One of the best—albeit not the warmest—times of year to bicycle in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks is during the month of April.
As you can see by clicking on this link, bicycling and other means of non-motorized travel—in-line skating, walking, etc.—may be enjoyed in the world's first national park on the roads between West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs in April. The South Entrance road and part of the East Entrance road are also open to bicycles (while closed to cars), as conditions allow. The dates depend on the severity of the preceding winter and other factors; or, as the National Park Service puts it, “The first day of ‘spring bicycling’ is never predetermined and is dependent on road conditions as determined by park staff.”
To the south of Yellowstone, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Teton Park Road becomes one of the world’s great bike paths in April (the road opens to motor traffic on May 1). Serious plowing began this year on March 24, with rotary plows clearing the way between Moose Junction and Jackson Lake Junction, a distance of about 20 miles … 20 miles of smooth, traffic-free pavement serving up some of the most spectacular mountain views on Earth. After this past winter’s prolific snowfall, the banks will be high, but the road will be dry (for the most part).
Please note this caveat from the Park Service: “Although the Teton Park Road will open to non-motorized use, visitors should be alert for park vehicles that may occasionally travel the road for administrative purposes and for snow plowing operations that continue as a result of recurring snowstorms. … As a reminder, entrance stations are operating and collecting fees.”
Come prepared to bundle up, although there's always the chance of hitting it on an unusually warm and sunny, western Wyoming spring day. If so, enjoy!
In January 2011 Adventure Cycling Association launched a website initiative called BikeOvernights.org. Subtitled “Don’t wait to go cross country — go overnight,” the site is designed to provide inspiration, resources, and route ideas for short bicycle tours, generally just one or two nights out. Of the more than 175 destination stories that have posted at the site to date, a large share are tagged as "Family" rides. Some of the titles reveal their family orientation; e.g., “Four Days with an Almost 4-Year-Old,” “Little Elbow to Mount Romulus–A Girl’s Adventure with Grammy,” and “Hood Canal Loop: A Teen’s First Tour.”
One of the attractive aspects of these rides is that for most folks, a quick bike overnight doesn’t require a lot of travel to get to the trailhead. In many cases, they can begin and end right at the front door. Consider these words from Elle Steele Bustamante, who wrote Our First-Ever Family Weekend of Wonderfulness:
“On this, our first overnighter, we rode up to Beal’s Point on Folsom Lake, about 30 miles from Sacramento. It was the first time bike camping with our little ones. Amazing! It’s great to know that there are adventures so close to home. Really, picture a nearby campground. You probably wouldn’t ever think to camp there as, let’s face it, your own bed is much more comfortable. However, getting there by bike with all your gear strapped to the back—that’s wonderfully worthwhile.”
Wonderfully worthwhile indeed. A bike overnight is the ideal introduction to bicycle travel for young and old alike. Visit www.BikeOvernights.org to read some of these inspiring stories, then share with a friend or family member!
Or, for something a little longer, you might consider dipping your toes into the touring waters by joining one of Adventure Cycling’s special family tours: Family Fun, Erie Canal; Family Fun, Great Allegheny Passage; Family Fun, Idaho; or Family Fun, Minnesota–Paul Bunyan Trail. You can read all about them by clicking on this link.
The zippy folding e-bike shown in this video would be perfect for anyone with a short commute. It goes 20 miles on one charge, at speeds up to 15 mph, and it folds down to fit in your trunk or at your feet on a bus or train. A brilliant idea, coming soon to cities everywhere if the developers can raise enough funds. What better way to fight back against Big Oil than to help create cleaner renewable transportation choices? We won’t be posting many IndieGoGo projects here, but this one seems well worth supporting. Learn more at URB-E.
Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on Google+.
If you've done a vegetable oil conversion, or built a vegetable oil car from the ground up (like I did with MAX), or make your own biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, you still have a legal (and ethical, IMHO) responsibility to pay your per-gallon fuel tax. But depending on where you live, it may not be easy.
My native Oregon has a well earned reputation as a progressive state (with some embarrassing late starts—seriously, we didn't ratify the 15th Amendment until 1959) and one area where we've been ahead of the pack is road taxes. What that? You don't like road taxes? You don't like the fees for vehicle registration? You don't like gas taxes? Oh yes you do, because that's what pays for the infrastructure that makes driving possible—the asphalt, the bridges, the traffic lights—and one side effect of improving fuel efficiency is a reduction of road tax revenue.
Back in Ye Olde Days (the early 1900s) the biggest supporters of road taxes were car owners and auto clubs. The horse-and-buggy folks were pretty content with what they had, but “automobilists” wanted better roads and (for the most part) recognized that the users should be the ones to pay for them. And hey, us Oregonians led the way, with a gasoline tax in 1919, and a dozen years later, the feds decided that was a good idea and initiated a national gas tax. We also have a weight-mile tax for over-the-highway trucks, since an 80,000 pound 18 wheeler put more wear on the road than a fuel tax would cover.
