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Reflections
Forrest/ Brian / Viv/ Sunshine / Mikey / Mitch
Elliott
/ Lissa / Zabel / Stephanie / Andy / Crank

Forrest: Well, we made it. Even having had the past few days to decompress and catch up on work here in Hanover, I still can't believe how many places we've been and how many people we met along the way. It's been hard for me to connect the image of our path on a map with the daily change in locations and friends that defined my life for the last three months. Maybe that's because the intanglible element of daily surprise is what made the trip such an adventure.

A lot of people have asked me what my favorite stop or adventure was, but I still have trouble answering. Floating down the Colorado River in Moab? Scrubbing mold in the Gulf Coast? Hearing Stepho yell "We need to be jumped" to the drunk guy across the street at 4am in East Harlem? But it's hard to relay one story with feeling like you've neglected all the rest. Not to mention all the little things, like juggling the soccer ball after dinner in Sioux Falls or making a dent in my To Read list or losing (badly) to 10 year old Alara at cards. That we packed such a diverse array of experiences into such a short period of time, I think, gave our trip a character that could never be replicated, which is probably for the best. I wouldn't want next year's trip to try and recreate this year's tour, in the same way that we tried to make our summer different from the Bus in 2005.

One of this year's biggest goals was to really establish the Big Green Bus as a Dartmouth institution that will continue to promote alternative fuels and sustainable living for years to come. Given the project's growth from last year and the degree of national exposure we've garnered over the past ten weeks, I'd like to believe we achieved that end. But it will be interesting to see how these new circumstances will affect next year's trip. Will there be more interest around campus in joining the project, and how will that affect the selection of next year's group? With a bus that can still make another trek around the country, what areas does our engineering corps now have the opportunity to focus on in making our home-on-wheels a more effective showpiece? And how can the trip itself be structured to better reflect our message of responsible living? These are important questions for the project to answer. But though there will always be the inevitable growing pains associated with an evolving, one-of-a-kind project like ours, it is that same distinctiveness that has me so excited to see what next year's group of bussers manages to pull off.

As for the Bus's long lasting impact on my own life, well... I recently sold the SUV I've had since my ski instructing days, and I'm look forward to practicing what I've preached in New York City, where I'm moving with Mikey, Viv, and Steph in a few weeks. Ten weeks of sleeping on a bus and waking up in a different place every day is a long time, so it'll be nice to be settled in one place again. But I'm sure that tune will change once I'm gainfully employed (read: soon, Mom and Dad... soon). For now I'm content knowing that I'll appreciate my time on the Big Green Bus more and more with each passing day. I've grown close to eleven people I know I'll stay friends with for the rest of my life. I've seen sights and shared experiences I could never have imagined. And I've been a part of a larger cause than myself, a cause with a strong belief in its purpose and the capacity to continue to grow and change the world. Not bad for a summer vacation.

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Brian: I think one of the most important premises of the Bus has been that no easy solution to our energy situation exists and that, as much as we wanted to make a big splash this summer, we were admittedly small fish. In fact, the idea that we were small players interacting with other individuals for large scale change was for me the most profound aspect of the project. The mission required that we be both vocal advocates for alternative fuels and also open-minded students ready to learn more.

Mr. Ray Holan, author of Sliding Home, warned us early in our journey that we would become a lightening rod for strong alternative fuel opinions. I think most members of the group would now recount stories of encounters with unbalanced people who would rant on conspiracy theories without solicitation or end. We could get a chuckle out of those interactions, but more scary were the conversations with passionate do-it-yourselfers and even academics who had become so immersed in their work that they had lost sight of the original goal to diversify our energy sources and had instead adopted the mindset of alchemists—speaking of their singular, golden solution with complete disregard of its very real limitations.

