Posts tagged “environmentalism”.

Viral Image

I received an email from my brother yesterday. It was a joke email with a subject “Don’t swallow ocean water” and had the following attachment:

Don't Drink Ocean Water

Don't Drink Ocean Water

I had a chuckle. I am a guy after all. Low-brow humor affects me. But several hours after receiving this email, the horror of the image hit me. That poor, harmless, mammal, has been killed, hauled up on deck, and will be carved up, shipped to Japan and sold for close to $115 per pound at current exchange rates.

For a brief moment, I was ashamed that I thought it was humorous. Then it hit me. This is genius! If other people react like I did, then they’ll laugh, email the photo around, and hopefully come to the same conclusions I did and be horrified they laughed at a photo depicting slaughter. This image is viral. It should be passed around harmlessly as a joke, and hopefully the image will slowly eat away at the psyche of the viewer and convert their way of thinking.

I don’t condone the killing of whales. I personally think something needs to be done. I feel protesting with your wallet is the most powerful way to make a statement. You vote every time you reach for your credit card. Maybe a boycott of all Japanese electronics? All goods Japanese?

A Camping Tale

It was a long and boring day. I finished work at 2:30 p.m. Having completed all the menial Friday billing and payroll tasks I closed my IBM stinkpad and decided to do a few chores before departing. I mowed the yard, grabbed a shower, and hit a few stores before getting on the road. It was well after 7:00 p.m. when i departed.

I was on the road about 20 minutes when I realized I left my stove fuel bottle, full of white gas, in the garage. Without it, I wouldn’t be eating. So I turned around and headed back home, got the items I left in the garage and tossed them into the trunk figuring that I’ll work out how to pack them when I got to the parking lot in the forest. Off I went, the second time. It’s now close to 8:00 p.m. but I’m determined to start my camping trip on Friday — damn the torpedoes.

The drive was about two hours. I arrived at the parking lot of the trail head around 10:00 p.m. When I turned off all the lights, it was pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face beneath the trees. So, working with a flashlight I tried to repack my gear. Things weren’t going well for me either. I dropped one of the water bottles I had packed and broke the top. Spilling all the water out of it and getting some of my gear wet. I couldn’t figure out how to carry my camera equipment up the mountain with me and didn’t want to risk breaking it without the proper padding and protection. I wound up leaving my photographic gear behind.

Finally at around 11:00 p.m. I took a large dose of ibuprofen, I knew I was going to need it, and got it together enough to begin my ascent — traveling by fifteen year old memories and flashlight.

Camping Gear

Camping Gear

I didn’t weigh my pack. I think it felt heavier than carrying my oldest child on my back. Get out a pencil and paper and add this up with me. I’m going to estimate it at a conservative seventy pound pack. Add to that a few pounds in each hand for stuff that just didn’t fit in my pack. Add to that the darkness of a national forest. Add to that a seven hundred foot incline over a kilometer. Add to that a forty year old, desk-jockey with bad knees who doesn’t get enough exercise. Now, what does that total? Yes, you are correct! An hour and a half hike up the mountain. Fatigue. Muscle cramps. Mental anguish. Fear of wild animal attack — it is bear country and they are just waking up emaciated from hibernating.

With everything that went wrong there was one thing that I had on my side. I’m more stubborn than a jackass and I wasn’t going to give up. Honestly, that’s all that kept me going. I kept remembering a Concrete comic book by Dark Horse Comics that I read in college. In it the main character climbs a mountain and comes to a realization about life and mountain climbing. Each is boring, monotonous, and mind numbingly repetitive. And the way you climb a mountain is stupidly simple: you keep taking the next step. So, that’s just what I did. When I felt like I couldn’t go any farther, I told myself I had to take just one more little four inch baby step… I can do that, I know I can.

About a quarter of the way up I had to rest. My heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest. Then I figured on average the trail was a 1/5 slope. For every five feet forward I traveled I climbed a foot in altitude. I caught my breath, let my heart slow down to about eighty beats per minute and paced myself with strides that were about a foot and a quarter in length. I counted to myself from one to four, over and over and over.

Stone Trail Marker

Stone Trail Marker

I was extra alert, and managed to find the turn in the trail which lead to the peak. It was marked with a small stack of stones far off to the left of the trail. Honestly, I remember missing this trail in the distant past in the daylight. It’s easy to do. I was ecstatic when I found it Friday night for two reasons. One, it meant I wasn’t lost, and two, it meant I was half way there.

