“Dude, that’s a logging road!” I say to him, looking at the photo on his smart phone.
“I know, right?!” laughs Sam. It’s Sam’s third day here. He rode his bike from San Fransisco.
We are pruning my husband’s Grandmother’s Mock Orange tree. It has grown wild and untended for the last 20-plus years and now we must bring it into alignment.
On a busy homestead and working farm this tree is a low priority. Today, I’m taking advantage of the extra hands that are always needed around here.
Sam carefully sorts the stems that have blossomed and works around them with the clippers. He watches what I do. He wants me to be happy with his work.
“Then, I got sick. Could have been bad water.” Based on what Sam is telling me between clipping vines, I think I might know. “Maybe dehydration or sunstroke.” I suggest, helpfully. “Maybe.”
Sam explains - while riding the first leg of his 3600-mile bike trek – during the 2200-foot ascent of Grants Pass, Oregon, he simply had to stop. Abandoned his 100-pound bicycle at the side of the road and crawled, dragging his backpack 50 yards to the tree line. He erected his tent between bouts of vomiting. Spent three days there, huddled inside the tent burning up with high fever and sweating chills that rattled his teeth. Eventually, it passed.
He's more careful now about clean water and taking rest breaks. After that, he rode at night to avoid the Mediterranean style climate that grows Oregon’s gorgeous apricots and nectarines but was (possibly) (probably) detrimental to bike riders.
More Similar Than Different
Grants Pass, Oregon was originally established as a stagecoach stop in the 1860s. Named for the famous General’s success at Vicksburg, the apostrophe was jettisoned as dead weight somewhere along the way with no fanfare, just abandoned. Then became a railhead in 1884 when the (now) Southern Pacific Railroad was completed. Originally populated by Hudson Bay Trappers, from whom I am descended, later Gold was discovered in the area. It’s safe to say Grants Pass has never been the easy route.
Been There Done That
Now, I have a little bit of experience with Grants Pass, Oregon as I traversed the Rogue River back when I was a young Adventuress. So, as Sam talks about his travels, I have reactions. We camped as a family at Crater Lake National Park in the 1970’s. I skied the Cascade Mountains in the 80’s and 90’s. I was waylaid at a Best Western Hotel in 1991 while the Siskiyou Pass was cleared of heavy, wet snow. I found a tire shop willing to put snow chains on my tiny Mazda sports car and still, Troopers did not allow me to proceed for another 72 hours.
I am well-acquainted with the terrain Sam is describing. During my short stays in the area, I realize the entire town population is part of the SAR Community; Search and Rescue being a full-time endeavor for residents. First Responders (most volunteers) outnumber visitors. Her Sister City is Rubtsosk, Russia; I feel like that says a lot. Today, Grants Pass is most attractive to hikers, runners, cyclists, wilderness aficionados, climbers, rafters, cavers, jet boat and extreme sports enthusiasts. And bears. Lots of bears.
I know Sam only a little bit from his Reviews, a few emails and because he has arrived at our farm on a bicycle. He called from St. Paul; said his ride would be 76 miles. Exactly. He would see us soon. Frankly, I just shook my head and kept working. I expected to get another phone call at about Vermillion, or perhaps even Cannon Falls, asking for a pick-up, but none came. Eventually, around 8 p.m. a helmeted, neon clad figure road into the yard.
Sam departed his home in wealthy Yacht Harbor, San Francisco, where he normally spends summers teaching youngsters how to ocean sail, a few weeks ago. He’s tall, well over 6 feet tall. He has longish hair and a beard. He favors natural fabrics and sandals. He may or may not wear an earring. He looks like a modern-day Jesus. Sam is the well born son of a UK Diplomat.
“I like to average about 100 miles per day on the bike” He tells me. He takes the train when no suitable bike route exists. He stays on Organic Farms, Homesteads, and Sustainable Collectives along the way. He helps around the farm in exchange for room and board, working half the day and the other half day he spends exploring the area.
Sam is enroute to his buddy’s wedding in Portland, Maine. Then, he’s heading to Quebec. On the bike. He plans to visit friends in Chicago and has a Farm in Wisconsin lined up, also.
When Sam told the soon-to-be-married Groom he would to ride to the event, the Groom simply sighed and said, “Of course you will”. Sam could easily have bought a first-class ticket to his friend’s wedding. He consciously chose this method of travel. He wants to make a smaller carbon footprint. I feel it wasn’t the first time the friend heard this kind of news. He looks fully recovered and today, Grant’s Pass is just a cool story to tell new friends.
Wwoofers, Not Hippies
The organization that brought my family and Sam together is an online platform called World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or WWOOF-USA. Every free country on the planet is represented on the Wwoof website.
Back in the day, the late 1980’s and early 1990’s for me, this type of organization was called a Work Away stay. Made into a type of Pop Culture by youth of the 60’s and 70’s who dropped out to travel, to find themselves and out of necessity, participate in working vacations.
