SOL FEST TRIP

UPDATE

PTF site’s been updated! Published some recent news stories and great informative articles on thefront page

SOLFEST TRIP REPORT

Here’s a summary (with help from JM) of what transpired over the past five days from beginning to … well…. sort of the end.

FRIDAY, AUG 20

Early Friday morning, we were ready and set to go with our 40 gallon fuel tank topped up with homebrewed biodiesel and the cargo space packed with all PTF’s booth equipment. After pausing a moment for prayer for a safe trip, we departed Pasadena and were on the 210 freeway northbound.

The bio-burban’s first test was the legendary “Grapevine” through the Tejon Pass. It’s a 3/4 ton car and we were hauling lots of weight (exhibit, food, camping gear) so we were watching all the gauges faithfully but the suburban tackled the hills without any problems. If 100% biodiesel does indeed reduce power and performance by 10%, it wasn’t noticeable, even on a challenging road like that.

The scenery is peaceful once the cities and the ugly suburban sprawl of cookie-cutter houses are left behind. However, we were aware of the obvious dryness of the landscape from the summer drought and several blackened places where fires had raged.

But it was much more disheartening to notice the shriveled remains of Calif oaks decaying into the brown earth. Large patches of grand and beautiful oaks were strangling to death all over the hillsides. Some of these trees were massive. Their death was most likely caused by the horrible, unexplained phenomenon sweeping California – the so-called sudden oak death syndrome induced by a fungus; an unknown species of Phytophthora.

We descended from the Tejon Pass into the fertile valley of our state on I-5, the main transportation artery through California’s agricultural heartland. Fields of Cotton, Tomatoes, Almonds, Sorghum, Melons, etc, stretched far beyond the horizon in every which way. Acres upon acres of mono-cropping — not our type of farming!

We cringed at the sight of bare topsoil baking to a pale white in the sun and the thick clouds of it blowin’ in the wind across the road. Farmers in their dusty yellow tractors lumbered through the fields, stirring up what was left of the soil into gritty whirlwinds. The area needed some major mulching!

I think we carried several inches of California topsoil with us as the shiny (and newly waxed!) black paint of our car became a “magnet” to those wandering renegade clouds of displaced earth.

Rollin’ right along to the lyrical sounds of Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, the Bryds, Beatles, REM, etc favorite musicians, piping from the cd player of the suburban, we made good time until…

The dreaded, inevitable TRAFFIC.

We were following a route planned for us by AAA and their TripTik program which navigated us to the outskirts of the Oakland area (Walnut Creek, Livermore). It proved to be a scenic, but not so great route. We thought traffic congestion in LA was bad – but to find miles of bumper-to-bumper cars around little cities Pleasant Hill and Concord at 3 in the afternoon? Unbelievable!

Here we were, stuck in a four lane parking lot, barely crawling along and mostly sitting at a dead stop and we had to be at Hopland to set up our booth by 6pm.

It was a recipe for headaches all around…

Calculating distance, location, and time, we estimated we were still 3 hours away from just reaching Hopland. It was going to be more than pretty darn close.

We glared at each other and other drivers around us, sighed loudly, nervously checked the time every few minutes, made several useless wishes for a cellphone, and tried to comfort ourselves with the fact that we were advertising after all (our magnetic car signs were dusty, but bright and visible).

An hour and one toll bridge later (I’m barely keeping from going into a rant over the chaos of that particular toll bridge), the traffic started to thin out and the TripTik route guided us into the beautiful Napa Valley.

Alright, we thought, we could make up lost time here …

… but that wasn’t to be the case, unfortunately.

Honestly, we had no clue why there would be so much traffic. Perhaps everyone was leaving the Bay Area to spend time at Napa during the weekend? We couldn’t believe it, here we were on this two lane rural road, with cars lined up on both sides for miles — can’t pass, no alternative route, no choice but to hunker down, squint against the deepening headache and try and fight the urge from engaging the four-wheel drive and doing some off-roading.

As six o’clock rolled around to find us still stuck in Napa, we no longer worried that we weren’t going to make it up to Hopland in time — it was past time.

So, we made a call at St. Helena in the Napa Valley to the folks at SolFest and got in touch with one of the coordinators who said they were letting exhibitors in until a little later than 7:30. It helped take off some of the mounting stress and anxiety off our minds, but not by much. We had to buy some dinodiesel for fuel as we were nearly empty (the biodiesel would have gotten us to Hopland had we not been stuck in traffic — stupid AAA route) and the manager at the gas station informed us that Hopland was 1 1/2 hours away. It was going to be quite a haul!

