leash. (A leash was for any other humans we might come upon who might scold us for her being free in a State Park as well as for her recent misadventures with porcupine and fish…) She was tugging at her leash as I was trying to juggle my muddy beer cans and plastic. When I pulled her back to me her muzzle was again covered with porcupine quills!
At that point, I had to shift into my other hemisphere, the nurse side. ‘Had to keep her head up, as she was fighting me to rub her snout on the ground, plus make it back along the bank, through the high weeds, and back to Michael and his leatherman pliers. This time she’d tangled with a very much alive adult porcupine so she sported impressively long quills that were in deeper and it was a lot harder and even more traumatic to get them out. I’m amazed she’s still talking to me.
When we first arrived here the main stimuli were crickets and the relentless wind, blowing the cold front storm that had followed us from Montana, in behind us. The marquis quoted Clark who had said (April 1805) this was a place of “some very handsome high planes and extensive bottoms.” In his day this place was teeming with buffalow and elk, in fact, Lewis had been shot in the thigh a few days earlier by a mostly blind fiddler on the crew who had mistaken him, in his leather clothes, as an elk… It sounds like something I would do…
Anyway, our time in Medicine Lake, Montana (population 250) was productive. I found out a little more about my family history, got to see where my mother was born, and connect with a long lost cousin.
It was kind of sad to cross into North Dakota with so little exploration of Montana but we are eager now to see family in Minnesota and Wisconsin so are picking up the pace, as best we can with having to pick up and process veggie oil every 300 miles.

PS We are sending from Bismark, N.D., could be anywhere USA. Peace to you. Sasha is fine, she says to tell you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Montana now

We traveled many miles of Alberta gravel, looking out on rare pronghorn, hard working farms, sweet grasses and heavy bellied clouds. We crossed back into our native national entity at Wildhorse, which was staffed by two suspicious but lazy federal employees.
The road south to Havre, Montana (pronounced Have ‘er) gave us hope that our relationship with the mother ship might have improved. The sunset was florid with color and the surroundings had more “texture,” more dips and swales and cultivated land. However, when we touched down in Havre we knew-- knew in the big heart of lost things that this was post industrial, back home sorry-ass Americana. Snarl of railroads carrying Cargill corn syrup and graffiti, blocky boring buildings sprawling along a long stretch of ick ugly casinos and motels. We settled out at the Walmart to a restless night cuddling to truck engines as the dispossessed did what they could to stay warm.

In the morning we did laundry and I got a dose of local Christian radio for my quarters. Luckily I got to talk to Orien in San Francisco with my newly usable cell phone and this brought my mood back into line with our adventure spirit. Once we’d gotten provisioned we drove east toward Medicine Lake, my mother’s birth place, 35 miles south of the Saskatchewan border, 30 miles west of North Dakota, in the middle of more nowhere.

Speaking of nowhere. We are good for about 200 miles on a tank of veggie oil and then we have to stop to process. (Michael picked up 20 gallons of used veggie at a Chinese restaurant in Havre.) Getting to this place on Nelson Reservoir was quite a journey on the back roads of this postage stamp size piece of Montana. We wandered lost through another incredible sunset trying to access this place. Eventually we happened on the Sleeping Buffalo hot springs, famous for the world’s largest hamburger. This is a crumbling bar and water park in the midst of no place at all but a woman in muck boots directed us to the lake. We gladly landed here with a few dozen of the local mosquitoes that are almost the size of dragonflies for the tail end of the fairytale sunset.

Michael is processing veggie oil, yet again. He’s making his way through the disturbing Blackwater book by Jeremy Scahill who visited Chico some months back. It tells of the privatization of US “security” by a wealthy right winger. It is one of those books that digs into you and causes deep eating lesions of hopelessness. (I’m reading a fiction about an Irish family who comes to Canada during the famine and their struggle, called Away, by Jane Urguart.)

The wind is jiggling the cab-over and there are white caps starting up on the lake. Sasha and I already had our “longevity walk,” (amble in my case.) One of my primary hobbies is picking up garbage. Along with that I get to note the rocks, crawdad claws, honeycomb fish scales (enough to paper our bathroom at home,) elegant ivory bones and good find feathers. White pelicans and Canada geese and lots of cormorants are just across from us with gulls, ducks, sandpipers, killdeer, and the relentless wind, The cottonwood and willows just provide accompaniment for the restlessness of the force of this open place (that’ll be full of hunters next month.) It’s a good place to listen to Laura Love’s (Pangaea) passionate “Whenever Time Will Come” and just feel into the layers of it within me.

