Monday, October 31, 2011


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Monday, September 5, 2011


Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I kept waiting until I reached a point when I felt my adventure ended and I settled into a stable lifestyle. Now, 10 months after my trip ended, that point has yet to arrive.

Not long after arriving in Oregon, I landed a weekend job as a bread baker for a small local bakery. The pay wasn’t great, but it gave me some much-needed income and I love to bake. I crashed at my parents’ house for a few weeks before a friend asked if I would housesit for a weekend in December. Once word got out that I was an eligible housesitter (i.e., clean and needing a place to stay), the holiday housesitting offers came like a flood. All in all, I housesat for four different friends over the course of two months, some of them overlapping, and I turned down two more offers that I felt were more than I had time to handle. During this housesitting phase, I received a job as a full time pastry baker at a new grocery store in town. I was still working weekends at the other bakery, so by the start of January, I barely had time to sleep for a few hours at whatever house I happened to be tending at the time before beginning another 4am shift.

It was never my plan to work seven days a week. I imagined that after I settled into the full time job I would quit the weekend gig, but as it turns out, I hated that full time job. For one thing, I was told by a manager that they made everything from scratch. Apparently, their definition of “scratch” is to take frozen croissant dough, squeeze pre-made fruit filling into it and bake it off. All the cakes and muffins were made with cake mix and the bread tasted like cardboard. It didn’t help that the management enjoyed gossiping and insulting most of the employees behind their backs. The place just didn’t feel right, and it really made me appreciate my little weekend baking job. At the small bakery, everything actually was made out of scratch, the managers were awesome and the bread was to die for!

After two months, I quit the full time baking job and stuck with my weekend gig, which I still have. It didn’t take me long to find another part-time job, this time at a local shoe workshop. They call it a workshop because it’s too small, friendly and homey to be considered a factory. The place is called Soft Star Shoes and they make natural minimalist soft-leather shoes by hand. I do a lot of customer service and a little website maintenance and I’m very happy with it.

I should add that although I was not happy at the grocery store, I have no regrets about working there… mostly because that was where I met my current girlfriend. She was equally dissatisfied with the place, maybe more so since she was there longer, and was easily the only other employee I really bonded with. I’m happy to say that she escaped shortly before I did and now works as a highly appreciated pastry chef in a very cool kitchen. We both applied for that job, unbeknownst to each other, and it came down to the two of us. When she got it, I took her out for a drink to celebrate and show her there were no hard feelings—hence, our first date.

I moved in with some good friends back in February. They were a married couple with a beautiful country home, and we got along great. Unfortunately, they decided to travel and rent the whole house at the end of the summer. I moved closer to downtown Corvallis, where I work, and now reside in a cheap apartment complex.

So here I am. I still have the girlfriend, the weekend baking job and the part time gig as a shoe elf. Time is flying and it seems unbelievable that one year ago I was picking apples in Montana. I can’t say I landed where I expected, but this path is the result of what I’ve chosen. I’m happy to say I’ve kept my possessions to a minimum, as I strongly believe that clutter is a hindrance to a life of happiness. You can disagree, but I feel better knowing that if my house burns down, I won’t feel like the world has ended. As they said in Fight Club, “There’s a point where the things you own begin to own you.” I don’t feel I’m lacking anything material, although I do wish I had a better idea of where I’m going with my life. Being a baker and a shoe elf are not disagreeable with me, but nor are they jobs I want to have ten years from now.

I refuse to believe that my adventures are over, just on a hiatus. My friends often ask if I would WWOOF again, and after giving it a lot of thought I have to say yes, but not in the same way I did. By that, I mean I’m not eager to live off my savings for an extended period, volunteer until I’m broke and then start over busting my ass at another entry level job. I definitely want to travel again, and to travel freely, but I hope to find a way to do it without ending up broke and jobless at the end. Sometimes, ending up broke and jobless is just what you need, and I’ve honestly never regretted doing it, but I’ve done it a lot in my life and I don’t think I’ll need it again for a while. Moreover, I really want to find a direction and pursue work that I enjoy rather than wander aimlessly. I’m tinkering with a few ideas, and I still have quite a few countries on my travel list, so my future is unwritten. Closure is nowhere in sight, and that’s a good thing.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Well, That's That

So here I am, back in Oregon for the first time in over five months. That five months went by fast. Some parts of it seem like a lifetime ago, but at the same time it feels like I never left. After getting reacquainted with my parents, I caught up with quite a few friends. The first thing they all say is “Wow, your hair is long,” which I would probably say, too. Beyond that, we pick up right where we all left off. When you get down to it, five months isn’t an exceptionally long amount of time to be away.