Such limitations do not spell the end of alternative fuels before they have even taken hold but should remind us of the importance of being critical. For me, the most challenging part of the summer was not living in the close quarters—although that certainly had its moments—but was the reminder every so often that even we were becoming too comfortable with our opinions. That in trying to craft messages for media sound bytes, we were becoming complacent ourselves. Personally, a psychological roller coaster arose from the high of participating in a series of on-point conversations followed by, for example, a stranger mentioning a well-cited paper that raised key questions about the same topics of which I had been feeling so comfortable. That, to me, was the difference between giving lip service to the complexity of our energy problems and really feeling the complexity. It was almost numbing. And that perhaps is the most sobering take-away of the trip. We have no alternative but to confront the complexity of our energy situation. Yet that requires something that we Americans haven’t been very good at in recent years—productive skepticism and a hesitation in accepting the next quick fix.

Already powerful lobbying groups are maneuvering fuels like biodiesel and E85 into position as the successor to petroleum despite inherent limits to the fuels' scalability and overall environmental benefit. Our country mobilized behind oil nearly 100 years ago, and our world’s trajectory has been deeply shaped by it since. We are at a similar crossroads now, but there is no one signpost saying, “This Way to Easy Energy.” More likely will be multiple signposts, each saying “Follow Me.”

Having felt the drain of trying to envision a viable future, the prospect of instigating paradigm shifts is daunting to me—not because I have little confidence in the intelligence of the American people but because it requires that everyone take a personal stake in the issue. If I, as a member of a group with a vested interest, could become lulled by my own simplifications, asking other people with no existing personal stake to resist the temptation of taglines is a lot. Amidst all of the wonderful conversations we had this summer, there was no shortage of casual supporters who would stick their head in, give an approving smile and then walk away. But dealing with our energy needs in the upcoming years will require more than a quick thumbs-up and instead will require constant re-evaluation of personal knowledge and priorities. My experience this summer of being both student and educator of such a complicated issue was very humbling. Next year’s bus crew will have to decide how they will affect the most benefit in such murky conditions just as every citizen will have to carve out their piece of the greater puzzle.

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Viv: So I got off the bus on the Hanover Green and it suddenly hit me that I didn't know what to do with myself. Every day this summer we had new events to go to, new people to meet, things to take care of, and it was suddenly all over. I thought I'd embrace the independence, that I'd be sick of these people I'd just shared a miniscule living space with, but in actuality the opposite was true. I had spent ten weeks knowing that my experiences were intimately tied with those of my fellow bussers and that my actions were contributing to this greater good we all like to imagine is out there and growing. Many people this summer have commented that we ought to "live it up;" that this would be our "last hurrah" as young idealists. They warned that the "real world" would soon be setting in and with that jaded look joked about joining up with the Bus for awhile.

So it was not surprising that I felt as if I had lost something the moment I stepped off the Bus. Our golden summer was over, and the drudgery of normal life awaited. But upon reflection, I've come to realize that these last ten weeks have set the bar for the rest of my life, rather than being a time out of the ordinary. There is absolutely no reason I can't go on meeting strangers, talking about that which inspires me, and spending time with my closest friends. No reason I can't take my days as if the end is forever on the horizon. I have been instilled with that sense of agency that we had worked so hard all summer to promote. That ability to self-motivate and enact change, no matter how minor, is with me on and off the bus just the same. I was overwhelmed with relief, I had stepped unknowingly into an endless summer.
 
One of the aims of the Bus was to provide a living example of alternative fuels and more sustainable living. I hope that I am able to carry on the ethos of the Bus as I move to Brooklyn with Mikey, Steph and Forrest, and start up my new job. My absolute biggest regret this summer is that I wasn't able to savor the places we visited due to the packed schedule. I am unbelievably eager to be part of a community and know my neighborhood and to create depth and history with the people around me. But of course, thats not to say that the addicting wanderlust that the Bus has inspired couldn't strike at anytime and get me moving again.

If I could impart one message to those who come upon this reflections page, it would be to go really see the world. Maybe just start with the United States. Its a daunting task, but prepare to be amazed, prepare to be struck with humility and awe. That ensuing sense of wonder will turn eventually to love. And you will start finally to realize what's at stake. We are counting on that most base instict of humanity, that we will fight and sacrifice and toil relentlessly to save that which we love. But it all begins with seeing. . .

