Thursday, March 29, 2007
The road trip was not all about burning the biodiesel efficiently. That was not the main reason we decided to drive to Arcata last weekend. We have talked about going up to Humboldt County for years—honest. It is, however, true that we recently acquired an ’03 Jetta TDI, which we are in fact happily running on biodiesel. And I will admit that we have been eager to rack up some highway miles—but not just so we could brag about getting 40-plus miles per gallon. (Although, by the way, now that I mention it, yes, that is what the turbo diesel gets on the highway.) Driving 400 miles for the pleasure of getting good mileage would be silly (even for proud owners of a vehicle that runs on a low-polluting, non-petroleum-based fuel).
For the record, the official reason for our trip was the attraction that draws most of the North Coast’s visitors to its rugged hills: We went to see the big redwoods.
We gassed up at the Alliance station on Fremont—I love the fact that we can get 99 percent biofuel a few blocks from the >>Weekly offices. We hit the road at around 1pm, hoping we’d miss the rush-hour traffic. But we couldn’t resist stopping at the In ‘n’ Out in Morgan Hill (traditionally a guilty road-trip pleasure). So it was after 3pm when we hit the city and entered the bumper-to-bumper crawl up 19th Avenue toward the Golden Gate.
A 100-year-old redwood forest is nice; an ancient forest of 2,000-year-old redwoods is something else entirely.
As we sat idling at stoplight after stoplight, I tried to not think about the pints of precious soybean-based fuel that were burning away as the odometer stood still. I thought about the trees.
On the Marin side of the bridge, it was clear sailing—for about a mile. Then we hit another wall of traffic. I couldn’t help but think: What is wrong with these people? What, do they leave work at 3pm to beat the traffic? What a bunch of jerks. I tried to think about the redwoods. Yes, the trees—that’s what this trip was about. So what if we only got 39 mpg?
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Traci had never been to Humboldt, which means she had never been in a big old redwood forest. We hike in the redwoods all the time, but around here they are virtually all second-growth. A 100-year-old redwood forest is nice; an ancient forest of 2,000-year-old redwoods is something else entirely. She wanted to see that stuff.
For me, the trip meant a return to the Headwaters, the site of an epic environmental battle that I had written about in the summer of 1998. At that time, the long struggle was about to culminate in a much-heralded deal that would protect 60,000 acres of the world’s biggest privately owned ancient redwood forest. I discovered that while an island of old-growth was being saved by the Headwaters deal, the 200,000-acre forest that surrounded it was being clear-cut.
I witnessed monstrous environmental destruction in the woods outside Arcata—hillsides that looked like they’d been fire-bombed and streams choked with silt from the erosion. I also walked through the world’s last forests of big old redwoods. I had not been back since that time. I read last month that Pacific Lumber, the company responsible for the clear-cutting, has declared bankruptcy.
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In Arcata, one car out of every four seems to be running on biodiesel. There are lots of TDI Passats and Jettas, plus old Mercedes turbo diesels, even a bunch of big late-model four-wheel drive Fords and Dodges with bumper-stickers proclaiming their commitment to environmental responsibility.
On Saturday, we drove ours up into the big trees. We got out and walked up a steep trail. A couple of miles in, we came upon a huge stand of really old ones with burnt-black bark. Just up the trail a creek flowed through a ravine into a culvert and we stopped and took a drink. I hadn’t tasted water from a live creek in quite a while—it was good.
It rained Sunday and we left town early and headed south for a hot springs outside of Ukiah. Somehow we forgot to gas up. In Ukiah, the biodiesel station was closed, but we figured we had enough fuel to make it to Santa Rosa, where there was another biodiesel place Traci had found on the Internet. It was closed too.
After we caved in and filled up with regular diesel, we did the math. Our disappointment was immediately diminished—43 miles per gallon. We drove home contented.