We humans are pretty good at rationalizing why what's good for us personally is The Right Thing To Do. I'm quite comfortable with fuel tax, myself, and feel like I'm paying My Fair Share at the pump even though it's about a quarter of what other folks typically pay per mile. My justification? MAX's road maintenance costs are about a quarter of a typical car; MAX only weighs 1300 pounds and only has 32 horsepower, it's sure no asphalt wrinkler.
Alternative Fuel User
Nevertheless, something should be done about alternative fuel vehicles, and I'm not ready to say “Gosh, maybe the electric guys should be paying their share of road tax,” (which I personally think should be higher than MAX's share because the EVs tend to be heavier and more powerful than MAX and thus do more damage to the roads—see what I mean about rationalizing?) until I can claim the moral high ground. And I can't claim it yet, because just like EV drivers in Oregon pay no fuel tax when they plug their car into the wall, I pay no fuel tax when I buy cooking oil from Costco or 7-11 or Safeway or Kroger's.
When it goes in MAX's tank, it turns into what the Oregon Department of Transportation calls a “use fuel” (“use”, noun, with 's' pronounced like in snake, not like the s in bees), and the ODOT has a system for that, and they were happy to send me the necessary applications so I could get an official Use Fuel User License. And mail in my fuel tax every month. Plus send them a deposit in lieu of bond should I fail to mail my monthly fuel tax. And request a Use Fuel Vehicle Emblem (see the graphic at the beginning of this article, which is just the emblem header so don't get any ideas about photo shopping your own Emblem).
The paperwork, though weighty, is no tougher than an 8th Grade book report...but it's tailored for big fuel users and ODOT doesn't have a lot of 100 MPG grease burners on the books so the default deposit is a hundred bucks. Gulp. I sent them some eloquent emails and a link to a Mother Earth News MAX story, and they decided a tenner, which is good for 33 gallons of veggie oil, would be enough to keep me honest.
So we'll see how this goes. I'm going to have to keep fuel use and travel records much like a big rig trucker, and mail ODOT a monthly check, but I'll get to sleep without a guilty conscience so it will all be worth it. Besides, I can hardly wait to take my Use Fuel Vehicle Emblem to Safeway.
Cycle Greater Yellowstone is a weeklong bicycle tour traveling through the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The ride benefits the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the only organization dedicated exclusively to protecting the lands, water, and wildlife of Greater Yellowstone. Largely because of its stances on controversial subjects like grizzly bears, wolves, and snowmobiles, the coalition historically has not been the organization most loved by a lot of the region’s conservative ranchers and small-town residents. It appears that Cycle Greater Yellowstone is, in part, an effort to mend old wounds and build new bridges.
They’re off to a great start, with the success of the inaugural tour in 2013. I was fortunate to participate in the ride and then to write a feature article about it for the February 2014 Adventure Cyclist magazine.
I’d read that Cycle Greater Yellowstone was inspired by the success of Cycle Oregon, a 25-year-old event tour that takes a different route through the Beaver State every summer. Cycle Greater Yellowstone director Jim Moore explained to me that while there is no official connection between the two rides, there are unofficial ones.
“As the owner of Word Jones, a marketing agency, I’ve been doing marketing for Cycle Oregon for seven years,” Moore said. “When the opportunity to start a new tour came along, the Cycle Oregon event managers were collegial and helpful. The idea for Cycle Greater Yellowstone was hatched when Jeff Welsch, my brother-in-law [and communications coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition], rode Cycle Oregon with me in 2011 and saw how an event like that can bring together a diverse group of people and cultures. My sister Sherry was involved in early discussions and later applied and interviewed for [and landed] one of the assistant director positions. Some of the same marketing professionals I work with on Cycle Oregon and other Word Jones projects are involved in Cycle Greater Yellowstone.”
While Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2013 attracted around 700 riders, organizers are aiming for 1,000 riders this year. I can highly recommend taking part; it’s a great way to visit a spectacular part of the country while enjoying an active vacation and supporting an important conservation cause. The food stops were abundant and well stocked; the breakfasts and dinners, nutritious and filling. Volunteers and paid workers alike were unfailingly cheerful and helpful.
“This bike ride was one of the coolest things I have done in my 62 years,” a fellow rider named Scott from Fremont, Calif., told me. “It was great to get together with my friends for such a grand adventure. I thought the food was good, especially the steak dinner. The volunteers were amazing and I enjoyed the music, usually from my tent because I was pretty tired.”
Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2014
The 2013 Cycle Greater Yellowstone route from West Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Mt., was superb, filled with amazing scenery, and the 2014 route promises to be just as good. Riders will go from Jackson Hole, Wyo., to Victor, Idaho, then back into Wyoming and through Hoback Junction, Pinedale, Lander, and Dubois, returning to Jackson by way of Grand Teton National Park. The tour runs August 17 - 23 and costs $1,195 for adults.
Long trips with a wood powered vehicle are fun. No one can travel so far for so little cost as a wood gasser - just ask any of the members of Drive On Wood, the wood gasification website. These extended trips with wood gas can save a ton of money on fuel, and I feel like it's well worth the effort.
You will need a LOT of wood though. Every mile you burn up another pound. For our imaginary 500 mile trip, that's 500 pounds (better take 600 just in case). Double that if you are coming home again. You can see that it quickly justifies a trailer to haul the wood. My wood gas Dakota will haul a small trailer without issue.
I've had to plan carefully to get enough dry wood ready. Normally I process wood in batches and let it dry before using. For this trip, I'll need 1200 lbs of wood, and it has been spread out in the sun to dry for two weeks. I'll bag it up into old fertilizer bags, made from a durable heavy plastic. Each bag holds about 12-14 pounds, so we need about 100 bags. Bagging the wood is simple but takes some effort. A big shovel and a helper make the job go much faster.
With the wood bagged, let's load the trailer. Stacking bags of wood so that they won't slide off, and keeping the bag ends tucked in (in case of bad weather), I've found that most of it will fit on the trailer, and some rides on the truck itself. The gasifier stays relatively cool on the surface, so even if a piece of wood touches it there is no danger of a fire. Plastic will melt, though - so I keep the bags some distance away.
All the luggage and passengers ride up front. This is the downside of travelling in a pickup truck, and things can quickly get cramped in the driver's seat. It's tempting to make room on the trailer - but you'll need every bit of that wood for fuel. Wood takes up a lot of space!
(Read more about how much wood it takes for a wood burning truck, at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.)
Here's a few videos of a trip I took to New Hampshire, 1,000 miles away:
Getting on the road is the same process as I explained in part 1 - we light up the gasifier, and this time I fill up the hopper completely. A full charge will get this truck about 60 to 70 miles down the road. It will vary depending on the wood, and driving speed.
Have Wood Will Travel
Time to head out, and merge onto the freeway. Despite the power loss associated with wood gas, this truck will maintain 65 mph all day long. I've learned to take advantage of downhill slopes, which will bring up your speed - of course, uphill means slowing down again. And the half-ton of wood back there isn't helping. It will get lighter as the day goes on.
Fifty miles into the trip, and I'm keeping an eye on the gauges. Some tell me the vacuum, and others the temperature. I don't want the vacuum to get too high - that will reduce the power output, and may indicate plugging up somewhere in the system. Temperatures tell me if I'm reaching the limits of the gasifier's output. I don't want to overheat anything, but we're still within the target range. Everything's good.
Throw Some Wood on the Fire
The temperature in the hopper starts to rise, which indicates that we're about out of wood. I now have to stop and reload. On the freeway there are very few good places to do this, and so I'll try to get off at an exit or rest stop if possible. Getting out, I grab four bags off the trailer and prepare to add the new wood.
Refueling can be a dirty job, if you're inexperienced. As soon as you open the lid, smoke will start to escape, and if the wind is wrong it will get all over you. In your eyes and nose. Parking with an eye to the wind is smart. Now with the lid off, I'll run a poker down through the wood to break up any bridging, and keep things loose.
Dump in the new wood, stow the bags, and then I drive on. If I was careless, I may have tar on my hands from handling the lid. Some alcohol and paper towels will do the trick. I never mind the extra work here, because I see all the cars that got off the freeway behind me. They aren't getting their hands dirty; instead they're pulling out their wallets. They're laying down hard earned cash just to keep their wheels moving. That part I can do without.
Driving in Large Cities
Eventually I may come to a big city. Time to pay a bit more attention, and try not to get lost. If everything's running smoothly, there's no problem. I generally refill the gasifier right before, and cruise on through. If I do need to fill up, or if the gasifier isn't behaving, I can easily switch on the gasoline for a few miles. This is one reason I would never disable the gasoline on a wood powered vehicle, because there are times when the system falters, or you just need a bit more power.
I've driven a lot of miles through busy cities, and crawled through rush hour traffic; not once has anyone looked over from the vehicle next to me. To most folks this truck looks like any other. Since there's no smoke escaping, they have no reason to question the barrels in the back.
At long last we've reached our destination. Maybe it was a wood gas convention ... or perhaps just visiting a friend. Either way there's a big smile on my face.