Thankfully, traffic dissipated in St. Helena by that time – except for a few snail-pace moving, sight-seeing, travelers cruising along with little regard for our time schedule – or for our stress level.

Napa Valley was a very attractive place with a sort of small-town European type feel. The scenery was – oh – to die for and the architecture of most of the houses was stunning while others were cute and quaint. Too bad we had to crane our necks around to see them as we whizzed on by.

We would have liked to enjoy the sights a little more, and perhaps venture off away from the touristy route but it would have to be another time. Maybe.

Eventually, around 7:30, the much-anticipated Real Goods Institute appeared and we pulled into the “exhibitors driveway.” We were too tired to even feel relieved to finally be here and simply dumped out all the stuff needed for the booth at our assigned spot and wrestled numb bodies and cramped legs back into the car to continue our journey.

For a trip that should have taken 8 hours, it already been nearly 10 hours and was not finished … not yet!   JM made reservations on the internet for us to spend that night and the two later nights at a campground (Bushay) on Lake Mendocino

On a website, it was stated that Campground Bushay was only “15 minutes from Hopland” but in fact it was more like 30 minutes!

Nightfall filled the valley when we finally arrived at the site. One of our friends that we were sharing the campsite with was already there but the other party of 6 was not.

We set up camp and abandoned our pre-planned meal for a quick snack then chatted while we waited for our friends.

Morning at Lake Medocino

JC and JM scouted out the campsite as best they could in the night and made the trek to the front gate several times to look for the missing party and to watch the cars coming through. Once they found a payphone, they called around but with no luck.

Nine o’clock passed, then 10 and our friends still hadn’t showed. We were all getting a bit worried. The campground locked the gates down at 10 o’clock.  We were tired but JC and JM once again walked to the front gate for “one last time” then headed back to the campsite.

However, as we hung around the campsite for a half an hour longer, JC and JM looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to go”one more time.”

It was then that they met our friends on the way down … JC and JM recognized the group first but it was dark so they were all kind of wary of each other until JC called their names and then it was hugs and greetings all around.

Everyone was tired and exhausted from the ride, so, once the tents were set up, it was “good night!”

And that was the end of one heck of a day…

SATURDAY AUG 21

Sol Fest, Real Goods Institute, Hopland Calif

In spite of the prior day’s events, we weren’t about to miss one of our favorite parts of camping – getting up early to take a morning walk. All humans were asleep (except for us – maybe a few others) and the campground was full of animals — the nocturnal ones were just returning home and others such as wild turkeys and deer were awakening for breakfast.   There were families of deer with fawns gliding through the woods, returning from a quick drink at the lake. (One of our campground partners and friend was later quick to note that “Bambi lives!”)

The lake was peaceful in the early morning dawn, though the water line looked as if it wasn’t at its usual level. I wonder if it’s just a normal summer depth or a result of the low rainfall these years. Nestled in a curve of mountains, Lake Mendocino was serenely beautiful even if it was created by man and the Army Corp of Engineers years ago.  

We had to leave early to set up the booth, so it was a quick breakfast of homemade granola and then off we went.

Planning is always important and JD had drawn out a quick sketch of how he wanted the booth laid out so everything was up and ready in a short time.

Except for the electricity we previously requested with our reservation…

Days before, JM and JD worked on a 3 min virtual slideshow photo tour of PTF’s homestead set to Celtic guitar fingerpicking music which JM picked out. We had a small 13″ TV we wanted to display it on but our electricity was nowhere to be found.

The booth space we had was by a huge array of solar panels so we eventually scouted out and found a power outlet but the “juice” wasn’t on. JM left to find someone that would help, but the volunteers were a bit disorganized and really couldn’t help
— until a friendly (and familiar) face walked up and said “hi, you guys!”

It turned out to be a friend from home…. who was also a volunteer there (and at PTF) and she went to go find out what the heck was going on.    Well, no such luck at first but after a bit of persistence on our part, things were straightened out.

Wearing our new PTF t-shirts, we were ready for the day!

PTF t-shirts

At 10 am the public started to trickle in and SolFest officially started.  There were a few familiar faces from the Southland who dropped by our booth, which was nice to see. Other people who knew us through our website stopped to greet us. We knew each other through emails, but never got to meet each other until then.

We were hoping to catch some speakers and workshops during the day, but….

At lunchtime JC and I walked over 1/2 mile to the car to make some sandwiches. As we turned onto the lane where our car was parked, we noticed that the suburban was tilted at an odd angle. JC investigated and instantly heard air escaping from the valve stem on the left front tire.

