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The late night train pulled up to the station in Whitefish, Montana on July 9th just before midnight. I said a bittersweet goodbye to Mum (knowing I would see her back in New Zealand in a few months) and goodbye to my Whitefishian family (not knowing when I would see them again). It was a very tired, teary farewell on my part after two weeks of adventures and staying out late.  I found my seat and waved through the train’s window as much as I could before it began to move down the tracks. If I hadn’t been so tired I’m sure I would have felt a sudden surge of anxiety and nerves, but all I wanted to do was shut my eyes and sleep.

Sleep, of course, seldom came but the night did pass and by the middle of the following morning we rolled up to Portland, Oregon. Having gotten quite comfortable with the open land, big mountains and pine forests of Montana it was fairly surreal being back in a city. Portland is pretty massive and I know there is so much to see and do there, but my main mission was to make it safely to Waldport. In the daylight I had woken up properly at last and the anxiety was starting to set in; getting where I needed to be on time was priority number one. I was grateful for some extremely helpful Americans who carried my *heavy* luggage to the correct bus terminal (I would have been lost otherwise), and from there it was straight on to a Greyhound bus to Corvallis.

The bus, typically, was running late. We hit huge traffic along one highway and I only had an hour scheduled to catch my connecting bus to Waldport… I did not want to know how I would manage if we were late. I tracked down the White Wolf Sanctuary’s phone number and spoke to my new boss – Lois Tulleners – for the first time. It was wonderful to hear a friendly voice; she told me that when she’d found out I was taking all this public transport to get to them she had been worried as things can so often not work out as they are meant to, but assured me that whatever happened we would get me there in one piece! I was just glad to know I wouldn’t be delaying anyone if I was a day or so late to start.

The Greyhound made it to Corvallis only a short while after my connecting bus was meant to leave. I spoke to the current bus driver and voiced my concerns with him, but he said it did not look like the connecting bus had even arrived yet – it was probably running late, too. We whipped my luggage out of the passenger’s baggage area and I again took a seat to wait for the next bus. I did notice, however, that there was nobody else waiting. Nobody at all. In fact, the station seemed fairly deserted. On closer inspection I discovered that the bus station was actually closed. Not to worry; it was a Saturday… the buses were obviously still running or they wouldn’t have sold me a ticket…

Oh how wrong I was. I had purchased my tickets from the Greyhound website. My connecting bus from Corvallis to Waldport was not a Greyhound bus; it belonged to a different company, and while Greyhound had sold me the tickets fair and square it turned out that the other bus company did not actually run on the weekends at all. I could only find this out by calling Greyhound themselves, and I was so confused at the situation by the end of the phone call that I completely forgot to ask them why on earth they were selling invalid weekend bus tickets for another company in the first place. Yes, it was safe to say that anxiety had well and truly set in at this point.

Corvallis is a beautiful place. If I had not been stressing about logistics I would have appreciated it so much more. It is home to the Oregon State University, so it has loads of students bustling around. I found the people very approachable and was given the option of staying a night at a motel to await the next day’s bus. I was so sick of traveling by that point, though, that my stubborn side kicked in and I ended up deciding to pay for a taxi all the way to Waldport (US$170 later – a little more expensive than my bus ticket had been!). While this was a fairly spontaneous decision I did not regret it; it was a Saturday, and since the relevant buses did not run at all during weekends I would have been sorely disappointed the following day waiting for it yet again.

The taxi ride was a story in itself but in the early evening I could finally say I had safely made it to Waldport. I – was – exhausted. I just wanted to get to my motel, unpack my things and call the family in Montana to say I was there at last. Firstly, though, I was welcomed by one of the Sanctuary’s volunteers. We had been conversing via email for months before my journey and she had assured my own mother that while I was volunteering she would be my adopted Oregon Mom. Oregon Mom understood I was tired but convinced me to get my grocery shopping out of the way before heading to the motel – she pointed things out for me and made me remember foodstuffs that only a Mom could.

