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June 23, 2009

Portage la Prairie, Manitoba - Brandon, Manitoba, Canada 128.2 miles

By Marcelo
Got to start the update talking about Rudy. Well, this solar car adventure is memorable not only by the places we go but also because of the wonderfull people we met along the way. Here we are, in Portage la Prairie, small Manitoba town at a former Ford dealer, Rudy's a garage. Like many, Rudy embraced the solar.

By Willy Wanka
Wooohhahhh (YAWN) 05.15 and it’s on our feet again! The solar car was ready for his breakfast. Laura, josh and me pushed the car towards a nice spot, tilted the array and waited for the sun to come up. It was a cold morning and it got even worse when the sun disappeared behind the clouds after 30 minutes. Laura and me were shivering in our sleeping bags waiting for the sun to return. (There was a bright point on this freezing icy cold summer morning, Rudy brought us each two cups of hot cappuccinoooo!, burned my tong!) Finally after more clouds, rain and clouds it cleared up. We waited a long time but in the mean time we were overwhelmed with generosity of the city. A farmer and his wife even gave us a full tank of fuel for the van. Thank you everybody!
We said our goodbyes and hit the road! The sun was enthusiastically shining and we were finally making miles! We picked up an hitch hiker and he jumped off when we recharged the solar car in the middle of the prairie. While charging Marcelo spotted another hitch hiker and he drove with us for the last few miles that day. We made our final stop at a gas station in Verdin. We finished our updates and went to bed. Sleeping in the trailer with Marcelo and Claire makes you wonder whether we really rest out. We laughed ourselves asleep!

By Laura
It’s five in the morning and I leap out of the van. Rudy entrusted me with the key to the shop last night and with this golden key I unlock a dusty wonderland of tire towers. Eagerly, I pull the chains raising the garage door to send dawny light cascading over the solar car. The sun is peaking through clouds and the best spot is across the street. We sit guard in folding chairs wrapped up in a sleeping bag, bundled from the wind and the early cloudy cold. Rudy’s truck pulls up and he’s got coffee for us. Everyone else is still sleeping even an hour later so Willy Wonka and I enjoy ours and their coffee before it gets cold and as good as dishwater. He tells us he slept in the tub last night, and he’s got the raisin wrinkle fingers to prove it. How I would love to float into oblivion in a big tub of scalding water steaming stress into a fog on the mirror...mmmm.
The older generation of the town stop by the car. One man tells me how he installed the first ever automatic transmission in Rudy’s garage.The newspaper reporter walks over and jots down our names and stories and click clicks his camera while we adjust the array. After a late night driving and early morning of babysitting the solar car I get tired...literally. I’m not too sure how it happened but I end up inside a stack of tires, and they keep piling them on. They shake me about and talk of rolling me down the road...oh wait, Rudy has got to see this so there’s no getting out just yet. “where’s Laura?” Surprise! My hands shoot up and wave from inside one of many random 7ft tire stacks. After the fun and too many pictures the tires come off one by one and then we are on the road again. Not to far into the drive we must stop to secure the solar car. A semi-truck passing by and the 45* winds lifted the top of the car up about a foot before sending it crashing back down. Marcelo and Willy Wonka drive to get more duct tape while Claire and I hold down the solar car on the shoulder. With each passing gusr the top of the car wiggles and vibrates, holding it shut is like trying to hold back a yawn. When the boys return, we all get on our backs on the side of the road, stitching up the seams with teeth ripped pieces of silver tape.
A quick stop in Brandon for press and our final stop in Virden is a spacious gas station. The van fills with tip type taps and I lay in the back, headpones on and listen to the first song an album named after the highway we’ve been traveling on: Trans Canada Highway. After drowning out the outside world for 9 minutes with Dayvan Cowboy I am tingles and lightheaded, wondering in the smoky night with the fireflies.

By Claire
Willy IS AN ANGEL. A long haired, accented, backpacking angel. Ok, maybe that is a bit too lofty a statement, BUT his were the most angelic words I could have imagined this morning..."don't worry, keep sleeping, I got it, keep sleeping, it's ok." He, Laura, and Josh had taken care of setting up the array after the late night. He told me later that my red, glazed eyes were a motivating factor of that heavenly treatment and I am now considering a sniff of mase every couple days to recreate that miserable, red-eyed scene.

