A Solar-Powered Pilgrim

Martin VosselerMartin Vosseler wakes each morning and walks towards the rising sun.

For seven months and counting, the retired Swiss doctor has crossed the United States to discuss the merits of solar power and other forms of renewable energy with whomever he meets. He has refused to accept car rides or travel via public transportation. Instead he chooses to walk all the way from Los Angeles to Boston.

"When people see me on the highway, sometimes on the freeway, thousands and thousands of people see this strange guy," Vosseler, 59, said during a stop in Washington, D.C. "They connect. Later they read in their newspaper about my walk or they see it on television. It's a good way to be seen to spread my message."

Vosseler's commitment to a clean energy revolution began in 1975 when he joined a protest against the construction of a nuclear power plant in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland. He left his medical practice in 1995 to dedicate himself to raising awareness for renewable energy through his organization, Sun21.

A lifelong advocate of walking as a means of transportation - his father paid him 25 cents to walk to school, rather than ride the bus - Vosseler sold his car for good in 1979. He abandoned aviation travel in 1999, with the exception of one emergency flight. Instead he travels by train or ocean freighter.

That is, unless he is walking in one of his many renewable energy pilgrimages. Those began nine years ago when he walked from Constance, Germany to Santiago de Compostela in Spain along the St. James trail - long considered a journey for spiritual awareness. In 2003, he walked from Basel to Jerusalem, a nearly six month trip, repeating the motto, "There's enough sun for all of us."

Vosseler's next travel was his most ambitious yet. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean on-board the first entirely solar-powered boat. "For me it was overwhelming to see how well the combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency works," said Vosseler, who was part of a five-man crew. "90 percent of the energy from the roof went into the motors and propellers. A car maybe uses 10 percent."

Now Vosseler is completing the final leg of his 3,000 mile-plus walk across the United States, which he expects to finish by late August. He has made appearances in school classrooms and spoken to several communities throughout the trip. "There is no way around a sustainable energy future, thanks to renewable energy and energy efficiency. And I believe it has to be 100 percent," he says. "The U.S., I believe, has to be a leader in this energy revolution. So I came here."

The trek has not been without its challenges. In Arizona, he camped out in a blizzard. He crossed Texas through gale-force winds and sand storms. Along the way, he was offered some 300 rides, he estimates, but he made a vow not to enter a car until he reaches the Boston Commons.

"Midstate Tennessee is not an area where many people walk at all," said Christine Irizarry, an archivist for The Tennessean, who met Vosseler during his stop in Nashville. "Martin would not even accept my offer of a bicycle while in town. This was surprising."

Across the country, Vosseler said he saw one wind farm in California and another in Oklahoma. But despite the name of his trip, the SunWalk, he saw very few solar energy projects. "There's so much sun! But it's not tapped," he said. "There's so much potential."

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at bblock@worldwatch.org.