I’ve always been an explorer, constantly seeking some vague secret lurking just around the corner. Growing up in Singapore, and free to roam the island at a young age, I observed backpackers arrive filthy but happy, staying just a night or two, backpacks loaded to bursting, patchworked with a technicolor of flags from the countries they’d visited. Even then, I knew that someday I would trace their footsteps to seek out my own adventures. Having since zigzagged across most of Asia by bus, train, boat, motorbike, and even camel, before moving to Oregon at 18, it was clear that I loved the search.
My backpack was already packed the day I finished high school. The very next day I was on the jungle train headed up the Malaysian peninsula with plans to sneak into Tibet. I had a hunger to experience something mystical and rare. One cannot make direct plans on where exactly to find such a thing, but it is often found while looking for something else. This adventure was to define the style of travel that I feel allows one to absorb the most from the road.
I learned that the authenticity found through greeting a challenge can’t be taught, faked, or given. It can only be discovered through diving into the journey with a loose plan and an openness to embrace whatever the road brings.
This style of adventure has landed me in a slew of odd jobs to support my travels. Often the job I’ve landed has become the adventure itself, from accepting jobs to deliver sailboats in Indonesia, to dive tour operator in Malaysia, to celebrity estate manager in Hawaii. I eventually landed a gig as an organic cacao farmer in Hawaii, which in turn, led me to where I am now.
I’ve founded a company, Treehouse Chocolate, based upon my experience of living in a treehouse in Hawaii & working as a cacao farmer. I learned that cacao is a crop that can save the rainforest. For a cacao tree to remain healthy, it needs over-story crops, and the easiest way for most cacao farmers to provide this over-story is to leave the natural rainforest intact.
I always knew I wanted to create something to share with the world based upon my experiences and values. Something clicked for me when I realized the default of scaling a business founded on these farming practices was to positively impact the land and the farmers. Thus began Treehouse Chocolate, a chocolate company which strives to remain true to the spirit of the land, the farmers, and the adventures I’ve experienced along the way.
Treehouse is built upon the philosophy of making premium chocolate a portable item that can easily be taken on adventures. Since chocolate bars melt, I developed a single serving drinking chocolate that can be made using just hot water… it’s damn good stuff!
Recently Treehouse linked up with Ural Motorcycles and decided to put both our products to the test. The idea for this trip was simple; we would road test the Ural on some of Oregon’s most rugged back-roads on a 1,500-mile motorcycle loop around Oregon in search of unique spots to make and enjoy a drinking chocolate. Oregon is beautifully vast, and these drinking chocolates are deliciously portable, so it became a fun challenge to seek extremes where we could enjoy a mug of chocolate.
Starting in Portland, a fellow adventurer/photographer, Shaun Daley, and I set out on a 7-day motorcycle loop around NE Oregon. Here's the story. So join along, but first I suggest you make yourself a drinking chocolate to visit the best spots we found:
*Hot Lake Hotel - Haunted Hotel
After running out of gas outside of Pendleton and realizing we were losing daylight, we scrambled to find a cool place to stay for the night. Google found us a spot just outside of LaGrande called “The Haunted Hotel”. Google suggested the former 1920’s luxury hotsprings resort, turned insane asylum during the great depression, and recently turned back into a hotsprings B&B. Bam, that was our spot!
Upon arrival, there’s no mistaking that you’re at the “Haunted Hotel”. It is a looming Victorian mansion with a neon red sign that states “Hot Lake Springs” behind a black iron decorative gate. While steam vents hiss the egg smell of sulphur, peacocks run free screeching through the hallways.
Being the only guests that night, we were given a 3-bedroom suite. We both agreed that one of the rooms was far too spooky to go into and we locked the door connecting it to our suite. We slept like babies… babies with flashlights next to the beds and our boots ready close by.
In the morning we enjoyed extra helpings of coffee and waffles in the greenhouse-style, brightly lit, breakfast room, which
was seemingly untouched since the 1920s. Guests can tour the 3-story war museum (just 1/2 of the owner’s personal collection) followed by a soak in the railroad-era bathhouse by the steaming lake. Hot Lake Hotel is a different kind of museum; one you can immerse yourself in and experience the past firsthand.