Thank God it didn’t blow going 65 mph at night on HWY 101! We went back to tell JD the news and JC went to call AAA to put on a spare. Not that we couldn’t do it ourselves but we thought maybe they would fix the valve stem. Also these tires have 8 lugs (some tires!) tightened with an pneumatic air wrench. It would take too long and we had the booth to staff.

So, with that unfortunate incident and stretched thin with things to do – fixing the tire and staffing the booth – we were unable to catch Charris Ford, Joshua Tickell, Daryl Hannah and their biodiesel talk or any of the workshops that afternoon for that matter.

Carol Cox ofBountiful Gardens (and co author ofThe Sustainable Vegetable Garden: A Backyard Guide to Healthy Soil and Higher Yields) stopped by our booth but of course we didn’t know who she was at first. She exclaimed “6,000 lbs on a tenth of an acre? How come we didn’t know about you?” She then went on to introduce herself as Carol Cox – and wondered if we might share our data with her andJeavons and wanted to write about our homestead in their Ecology Action newsletter. Towards the end of the conversation she graciously invited us up to see the world famous garden at Willits.

Huell Howser passed with his camera man – probably doing a segment for KCET’s Calif Green Program. Unfortunately, he passed our booth without a glance — oh, well.

JM stopped by theMother Earth booth to browse through the magazines. When asked if she read the magazine, she said she did when she could then recounted the story of how JD, armed with a suitcase full of issues, went to New Zealand back in the 70’s to start his homestead — they thought it was a great story. One booth staffer commented that “(Mother Earth Mag) can do that to you.”

Day one ofSolFest ended at 7pm so at 7:30 we left for the campsite to enjoy a quiet evening with a few friends. We sat and talked for hours, swapping stories of our lives and having a great time.

The others of our group stayed behind at SolFest for the music and dancing event – we went to bed around 11:30 pm and they hadn’t yet come back.

SUNDAY AUG 22

PTF’s booth

Again early to rise, and off to SolFest for day two.

Had to track down a tire place to fix the tire valve so we could take off the spare. Luckily we found a tire place open on Sunday and found out how lucky we were as we were told it was the only tire place open for miles in either direction, except for maybe a Wal-Mart where the wait would have been 2hrs. Unreal.

The mechanic then informed us that the valves the suburban’s previous owners bought were fancy and expensive but crappy and that the cheaper ones were “ten times better.” We intend on complaining to the manufacturer soon.

Towards the afternoon, we were able to take turns walking around and checking out the SolFest exhibits. There wasn’t really anything new to learn.  It was a lot of fun, but there weren’t much booths with any revolutionary new ideas. Still, the atmosphere was great and we met some great people.  It was also nice to just spend the day with our friends and learning new things about one another.

David, one of our friends who was sharing our campsite told Jordanne and me that there was a lady who was demonstrating the Navajo Spindle and that we had to check it out. So we three went over and had a brief hands on demo of spinning Navajo style — which JM and I found to be extremely easier than the drop spindle. David seemed to pick it up quite easily!

We ended up having a conversation with the lady and her husband and found out that he used to live in Pasadena and now resides just 2 miles from the Real Goods Institute — where he has a huge compost pile and raises a ancient breed of goats which they generously give away free to the Navajo peoples to keep the spinning tradition alive.   We also got to learn more about the Navajo people and some of the injustices they are enduring, even to this day.    

They both invited us to stop in to their farm on Monday.   We would have loved to if we had time and not had already been invited up to Bountiful Gardens.

We were also a little disappointed that we weren’t able to spend a bit more time in the beautiful campground area and were always rushing around — leaving early and getting back after dark didn’t allow us to spend time on the lake.

That night everyone in our group made it to camp in time for a some music under the stars and a sing-a-long. JC started the fire using flint, JM and I made up some Smoores to pass around and then it was time for some music.    That was a great evening spent with some wonderful people.  

Everyone went to bed happy.

MONDAY AUG 23

Bountiful Gardens, Willits Calif

Again, we woke early, but this time, exchanged goodbyes with our friends, said “see you in LA!” and then drove up to Willits some 45 minutes above Hopland. The map to Bountiful Gardens navigated us onto a dirt road — well, more like rocky, bumpy dirt road. The stones could be heard “tinging” underneath the car which made us cringe a bit.

At Ecology Action’s Bountiful Garden, John Jeavons came out to meet us and said that Carol Cox told him about our project and for us go down and see her in the garden for a tour.

Ms. Cox took us around and showed off the intensive, double-dug beds, explaining their method of circle garden and then showed us their demonstration garden for feeding one person with a complete diet.

Bountiful Gardens tries to be totally self-contained and doesn’t bring any compost or fertilizers in, instead growing green crops and composting what green matter they do have.

