Update on the Status of Our Walk

Here is the latest news on what is happening with Pacing the Planet. We've gotten our carts and wagons painted, signs made, Donkeys vaccinated, harness prepared, wagon wheels installed, packing done.

On Monday, September 10, we set out to begin our walk. Egon (10 years old) and I led the two Donkeys (Gemma and Sasha) and our rugged stroller through town and down to the bottom of a steep hill on a gravel lane that would take us most of the 9.5 miles to our first destination, a camp-out at Sever Lake in our Knox County. About a half-hour later, Dana, Simon (4 years old), Tillwyn (15 months old), and another helper appeared at the top of the hill with our pony cart and larger wagon. We call the latter the "Pacing Wagon," and the former the "350 cart," because the pony cart is painted to advertise the social movement for bringing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide back down to 350 parts per million. That movement is spearheaded online at the website www.350.org.

After carefully walking the (rather heavy) carts down the gravel hill, we got Gemma in her harness, and hitched her up to the 350 cart, and I started leading her down the road. This was her second time in harness and pulling the cart. Egon was leading Sasha, and pushing the stroller at the same time. Dana started out by pulling the Pacing Wagon, rickshaw style. So far, so good. The only challenge was that the donkeys were unexpectedly skittish of the sound the wagon wheels make when moving on gravel, so Egon and I had to walk them several hundred yards ahead of the Pacing Wagon.

Around the first corner, our troubles began. Egon was having a challenging time leading Sasha and pushing the stroller simultaneously. Gemma is very good at peacefully towing the 350 cart, but gets impatient when just standing still in the traces. And Dana was falling behind.

The road was just freshly laid with large gravel, and the large (but narrow) wheels of the Pacing Wagon were digging into the rocks as if it were slush. Dana was starting to see stars from the exertion. She and I switched places, and while she led Gemma, I tried my hand at pulling the Pacing Wagon, which was heavier than I had expected, once we had it all packed up. It was very slow, hard going for me, too; a passerby in a car informed us that the entire way to the town of Hurdland, MO, had received new gravel: about 7 miles. We had walked maybe a half-mile so far. Dana was hungry and not feeling well, so we found a tiny bit of shade, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In the meantime, a gigantic harvester which had come to cut down the cornfield next to us on the road, began making slow passes through the field, sending a shower of dust and corn-stalk fragments billowing around us. We decided that we needed to make some different preparations, called for help, and, about an hour later, got every vehicle, animal, child, and adult back to our house. We felt worn out and morose.

Since then, we have revised some logistical details, and are making preparation for our next attempt within a week, should our newly-ordered supplies arrive. For one thing, we will be sticking to paved roads now, or else, well-packed roads scouted in advance. We will be attaching the stroller (which coverts to a bicycle trailer) to the back of the 350 cart, or not taking it at all. We have ordered a pack-saddle for Sasha, and she will be able to lighten the load of the Pacing Wagon in that way. We've also decided to bring a second tent, and got some warmer sleeping bags, and such items. After all, cooler fall weather is descending rapidly (though, as you hopefully understand, these normal seasonal variations in the weather don't contradict the overall pattern of global warming an climate change).

Probably the biggest change to Pacing the Planet is the formulation of a tighter strategy to our presentations and meetings, at least for this autumn. In the course of our research, reading, and conversations with other presenters on climate research, a clear direction for the first steps in restoring climate balance has come to our attention.

In the eight years (and very possibly as little as five years) that humanity has left to change course on our pollution of the atmosphere with CO2, the obvious necessary step is that we must shut down the coal industry. Coal still provides an unfortunately large proportion of our constant energy source in the U.S.A., and the data is clear that if humanity continues to extract and use coal, then the colossal impact of the carbon load in the atmosphere from that one source alone means that all the "going green," alternative energy, efficiency improvement, and rationing of other greenhouse gas sources won't make enough of a difference to offset the damage done by coal. In other words, coal burning, by itself, will drive us into catastrophic climate change.

So, coal has got to stay in the ground. We need to do this not only for our own responsibility, but to be in a position to credibly leverage China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia to keep their fossil fuel sources in the ground, too. In 2011, China was launching a new coal-powered energy plant every month.