After the turn, the trail felt much steeper. My pack felt heavier. I was tired and hungry, having passed up fast food on the road for some deranged, idealized vision of a dehydrated, camping-food dinner that I had planned to eat under the stars on top of a mountain. I had to stop and rest three or four times. My legs ached, my knees hurt, and I was sweating even though it was maybe 40ºF.

Up, up, up I climbed. The trail started to look like a deep, dry gully. And a light shown down from the top of the trail. It was another camper. I managed to say in a panting, rasping way that almost resembled speech, “Tell me this is the top.” He said I was really close, which invigorated me and I managed to climb this steepest part of the trail, the slope having to be 2/1 for about 10 yards.

Steep Gully Trail

Steep Gully Trail

I asked how crowded it was. He said it was pretty crowded. There were only one or two crappy campsites left right there on the main trail. I told him I had been up here before and remember hanging my hammock between two trees right along the peak. He took me to the peak. I stumbled around on the top of the mountain for a while before finding a suitable pair of trees to hang my hammock. I literally mean stumble. As I lost my footing, fell, and either sprained or broken my pinky-finger.

So now it’s 12:30 a.m. I clear some brush. Hang my hammock. Start my camping stove. Boil some water. Rehydrate a dehydrated meal and wait for it to cook. Repack my gear. Hang it in the tree next to me. Eat dinner and bed down.

It’s now just after 1:00 a.m. I’ve turned off my flashlight and in fifteen minutes my eyes adjust to the starlight. On top of the mountain, with no trees shading the light, it was bright with just starlight alone. There were billions and billions of stars that were visible with the naked eye. It was absolutely magnificent. The other campers who were on the peak with me were loud, obnoxious, and having a great time. I had packed an MP3 player and tried to drown them out with some heavy metal.

While I was laying there jamming out under the star filled sky I saw a shooting star. It burned for 3 seconds, covered one fifth of the sky’s arc, and the fireball was at least an eighth of the relative size of the full moon. For a second there before it burnt out I thought it might actually hit the Earth.

I snuggled down in my sleeping bag, with my Tijuana blanket while the wind rocked my hammock. I was warm, comfortable and happy. I think I fell asleep around 3:00 a.m. But this is a camping trip, so you know that happiness and contentment didn’t last long.

I slept for about an hour listening to System of a Down, Marilyn Manson, and A Perfect Circle on my MP3 player only to be awoken by the ruckus of the rude individuals sharing the mountain with me. I heard them OVER the head-banging, metal that was playing directly in my ear canals. They finally shut up around 4:30 a.m. and I fell back asleep without the need of music to drown out morons.

I was exhausted both mentally and physically and slept deeply. The wind blew the trees and rocked my hammock. I had found heaven on earth. Happiness and contentment again, right? You got it. It wasn’t meant to last.

At 6:30 a.m. another band of hikers came to the summit, which was damn close to my camp, and carried on. Wonderful. I slept all of maybe three hours, if that. I laid there, waiting for the sun to rise. I had a good view of the horizon through the trees. And just before the sun peaked over the distant horizon, the tops of the pine trees turned a brilliant, fiery orange. Followed closely by the bright, blinding, morning light of our day star. It was amazing. All of my anger at the rude, loud, obnoxious people on that mountain disappeared.

I made breakfast. Repacked my gear properly in daylight. Broke camp and waited. And waited. And waited. I wasn’t leaving until I had a bowel movement, because I knew if I started without one, I’d need to go 1/2 way down the mountain, and there was nowhere to dig a cat-hole on that trail. I had brought a book with me, the Army’s field manual on Survival, thinking that I’d make a mockumentary out of the whole trip. With my camera gear in my car seven hundred feet below me, that wasn’t going to happen today. So I sat, read, and waited.

Finally, business was taken care of and I suited up and hiked down the mountain. I tell you, going down isn’t easier — my leg muscles burned and my knees hurt worse than ever — but it was faster. When I got to the car I took some more ibuprofen and relaxed for a bit. Then I realized I had left the ropes in the trees at my camp site. You need to know, for me, that’s horrible. I’m a low-impact camper. I bury my bodily waste and I carry out everything that I packed in. I leave my campsite in the natural way I found it. No visible fire ring, no ash on the ground, no trace. So, I had to go back for those dumb ropes. Not because of their value, but because of my principles.

I was going back up anyway, I might as well take my camera gear and get some photographs and take some video. So I climbed to the top of the mountain again with only my camera gear in the daylight. I’ll tell you, a much easier climb. I really did feel 20 years younger. Like superman? No. Maybe more like Popeye. Ibuprofen is my spinach.

