Ethan and Wendy Barrow fly-fishing on Crater Lake
Sitting on the deck of their home on a 10-acre parcel of woods west of Portland, Ethan and Wendy Barrow both laugh as Ethan recalls his previous job as a sales rep for a tech company. “My position was ultimately about connecting people to the network, to an electronic device. This, unfortunately, would leave them increasingly disconnected from nature. As I get great satisfaction from the natural world, I wanted to pursue a career that would help people disconnect from the network and connect to nature.”
And thus, Adventures Across Oregon was born.
“There’s never a right time to leave your job and start something new,” Wendy says. “But we knew we didn’t want to wait until we were 65.”
Ethan and Wendy (who calls herself a “recovering” legal assistant, having worked for 12 years at a Portland law firm) formed their adventure travel company to introduce people to the natural wonders of Oregon, primarily through fly-fishing.
“When we had our corporate jobs, we were the ultimate weekend warriors,” Ethan says. “We really covered the state pursuing our outdoor passions: fly-fishing and surfing for me, running for Wendy. We eventually wondered — What if we could incorporate our passions into a business that lets us show visitors what Oregon has to offer?”
The first step for the 40-something Barrows was to downsize. They sold their house in town, traded in the Audi for more practical wheels and cut back in other ways until they’d reduced their monthly footprint by two-thirds. They took much of their savings to help fund the company — a van and a Subaru wrapped with vibrant murals depicting trees, mountains and a river, as well as a large garage stocked with fly rods, waders, life jackets, pontoon boats and a host of other outdoor gear.
“The idea is guests step off the plane with a bag of clothes, and we get them everything else they need to have their adventure,” Ethan says.
In a state renowned worldwide as a fly-fishing destination — and where hundreds of guides already ply their trade — Adventures Across Oregon has taken a slightly different approach. Ethan and Wendy have identified their market niche as “the fly-fishing curious.” These are people who want to try the sport but are not so committed (at least not yet) that they want to schedule a three-day, hard-core, dawn-to-dusk, fly-fishing-only excursion.
“Fly-fishing can be a little overwhelming and intimidating for the uninitiated,” Ethan says. “We try to provide an easy entrée to the experience and weave in other fun activities.”
An average day might include an informal “intro to fly-fishing” course covering basic equipment, fishing knots and insect life on the river or lakes that will be fished. A few hours of trout fishing might be followed by a mountain bike ride, a hike or a stop at one of the state’s many wineries or breweries for a tasting. The Barrows customize every trip to their clients’ interests.
Take to the back roads almost anywhere in Oregon during the spring-to-fall fishing season and there’s a chance you’ll come upon the Barrows’ brightly decorated van. Regular stops include Anthony Lakes near Baker City in Eastern Oregon, a series of private lakes near the Central Oregon town of Maupin, and a variety of rivers and lakes in the Tillamook State Forest, astride the Coastal Range west of Portland. While Ethan guides, Wendy sets up a canopied day camp where clients can retreat for a freshly prepared lunch and a little relaxation before returning to the water … or moving along to the next activity.
Perhaps the most unique spot they are permitted to take anglers to is Crater Lake. “Many people don’t even realize that there are fish in Crater Lake, or that you’re allowed to fish,” Ethan says. “We did some reconnaissance and discovered it’s a wonderful dry fly-fishery for the rainbow trout and kokanee [landlocked sockeye salmon] that were last stocked in the 1940s. We hike down, take the park service boat to Wizard Island and have six hours to fish. It’s a strenuous hike back up, but it’s hard to beat the setting.”
There have been some adjustments for the Barrows as they’ve pursued their dream: fewer dinners at Portland’s trendy restaurants, no certainty of when the next booking (and paycheck) will be coming in, and no clocking out; in the hospitality business, you’re always on. But customers keep coming back. As of this writing, nearly all of their 2015 visitors have been repeat customers.
Photography by Justin Bailie
“Two years into this,” Ethan says,
“we’re not inherently wealthy.”
“But,” Wendy says, finishing his thought,
“we’re inherently happy.”