At the end of a long trip, there's some maintenance on the gasifier. You have some ashes to empty, condensate tanks to drain and possibly new hay in the hay filter. Each of these is a somewhat messy job, and best followed by a shower and clean clothes afterward. Staying clean during maintenance is an advanced skill, and comes with practice. I've seen Wayne Keith light up, operate and lightly service his gasifier wearing good clothes, and he comes out spotless. Personally, I'm not quite there yet.
In the end, it is a lot more work traveling under wood power than just filling up your tank. It's a lot like heating with wood vs. propane or electric. You can't just flip a switch. But the reward is in the independence it gives you. I am not worried about a fuel shortage or sky-high gas prices. Nor am I supporting the oil companies with my hard-earned pay. And that's a good feeling!
If you'd like to learn more about gasification, please visit Drive On Wood.
For the past two years I have driven around for free, using scrap wood instead of gasoline. It's a daily challenge, and yet remains the most rewarding choice I've ever made. Wood gasification represents independence to me; only a few folks can thumb their nose at the gas stations and keep driving. Several of us are now doing so, thanks to Wayne Keith over at Drive On Wood, the wood gas community website. One of our catch phrases is "smile with every mile" or SWEM. And it's true! It puts a smile on my face every time. But this daily pleasure comes with a lot of work.
Start Your Wood Gasification Engines!
Every time I take a short trip to the post office, it's about a 5-minute procedure to get rolling. Wood gasifiers are much like wood stoves, in that they need a fire to be lit, and it takes time to warm up. Fortunately they are designed to heat up fast and without needing "kindling" - there is always a layer of charcoal ready to burn.
So when I'm ready to go, I'll put the mail in the truck, and open some valves up. Off comes the lid, and I run fans to create a draft. Lighting the gasifier with a propane torch is fast and easy. And at this point I add a 12-pound bag of wood, close the lid, and let the fans heat up the fire. I watch the output of the wood gas (it has a peculiar odor), and once satisfied I will crank up and head out. By the time I make my round trip of about 10 miles, most of the wood I added will be gone.
Preparing Logs for Wood Gasification Fuel
The wood itself is quite a job. It sounds wonderful to drive around for free, but nobody is handing you wood chunks on a silver platter. Anyone who heats their home with wood knows what I'm talking about. For the most part, you need to find scrap lumber, downed limbs, sawmill waste, etc. Almost none of this wood is exactly the right size. I will eventually build a wood chunker like this one to process sawmill slabs, but currently I use a chop saw and a splitting axe.
Using these, I can process enough wood in one morning to last for a week of driving. But that's not the end of it! Most of this wood is still green, and won't burn in the gasifier as-is.
Drying wood is not hard — but it does require thinking ahead. You can't dry wood very well in the winter, when it's raining, snowing or frozen solid. Smart drivers would cut plenty of extra in the summer and store it away for use in bad weather. You may have guessed that I'm not always among the smart ones ... for this winter season I've gone scrounging for already dry wood, so that I can skip the drying step.
Once the truck is going, it very quickly comes up to temperature. Still, during the first mile you have to take extra care at stoplights, because the gas produced is weak. You don't want to stall the engine right in the street. I much prefer a long straight stretch of road for the first mile, so I can warm the gasifier up fully without stopping. Once warm, there's no problem stopping for any short length of time. The gas is ready and waiting when you set off again.
At the post office, I don't have to do much for the gasifier. Shut the engine off, and close a valve to the intake. As you can see, it blends right in with the other cars in the parking lot. I take care of business inside, and return to a still hot gasifier, making plenty of gas for me to fire up the engine. Once I'm rolling, there is a short lag while the gasifier comes back to full blazing heat. This slight power lag can surprise you at first, but planning ahead will keep you out of trouble. A shot of gasoline can ease the transition, or I can wait for the blowers to heat things up again.
Cost to Fuel a Vehicle with Wood
Soon enough, I'm headed back up the street on 100% wood power, mission accomplished. Total cost of the trip? A couple ounces of gasoline to crank up, and some extra time. Out of pocket cost is practically zero. I'll arrive home on wood gas, and close the valves again. If I need to make another trip, I don't need to relight, just run the fans and it heats back up. After 3-4 hours without oxygen, the insides cool off and the fire goes out. No smoke exits the system, everything is sealed inside.
As you can see, wood gas is quite practical for a short trip around town, and the extra trouble it takes is well worth it. As a rule of thumb I won't start the truck for less than a 5-mile round-trip. At that point a bicycle, electric vehicle or small efficient car is more effective - and maybe I should be combining more trips... or seeing some of the countryside.
But what about a longer distance? Like a 500 mile trip? Stay tuned for Part 2.
If you'd like to learn more about gasification, please visit Drive On Wood.