I woke up, rolled up our bedroom (literally), and took my first look at the day, which was a very pathetic sight. Yes, it was slightly overcast, but, moreover, I saw Laura, Willy, and Josh across the street in huddled up underneath a sleeping bag. Now after having a very special lie in at the expense of another's very special lie in, the last thing I wanted to see is them, teeth chattering and one windy gust away from succumbing to fetal position on the side of the open road. It was then my lie in became even more special than I originally thought. As if a big joke, by the time I had fruits, water and a blanket ready to bring them, the sun came out with pride. Fruits, water, and sunscreen, then.

I helped set up our makeshift headquarters in a corner beyond the sea of stacked tires and did some work on the computer before tackling the duty of organizing the near hundreds of business cards collected throughout the year of this tour, with intentions of making a user-friendly database out of them. On one of my trips to the trailer, Laura and I were stopped by a few teachers leading a small class and they asked if we could tell them about the solar car on their way back from their walk. Showing the car to kids is a really fun time. At the end of the demonstration one boy asked how much the car cost and then stated that if he saved up his money he coud buy one of them for his dad. So I hope that either these cars get considerably cheaper by that time or that this young man gets a really, really good job.

After a tank of gas was donated to our cause (thank you!) and Willy brought us back coffee and donuts, we readied ourselves to head west to Brandon, where we would be meeting with the local press. On the way there the reporter and cameraman filmed the car as they drove by in their car. I didn't anticipate them following through with shot by including us going by into the support van. I tried to replay their footage...a smooth, sweeping pan from the technologically forward, aestetically sleek solar car, floating through the Canadian prairie, to the van, where Willy was reclined, catching (much needed) Z's with a blade of golden grass hanging from his mouth, Josh dutifully glued to the computer unaware of anything beyond the 11" workspace, Laura with her wrist slung over the wheel, big shades drawn, and a walkie talkie limply held up by her other hand, and me, my head dropping back about to funnel down a handful of raisins. I'd like to see that spot on TV.

Only a few yards beyond our turn onto Hwy 1 we stopped to pick up to pick up a hitchhiker named Gary. He was on his way to Calgary, but since I was hanging out the window with the camera most of the time I didn't get to learn much about him. I can't imagine what he was thinking about his new road roomies...cords, nuts, and computers everywhere, one guy perched on the roof, some girl scaling the seats for a single picture, another singing 'every little thing s'gonna be alright'. I wonder if he was reasessing his decision when he saw that every notoritously slow 18 wheeler was whizzing past us. I'm sure the evaluation intensified when the battery was began depleting quickly with headwinds and a steady incline, meaning we would only make it a quarter of the way to the destination we were shooting for.

We pulled off on a small gravel road to charge up enough to get to the next town, dropping Gary off along the highway so that he could get another, more speedy ride out west. Minutes after the array was set, Marcelo walks back from the practically empty highway stretch with another hitchhiker, one that I saw yards away from the spot we picked Gary up from. At the time I thought Marcelo passed by the second one because he didn't want anymore people in the van, but Marcelo didn't see him and drove tauntingly slow past him, mere feet away. It turned out that Frank, the second hitchiker had been dropped off in the same area that we were now stopped at and he kept us company and relieved us of what was left of the chocolate cake that had been staring me down the past couple days. An hour later we were back on the road, with Frank this time. Writing this update the next day, I checked with Marcelo about the hitchhiker's name, "Frank." "No, the first one." "What first one?" "There were two hitchikers." "...(pause accompanied by confused expression), what?" Turns out Marcelo saw Frank while we were charging, and cheerfully greeted him, "Hey, Gary!..." and didn't say anything when he thought it strange that we were calling Gary, Frank.