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Andy: You can bet when I started college, nobody would have expected to see me living on a Big Green Bus after I graduated. Even at the start of my senior year, less than twelve months ago, I never would have imagined I’d spend my last summer of freedom on an environmental advocacy tour. Really, environmental issues were little more than a peripheral interest of mine. But here I am at the end of the Big Green Bus’s Summer 2006 tour, all my expectations exceeded, thinking what a fool I would have been to pass this chance up.

How can I sum up 8 weeks of experiences that were so surreal, so unexpected, so eye-opening, and so reckless? What comes to mind is a phrase I uttered upon entering a certain Wal-Mart store in Phoenix, AZ, at 2AM: “This gives me hope”. At the time I was referring to the cool breeze of artificial air conditioning, compared with the 105 degree heat in the parking lot. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can put that miserable night in Phoenix along with 70 other days and nights in context. In one sense, the BGB project was a way to hold onto college for a little bit longer. It was a way to give something back to the school and spend one last summer with Dartmouth friends. But on those long rides, I constantly found myself thinking ahead to the future.

All of the encounters we had, the places we visited, the people we met ( Dartmouth alumni and others)… they each represent opportunities for me in the coming years. The Bus, with all its greasy charm, somehow managed to make even the most intimidating road-blocks passable, and the most far-fetched idea attainable. To say it’s one of those experiences that would make a great tale for my grandchildren is to sell it short. This is one chapter that has given me confidence and clarity and will undoubtedly have lasting impacts on the story of my life.

So what will I take away from this whole thing?

  • Certainly a new perspective on restaurant dumpsters and school busses. I’ll never look at them the same way again.
  • Thousands of photos, mostly out of focus.
  • About 20 free t-shirts.
  • A slightly improved Frisbee forehand.
  • An understanding of what my own skills are. I may not be able to schmooze with the best of them, or troubleshoot a broken engine, or even cook dinner, but doggone it, if ever anyone needed a cheesy one-liner sound bite, I’m your man.
  • Half a gallon of veggie grease beneath my fingernails.
  • A mild Madhouse Munchies addiction.
  • One kitchen island.
  • And a deeper questioning about my own energy consumption and my own impacts on the environment. The remarkable facts I learned from books, experts, and my own experience on the road is that our relationship with our planet is something that can and should strike a chord with everyday people whether or not they are “environmentalists”; it’s a forum where individual change can make a difference.

In the end, though, the Bus (like my whole Dartmouth experience), was what it was because of the people I did it with. I need to thank the other 12 who made this trip happen. I have to commend you on the hours and the sweat and the passion you poured into the Big Green Bus during the months leading up to our departure with a fervor I struggled to match. It makes me proud to think of what we accomplished, remembering our first interest meeting back in January. I’m proud of the way we adapted to challenges on the road, and how we look to improve even as things are going well. But I’m most proud, after 12,000 miles, to still call you all my friends (I wasn’t joking about those cheesy one-liners).

Donnies, huh? Welp, seeya later.

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Elliott:25 grease stops. 17 naps. 1162 conversations. 38 states. 108,000 minutes. 1 haircut. 2012 photos. 16 journal entries. 75 days. 7 books. 98 nalgenes consumed. 16 filters. 12,000 miles. 5.5 pounds gained. 

While all of these units of measurement serve as figures through which I can breakdown our phenomenal, transnational, 10-week summer trek aboard the Big Green Bus, they represent only a small chunk of a much greater, more well established whole. At one time, the Big Green Bus embodies so many distinctions for me: education (both receiving and providing), travel, experience, exposure, vacation, excitement and, most importantly, friendship. Those who know me will not be shocked to find that it would take an image, not one of the above statistics, to most aptly characterize my experience, adventures and investment with this project.   

Saturday, June 18, 2005. 6:17 Am En route from Ann Arbor, MI to Cleveland, OH.

