'Veggie Van' sets record for longest road trip using alternative fuel - Edmonton Journal

Couple spreads message of sustainable living while driving van powered by vegetable oil

By Allison Peters, Edmonton Journal May 3, 2010

After a 49,000-kilometre, record-setting road trip in their so-called "Veggie Van," Cloe Whittaker will be ready to get out of the driver's seat and onto her bicycle.

"I'm looking forward to going home and living the lifestyle I've been talking about," Whittaker said by phone at kilometre 45,715 -- a Holiday Inn Airport Express parking lot in Jamestown, N.D.

Whittaker, 24, and Tyson Jerry, 26, have spent the last six months criss-crossing North America talking to students about environmental issues and learning about sustainable living.

While doing that, they broke the Guinness world record for longest journey by car using alternative fuel -- in their case, a 1993 right-hand drive Mitsubishi Delica that was modified to run on used vegetable oil and goes 100 kilometres on 12.5 litres of fuel.

The couple arrived in Edmonton -- where Whittaker was born and raised -- on Saturday. They refuelled at West Edmonton Mall's New York Fries, one of the tour's sponsors, and then hit the road for the last leg of their journey to Vancouver.

"It was a real relief, a real tangible feeling of success," Whittaker said of successfully breaking the record in New York City on March 22. The previous record for a journey by car using alternative fuel was 38,137 kilometres set in 2006 by a German team with a Volkswagen Caddy Eco-Fuel using natural gas.

In part, the relief came from knowing that all the people following their journey, detailed on their website driventosustain.ca,and all the students they met along the way would see them accomplish a goal that challenged them both emotionally and financially, Whittaker said.

"There are different challenges," she said of life on the road.

"It's the most simple things, like finding an Internet connection or printer."

Mechanical problems, such as having brake work in Milwaukee, added to the trip's cost and has made looking for jobs a top priority once the trip is completed.

Whittaker and Jerry were also challenged by people they met who disagreed with their message of sustainable living. In one such case, they had arranged to make a presentation at a Utah school, and then were refused permission because their message, according to the principal, disagreed with school board policies.

"That was quite a shock," said Whittaker.

And while she said that their aim was never to get into arguments with people who had different ideas about climate change, encountering criticism gave them a chance to confirm their actions and values.

"We've done so many presentations where people get excited about our message," said Whittaker. "When someone does challenge us, that's when we get excited."

Both Whittaker and Jerry took environmental studies at university in Victoria.

"We've read about it (the environment) so often in books and in academic work, we wanted to see how things work in real life," she said.

So after six months of learning about how one type of alternative fuel works, Whittaker is ready to stay in one spot for a while. She and Jerry will return to Victoria where they will let the van sit except for trips to the beach to surf.

The couple is working on a documentary and book about their trip, and have tossed around some ideas for their next expedition, which Whittaker wants to do on a bicycle.

apeters@thejournal.canwest.com

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