My friends also like to ask me how I’ve changed or what I’ve learned from traveling and working on farms. I have no idea how to answer that question. If I have changed, I haven’t noticed. As for what I’ve learned… well, I can slaughter a chicken, pick an apple tree, replace a headlight and dig a hole like nobody’s business. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t really affect whom I am or how I live my life. I’d like to think that I’ve learned to deal with people better and gained some self-confidence, but I think time will be the test of that. If nothing else, I‘ve definitely gained some perspective. I really let myself get caught up with some drama before I left Oregon, and now that just seems ridiculous and mundane. The world is too big to spend all your energy on a few dramatic people who, in the long run, really don’t matter. I hope that sounds more optimistic than cynical. And I hope I don’t lose that perspective too quickly.

Craving a broader perspective is one of the reasons I went WWOOFing in the first place (check). Another was to prove to myself that I’m capable of doing more than just punching keys on a computer (check). I also wanted to spend a summer outdoors instead of inside a dark office (check). Yet another reason was that I wanted some adventure and some good memories and I didn’t know if I’d ever get another chance in my life to do a trip like this (check). Plus, I had a goal to visit all 50 states (up to 48 now!). Oh, and I didn’t want to die before I lived in a tipi (check), saw Elvis’ birthplace (check), ate alligator (check), survived an attack by bats in a uranium mine (check), learned how to castrate a sheep (check) and arm wrestled an orangutan (still working on that one).

I’m still considering going abroad to continue WWOOFing, but I’m here at least for the holidays. Honestly, I don’t think I should be going anywhere else until I replenish my savings, and if I find a job I like then I wouldn’t be opposed to sticking around (I’m not one to leave a job without fulfilling a commitment). It’s a little scary not knowing what I’ll be doing or where, but it’s also exciting. There are no limitations on my job hunt, and I still have enough savings that I can be picky about what I pursue. I love my parents, but I refuse to adopt the career attitude of their generation, which says you should get your degree, find a job in that field, stick with it for 50 years then retire and collect your pension. I had that attitude ingrained in me as I grew up and it put me through a lot of stress in my early 20’s. It took several years for me to realize that it’s not only okay for me to change my job every few years if I want, it’s actually normal now. I have an IRA for retirement and I put money into it when I can. Beyond that, I’m going to live my life with the variety I want, and I have no qualms about pursuing a new field of work at a starting position with supervisors younger than I… again. I’m mature enough to know there’s no shame in it, and I can always make fun of those young supervisors behind their backs or spit in their food if I need to.

So that’s where I stand now. I’ll post a brief update when I know what I’m doing next. Otherwise, that’s about it for this blog. I’ll start a new one when I go on my next adventure, so feel free to check in from time to time. Until then, thanks for taking the time to read. I never seemed to have many followers, but it was enjoyable for me to write regardless. I hope those of you reading enjoyed it, too. And if you read my entries closely, you may be able to crack the secret code that will lead you to a hidden treasure worth millions. You knew that, right?

For the record, this was undoubtedly the best summer I ever had in my life.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be topped.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Last Traffic Violation for Old Times' Sake

Alas, the day came when I had to leave my cozy Piedmont dwellings and finish the journey. On a rainy Tuesday morning, I packed up the car, pointed it North and hit the gas.

Wanting to milk my National Park pass for all its worth, I intended to visit the Redwood National Park in Northern Cali on my way back to Oregon. I made the mistake of driving up Highway 1 thinking it would be a more scenic drive along the coast. I call it a mistake because I barely saw any of the coast on that windy road and it took so much time to navigate that the sun set long before I reached the park. No bother—I figured I’d spend the night just before the Redwoods and drive through them in the morning, so I drove straight through to Crescent City before looking at a map to see how much further I had to go. That’s when I realized that Crescent City was actually north of the Redwoods and that I basically drove through it in the dark.


Not wanting to retrace, I decided to forge ahead and put off that park for another trip. So I folded up the map and pulled back onto the highway. Not thirty seconds later, I was hit with a flash of red and blue lights by a highway patrolman pulling me over.

Damn damn.

For those of you keeping tally of how many times I’ve been pulled over since I left Oregon, I’m sorry to say that I’ve simply lost count (see the September 30 entry for more info—there have been a couple more since then). And if we’re counting the whole year, including before this trip started… well, then we’re into double digits.

So far, I still hadn’t received any actual tickets on this trip, only mundane warnings and a lot of interrogations as to whether or not I have any weed in the car. This has come from coppers in the plains states who, I assume, rarely see guys with long hair and Oregon plates cruise through their small towns. As long as they don’t fine me, then I have no problem with them satisfying their curiosity about the funny looking guy in the old Infiniti. This time, however, it was a California cop. I doubt I looked like an oddity to him, and I knew I was speeding, so I wasn’t optimistic. Lo and behold, my luck pulled through yet again.