This is where my story begins with the Big Green Bus. During its inaugural trip last summer, I had the pleasure of hosting Aekta, Hoffman (see above photo) and the 2005 gang. The previous night I joined them for their first event, the Ann Arbor Green Fair, where they spent the evening answering questions and providing information to passers-by about the potential to use Waste Vegetable-Oil as an alternative energy source, while I sat quietly in the background, my legs eagerly swinging from the back of the bus, anxious to one day provide answers myself.  

The next morning we arose far to early (an extreme I have come to know fondly during my own summer behind the wheel). By 5:30 Am we were on the road. A silent Cliff sat groggily at the helm, while the other bussers easily reconvened their previous night’s slumber. Already the outlier of the bunch, my distinction could have been no more obvious than on this ride, as I sat upright, feverishly snapping photos of the optimistic, refreshing glow of the rising sun through perpetually blemished bus windows, desperately sucking in life on the bus.  

The cliché tells you it can happen, but you don’t believe it until it actually does. With the snap of the shutter at 6:17 Am (thank you technology for accurate, to-the-minute hindsight), the course of my life changed (at least for the immediate future, but after my own trip, I know that the reverberations of that moment extend much further). From that point, for me, there was never an option of turning back. It instead became a developmental process of planning, brainstorming and organizing a team with my own amazing friends, gaining increased exposure for our message and watching the wheels on the bus go round and round.  

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Crank: We, Americans, live in a big country.  But when a trip from Los
Angeles to New York only takes five headphoned, sterilized,
salted-peanut packed hours from tarmac to tarmac the size of this
country is not fully appreciated.  Instead of seeing the country from
30,000 feet I recommend 6 feet (and I assure a used school bus has
much more turbulence than your 747.  There were times on the bus when
I truly wish the captain had clicked on the seat-belt light to warn us
of impending bumpy travels).  Having logged hundreds of hours of
travel time, covering 10,000+ miles of highway through the
jurisdictions of 38 different states across all four time zones the
scope of our nation in terms of size, population, and sprawl is huge.

And what did I learn in this vast land of purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain?  This diverse nation is a nation of
contradictions.  We can go to the grocery store in our hybrid SUV to
buy our organic apples flown to us from New Zealand.  During the
summer where Al Gore is a movie star, every major periodical in
America is running a "Green Issue," gas prices are topping $3.00 a
gallon, and Daryl Hannah can be seen sexily pouring biodiesel into her
own car and her own mouth it seems almost logical that I'd travel the
country dumpster-diving for waste vegetable oil.  As an environmental
studies major this summer presented me with a huge amount of
information about where America is in terms of environmental
awareness, personal willingness to change, and the general sense, or
lack thereof, of climatological urgency.  I have no conclusions for
you.  I have no report on the American environmental psyche.  I do
have confidence that we have potential.  We have the best
environmentally educated population in the history of our country.
We, America, are the largest producer, researcher, and developer of
alternative energy technologies.  We made massively more fuel
efficient cars in the 1970s.  We make more solar and wind technology
in the US than anyone else in the world but then we sell it to Europe
and Japan.  At the same time we have an ageing population and a
struggling education system.  How can we synchronize these
discontinuous, but potentially synergistic, elements of our rapidly
evolving society?  E-mail me if you figure this out.  In the mean time
I'll continue my wanderings, videoings, and writings.  Farewell for
now.

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Sunshine: So here we are back in Hanover and it's time to move on in some capacity. I'm looking forward into three more years here at Dartmouth, into new classes and new faces, into future years with the bus. How has this year's trip prepared me for the years to come? What impact has it had on the directions I choose to go? We have known all summer that the tour itself could hardly have had better timing, but I'm just starting to realize now that this project came at a perfect time in my life as well. Keeping in mind that I have a responsibility to help carry on the project, I made an effort to learn what I could. I learned, of course, a ton more about the environmental issues at hand and what is being done throughout the country. From within the context of sustainability, I thought seriously for the first time about business and economics. I got to experience what was essentially a small business from the inside, its group dynamics, its successes, its failures. I have been able to collect a snapshot of the landscape and the people from nearly every part of the country. These experiences will be the compass for the rest of my college career.