Instead of going to college, you could take a gap year between High School and your two-year degree. But you had to carry the (heavy) (thick) paperback travel guide with you and try to telephone the farm (often while out of country) ahead of your arrival.
The farms were often remote, difficult to get to locations. Sometimes inexperienced people arrived, and the time involved in showing the young adults how to do the work, and making sure it was finished ended up being a negative for the grower. Sometime workers who committed failed to show. Some of the listings were out of date. The process had varying degrees of success, as expected.
Now, all the information one needs to become a Wwoofer is conveniently located on an easily accessed, low-cost website.
The Host Farm and the Wwoofer – as they are known in the community - are united via memberships on the website. Using self-written descriptions, photos and profiles participants may be matched up according to location, farming practices, dietary restrictions, or skills. No money is exchanged between the Farm and the Visitor. A Wwoofer may not replace a paid worker in any circumstance. I think about our current situation. No worries. The only people working here are owners.
In exchange for help, the Host Farm is expected to provide a meaningful but casual educational exchange of ecologically sound farming practices and share daily life with their visitor.
Make no mistake, this is not cheap labor. While in our case Sam craved hard physical work, that is not always the case. A Host may be required to think on their feet if a Wwoofer arrives with less ability than originally promised. There are loads of jobs on a farm that do not require much expertise, just a strong back and knees, so we are good to go.
The Wwoof website requires Hosts and Guests to participate in several hours of ZOOM-type seminars in order to be verified. A peer-to-peer review system (much like Airbnb) allows Host and Guest to ‘rate’ and ‘review’ their experience when it’s over, just to keep everyone honest.
During the ZOOM Meeting the Instructor tells us “Well, you’re dealing with people. Just try to form good relationships. Not everyone is always going to be a great fit. Just be kind. Be honest. Communicate. And let us know if you have any real problems.”
As the Host, I was required to provide clean, dry, safe housing for Sam and make sure he had enough food for three meals a day. We were delighted to learn Sam was not a Vegan, and in fact, quickly ate all that was placed in front of him. Sam worked hard and ate hard, developing a hollow leg every day right around 5 pm. My husband found this comforting in a way; it harkened back to the days when the Wranglers would sit down to dinner with the family.
I think initially my husband imagined we’d be hosting surly young kids, with unusual hair styles and pierced eyebrows, unaccustomed to hard work, and always on their phone. Sam blew that idea out of the water in one meal. We never even saw his phone unless it was to show photos to illustrate an interesting tale.
One old-timer quipped, “They work four whole hours a day? All by themselves? For two weeks? Yep, that’s a vacation.” His friends at the counter laughed.
As a Gen Y or Millennial, Sam finds himself living in a world he had no hand in creating and it’s frustrating for him. He eschews Cable News and Syndicated Newspapers, as he knows they have incentives to build hype into a story. Sam just needs the facts. He can make up his own mind. For news, he uses Twitter. He keenly follows the weather.
He is a digital native; one who uses the Internet, mobile devices, and social media, exclusively. He can work from anywhere with a fast WIFI connection.
Sam has never lived in a world where he was not digitally tracked 24/7. Not for security reasons. But because where he is and what he does may indicate what his next purchase may be. As his phone caught up to his travels, he was bombarded with ads the Algorithm thought he might appreciate.
“Water purification tablets” He holds his phone up so I can see the ad.
“Bit late” I say. We laugh at his phone.
“Privacy? I don’t think I’ve ever had privacy, not really.” He does not remember a world without TSA, and consciously decides whether he really needs books with paper pages. He does not know where he was when the 2nd Tower was hit on 9/11. Sam was born in 1995. He is a year older than my daughter. I suspect Sam’s mom knows where he was that day, too.
He knows current farming practices are unsustainable; he just doesn’t know what to do about it. He decided to approach it in a “boots on the ground” kind of way. He wants to see it for himself. Close up. Make his own determinations.
Sam’s Gen is more civic-minded than we give them credit for; they have a real desire to connect locally and globally. They are seeking transparency above all, and experiences. Their currency is not money or houses; they’re not interested in acquiring material items like us; The Boomers and Gen Xers. Which is good, because wealth and security is hardly accessible to those of us who have worked a lifetime, already.
They want Freedom. It’s all about flexibility with these guys. Freedom to go, to stay, when to work, when not to work. Work/Life Balance. For them, there is no reason to work until the day you tip over, never enjoying the fruits of your labor. They’re taking retirement early. I can’t really fault them; I know folks who did their time, and two weeks after the Retirement Party, discovered they had a terminal illness.
A recent text from Sam says he is leaving Quebec and headed for Vermont. He plans to spend Labor Day with friends, relaxing.
For more info contact: www.wwoof.org