It turns out the cop just asked me if I knew I had a burned-out headlight. I told him I had no idea, especially because I just replaced that entire headlight assembly after hitting a deer a few weeks ago. He said, “Really? Well, let’s try something.” He then tapped the light with his flashlight, had me flicker the high beams and even checked the cables to see if any were loose or crossed. I almost wanted to ask him to check the air in my tires while he was at it (THAT’S what I call a public servant). In the end, we concluded that the bulb that came with the used assembly had just reached the end of its life.

He then went on to ask me about me trip, where I was coming from and headed to, how I liked the drive, etc. It wasn’t the usual cop conversation, in which they just seem to be testing me to see if I’m drunk or on drugs. I really felt that this guy just want to chat, and he told some stories himself. Eventually, he wished me well and advised me to get a new bulb soon since it was a foggy and rainy night. Didn’t even check my registration. I have to say, that was the nicest cop that every pulled me over. Kudos to Cali.

The closest I got to the Redwoods

I spent that night in the back seat of my car at a rest area in Brooking, just over the Oregon border. At some point, I realized it would be the last time on this journey that I would sleep in that comfy but crammed seat (and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t as comfortable after the king size bed spoiled me). Bright and early the next morning, I cruised along the beautiful and familiar Oregon coast. I’ll admit that I slowed down before reaching the turnoff that led to my parents’ town. After five months, I didn’t see any reason to rush it. I think I spent a good hour walking around Otter Rock, my old favorite surf spot.

Oregon coast rocks (that can be a noun or a verb)

When I ran out of reasons to delay, I filled up my gas tank one more time (got yelled at by the attendant when I tried to pump it myself—forgot what state I was in for a moment), said sayounara to the coast and cut east toward the folks. Less than an hour later I pulled into their driveway for the first time in over five months.

Mom and Dad were, of course, tickled to death to see me—as I was them. Although I called often, we still had a lot of catching up to do. Before I left, I made them promise to keep our old 14-year-old dog alive at least until I returned. They kept that promise, and the poor dog, totally deaf and almost blind, was terrified of me until she sniffed my hand. Then I couldn’t keep her down.

14 years and still tickin'!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Do They Still Make Rice-a-Roni?

A couple days after Halloween, I bade my sis farewell and found myself speeding across Arizona.

My next destination was California’s Bay Area to visit a friend. This involved a two-day journey, and I included a small detour to cruise through the Joshua Tree National Park just east of L.A. A big reason for this detour was U2’s Joshua Tree album back in the 80’s. Yeah, I’m that old.

Eventually, I arrived in Piedmont. My friend lived there, but we spent a good bit of time living it up in Oakland and San Francisco. This included art galleries, libations, hiking, trips to the beach, Chinatown, running up and down really steep hills and absolutely amazing food. My friend is as fanatic about pumpkin as I am, so we indulged in pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin cookies and pumpkin cream cheese on pumpkin bread. One day, we made a pumpkin pie that we finished eating before it had a chance to cool properly. The next day, we did the same thing. I’m sure our fellow pumpkin fiends out there will understand. Believe it or not, we’re both still criticized for being too skinny.

Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in Oakland, I highly recommend scouting out Uncle Dougie’s sandwiches. Several people, including my host, told me they were the best and I was not disappointed. A storefront supposedly exists somewhere, but we were content to buy them directly from Uncle Dougie himself at his street booth. FYI: Uncle Dougie is an Asian man in California who sells authentic New York style Italian subs. I had to think about that for a bit.

In Santa Fe, I occupied myself by doing landscaping work for my sister. My stay at the bay, then, was the first time since June that I could just chill out someplace without having to work or travel. It felt like the first real vacation I’ve had in ages, and I soaked up every minute of it. And having good company definitey makes any vaca better. By the way, it was also the first time I ever slept in a king size bed. For someone who’s 6’3” and has been spending 30+ years learning to sleep within confines under 6 feet, let me just tell you that KING BEDS KICK ASS!!!

If only I could fit one in the back of my car…

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Daffy Dies, Yoda Cries

My stay in Santa Fe was brief, but rewarding. It’s always fun to hang out with my sister and her fam, which includes her husband and their son, my 18-month-old nephew. This trip was extra special since it included Halloween.

Halloween is my favorite holiday, so normally I spend weeks trying to assemble a doozy of a costume, then paint the town blood red. This year, with a self-imposed limit on possessions and spending, the holiday took on a different feel. My sister and her husband had already planned to take it easy, invite a couple friends over, watch the world series and pass out candy to the neighborhood kiddies. For a few days I planned to find a simple and cheap costume and hit the town on my own. I had even scoped out a few venues and Halloween shows that looked interesting. In the end, though, I opted to be lame and stay home with the rest of the lame-os. In my defense, I was exhausted because my bro-in-law took me duck hunting at 5am that morning.