*Joseph, OR -Wollawa Lake-
Starting in Portland, if you follow Highway 84East until it dead-ends, you will find Wollawa Lake. Just before the town of Joseph, OR, the country opens up into big sky territory where you’re driving through golden grasslands and the horizon is carved by snow dusted mountains. Joseph is a throwback to a time when people got their instagram updates at the local coffee shop.
Wollawa Lake is the highlight attraction of Joseph, OR. The lakeshore is dotted by floating docks about 200 feet out. We decided that would be the perfect place to make a drinking chocolate! Having forgotten to pack our raft, we loaded our gear onto our thermarests and swam out to one of the floating docks for a hot mug of CAMP at sunrise. We also enjoyed a few backflips into the crystal waters!
*Zumwalt Prairie -PNW Largest Prairie-
We heard about Zumwalt Prairie from an older cowgirl in a Joseph, OR, burger joint. She said “you can ride that motorcycle all over Oregon, but you won’t find a place more precious than Zumwalt Prairie…” and then she seemed to drift off to those hills in her cowgirl head. With a tip like that, we figured it was worth a couple days detour. It was.
Zumwalt Prairie is America’s largest remaining grassland. Consisting of 33,000 acres of wildlife preserve, it is a sea of tall grass surrounded by the Wallowa Mountains. Peaceful and removed from the world, it’s a cowgirl’s dream to say the least.
*Buckhorn Overlook -Hells Canyon-
We were making iced chocolate martinis in front of an old barn when two men with matching white beards, both named Bob, drove up in an old Subaru. They mentioned they worked for the nature preserve and just up ahead was a place we shouldn’t miss called Buckhorn Overlook. “It’s Oregon’s version of the Grand Canyon,” Bob said.
The gravel road ended at an abandoned fire-lookout & barn above the vast expanse of Hell’s Canyon Wilderness. Hell’s Canyon is North America’s deepest gorge and one of the deepest gorges on earth. With the Snake River winding through it, it serves as a natural state border to Idaho.
*Baker City -Motorcycle Rally-
We decided to swing into Baker City for burgers and beers at a place called Barley Browns, and found ourselves in the middle of the annual Hell’s Canyon Motorcycle Rally. Naturally, we parked the bike in the middle of the parade and made iced drinking chocolates.
Once dubbed the "Queen City of the Inland Empire” during the height of the gold rush, this now sleepy town still bares the mark of the booming gold-town days & nights.
*Stawberry Mountains Wilderness
Located just east of John Day, OR, you’ll find the Strawberry Mountains Wilderness, 68,700 acres of untouched alpine wilderness.
The Strawberry Mountains are Oregon’s version of the Rockies, holding five of the seven major life zones in North America. They are a volcanic alpine oasis surrounded by an otherwise flat desert region, where you can spend days hiking between the seven lakes and not see another human being.
The Painted Hills
The Painted Hills are a red dirt moonscape dubbed one of the “Seven Wonders of Oregon”.
These hills are the result of an ancient river floodplain. Just down the road, at the Fossil Beds Museum, you’ll find the remains of rare mini-saber tooth tigers, camels, and even rhinoceroses. It was so windy that day the drinking chocolate poured sideways!
Bend, OR - River Surfing-
We’d heard of a standing wave in the middle of Bend, OR, and had to try our luck in the frigid waters of the for a day of surfing.
In the center of town next to a main bridge, you’ll find a $9.6million artificial wave built by the city of Bend for surfers and kayakers. As we would quickly learn, this wave is not for the novice river surfer.
After numerous humbling attempts by both of us to surf the wave, Shaun (photographer) was tossed over the waterfall onto a boulder. The impact was audible even over the roar of the falls. With a set of freshly cracked ribs, we started out on our final stretch back to Portland where hot showers and soft beds awaited us.
Our trip consisted of 1500 miles on a sidecar-motorcycle loaded with Treehouse Drinking Chocolates and no definite plans other than to seek out the most beautiful spots in Eastern Oregon. I was reminded yet again of the raw beauty of adventure itself. This trip once again proved to me that adventure is only found when you let go of plans and expectations. Just remember, the next time you set out on an adventure, don’t forget your Treehouse!