A View of Table Rock

A View of Table Rock

After going up, taking photos, talking to other hikers, and coming back down I was tasked with finding a new campsite. Surprisingly this was much more difficult. I was determined to get away from people this time. You’d think that would be an easy task in a 1,076,711 acre National Forest. So I got in the car and drove the forestry access roads. And drove. And drove. A few times I got out and hiked, scouting for a suitable campsite, but I found none. Oh, hell, I’m picky alright. It started getting later in the afternoon now, about 4:00 p.m. I became disappointed at my inability to find a really nice, secluded spot to camp. Add the threat of rain which was looming and it was an easy decision to just call it an overnight camping trip and head home.

Honestly, I felt that I had more privacy at home, in my own back yard, than I did on that mountain.

This is where my luck turned for the better. I got home without incident and fell asleep on the couch Saturday night around 8:00 p.m. Again, it was a sound, restful and deep sleep. The camping and MRE rations I had eaten must have been loaded with salt. How can I assume this? I suffer from gout and my episodes are triggered by salt. At 6:00 a.m. I woke to a burning pain in both of the tendons around my knee caps (not the joints themselves, I can tell the difference), and both my achilles tendons in my heels. Pain. Huge pain. I got up to drink water and take medicine. I could barely walk. If I had packed in anywhere, and camped out in the woods, there was no way I would have been able to walk out, let alone hike out with seventy pounds on my back. I was so glad I was home. It took about an hour for the pain medication to work and I went back to sleep and slept another four hours.

So, I’m home, safe and sound… only slightly injured. I can honestly say that I had an overnight adventure. Not my only camping trip this year. I’m going back, only with better preparation, satellite surveillance and reconnaissance, and much better food, with no salt. My ideal camping spot of years past is gone. Ruined by the masses. I’ll hunt out another spot to camp. Maybe in the Uwharrie National Forest? Who knows?

Poor Little Greeny

Sunset from my backyard.

Sunset from my backyard.

In the spirit of all Anonymous meetings, “Hi, my name is Andrew, and I’m a greeny.” I’ve been a greeny since a seed was planted in my psyche by television in the early 70’s, early in my childhood development, an image of a native american (whom I later learned was really an Italian actor) with one lone tear streaming down his face. No other ad campaign in history has affected me as such. No, not even Sally Struthers and her poor starving third world children who I could feed for pennies a day. This one tear affected me so much that to this day, I try to live my life as environmentally friendly as possible. I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I try. I don’t always succeed. But I try. Most of the time. When it’s convenient. And when it’s not, well, I deal with the guilt of that lone tear.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I have adult ADD. If I were a child today, I’d be on lithium. I have a warped sense of humor, a devious nature, and way too much free time. I usually get very excited about something, start it and then lose interest never to pick it up again let alone finish it. Yes, go ahead, imagine what my garage looks like.

This year I became completely disgusted with gasoline, the middle east, and the price of Starbuck’s coffee. This disgust excited and motivated me. Being a realist, I knew it was almost impossible to break the national dependency on grande soy lattes, and iced frappuccinos, so I had to do something instead about our dependancy on foreign oil. I’m not the kind of person to start a movement, or march on city hall, or protest by burning red plastic gasoline cans on top of new Hummers shinning quietly in the nighttime halogen glow of dealership lights.

No, really I’m not!

So, I figured I’d do what I do best. Start another fool-hearty project that will most likely end in disaster and ridicule. And is it any surprise I wound up where all ill begotten ideas end up, here on the Internet?

Think globally, act locally. The only true control you have is over your own life and how you live it. Change that. Show your neighbors and inspire those around you by acting. Demonstrate how easy it can be to do the right thing. Be an example.

In my quest to green my life and break my dependance on foreign oil, I decided to start small and only tackle my commute to work. Now in retrospect this is probably an area I was doing quiet well in already. I drive a Hyundai Elantra. My car gets between 28 and 30 miles per gallon city and 32 to 34 miles per gallon highway milage. I only drive 15 miles total (that is to and from work) a day. So, my 12 gallon tank lasts me two weeks. But I still feel guilty for not buying a hybrid car, even though I know the car companies were pillaging and raping the greeny’s and profiting on our collective feelings of guilt, feelings I’m sure I share with all Americans everywhere who grew up watching that poor lone tear slowly fall down that Italian actor’s cheek. There is no legitimate reason for the mark up on hybrid vehicles. And having come to that conclusion long ago, that the ROI on a hybrid vehicle was NEVER, I went with the best value for a small car with good gas milage. It didn’t make economic sense for me to buy a hybrid. Luckily, my guilt was stemmed when Penn and Teller agreed with my decision on a recent Bullshit on HBO, so I am completely vindicated and justified, because Penn and Teller know everything and never get anything wrong. Right? Right!

