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June 14-20, 2006

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Car Culture

Road Trippers: Notes on a road trip from heaven

By Novella Carpenter

One week, one car, two people and four pillows equals heaven. It wasn't just because I was finishing up my Prednisone regime (now I know why Barry Bonds does steroids--it's wonderful!). Something magic was in the air, and Bill and I had the world's most perfect road trip ever.

We left in the afternoon, car loaded with homemade biodiesel, bedding and tons of hippie food. Everyone loves to hate I-5, but our car can't go over big mountains, so we kept to the interstate, and I loved it.

A travel writer told me there's nothing to see on I-5, people just get on, drive like hell, and get off. I take exception to this. We drove impossibly slow--double nickels on the dime (55 mph)--and saw Northern California's beauty all around us. Those almond farms!

When you drive slowly, you notice more. Near that tourist trap the Olive Pit, Bill saw a hand-written wooden sign that read "Olives," and told me to take the exit. A few miles down, following rustic signs, we pulled into a lovely, dusty driveway with an old house and barn. An alarm went off, and a farmer sauntered out. He proudly scooped us out two pounds of kalamata olives, brined by his hand. We ate the purple, meaty things as we drove, a salty snack of the gods.

I know this will make you gag, but Bill and I have really spanned some time together. We were reminded of this when we stopped at Heaven on Earth, a terrible giant-cinnamon-roll pit stop with a Christian theme and too-sweet pastries. We first experienced the horror of this place 10 (!) years ago. We were young and stupid and driving to Mexico in the winter in a 1979 VW bus. How wonderful then to return in the flourish of summer, driving a 1976 Mercedes Benz, older but wiser, too. We had a picnic of apples and avocado sandwiches while sitting on the hood. Now, that's the real heaven on earth.

When we hit Oregon, I-5 just got more pretty. Tons of trees and green and, yes, a little rain. We headed directly to Eugene, because Bill had fond memories of a junkyard there. Our Benz needed a new water pump. I should mention here that Bill was wearing the world's ugliest T-shirt. It had been a plain white T-shirt, but someone thought it might be a good idea to spray paint it, graffiti-style, to read, "Biofuel is the answer!" I think Bill was wearing it ironically. He later told me it was his only clean shirt. I mean, we use biofuel, but we don't necessarily think it's the answer. Especially with gold spray-painted accents.

Anyway, Bill went into the junkyard wearing this shirt. He said everyone stopped what they were doing and stared. Before Bill could just rip the thing off in embarrassment, a dude sidled up to him and confessed that he had a diesel car, too. Though the junkyard didn't have the part Bill wanted, his new friend gave him the name of a guy in town who eventually gave us the Eugene hookup. Networking, biofuel-style.

Oregon is majorly biodieseled out, and with the best kind: recycled, oil-based fuel, made locally. The company responsible is SeQuential Biofuels. Rumor has it one of SeQuential's biggest feedstock producers is the Kettle Chip Company, which is also based in Oregon. We hit Portland in need of fuel, and found it everywhere. There were at least six stations in the area. Easy pickings.

It was another story as we got farther east. In Boise, there was a mural devoted to B20--a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel, but no station that could sell us this miserly blend. We had to buy diesel, and the whole trip started to unravel. Bill got on a plane to return home, and I continued driving toward my destiny: an internship in southeast Idaho. As I hurtled along the highway, I missed Bill terribly, like half of my body had been severed, and kept glancing at the empty passenger seat. But at least I had our car, and the glorious memories it generated.

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Novella Carpenter is a women not only obsessed with cars, but with protecting the environment. Her weekly column balances these two polar-opposite loves while providing handy tips and car-related news items.