A common question we've fielded, as we start to talk to people, is this: if making improvements in our personal lives ("going green") is not enough, what can we do? Shutting down coal is a goal that we can rally around, a clear community effort, and provides a measure of how serious our politicians are about addressing this problem fundamentally, before it is too late (if it is not, already). Even if we're already committed to very bad climate change, we need to stop using coal, so we don't trigger the sudden release of methane hydrates in the ocean, which will likely spike global temperatures to a level last seen during the major extinction event 50 million years ago. That spike, if history is anything to go by, could likely last for 100,000 years. Continuing to burn coal into the 2030s will almost certainly bring us to that point).

As it turns out, the Midwest, and particularly, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois (what the locals call the "tri-state area") is one of the areas most heavily invested in coal extraction and burning. If you looked at the interactive map that I linked to in my last post, you will see that we are surrounded by coal plants and coal mines, within a 150 mile radius. If you pay attention to politics, you are probably also aware that Iowa is a key swing state in the upcoming presidential election, and that Missouri could come into play: partly thanks to Todd Akin's incredible, unintentional revelation of the logic behind the GOP's anti-abortion platform plank, and partly (we hope) if young people in Missouri are made aware of the coal fiasco surrounding them, its relation to this year's devastating drought, and what "business as usual" means for the future of the Midwest.

Therefore, we will be Pacing the Planet in Missouri and Iowa this fall -- and particularly, heading to colleges and universities, where we will be giving presentations on the science, the situation. We want to help young student activists understand the importance of Mitt Romney's campaign embracing a future in coal (not to mention supporting the disastrous development of Canada's bituminous sands oil industry). We're already working on establishing connection with our local Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, as well as the University of Missouri in Columbia (whose Atmospheric Science program is chaired by a notable oil-associated "skeptic" of human-caused global warming). We have our sights on the University of Iowa in Iowa City, as well.

Of course, we are still walking to do something different than the day-to-day routine, to highlight that we can't continue our individual day-to-days, and expect technology or experts to fix this problem for us. They won't, and we will die (and so will a lot of life on Earth) if we continue. We walk because, somehow, walking helps us embody the immense geological time-frames upon which the consequences of our actions now will play out (though the consequences are already starting, and will rapidly worsen, if we do nothing). Walking also helps our imaginations embrace the very different visions of Earth that the past serves up as examples of what our world will look and feel like, as we try to picture change on that scale, with that suffusion into our entire experience.

So, friends, we need more people to walk with us. If you can join us this autumn in Missouri and Iowa, please do! Also, please support our fundraising campaign as much as you can, and pass word of it along to your mailing lists and your contacts. We are so grateful not to be the only ones concerned about this turning point in our dear planet's history, and so grateful for the help and love that have been pledged so far. Please know that, although our departure date has changed, our resolve to walk has not wavered, nor has our enthusiasm and passion to do so.  As our vision has expanded, preparations and supplies have been more expensive than we originally budgeted, so we can use all the help you can send.  And, we're already at 34 percent!  Yeah!


  1. Dear Pacers,
    Jackie DeSanty-Combs has talked with us about your trip - best of luck to you. We were wondering about your plan to use the donkeys: are you carrying feed with you? Are you able to camp at most campsites public or private with donkeys? What about water? We were just musing that bicycles might be easier in some ways (only human food and water to think of, and you'd have to do that anyway). Plus, you could have Egon ride his own bike and tow a bike trailer with some lighter supplies. There are some very nice cargo trailers out there, and you might be able to modify your 350 wagon so that you can tow it with a bike. If you come down towards Columbia, you are welcome to camp in our yard, although we don't have any extra forage for donkeys. We live just off 63 about 8 miles N or Columbia.
    Again, best of luck!
    Sarah, Clint, Isaiah, Arthur & Micah