After this we departed and Oregon Mom tried to help me get more familiar with the area. Waldport – “Where the Forest Meets the Sea” – is a lovely town of a few thousand. From Waldport you can go over the big bridge and on to Newport, but we headed in the other direction down the coast towards Florence.

From Waldport it is about a 20 minute drive to the next township, Yachats. Yachats – “Gem of the Oregon Coast” – was where I would end up spending a fair amount of time as it was the closest village to my motel on the coastal highway. When I had been looking at destinations of sanctuaries I obtained a lot of information about Yachats etc. and thought I would know the place quite well, but I was still surprised when we passed through. There was a small supermarket, a couple of cafes and a buzzing restaurant called the Drift Inn that I looked forward to visiting, but it was not as large a township as I had in my mind. In fact there are only about 700 residents or so, plus the families visiting for summer. I had expected a place busier with people, but it had more the feel of a holiday area, reminding me of parts of the Coromandel back in the North Island of NZ. I supposed it was the perfect place for a break.

The Oregon coast is absolutely delectable. As tired as I was from the day or so of slightly confusing travel, I was still awed and breath-taken by the drive over to the motel (‘Ocean Haven’) that I would be staying at for the next couple of months. It literally is where the forest meets the sea as they say; purely miles and miles of coastal highway with vast ocean on one side and endless forest on the other. From my experiences of Texas, Honolulu and even Montana, Oregon definitely seemed most like New Zealand and I felt at home there immediately.

Pulling up to the motel, I was yet again stunned. It was better than I had imagined even from the pictures I had seen when booking my stay. Ocean Haven is truly that; an absolute dream, right on the ocean. One of the owners, Christie, had left my key for me with a note directing me how to get to my little villa as she was out for the moment, and Oregon Mom helped me take my things down the little path to my room. After all was unloaded and unpacked I took a deep breath and looked out at the view ahead of me. Unbelievable. Side note – if anyone is looking to travel to a gorgeous, relaxing haven then I would definitely recommend this little spot. I had taken quite a while to decide on a place to base myself for the months of my volunteer placement, and I knew I had made the right choice.

That evening after meeting Christie, getting settled in and saying a temporary goodbye to Oregon Mom, I lay awake wondering about what was to come. In the final stages of booking the trip back in New Zealand I had eventually decided against visiting Indiana’s Red Wolf Sanctuary for a few weeks, instead opting to take a full ten week voluntary internship at the White Wolf Sanctuary. The RWS would have to be a journey for another time. While I wanted to experience as much as possible, I had finally decided that I would prefer to dedicate myself fully to one sanctuary for the length of my US trip.

I really only knew a small amount about WWS. I knew it was set up and run by one woman, Lois Tulleners, and all workers were volunteers. From what Oregon Mom told me there weren’t as many as I had perhaps first imagined, but most were regulars from once to several times a week or two. I knew there were ten arctic wolves under the care of WWS and all had different histories and backgrounds. When it came to specifics, though, I was to find that out. For example I did not know how many volunteers there would be on a day-to-day basis, the size of the land and how many enclosures they were or even what the exhibits were like, I did not know the particular procedures of husbandry at the sanctuary and how accustomed to people each of the wolves were. Nor did I know the exact duties that would be expected of me. From my zoo experience I was fairly confident on the husbandry aspect side of things; I had an idea of what sorts of things to expect. I understood the sanctuary also ran tours, especially in summer, several times a week wherever possible with a maximum of one group per day. I expected to have some involvement in those too. The fact that I didn’t know complete specifics was not a concern to me; my main goal of being there was to lesson the work load for those involved in order to benefit the wolves and those caring for them. And, of course, I wanted to leave the sanctuary with more knowledge, confidence and the abitlity to educate others and demonstrate the importance of wolves and their conservation.
I was finally where I had wanted to be for so long.