It was my first hunting trip ever. A couple years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of killing anything larger than a fly. Now, after learning to slaughter chickens in Montana, I have considerably less qualms about whacking a bird for food. Also, I hate to turn down the chance for a new experience, even if that experience turned out to be sitting in the cold at the buttcrack of dawn and listening to a bunch of lawyers talk legalese for four hours (my brother-in-law is a partner in a law firm). We saw less than a dozen ducks the whole time, but not without a bounty:

So I had a little death and a little poultricide on my Halloween, and what better day for it? As it turns out, staying home in the evening was anything but boring. More friends showed up than my sister expected, and they all brought food. Drinks were flowing and Halloween music was spinning, so we had an impromptu party. The line of kids at the door was non-stop, and we all got a kick out of their costumes (a surprisingly large quantities of Marios this year). Giants slaughtered the Rangers in Game 4, which made me very happy, and my sister put on the Rocky Horror episode of Glee after everyone else left. I had never seen the show before, but it hit the spot.

Oh yeah, and my uber-cute nephew was dressed up as Yoda. He would cry whenever his hands got lost in his long robe. If that isn’t entertainment then I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gator Tails and Buried Caddies. When in Texas...

The rest of my stay on the Mississippi farm went by in a flash. After staying in Montana so long, I decided two weeks was a good amount of time to spend on a farm. Plus, I want to be back in Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with the fam, and that put this part of my journey on a deadline.

Farmer Jon treated me very well during my stay. I finished weeding the gardens, then went to work helping him mount posts for a new goat pen (after these last few farms, I swear my post-digging skills are now wicked sweet). He made sure I didn't work too long and always fed me well. Sadly, we mostly ate processed packaged and frozen food from the local grocery outlet store, but I was in no condition to be picky. I saw the food as just one of Jon's hick traits. The others would be spitting every minute on the minute, naming ducks Poop and Crap and drinking whiskey for breakfast (sorry if I sound like I'm dissing him, but I felt I had to convey the whole experience).

One afternoon, Jon's mother gave me a personal tour through William Faulkner's former home in nearby Oxford. I later found out she was friends with his daughter, Jill, who passed away a few years ago. Jon's mother has a lifetime of experience acting and performing in different formats and was still an active member of a local storytelling guild. I made sure to stay in the area long enough to catch a performance in which the guild told ghost stories around a pumpkin patch at a church (William Faulkner's former church, at that). Some of the stories took place during the Civil War and glorified Southern families, which made me realize I was not likely to hear them anywhere else. It was a great way to spend my last day in Mississippi, and I got back to my yurt just in time to watch a spectacular thunderstorm. The lightning was right above us, and it lit up the whole yurt every time it flashed.

Faulkner's house, study and whiskey of choice.

Another perk of my last day was that I saw a wild armadillo for the first time. Jon told me they were common here. We frequently heard them rummaging through the tall grass around the farm, and one supposedly lived under my yurt, but they managed to evade me until that day. Unfortunately, it was gone by the time i retrieved my camera.

So, along came Monday morning and I hit the road. My next goal was to once again visit my sister and her family in Santa Fe and spend Halloween there. I debated the route for days, torn between taking a long, scenic drive through Louisiana and the far southern end of Texas, or zip across Arkansas and take a faster northern route that I've already seen. In the end, I decided there was no reason to spend any more time in Texas than necessary. It is, after all, Texas.

A few hours later I found myself in Texarkana eating fried alligator tail for lunch. I hate to say it, but it tasted just like chicken.

Fried gator tail. Don't knock it till you've tried it.... or just order chicken tenders because they taste identical.

The rest of that drive was a blur. I spent the night in my car at a rest stop near Wichita Falls, then sped the rest of the way to Santa Fe, only stopping once in Amarillo for a few pictures of Cadillac Ranch. I had seen the half-buried Cadillacs a few years ago when I first drove through this part of the country, but I like the attraction so it was worth the stop.

Cadillac Ranch, an art project created as a statement about the paradoxical simultaneous American fascinations with both a sense of place and roadside attractionssuch as the ranch itselfand the mobility and freedom of the automobile... or so says Wikipedia.

So here I am, back in Santa Fe, which has become something of a home base for me. It's only now dawning on me that my WWOOF adventures in the United States are done—for now, anyway. My original intent was to WWOOF in the continental US until winter, then chase summer by traveling to Hawaii and hopefully New Zealand. I always knew money was a big factor in that plan, and my savings are certainly not what they were when I began. Although I still want to travel, I'm beginning to feel it would be prudent to earn some income first, and that means staying still long enough to find a job. For now, I plan to enjoy a week in Santa Fe, then a week with some old friends in California's Bay Area, then Thanksgiving in Oregon. That's when I'll have to make some big decisions.

Stay tuned for this season's exciting conclusion...