  2. Thank You Very Much for thinking of us! When we first came up with the idea, we debated walk or bike. We felt that both options held promise and challenges, but that Pacing was our truest expression of determination and discontent. For me, bicycles are too mechanical...too much dependence on fancy metal bent just so...when they break, I throw up my hands and call in a pro. Gavain is not intimidated by such basic mechanical stuff, but there is a romance/passion in walking which he is drawn to. Primarily, we want our action to be accessible to everyone. So that any who feel compelled to join us, can join at nearly the drop of a hat, and will not require $500-$1500 dollars to invest in reliable bike and trailer. Or, if they do have bikes, they can bike as we pace! Gavain and I have good roadbikes and nice bike trailers, but most people do not, you know? I could respond more...but you ask about the donkeys. Are you familiar with donkeys? We have been familiarizing ourselves. In many ways, donkeys are different--and better suited--for this type of journey. They eat less, and lower protein, feed than horses do. Grass along the roadside is ample for them, and they would not do well to eat no more than about a cup or so of grain per day (as it is our girls are slightly over-plump). Donkeys also drink notably less water than horses, though the two of them will drink a similar amount per day as our entire human family does: we'll probably start out carrying twice as much water. I think we might find that it is actually quite easy to rustle up water for donkeys enroute, as they do not require fancy filtered or store-bought water, and every house that one passes has a tap to fill up at (with permission, of course). We find that people like to help us. And as we go with god (that is one way to talk about our way-of-being), we find that, yes, challenges arise, and yes! angels appear, also. We very much appreciate your checkin and your concern for our wellbeing and thriving. And I betcha we'll be visiting with you soon(ish)! (how far off of 63?)

  3. I don't have as much experience with donkeys as I do with horses, but I do have some! Donkeys are so sweet and they have the greatest dispositions.

    Please be careful with your girls! And with your kids. If you've ever tried to push a stroller while drinking coffee, you know how hard they are to steer with one hand. A person who is leading a donkey can manage a backpack full of gear, but cannot safely carry a baby (even in a sling or pack) or push a stroller.

    Please do not hitch the bike trailer to anything pulled by a donkey! Bike trailers are meant to be pulled by rational beings who will not suddenly decide to flee the trailer if it makes a funny noise because the baby is crying or the trailer has tipped. You can hop out of a cart (or wrestle the donkey to a stop) when these things happen, and while you might be injured, you will recover. A baby cannot hop out of a bike trailer.

    Finally, take some time to train your donkeys properly, and to exercise them to build up endurance before you embark on a cross-country trek! Please consult a professional about proper nutrition for donkeys who are pulling carts long distances. Grass is low-calorie food, and not all grass is created equal. A cup of grain is probably fine for most donkeys - they mostly work as pets these days - but may be inadequate for a donkey hauling a cart all day.

    Your donkey's third trip in the harness should be a short trip with 1-2 adults and lots of praise. Build up slowly to let her build her muscles. She sounds like she has a great disposition, but she's green and it's not safe (or fair to her) to hitch her to anything with people in it or to expect her to deal with exciting situations with gravel, cars, children, and a lot of other stimuli until she has had more time in the harness. The first time she sees a lot of things, she will spook. She might kick, or rear, or run. If you're even vaguely new to donkeys, you should consult a professional about building trust with her and safely/gently desensitizing her to things she is likely to encounter on your journey.

    I don't know of any pack saddles compatible with harnesses, but if you find one, please put it on your experienced girl, not your green one, and remember your donkeys will have to work up to distances and loads. I don't know how old they are, but they have probably been standing in a pasture getting fat for most of their lives. They will not be instantly ready for a cross-country walk. The more you need them to carry/pull, the more time it will take to condition them to the point where they can do it without injury.

    Finally, please take care of their feet and teeth! Donkeys who walk on paved roads need to have a good farrier to keep their feet in shape so they stay sound. They will need their teeth floated regularly or they will get sour and have trouble eating.

    This has been a novel! Good luck preparing for your fabulous adventure!

  4. This is beautiful! I wish you all the best.
    Next summer the Compassionate Earth Walk will go, on foot, along the Keystone XL route. Not having animal skills, we expect to have a support vehicle - admire your courage. And our focus will be not the science but the morality of treating the entire world as a resource for humans, and the alternative of living as simply part of the community of life.

  5. Awesome, Shodo Spring. Do you have a link for more information about your walk? *high five*

    1. I can now answer my own question. Here's a link to more information about that walk: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.compassionateearthwalk.org%2F&ei=HxqhUYTXI-LB0gHavoD4Dg&usg=AFQjCNHSFJO746dIZFIMBeCoHdtscyIUJA&sig2=PGBhr3WPrRfpauUnvVe9qA&bvm=bv.47008514,d.dmQ


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