Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chico couple's cross-country journey mixes social activism and vegetable oil


In July 2007 Chris Nelson and her spouse Michael Pike celebrated retirement from nursing careers by setting off on a nine-month journey. Their transportation of choice: "An '87 Ford F-250 four-wheel drive 3/4-ton pickup with a 8' cab-over camper," a "multi-fuel vehicle able to run on diesel fuel, bio-diesel, or straight vegetable oil." They called it the Veggie Voyager.

Nelson kept a blog along the way ( and now its content, including some stunning landscape photographs, has been published as "The Veggie Voyagers: An Eco-Friendly, Low Budget Loop Of North America's Wild Places Powered By Used Cooking Oil" ($26 in paperback from Are-We-There-Yet Press) by Chris Nelson with Michael Pike.

The couple will be sharing their "adventures in mobile homelessness" tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

"This is a book about retiring on $40 a day," Nelson writes. "It's a book about loss of habitat and environmental threats. Most of all, it's a book about the beauty of the natural world." The couple sometimes bought vegetable oil from Costco, but often along the way obtained the used variety from fast-food chains. Any water had to be removed from the oil. The filtration process involved a modified juicer and a contraption that looked more like a still or meth lab. It took hours, and more than once local law enforcement asked them to move along.

Nelson and Pike (along with Sasha, the dog, who learned repeated lessons about porcupines) traversed some twenty states and three Canadian provinces. "I figured out we'd stayed 16 times at Walmarts and 67 days with friends, family or under the wing of New Orleans folks. We've stayed at gravel pits, casinos, . . . hot springs, dumps, roadside turnouts, BLM land, campgrounds and four motels."

During their trip they participated in a rally in New Orleans on behalf of public housing, made tense with abundant police presence. In Utah they visited the town of Monticello where the "uranium and vanadium processing plant" "had created a legacy of cancers." They walked among the Bristlecone Pines on the Eastern Sierra and took a "walking meditation. The trees had one voice. It was a low, slow, deep, muted sap hum."

And they showered every four days, needed or not.

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