By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on September 26, 2004]

Hi, folks! I'm writing from Peoria, which is to say midway across Illinois. The fact that I was in the middle of Indiana just four days ago kind of boggles my mind!

I left Indianapolis in no hurry on Wednesday morning but still managed to get all the way to Crawfordsville with time to spare. Similarly, on Thursday I got to Attica, IN -- my evening stop, close to the Illinois border -- around 1 PM and had plenty of time to reach a campground north of there. Both days the sun seemed to just hang in the sky, which I appreciated because I can tell the days are getting shorter!

In the little town of Attica I couldn't resist stopping at a candy store I'd seen hyped in a state-published travel brochure. It was less pretentious than the chocolatiers in downtown Ann Arbor, but still a far cry from my beloved, unassuming Candyland in Minneapolis. When I get home I may have to go to Candyland and order one of everything, just to make up for lost time!

So Friday I started cutting a burning trail across Illinois, headed straight west across some of the flattest terrain I've seen this side of North Dakota. I chose this route for that reason: I had so much trouble with the hills in Cincinnati that I didn't want to take any chances. But the trouble with going straight across a plain is that there's no escaping the wind or the sun... yesterday I got a bad sunburn on my south-facing thigh. The plains are getting flatter all the time; we've had more than a week without rain, so practically every field has a combine at work harvesting the seed corn and soybeans, and the roads are full of tractors and trucks pulling hoppers full of seed to the various grain elevators. It's kind of fun to watch, but I'll miss the scenery; stumps just aren't the same.

Friday morning I had a revelation: my search for ecovillages has been much too narrow. The country is full of thousands of intentional communities where long-term homeowners share space with short-termers and guests (as at Dreamtime Village), where people make an effort to live alongside nature, where the homes are full of energy-saving gadgets and are designed to work both on- and off-grid, where per-capita ecological footprints are much smaller than the American average, and where a balance is struck between private and public space (as in cohousing). I've been staying in these places practically every night for six months: they're private campgrounds. I know that permanent campground residents (April through November anyway; after that the water's shut off) are not typically the idealistic lot one associates with ecovillages, but that just makes it more exciting that they're living the way they are. I think there's a lot of potential... all it would take is a little push to turn America's campgrounds into ecovillages.

I was all excited about this idea until I arrived at my stop for Friday night: a truly wretched place literally 20 feet from the Interstate. Saturday's stop (near Eureka) was quite nice, and one of the "permanents" told me that he pays only $600 a year for his site, which comes to $2.50 per habitable night compared to the $17 a night I'm paying. At that rate an RV would pay for itself in just a few years.

Anyhow, when I made a library stop on Saturday morning I casually checked to see what the sermon topic would be at the Peoria UU church, just in case I could make it there in time. Their intern minister, a student at Meadville-Lombard Seminary in Chicago, was to speak about our relationship with the natural world. I called up a friend who's a student at the same seminary and asked if she knew the guy; not only is he a friend of hers, but she said he's lived at a couple of ecovillages, so she gave me his number and suggested I take him out for lunch!

So I got as close as I could to Peoria on Saturday night, which turned out to be about 25 miles from the church. Then I got up an hour before dawn and rode into town as quickly as I could and got there five minutes late, looking rather sweaty and unkempt. One of the parishoners kept scrutinizing me, and I thought she disapproved of my church attire, but it turned out she was the intern's wife, noticing the helmet-strap tanline on my neck and wondering if I was the mysterious biker who'd invited himself to lunch. The two of them wound up taking me for lunch, after a terrific sermon. The congregation was very friendly, and I was mobbed with questions during coffee hour. Roger and Lisa have lived in two ecovillages: Dancing Rabbit, which I'll visit in a few days, and one in South Carolina (I think) whose name I forget. They didn't get disillusioned per se, but they did decide to buy a private home instead of continuing ecovillage life.

In the afternoon I went in search of a library and a bike shop. The only library that was open was far north, and no bike shops were open, so I was a little disappointed, but in the library parking lot I was approached by a man who asked a lot of questions about my bike and trailer and eventually invited me to camp in his back yard. Come to find out he bought some land in Hawaii a few years ago with the intention of starting an ecovillage there -- he told me this without my having mentioned I was touring ecovillages -- and he likes autoharp music, so it should be a nice evening, and I can go to a bike shop in the morning, so it's really a good fit. It's amazing how these things work out.

Q: How do you power your cell phone? Do you just charge it whenever you stay somewhere long?

A: Yep. It only needs about an hour a week, so if I take it with me to the shower house in a campground every few days, that's usually enough.

Q: What is your budget for this entire trip?

A: Originally I had hoped to get down to $15 a day -- I figured $10 for camping fees and $5 for food -- or just over $5,000 for the year. But it looks like it's going to be more like $30 a day or $11,000 total, which I think you'll agree is still very reasonable for a year's expenses! That's including my health insurance and cell phone bill, by the way.

Thanks for the questions! I'll be in Iowa in a few days, at the rate I'm going... --Ben