One of the most difficult tasks for this project is establishing a metric for success. On the one hand, we went to far fewer high traffic stops than I had expected and talked to far fewer individual people. In fact, despite the high pace of travel, I felt that for parts of the trip we fell out of focus. But on the other hand, we generated a tremendous amount of media attention. Everywhere we went, we were met with people who had read about the project or seen it on the evening news. And this media outreach will continue on through the fall. It's impossible to know just how many people we inspired to change, but at the same time I know that we've reached out to thousands of people from every facet of the country. More than anything this summer, we've laid out an expansive framework for a project that is surely here to stay. I think it is pivotal here in the coming months for the project to establish a foundation, to fill in this framework with the experience we've gained.

It's very strange to be here again. I just got all of my stuff back out of storage - why do I have so much stuff! I'm not really prepared to decide what to wear. A tie dye rat? Three copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? A Barrel of Monkeys? Why? Why? I don't have a car, or plan on getting one any time soon. I don't have a home to make more efficient. I wasn't sure there would be a lot I change in my life. But maybe I will be able to maintain the more simple lifestyle that was so freeing for the whole summer. Maybe I'll just miss the bus so much that I'll go live in it for the year, too. Hey guys, I need life-sized cut outs of you all to put on the bus, cause it won't be the same without you.

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Mikey: What a summer.  I basically have no idea how I could go through and write something coherent summarizing what I’ve taken out of it.  Especially now that I’m back on campus, but don’t really feel like I belong right now, so I’ve been even more confused somewhere between wrapping up four years and a summer and figuring out jobs and the rest of my life.  So I guess I’ll start off by using some of what I’ve already written in a blog I kept during the trip.   

July 25th- (Outside the Grand Canyon) To finish off a great day, we ran into a family from Los Angeles at a stop a few miles outside of the park. We started talking with them, and soon realized that this family (when I say family, I mean a five-car caravan extended family) was full of unbelievable energy (they had walkie-talkies and had been singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" between cars to keep everyone in the caravan awake). They were incredibly excited about our bus and veggie oil, and were very complimentary, but I got the feeling that they have that wonderful ability to get excited about whatever they're doing (so I'll overlook the fact that they're driving five gasoline powered cars.) To that family, I want to say thanks. We had a blast talking with you, and your energy gave us new life. 

August 7th- (Biloxi) I'm not going to pretend I now know what happened on the Gulf Coast. I saw the area nearly a year after Katrina. I'm also not going to pretend I know what it's like to really do relief work. I was there for two days, and saw a very limited area. I have a better understanding, but I saw only a few neighborhoods, and worked on only one house. But I do feel like I helped a little. And I do have a better understanding. 
 
It's important people don't forget about this disaster because there is still so much left to be done. The focus of the relief work is shifting from cleanup to construction, so more skilled labour is needed. But still, anyone can help. Do something. 

August 13th- (Atlanta) Maybe it's because we're in a big bus that's so visible, and because we have a website, and are talking about alternative fuels, but people have been too good to us this summer. There are a lot of times that we forget it, and I'm sure all the terrible things we hear about in the news don't help it, but for the most part - people are really nice. 

August 22nd- (NYC) Apartment shopping made me really think more about what we'll all be doing after the bus, and made me both excited and nervous. Seeing our friends who are already out in the workforce was reassuring. There are so many fun people, and so much energy in the city, that I don't think you can really go wrong. But most of us don't have jobs yet, and don't have a place to live yet, so it's hard to get too excited. 

August 27th- (Boston) These events made me think more about alternative energies and sustainable living, and how a younger generation will be able to continue to make change as they grow up. For the most part, the children that we've been talking to on this trip have been really with it environmentally. They've been learning about the environment and recycling and lots of other good things, and they already know a lot of what we're talking about. Granted, the younger ones don't really understand the importance of alternative energies, but they get the main ideas and have already learned all about global warming and the potential problems we could run into if our current bad habits don't stop. 
 
