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Road Tripping in 2008, Part 1: Alternative Fuels

Posted Sep 09 2008 8:01am

As far as archetypical American traditions go, I'm generally underwhelmed: baseball is, to me, just an excuse to eat junk food and drink beer, and call me cynical, but why bother with the excuse part? And apple pie is cool and all, but who ever runs to the store in the middle of the night with an apple pie craving? When I want to put something tasty and unhealthy in my body, I have peanut butter M&M's for that, thanks very much. But the road trip, I must agree, is an American experience not to be missed. Say what you will, Dubya, about weaning me off of oil and liberating me from all manner of sasquatches but please don't take away my precious road trip.

Environmental considerations aside, however, the fact remains that this year, the road trip has gotta adapt. Once the signature mode of summer transport for poor college students and young families, the high price of gas is likely to strike down much of the fleet of station wagons that would otherwise be scouring the open road in search of bathrooms, sustenance, world's second-largest balls of various things, and internationally acclaimed beef jerky/fudge/garlic. Concerns for the micro-economy of roadside attractions aside, I hope people go out anyway. In this two-parter are some twists on the road trip to render it greener and less costly.

If you have a vehicle with alternative fuel sources, you can ponder many of the old fashioned conundrums of road-tripping while still remaining greener than your counterparts (for example, why do you feel so dirty and gross at the end of a road trip day when all you did was sit inside a car? Or, why does this ordinarily rad person suddenly bug the hell out of me? And why must they listen to such crappy music?) Check out biodiesel Benz driver Charles Runnette's account of appeasing unfriendly Eureka, California locals as he buys 15 gallons of Costco soybean oil in his American Way Magazine article. He also offers great tips to add a green highlight to your road trip by staying at sustainably focused hotels, and utilizing the burgeoning network of alternative fuel pumps helmed by local company SeQuential dotting Oregon's toned and besweatered hills (and yes, drivers of conventional cars can use SeQuential stations too, if only to run inside their health food mart and grab something to eat that wasn't deep-fried).

Planning ahead is key if you're going to go without petrol for your road trip...get ready to break out your fuel search well before you start your trip. If you have an alternative fuel source and plan to trip in Arizona, California, or Nevada, there's a great Web resource in Clean Car Maps. Whether your Precious runs on Biodiesel, natural gas, hydrogen, or electricity, they'll tell you where to fuel up, so you can skirt that other tradition of the roadtrip: the roadside breakdown. They even offer toll-free numbers so that you can gather info on the fly. For the rest of the country, there's Fill Up 4 Free, pinpointing all the sites across the US with waste oil available for a fuel-up.

For those of us using conventional means, the Environmental Defense Fund has a common sense list of easy methods for greener travel. It includes things like keeping your speed low, having a route planned, getting your car checked out, and avoiding unnecessary idling. Staying an extra hour or two at that organic vineyard to catch the sunset, however, is entirely necessary.

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