So, not a hybrid, then what? An electric car? Nope, can’t get an EV-1 anymore. Which by the way is reported to be the best electric car ever mass produced. But that’s just what I read, I haven’t actually watched my bootleg copy of “Who killed the Electric Car” yet. I can’t remember which portable hard drive I saved it to, or if I burned it to DVD; where did I put it? Probably in the garage.

I toyed with the idea of manufacturing a home-made electric car. To which I actually laughed at myself, out loud no less. No, it had to be simple. I had to think smaller. It was not unlike trying to build an airplane or glider, but I was no brother Wright. I can barely maintain my own bicycle. And the simplicity of the situation came to light, I decided to electrify my mountain bike.

At first I was contemplating mounting an electric engine and battery on the rear rack. Putting a gear on the motor’s axle and running a chain straight down to the rear gears on the back wheel. The more I thought about it the more I hated the idea. There had to be a better way and, of course, there was.

Shimano Gears

Hub Motor

Surprisingly, information on alternative electric vehicles was sparse on the net back in the beginning of 2007 when I was scouring the web. I searched, and searched, and searched, and finally found a few sites which were not only helpful but had the solution I was incapable of dreaming of! There I found what can only be called the most ingenious, simple, elegant solution to my dilemma: a hub motor. Yes, they built the electric motor inside the rear hub! The site that had this revelation, this magnificent solution, was a Chinese site that mass produced the motors and batteries, but I wasn’t feeling lucky enough to buy something like this from China. However, I started refining my searches based on the new information I was gathering. I came across another manufacturer’s site and they had links to local distributors. One of those distributors was www.poweridestore.com, a company in Atlanta, GA.

Having found a local distributor all I needed to do was figure out how I was going to afford it. And in all honesty, no matter what it is, when you want something badly enough you find a way to pay for it. I put it on my American Express Credit card.

I have to take some time here to say several kind words about the owner of the Power Ride Store, Earl Witcher; he is by far one of the most honest and fair people I have had the pleasure to do business with. I had a tragic wiring error which caused the controller to burn out. I drove the bicycle down to Atlanta (it’s only four hours each way) and Early spent the better part of a Saturday with me trying to figure out what I did wrong and how to fix it to get me running. I highly recommend using the black and red anderson connectors he sells. That was my fatal flaw while trying to wire my system initially. You can’t buy anything from a nicer guy.

Ascetically speaking there’s nothing to complain about. Unless you knew what an e-bike was and you were looking for it, you wouldn’t know there was anything different about my bike. Aside from a bag on the back (which holds the battery), a little black box behind my seat, a slightly modified back hub/rim, some wires zip-tied to the frame, and a few assorted switches on the handlebars, it looks like a completely ordinary bicycle.

An ordinary looking Bicycle

An ordinary looking Bicycle

An ordinary looking bicycle but an extraordinary riding experience. It is so much fun to ride! My controller has two gears, high and low. In high gear with light peddling I am able to keep a steady speed of 27 mph on level road and I have the ability to climb hills without breaking a sweat. The low gear has a high degree of torque and can propel me at a speed of 8 mph up the steepest of hills here in Charlotte, NC (also with light peddling). Keep in mind, with light peddling on level pavement you travel anywhere between 6 and 10 mph. The e-bike goes close to three times that speed and 27 mph seems very fast for a bicycle.

So, it’s fast; but, it also goes far too. I have about a 20 mile range per charge, and it only takes around six or so hours to recharge the battery. So, if you were 20 miles from work, you could ride your e-bike there in a little under an hour (assuming you don’t live in the mountains), plug it in at work to charge the batteries at your desk and be ready to ride home at the end of the day — getting in two light cardio workouts.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, practically speaking biking to work is very enjoyable for me from 55 degrees to 75 degrees when it’s not raining. This summer temperatures soared into the 90’s for days on end and although I could have gotten to work without risking heatstroke, I still would have been a sweaty mess. I rode to work maybe a dozen times before the weather just made it too inconvenient. My work does have a shower that I can make use of, so I’m thinking about packing a change of clothes and bath items to shower and change at work next summer.

I’m still looking for an electric vehicle to drive to work on the days when it’s below 50, above 80 degrees, or raining, sleeting or snowing out. My e-bike is a great start, but I want a commuter car that performs like the Tesla, and is priced like a Hyundai.
This is the first installment of my greeny projects… Oh yes, there are more to come.