While the car was charging, Frank went out to the highway to see if he could get a ride in the meantime. What seemed to be seconds later, Marcelo looked up towards the highway and said, "Where did Frank go?" We all looked up and scanned the land, no Frank in sight. The sentimental Marcelo provides a theory for his disappearance, maybe he was an angel sent to test the good will of strangers, but before anyone could soak in the depth of that nostalgia we saw Frank mosy on out of the bush, fastening the last button on his jeans. He may not be an angel but he definitely was answering his calling. Needless to say, Marcelo couldn't stop us from bending over laughing at his otherworld assumption, especially as it was disproven by a bladder.

We were able to just make it to our spot for the night, behind an Esso gas station and Subway in Verdin, Manitoba. It's funny to imagine myself setting up a night's home behind any random gas station in West Palm. I walk into these fast food joints and gas stations like I own the place, almost comfortable enough to drape myself in a robe, nod to the cashier, and stroll into the washroom with a local paper. Give it a few weeks.

We all sat in the van on our computer, leaching on the wifi from the hotel next door to tap into the world beyond solar cells and sink baths. Followed by the best of finales, crude pillow talk and a hard sleep.

By Josh
Since I pretty much went right back to sleep after setting up the array yesterday, it was my turn to help set up the array again. Laura and I moved the car across the street for better sunlight, and we started to set up the array. I played a bit of ukulele, and reminisced about Winnipeg. We talked to a man who had broken his back when he was younger, and he really liked the solar car. I also talked to Rudy's father, who had started the shop in Portage. I pretty much worked on the website all day, and made some headway; laughing at the impressive brevity and wit in John's update from Oregon. The wind was so intense that at one point the tailwinds of a passing truck blew the top off the solar car. After applying massive amounts of duct tape, we met someone who knew of the tour. The solar car crew stopped in Brandon, MB for an interview with CVX. They saw us in the Winnipeg Sun, and were following us on the highway. They got some great shots of the car, and we picked up a hitchhiker headed toward Calgary. He didn't speak much, and when the headwinds proved too strong for the solar car's batteries, we let him off so that we could recharge the array. As we stopped, we met another hitchhiker from British Columbia named Frank who turned out to be a really nice guy. He had some chocolate cake, and continued to look for a ride to Regina. Claire and Marcelo went to work on updates while Laura and Willy took naps, respectively. I wrote for a while in the tall grass, and then played my ukulele facing the 9:30 PM sun which had yet to come close to the horizon. Once tree shadows shaded the moderately well charged solar car, we headed out. It is truly amazing how late it stays bright here. The sun still showed a little light around, 10:30 PM. The mosquitoes also seem to double in size with each new city we visit. Virden was our final destination this evening, and I ended it by hearing about our headlines in Winnipeg online, talking with Laura and Willy about breakfast at home and abroad, and by avoiding the temptation to eat a Subway sandwich. Whew, that was a close one. Jokes about Regina (sounds like South Carolina) and its continually comical pronunciation allowed me to laugh my way to sleep.

Signs of blue up ahead at sunrise.
A chilly, windy morning with the array for Laura and Willy.
Good morning sun!
A class walking by stops for an impromtu
Some yound children checking out the solar car.
Young ones being inspired.
That website is fast!
Laura securing the car from crosswinds.
Willy making the car wind resistant.
Josh gets down low to tape up the solar car.
Claire getting the solar car in the mirror.
CVX films a passing shot as we arrive in Brandon.
CVX interviews Marcelo.
Willy, Josh, and our temporary crew member, Gary.
The car runs on the sun, the crew runs on iced tea and ukulele.
The license plate doesn't lie!
Can't say were were former sailors.
Claire's reflection is making sure she finishes her work.
Laura was made for the road.
Oops, how did I get in here?
A nice reflection on the solar car crew.
She's the tire monster, ahhh!
Where's Laura?
Free at last!
The Portage Garage
Goodbye Rudy! Thanks for letting the Xof1 stay in your garage for the night.
Truck passing.
Solar mean one that doesn't use diesel?
Claire navigating.
Heading to Brandon.
Regina's not so far either.
Heading for the hills.
Just a shift in your perspective, but the tires really do have great traction too.
Solar power is breaking new horizons.
Frank, hope you are doing well on your journey!
Josh takes some time out.
Josh tries to hold the sun up longer for a better charge.
The sunsets never get old.