NORTH STONINGTON — Erika Gilsdorf only planned to spend a day, maybe two, in Rhode Island on her way back to Minnesota. After all, said the 54-year-old video producer, people kept telling her there wasn't much to see in such a small state.

In the end, Gilsdorf — driving her gray, electric Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with the question "What Fuels You?" posted on the door, and pulling her tiny house behind her — ended up staying an entire week in the Ocean State, making it the longest stop on a trip designed to highlight "good people doing good things" to save the planet.

"It's amazing what's going on there," said the Minneapolis native on a pit stop in North Stonington as she headed first to the Thimble Islands and then to Long Island on the last leg of her 12-month solo cross-country journey. "It's so wonderful. I'm in love with it."

On her quest to find "out-of-the-box thinkers," and to showcase "small-batch workers with big hearts" focused on "creating a better, more sustainable world for future generations," Gilsdorf hit the jackpot in little Rhody, she said.

Gilsdorf, who set out on her road trip from Detroit Lakes, Minn., last January determined to chronicle upbeat stories about "cool people" around the country doing "cool things to save the planet," visited Merner's Earth Care Farm in Charlestown, the Brintons' Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly and all five properties in the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge complex during her week-long stay in the state.

"I hated to leave," said Gilsdorf, who produced videos about sustainable tourism, rainforest and coral reef protection, and one for National Geographic Wild Chronicles before she set out to create a series to help  "broaden awareness about the role electrification in transportation can make in tackling our climate crisis." 

"It was hard to drive away," she said. "I was having too much fun."

Before organizing the road trip, Gilsdorf said she had become discouraged. Her efforts to spread the word about the sad state of the environment and about the climate change crisis, she said, seemed fruitless. How could she best let people know about the need for everyone to actively work together to save the planet, she wondered.

She wanted to find a way "to motivate people without bringing gloom," she said, and she also wanted to learn more about electric vehicles and figure out how to live more simply.

"That's it," she said she decided one day. "I'm going to take a cross-country trip by myself in an electric car and find good people doing good things." 

A friend helped her build her tiny house, and, on a whim, she contacted Mitsubishi Motors.

"Lo and behold," she said, "they said they'd sponsor me."

"Mitsubishi Motors applauds those who aren’t afraid to pursue their own path,” said Mark Chaffin, Mitsubishi chief operating officer, in a statement. "Erika Gilsdorf is one of those people. Her mission to find and document the stories of other change makers really resonated with us, and the Outlander PHEV, which blends quiet, efficient EV technology with the capability of an SUV, is the perfect companion for her epic eco-tour."

Gilsdorf, who has spent the last 10 months capturing "the good stuff" — good stories about people growing food in their back yards, getting rid of plastic packaging at their businesses, and volunteering their time to teach people about the importance of protecting and respecting wildlife — said she was thrilled to see so much happening in Rhode Island. She loved her time at Earth Care Farm and was fascinated to learn about the carbon capture machine used at Grey Sail Brewing Company. 

"I didn't even know there was a carbon shortage," said Gilsdorf, applauding the Brintons for applying the system, which captures, stores and reuses carbon.

At Earth Care Farm, Gilsdorf met with owner Jayne Merner Senecal, whose father, Michael Merner, established the composting operation in 1977, making it the oldest operating farm composting operation in the state.

"I took her on an in-depth walk around the fields and into the compost production area," said Merner Senecal, noting that Gilsdorf filmed a segment on the farm for her "What Fuels You?" blog and Instagram page.

"At one point ... I pulled a giant carrot of the compost-laden field," Merner Senecal said in an email Friday afternoon. "It really helped to illustrate the connection between compost, soil health and crop quality."

"There are so many inspiring things happening across the country to help climate change, and she has a wonderful role in highlighting them," said Merner Senecal. "We need more of the good news stories ... there are so many!" 

In addition to all that, said Gildorf, she got to visit each of the refuges managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service — Sachuest, Trustom Pond, Ninigret, Chafee and Block Island.

"I just got to hang out in nature," said Gilsdorf, who has stopped at dozens of National Wildlife Refuges on her cross country journey. "And I got to meet Janis Nepshinsky."

Nepshinsky, visitor services manager for the wildlife complex, said she enjoyed showing Gilsdorf the refuges and was impressed by the the question Gilsdorf has posted on the side of her gray Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

"What fuels you?'" repeated Nepshinsky. "I love it. It's a great question. What fuels you? It's a question we should all be asking."

"It really got me going," she added. "It made me think about the mind, body, soul connection and of what we try to do at the National Wildlife Refuge ... and what fuels people to be volunteers." 

"It's important to let people know what we're all doing and she [Gilsdorf] is doing it," added Nepshinsky. "It's so amazing how connected she felt to Rhode Island."

"I have met so many amazing people," said Gilsdorf. "Kids, business owners, conservationists."

"I had been very sad about the state of things," she added. "But what I found is that there are people caring for this planet. There are people standing up for change, living thoughtful lives and inspiring others."

Barnes said the car, with enough towing capacity to pull her tiny house around the country, its all-wheel drive and "best-of-both-worlds electric and gasoline powertrain" ensured Gilsdorf could either travel on clean and silent electric power or "have all the range she needed through easy-to-refuel gasoline."

Aside from all the "extraordinary" people she met on her trip, and all the uplifting stories she's been able to share, Gilsdorf said there's something learned something else quite valuable.

"I love being a minimalist," she said with a laugh. "We really don't need much as much as we think we do."

Gilsdorf said she plans to end her journey in December, right where she began: Detroit Lakes.

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