Michael thinks I should change my Mothers for Peace button to Mothers for Grease. I’m unconvinced.

Sept. 11, Day of Infamy and Kevin Nelson’s Birthday!
We are in Wolf Point after a night at the Fort Peck (can you say “pork barrel”) Reservoir. I’m at the reservation community college surrounded by bright young people and professors, smelling of fish as Sasha puked up a terrible concoction all over the cab yesterday.
Just to put a cap on it, Michael said to tell you the Sleeping Buffalo is the resort of last resorts. Hot water was discovered when an oil well was dug in the 20s, during the 30s depression years the WPA paid for the development of the pools and the heydays were in the 40s when there were swimming meets held there. Now this huge place is drippy and slimey and very unique…. Well worth the trouble of the veggievoyagers who scored some “shortening” there as well as the enjoyment of the hot waters.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Writing on Stone

We followed a rainbow across the prairie to Writing on Stone Provincial Park. The next day was a gray and chilly, and later, wet day. We went with a Euro-Canadian ranger into the protected archeological zone to view the dreams and history of the “Blackfeet” confederation ancestors who’d camped in and traveled through this country for centuries. As we understand it, young men would seek their visions here, the spirits lived here and advised of the future, and the sandstone hoodoo rocks were also where history was recorded. We saw images from before the coming of the horse and images as recent as 1923 when an elder recorded visiting in a car from a reservation. More than anything else we saw graffiti of modern visitors who thought writing their names and initials over the hoodoos was irresistible.

When asked why the Blackfeet didn’t manage the land themselves, our guide answered that it was because they “lacked the resources.” There isn’t a purposeful cover up of the genocidal policies of Canada and the U.S. to First Nations people because there are always mention of “disappeared” bison, “disease”, “alcohol”, and “treaties,” but there is never anything that would pull the bitter poison of the past (and present) out for a hard look.

After the tour with the small group of Canadians, the rain started in earnest and we set out to do our own walk along a trail winding through the strange landscape. In the morning, when a porcupine drawing in the rock was identified I asked, “Oh, are there porcupines here?” We’d seen many deer and cottontails in the park but it took us completely by surprise when Sasha turned up with her mouth full of quills. Suddenly, it wasn’t just us hiking in the cold rain, it was us down on our knees urgently prying her mouth open to struggle out dozens of quills from her palate, between teeth and gums. We discovered a small dead porcupine lying nearby and she must have embraced its body into her mouth on finding it. Amazingly, once we’d finished extracting the last few quills with Michael’s “leatherman” pliers, Sasha acted as good as new, as though nothing had ever happened.

We toweled her off, showered in the campground, and drove in the dusk to difficult-to- find Heninger Reservoir, where, today, Michael is processing veggie oil for our trip across the border at Wildhorse. Being here I wonder what life is like for the farmers who live in such desolate places, especially when they are sick or disabled or impoverished by circumstances. It seems like, if you weren’t kept busy by work and routines, it might be a very hard place to live.

Lastly, it was good to see a flyer back in Cardston, the last town before the weather and prairie started in earnest, for International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day activities on 9/9. I felt connected to a community that circles the globe with concern. Greetings.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


That was one blurry Griz.... on the last post.
There are lots of great lakes and waterways at Waterton...
The heavy red line shows our meanderings. We head off the B.C. map now. "On the road" with the 60 year old (we are both 60,) version of a 50 year old classic.
Peace to you.

On the Road Celebrated

Cardston, Alberta

This morning we left Waterton Peace Park, called that because the park joins Glacier National Park in Montana. We had two lovely days biking and canoeing but this morning brought the nicest treat. We got to see a mama Grizzly and her two cubs below us in the wetlands, where we had wandered earlier, looking for moose. For me this was a special gift because it was a non-threatening and ordinary look into the lives of these bears from above. In the same gaze we could see elk in the tall grasses with the mountains behind. It’s hard to leave.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave Canada altogether, just yet, so we are headed out across the prairie east. I just went to the Cardston Farmer’s Market and bought veggies. There is a big Mormon community here (and a huge temple on the hill) as well as four Hutterite (sp?) communities that were well represented at the market. They dress even more conservatively than the Mennonites and speak their own language. There are also many native people here. We saw what are left of the buffalo they once thrived on--(considered extinct in Canada but a handful are on display in a drivethrough "paddock.")