On leaving, Ms. Cox showed us their solar shower, bicycle powered washing machine and their bucket compost toilets — that was neat! I want JC to now make a bicycle washing machine!

Before we left we gave them a donation and thanked them for their time in taking us around and invited them down to our own homestead. Mr. Jeavons gave us a new edition of HOW TO GROW MORE VEGETABLES and a copy in Spanish. He and JD spoke for awhile about future plans.

Fill’er up

On the way back home, we stopped at the Real Goods station in Hopland to fill up on biodiesel for the trip south ($90 worth @ $3.50 a gallon for B100!). WOW!

We used another route back home through Berkley — and there was still traffic! Couldn’t believe it – we’re sick of traffic! But it was nice to get some waves and peace signs as we drove through the Berkley/Oakland area. Right on!

Finally back on to I-5….. and moving right along (as the Muppets would say)…..

Then, something went wrong….

Three hours and 200 miles from home the car started to burn oil
— JC saw it through the mirror and told JD.
Not good, not good at all.

We were stuck — no town for miles. No cell phone…

JD and JC did what they could to the engine but nothing worked. So, it was decided to start the car and crawl along to see if there was anything ahead — the car was shaking and smoking and thankfully a few hundred yards up was a Highway Patrolman to help — he called in a tow.

We waited as darkness began to creep in on the interstate, semis whipping by at crazy speeds.

An hour later, the tow truck man showed up and took us to a small town called Coalinga who had a Chevy dealer. As it was late the tow guy just dumped the car off at the dealer and us at a hotel ($69 a night — a bit steep for a no name hotel in a dinky town. Whatta rip off).

We were stranded in the middle of “nowhere” — and the situation looked bleak.

It was to get worse tomorrow.

TUESDAY AUG 24

After a sleepless night, JD and JC walked to the Chevy dealer in town who said they were too busy and couldn’t work on the car since it’s an old 6.2L diesel.

They went on to recommend that we have it towed to Hanford, a town about 40 miles away. Not much choice, have it towed to LA ($1000) or Hanford ($200)

So, we called the tow company and went to Hanford and the Chevy dealer there. Once there, the dealer charged us $153 to diagnose the problem. After 3 hours of waiting the guy came in and said that one cylinder/piston was bad but to really find out what was the problem it would cost us $1300 — then they would probably end up telling us what that one cylinder/piston needed to be fixed/replaced – estimated to cost several thousand dollars!!!!!  

The news stunned us into silence. It was an awful feeling and some of us (the girls) barely kept some tears in check.

JC wondered even if they could fix the bad piston
— what about the other seven? The dealer’s advice:  junk the old engine
and get a new engine. OUCH!!!

Again, not much choice. JD made the decision to go with the new engine.  It will be ready sometime next week.

FYI — IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH BIODIESEL – the Chevy dealer has seen it before and said that some rebuilt 6.2L diesel engines work okay and some don’t. He said there was no way of knowing and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it. We had bought the car thru a diesel mechanic shop who came highly recommended from several different sources.

Anyway, we had to get home — work, chores, deliveries and Robina coming in for a workshop on Sunday. So, JD rented a car for a week to get home.

We got home at about 7:30pm and are thankful to be home. It’s good to be back!

This trip really drained us both mentally, emotionally and financially. It’s been a hard hit … after adding everything up….

This has been the most expensive “vacation” we’ve ever had!!!

CUTBACKS

So, trying to cancel the greywater system — hasn’t arrived yet so no loss there.

A lot of plans will have to be temporarily halted — PTF’s outreach program and other “to do” projects will be cut back for awhile.  Being this project was grant free, it was already difficult — perhaps it’s time for us to try another path????

So for the next few months, we are just going to hunker down, tighten down the spending, and pay off this unexpected expense…. then we’ll see what happens.

We just gotta be survivors.

PERMACULTURE WORKSHOP

Right now, there’s Robina’s expenses for the workshop and slideshow to deal with this Sunday– we dropped the deadline and will take “pay at the door.”

For those of you who may be interested and can’t afford the workshop — there will be a slide show at 7pm

PERMACULTURE GARDENS AROUND THE PLANET – a slideshow presentation. Examples of different environments around the world where dedicated gardeners, using methods appropriate to their conditions, have produces an abundance of organic food, while creating nature havens of beauty and harmony.

Slideshow entry: $12 – $5 (income based sliding scale) This evening is free to workshop participants.

Got to stay positive — but it’s been hard on everyone (thankfully we made it home alive, in one piece, thank God).

Need to catch up now… try to recuperate and regain our well being.

As one wise friend said “Everything happens for a reason.”

Weather Report: Pleasan

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