Wednesday, December 20, 2006

bioTrekker Beginnings

The mid-life crisis cliché is pretty well defined. A man approaching his retirement years suddenly finds himself fighting the clock. Maybe he starts dating women young enough to be his daughters. Maybe he dyes his hair and starts wearing clothes that look like they belong on the mannequins at Abercrombie and Fitch. Almost always, as the cliché goes, he buys himself a hot sports car—a Corvette or a Mustang, a Porsche or a convertible of some sort.

Well, I guess I’ve got it all backwards. I’m 28 years old and I’m buying an RV. Break out the white shorts, black socks and Hawaiian t-shirts.

Some people might call it a quarter-life crisis (yes, I plan to live to 112). Some people might call it a strange financial decision or a half-baked scheme or a desperate attempt to get out of having a “real job.” I call it a dream.

For the last five years I’ve worked as a writer and editor in the marketing department at Monaco Coach Corporation, the leading manufacturer of diesel motorhomes. Not just any diesel motorhomes — luxury diesel motorhomes. The Taj Mahals. The glossy painted, leather upholstered, ceramic tiled, plush carpeted, rope lighted, technologically tricked out coaches that made my modest suburban house look like a tar paper shack.

The truth is, before my job at Monaco, I never imagined myself as the RV type. I always considered myself a backpack sort of guy—an aficionado of camping old-school style with tent and sleeping bag. You know, nothing but the soft howl of a kerosene lantern, the crackle of a campfire and the sinus clearing odor of a small nylon compartment packed full of un-showered companions who have been eating nothing but granola for the last three days? Who doesn’t love waking up to the rhythmic pitter-patter of cool water on the forehead from an overnight thunderstorm and a leaking rain fly? Isn’t that how Kerouac would have us do it?

I also had a little trouble with the idea of using so much fuel just to bring along the TV and the kitchen sink. It seemed a little excessive to me. Isn’t the point of camping to leave it all behind? I’m not going to make the Greenpeace Hall of Fame any time soon, but I always wished there was some way to make RVing more environmentally friendly. In the final analysis, it might not be any less friendly than traveling by plane and staying in big hotel chains, but I think it’s a good idea to do what you can to take care of your Big Blue Mother. Or at least have good intentions for her. So I recycle. I compost. I even do my best to reuse plastic bags, unless it’s the one at the very bottom of the crisper that’s filled with a jellified cucumber or a fuzzy tomato.

I was 98 percent in love with my job at Monaco. One percent had to do with the environmental wish, and one percent had to do with the fact that it was a desk job. I like desks, they’re very useful, but let’s face it, they’d be much better if they came with changing scenery.

I was working at my very useful desk on a spring day when it hit me: I am an RV guy. After five years in the industry, I know all about them, I love the people who own them and I can see myself in one. I’ve discovered that these things are endlessly flexible. You might not take the fridge and the kitchen sink up on a pack trip, but wouldn’t it be nice to have them nearby when you get back? If used in the right way, can’t they actually help conserve energy when traveling? You can live out of an RV full-time or part time. You can save good money on hotels and restaurants. You can outfit them with solar power for more energy efficient living. You can even eliminate your commute by turning an RV into a mobile office and using it for work.

Wait a minute.

You CAN use them for work. That’s what I was sitting there at my desk thinking. It’s a dangerous thing when you start believing your own marketing. But it’s true. Couldn’t I take my job on the road? Wouldn’t that bump me up to 99 percent?

At that same time, I was researching a story on biodiesel. It had me excited. There is tremendous promise in biodiesel and biofuels in general. Here we have a way to take the crops of American farmers, or used fryer grease from American restaurants, and turn those things into fuel for our vehicles and houses. Not only that, but the fuel is less toxic and it requires no change in fuel distribution infrastructure. In fact, biodiesel or a biodiesel blend will run in almost any diesel engine without modifications.

Wait a minute.

Monaco is a DIESEL motorcoach manufacturer. You probably see where I’m going with this. That’s right, I’m headed to 100 percent. As a kid, I thought my dream job was to play professional football or maybe to become a professional tree fort builder, but now I know what it really is: write from a mobile RV office fueled with a renewable resource—travel the country in search of adventure and great stories, all the while advocating the things I believe in, like the joy of travel and the benefits of biofuels research.

So that’s the personal reason behind all this—it’s a dream, plain and simple—but there is also one underlying message I intend to make with this campaign: Anyone can do this. And by that, I mean a few things.

• If your dream is to travel the country now, you can do it. An RV is a worthy craft to accomplish this goal, especially for families. It’s true, the RVs built for the American market could be designed in a more fuel-efficient way, and hopefully I can convince a few people that there’s a market for that. I’ll also track all my expenses and share the results to prove that it can be done by spending less than other forms of travel. I’m certainly not rich, and this is a huge investment for me, but the experience is worth much more. Yes, gas prices aren’t what they used to be, but there are solutions.

• If you dream of working at a desk that comes with changing scenery, you can do it.
I hope to show that RVing is not only useful in recreation, but for many businesses as well. This is perfect for any sales profession that requires travel with a lot of equipment (think golf, skiing, etc.).

• If you are 10 percent or 40 percent or 80 percent or 90 percent satisfied with your life, and you dream of 100 percent, it’s possible.

• If we all dream of powering our vehicles (and much of our society) with a more stable, renewable fuel that will empower farmers and free us from dependence on foreign oil, we can do it.

Whatever the dream is, we can do it. All it takes is a little belief.

When it first occurred to me, quite a few people seemed to think that my little dream didn’t have much of a chance. What about losing the safety net that comes with a desk job? What about the money? What about all the things that could go wrong? All I can say is this: I believed, and it’s happening. If you dream about anything at all, I hope I’m taking some of the excuses out of not following it.

So, yes, I’m peddling biodiesel here, especially biodiesel research. I’m peddling energy awareness and I’m peddling the traveling lifestyle, but more than that, I’m peddling the power of dreams believed. Thank you for joining me in the ride.

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