It'll be interesting to see if the environmental education that has become a critical part in our schools' curriculums will really have a large impact as generations grow and take the reins from older generations. Previous generations didn't have the ideas of recycling and sustainability pounded into their heads in their early years of schooling, but that's not to say that our parents aren't doing their part now. It's been really good to see more and more changes being made throughout the country in the direction of environmental sustainability. Individuals, companies, and industries are making important changes, and the media has begun to really pick up on it, and document this trend. Google is looking to become carbon neutral. Our alma mater, Dartmouth, may try and do the same. Buildings are being built in a green manner. Solar panels are becoming more popular. There's a huge demand for hybrid cars. Celebrities are getting in on the act.  
 
Hopefully this trend will continue. Fortunately, I think it will, especially since making changes to reduce your impact on the environment is starting to help people save money. 

Right Now, 4:30pm, September 1st.  A few days after we pulled into Hanover- Well, if I’m going to go off what I just copied and pasted, I need to take more energy into everything I do, help other people in need, be kind and trust people, be optimistic about the future, and consider how I can reduce my impact on a world that we’re currently trying as hard as we can to ruin. 

When I started this I didn’t think it would work out that well, but that sounds like an all right way to strive to live my life.  We all got off to a good start this summer with a bus trip that tried to exist in this manner.  Now I guess it’s time to continue that idealism. 

So in my job search, should I keep looking into the financial or whatever consulting jobs that I’ve been looking up?  Or should I do service work to help those in need and not worry about money until I really need to?  Should I take the plunge and start in towards something (Med School) I think I might really love but don’t really know much about and would require that I spend a large chunk of my coming years in some form of classroom?  Maybe I’ll just start all of these processes, be full of energy, and see where it takes me… 

Either way, I’m glad to have ended four great years with a summer that has me feeling idealistic and has gotten me really thinking.  I don’t know what step I’ll take next, other than moving to Brooklyn and settling down for at least a little while, and asking my parents tonight for words of advice. 

I guess right now, I’ll settle for the fact that I just had one of the best summers of my life, I taught and learned a ton and I tried to set an example not only to others but to myself.  So it’s time to continue the work from the summer, just in a different form.  If only I could figure out what that means…

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Lissa: For nearly a year, I have eaten, slept, breathed, sweated, cried and lived The Big Green Bus.  Now that the project is over, I find myself with both a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of emptiness.  After a summer like this one, it will be difficult to settle for a desk job (is that a good excuse for not having a job yet?), but memories and photographs will have to tide me over until my next adventure.     

Midway through the summer, I left the bus to spend some time at home.  At the time, I was struggling to determine how I felt about the project’s mission and how well we were fulfilling it.  Spending almost three weeks away from the bus allowed me the perspective I needed to realize that this project is truly extraordinary, and the people who made it happen are even more so.  I returned to the bus confident that while none of us lead perfectly sustainable lives, the twelve individuals on board our bus were doing what few idealists ever do—going out and trying to make a change.  Ok, so only one of us is a vegetarian and I sometimes take long showers (save some for the whales!).  What matters is that we are actively trying to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others.  Being on the bus has put us under fairly constant scrutiny, forcing us to examine our own behaviors and, quite literally, practice what we preach.  If we were able, somewhere along those 12,000 miles, to influence the lives of just a few other people and cause them to make their own lifestyles more sustainable, then I think we’ve been successful. 

We’ve got a long way to go. Our country’s energy problems are not going to miraculously solve themselves, but after this trip I am optimistic and hopeful that we can and will come up with solutions.  As we’ve told hundreds of people along the way, vegetable oil is not going to replace fossil fuel completely, but biofuels are one of many options available right now to take the place of petroleum products.  Throughout the summer, we met people all over the country who are already using solar, wind, and hydrogen power, and running vegetable oil and biodiesel in all sorts of vehicles.  The solutions exist, and now it’s up to us to put them to us. back to top

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