Veggie Fuel

Unfortunately, this picture is kind of hard to see*. Written in dust on the back of the bus, it says "100% Waste Veggi" and "Zero Fossil Fuel". While this is a bit of an overstatement (we use a bit of regular diesel fuel to warm up the engine and a couple of times when the veggie system has failed), it is something we are very proud of. When I�ve explained it to people in the past, I think they might have gotten the wrong impression, what with all the media hype surrounding ethanol, biodesiel, etc. So here�s a brief explanation of how it works.

Our engine burns vegetable oil, not biodesiel. The oil comes straight from the grease barrel behind the restaurant and into our gas tank. (Gonzo collecting is the most fun part, see?) When looking for used vegetable oil, you have to be kind of particular about quality. Most fast food places use hydrogenated oil which is bad (for some reason I�ve yet to understand). Also, not having chunks of stuff floating in the oil is a good thing. Water content is another thing. Sushi places are generally considered to be the best places to obtain the oil, although we got our first tank full from The Keg in Bellingham.

Okay, so now you�ve got a tank full of used veggie oil. Most vehicles that have been converted to run on veggie oil also still have their deisel tank and fuel lines with duplicates for the veggie stuff. The veggie lines usually have another filter or two as well as a heat exchanger, to heat up the oil. But once you�ve got all that stuff in place, you just warm up the engine and veggie oil using diesel fuel and the throw the switch, and -badda bing- your tail pipe starts smelling like french fries.

The pyschological effect of not using fossil fuels to travel is really something. You are taking something that would have been thrown away and using it to power your vehicle. While you�re still not in the clear regarding environmental impact of traveling (additional parts need to be replaced, roads need to be built and maintained, etc.), you are lessening your impact drastically. So now, when we idle the bus for the 15 minutes we�re stopped at a rest area (or, in the case of being in Mexico, a stand of trees), I no longer freak out about wasting fuel.
Friday December 28 2007File under: travel, Mexico, environment

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Working Out the Kinks

I can't say that it was wholly unexpected, but I also can't say that I imagined it would be this extreme. Saturday afternoon, 2 full days after our planned departure (which was, in itself, delayed by 4 days) we've made it as far as....Centralia! There wasn't one thing that caused the delays but a bunch of little things. First, the veggie oil system took longer to install than we thought (more on the veggie system later). Then a bunch of air got in the diesel system (that's bad). Then we had to shuttle everyone around to leave their cars here and there. Then we had to get veggie oil, which is quite difficult to pump when it is 34 degrees out*. Then, 10 miles out of Bellingham (at 4 am), we break 3(!) alternator belts, and have to stop at a rest stop until the auto repair shops open in the morning. Then some switches are hooked up wrong and something shorts out so we aren't pulling veggie oil but regular diesel. Now there is some filter issue that is slowing the flow of the veggie oil to the system.

Yep, lots of little things. But the moral of the story is we are making progress. Plus, I'm learning little bits about diesel engines. We're hoping to pull through the night and be to Arizona by nightfall tomorrow. Yeah, I know that is ambitious, but it's a goal.

As for the cooking, I've done one cooked meal on the road (let them eat cereal for breakfast), and I've realized that cooking on a moving bus isn't the best idea. I narrowly avoided a few big spills (as the driver avoided a few big accidents). Yeah, I'm thinking sandwiches for dinner.

Anyway, I hope to get a better post up when I'm not cooped up in a bus with 12 people all playing their own music and discussing what is going to go wrong with the bus next*.
Saturday December 22 2007File under: travel, Mexico

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Running Away with the Circus

One year ago today, I was just getting back from a grand adventure in SE Asia*. It just so happens that today, I am headed out of the country again. This time, as you might have guessed, to Mexico. To put it concisely, I'm running away with the circus. No, I won't be performing with them*. I'll be more of a roadie, a circus roadie. I've signed on to be the head chef for U&I Production's road trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

What makes me qualified to be a head chef for 12 people?, you ask. Well, nothing really, but don't tell them that. I wanted an adventure. They wanted a chef. I like food, so that can't be a bad qualification. In all honesty, though, I'm pretty nervous about it. Hippies are notoriously picky about their food*. But that's okay. I have faith that it will all turn out. And if it doesn't, I will just jump out of the bus somewhere on the side of the road.

Oh, speaking of the bus, it is to be powered by post-consumer vegetable oil. Take that Al Gore. I love the idea of it and I look forward to ninja-like missions to grease traps behind Chinese restaurants in some little burg along the way. I made such a run with the juggling contingent of the circus last summer and I'm still telling the story to this day. The bus interior is fitted out with bunks, a kitchen, and a yoga space. It will be a little cramped and uncomfortable, no doubt, at least until we get there and can escape each other for periods of time. But that just adds to the adventure, right?

Anyhoo, stay tuned to BdW for all the latest.
Thursday December 20 2007File under: travel, Mexico

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