We will have to process veggie oil before we get there but we are going to a place north of the border called “Writing on Stone” where ancient people’s expressions can be viewed. After that we’ll head into the U.S.

If any of you want a soothing place, without many tourists, I’d recommend Waterton. It has a genuine sense of calm and will probably be quite nice through mid October. There is a little town in the middle of the park with all the amenities and everything you might care to do is accessible without a vehicle—they rent bikes. You can take the tour boat up from Montana.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Prarie Ho

Beauvais Lake, Alberta. The land now is arid with stunted trees and a dry wind, rolling brown hills and interesting farms, some of which are still in use with hand hewn boards or log construction. It’s Labor Day and there are still quite a few people at this Provincial Park, many Mennonite families hiking up the hill to the look out.

M wanted to process veggie oil before we hit Waterton National Park and we usually go to places where people won’t see us and fret about what we are doing but that wasn’t possible this time. I could go hiking or swimming but we stayed up late in Fernie watching “Apocalypto”, a terribly violent movie that cost an incredible amount of money.

Despite my lack of energy we’ve heard and seen a lot on the subject today. First a radio show about the environment (pro nuclear.) There is a lot of hand wringing on the subject of the environment on the radio but the coverage has been weak. It seems like Canada has a way of letting the sharp edges wear off of certain topics.

After we left Fernie, where even the bike paths are coal dust, we went through Sparwood (home of the world's biggest dump truck,) and saw a whole mountain of coal. We found a man trying to sell bio-diesel there. It was noon and we were his second customer of the day. We were told that his bio-diesel is shipped up from the U.S. and that used oil is actually sold on the world market. He told us there were 5 open pit coal mining operations in the Elk Valley, which explains their anti-environmental bias, and he bitterly called Canada “the blue eyed Arabs,” stating Canada has vast oil reserves too.

We were excited to meet him and see his operation:
The cost was the same as diesel and he pays no taxes. The only problem was no customers, even though he knows biodiesel is doing well in other parts of Canada.

We saw a coal fired plant that looked like it had pretty clean (invisible) emissions out of the tall smoke stack. After that, we saw a rock rubble where a mining town (Frank) had been buried under a slide—70 died. Then, soon after, we saw wind power generators (part of a U.S. operation) on the foothills. Meanwhile, the Labor Day traffic streamed past us.

Lastly, a man who stopped by to check on what we are up to, as the inquisitive do, said he is a recycler in the town of Pincher Creek (that has a Walmart.) He says they take and chip up plastic which is sent up to Red Deer to be turned into logs, the plastic bags go to China, the rest goes down to Spokane but there is no Styrofoam recycling.

Almost done, “praise the lard!” I know it will be awhile before we find wifi but Happy Labor Day to all of you! For my social services friends—I saw a rest home in Fernie that said ”Really Good Living for the Really Grown Up.” That sounds like a wish for us all.

Sept. 4th, We are in Pincher, Alberta, getting oil in a back alley at a Chinese Restaurant. We spent the night in the Walmart supercenter parking lot and used their huge bathroom this morning (seating for half the people in the town...) It was amazing to wake to sheer flatness, windmills on three sides, dancing golden daisies on the roadsides. The recycler man told us yesterday, with wonder in his voice, that they were the smallest community where Walmart had located. We were grateful to find a place to sleep since it was dark when M finished processing last night and we didn’t want to pay to stay in the park and we could hear a bear trying to get into the garbage can near by…

Saturday, September 1, 2007


We are in Fernie, B.C. We haven’t been here long enough to know why it has that name but we did go to the Aqua Center, the grocery store and attend to the sunset over the gorgeous toothy mountains that ring the valley on three sides. It’s got a lot of interesting old buildings, a very active train that barges through town frequently and a bunch of obnoxious, expensive ski development as you come into town from the south.
We’ve been up on a Forest Service Road for a couple of days. Got lured up there by a wonderful hot springs then kept going…very, very slowly. Spent the night before last a Munroe Lake and last night at the 51 km. marker on Bull River. It squalled up at that gorgeous lake and there was a big thunder and lightning show in the night last night but by the time we got down near the logging town of Galloway everything was dry and warm again.
It’s Labor Day. I don’t feel too bad not laboring but the Canadians are trying to get in a long weekend. Kids go back to school on Tuesday. It’s also the start of bow hunting season so Sasha is wearing logging ties and looks very pretty in pink.