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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

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USA | Wednesday, 5 September 2012 | Views [398]

Highway 97 between Bend, Oregon and Kennewick, Washington, the highway was so empty, I stood in the middle to take this.

Highway 97 between Bend, Oregon and Kennewick, Washington, the highway was so empty, I stood in the middle to take this.

At the beginning of 2012, I had planned the year through August; my goal at the time was to have traveled to five continents, gotten my scuba diving certification, and volunteered in two marine conservation programs.  I left the rest of the year open, knowing I'd meet people along the way and perhaps be inspired to do something I haven't thought of before.  And I was right!  While in Mozambique, I volunteered with a lovely German couple; despite them being the oldest of all the volunteers, with some volunteers young enough to be their children, V & V were so active and in shape, it put us to shame.  They love the outdoors, sports, and every six years would take a long trip (about 6 months) to some new part of the world (after this year, I have to agree with the European holiday style, a 2-week holiday is just not long enough!)  Their time in Mozambique was part of the first half of this year's trip to Africa; the second half of the trip would take them to Canada, where they would travel from east to west, mostly in rural areas (they told me they much prefer the country and camping, and when they're older and cannot handle "roughing" it anymore, they will then travel to cities).  

One night after dinner at our volunteer house in Tofo, V was working on logistics in Canada with a bunch of paperwork spread out, and I saw a brochure for WWOOF, Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming.  I've never heard of it, so I borrowed to flip through it, and was completely intrigued.  WWOOF connects organic farms around the world with volunteers who want to work on the farm as a learning opportunity, and in exchange are given room and board.  The duration is flexible, depending on the need of the host farm, and the work may vary, from tending animals to planting vegetables, harvesting fruits to building fences.  Anyone who knows me well know that I have a great interest in cooking and food, and I try to eat as local as possible to support small, organic farms and producers, and to reduce carbon footprint due to food imported from afar (luckily that is not that hard to do in the bay area); furthermore, organic farming benefits the environment (building richer and chemical-free soil), and the result is more nutritious and healthier food that are not genetically-modified.  I talked more in-depth with V that night about WWOOF (they will be WWOOF'ers part of their time in Canada); by the following week, I knew that is what I wanted to do after August.  But where?  WWOOF has host farms all over the world, and somehow I was drawn to western Canada.  It felt like full circle, to include a volunteering program in North America, where I had spent the least amount of time thus far in 2012; also, it would give me a chance to have a "mandatory rest period" in my own home in SF, sleep in my own bed, and swap out the contents of my luggage, which consisted mostly beachwear.

By June, I had finalized my WWOOF plans. I will volunteer with two farms in British Columbia from September to October, and I will drive to BC to make a road trip out of it.  It will be a huge departure from what I've done all year, what an adventure!

I was in SF for only 72 hours over the Labor Day weekend, enough time to go through eight months of mail (thanks to my friend R for ridding of all junk mail), do several loads of laundry, re-pack my luggage (this time with autumn/winter clothing), and prep my car for my longest road trip ever (fortunately even after eight months of idle, the car runs great after a new battery was put in).

My first host farm is situated in New Denver, BC, situated in West Kootenays, an area bounded by the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains and the Kootenay and Lower Arrow Lakes.  The area is comprised of small communities that line the highway, which runs alongside Slocan Lake.  People came to this area during the late 1800's when mining was popular; in early 1942, New Denver was also the internment camp of Japanese-Canadian descendants, most of whom lived farther west in Vancouver.  To get there from SF, I must drive northeast through Oregon and Washington, and cross the border in Nelway.

I wanted to arrive New Denver before the annual Hills Garlic Festival (happening on Sunday, 9/9).  I left SF the Wednesday prior and stayed that night in Oregon, then spent Thursday night in Washington, and arrived in BC Friday evening.  Based on the route I needed to take, I would not be too far from Crater Lake National Park while driving through Oregon, so I decided to make that my stop before spending the night in Bend.  I've never spent time in Oregon, and I am so glad I chose this park, because it was simply stunning!  When I first saw the color of the lake, my first thought was "that must be fake", it was so, so blue, it almost hurt my eyes.  Especially with the spectacular weather that accompanied me all the way from California to Oregon, it made the lake even more beautiful.  There are several trials around the lake, and a road for cars that goes all the way around the lake.  It was afternoon by the time I got there, and I had over an hour's drive to Bend afterwards, so I hiked just one trail (a steep one that took me to a "lookout house" at the top of a peak, where rangers still use it today to look for wildfires), and drove around Rim Drive, stopping along the way to admire the lake at various points to get different perspectives.  Unknowingly, I somehow timed my drive so I was at the highest point of the park right before sunset; a few cars were already parked at the lot waiting, so I joined them, and again it was spectacular.  What a lucky gal I am, to have seen sunsets in six continents within a year!

The following day, I drove on highway 97 to Washington, which was beautiful in its own way.  There were rolling hills, bright blue sky, and so many vast lands as far as the eyes could see.  I made my stop in the tri-valley region of Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco, Washington, famous for their over 400 wineries.  (I know what you're thinking: she drove and wine tasted?  In my defense, I only had a few sips of the wines, and at the last stop, I stayed for a while to have a late lunch sans wine).  The three cities were more spread out than I thought (Pasco was almost a half hour away from Richland and Kennwick), and though the area was pretty, the tasting rooms I visited have more of an "industrial" feel than the charm of a winery like in Sonoma or Livermore.  The wines are not bad though, and the prices are very attractive.  I could not resist buying a few, even though that meant taking them for a long road trip.

Friday was a long day of driving, but the scenery continued to be amazing and inspiring.  I just could not help but pull over on the side of the highway a few times to take photos; luckily most of the roads I drove on were rural highways instead of busy interstate, so I could literally stand in the middle of the highway to take a photo.  One major surprise of this road trip:  every rest stop I used in California, Oregon, and Washington were so nice!  They were usually located at places with a nice view, with clean, large bathrooms, picnic areas with tables, and even pet areas for the dogs.  It was nice to see my tax dollars being put to good use.  It took me almost 6 hours to reach the Canadian border; the border patrol peppered me with more questions than all the countries I traveled to this year!  They wanted to know why I was here (I said to visit friends and family), what are their names (seriously?) and whether they were Canadian citizens or residents (huh?)  After scolding me for only having $50 on hand (they thought I should have a couple hundred in case something happens, I didn't want to argue that's what ATM's are for), I was allowed through, but no stamp in my passport!

The landscape by now was all mountains of trees, mountains thousands of meters high formed from volcanoes thousands of years ago.  I learn later that these mountains are covered in snow from October to April/May, so unknowingly, I had picked the best time of the year to be here (unless I wanted to ski, which would be nice too but my mind was still thinking summer).  Snow from the mountains run into several lakes in the region, and because of the heavy snowfall, the lakes are always at capacity, perfect for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.  When I reached New Denver, I slowed to look for my destination, but could not find it; I passed the town, reached the next one, and decided to turn around.  I stopped to ask for directions at a gas station/grocery store; the gal did not know the address but offered to let me use the phone.  This would be the first of many encounters with the friendly locals, who are always eager to chat and help.

I could not believe how I had managed to pick such a beautiful region of BC to live for three weeks, having not know anything except it's rural.  Ironically, at times it would feel even more rural than Tofo, Mozambique or Puerto Lopez, Ecuador; even in those remote places, there was cell reception but not here, not that it matters, I have not bothered with a cell phone all year.  Just can't wait to begin my authentic farming experience!

Tags: bend, canada, crater lake, kennewick, nelway, new denver, oregon, tri-valley, washington, wine tasting

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