Sara Salo, MPH

Health through

Serendipitous connections, part 1

Think about it. At this exact moment, where are you and HOW did you get there? What events have placed you at this particular coffee shop, in this apartment or home, with this specific partner? The paths that our lives take often seem inexplicable. The connections that we make, the people that we meet. It all seems so… random.

But is it? And are you really at the whim of the world or can you shape your own destiny? Lately, I’ve been looking back and noticing some eerie similarities, which I thought that I would share with all of you. Enjoy, and I hope that it is food for thought!


2009, The Seed of the School Food Tour
There are times in life when you just can’t say no to the world. Forces beyond yourself take over. A feeling of exhilaration sets in when you realize you are bound for a fabulous new adventure. Such was the case in December of 2009 when I found myself barreling down a frosty highway in my trusty little red pickup. I still felt bewildered as to my purpose for the trip – the mountains of Oregon are a winter wonderland – but alas, I was fleeing the snowy paradise as though I had just completed a successful bank heist.

I had decided to leave only the day prior. My destination and purpose? California (I get anxious from ALL THOSE PEOPLE in California). Surf (Total surf days totaled approximately three at this point in time). Solitude (Seriously? I was going to California.).

Ignoring the incongruence of my expectations with reality, I had inexplicably announced to my household that I was taking a trip – inspired by nothing more than a severe sense of immediacy that I needed to be somewhere other than there.With surfing on the mind my truck blasted south, accompanied by Merle Haggard singing of times gone by; I reached the coast 10 hours and 1 pit stop later.

I threw myself into the surf culture and its unique community. I picked up a board, found out that the salesman was a friend of a friend, and got a killer deal. I slept on the couches of random locals I met in the lineup. I accidently sat down in the middle of a well-established daily coffee klatch and discussed politics with a handful of crotchety old men. I shared a humble lunch of peanut butter and tortillas with a fellow traveler.

My surfing improved, albeit slowly. I spent hours each day in the water. I thrashed, duck dove and paddled till I thought my arms might fall off. On no particular day, as the sun was descending past some airy clouds, I found myself alone at a windy break. Perfectly content to watch a few sets roll through in the glittering afternoon light, I relaxed and splashed some water on my face. As the saltiness passed my lips I glimpsed a sight that haunts all surfers. A dorsal fin. Of a shark. Seriously. Panic! Frantic paddling alternated with anxious costing eventually managed to deliver me to the shoreline, breathless but intact. I shakily carried my board up to the parking lot. As I sat in the back of my truck allowing my adrenaline level to dissipate a vehicle pulled up next to me. A friendly young man emerged, a brief conversation ensued, a book was borrowed, and phone numbers were exchanged.

When I stopped by his home to drop off the book a few days later, his family was appalled that I was traveling alone during the holidays and was immediately invited to stay through Christmas. The thought of a warm shower and the smell of an elk roast in the oven was all the motivation I needed to assent. I assumed the title of ‘random girl we found at the beach’ at all the family functions. On Christmas day I found myself blasting down a serene country road in a convertible, wearing a sundress, rock star size shades with ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ blaring out of the speakers.

Who was I and where had the ski bunny Sara gone?! Christmas brunch brought a gourmet meal at a gorgeous ranch, homemade goat cheese, a farm tour and a significant conversation with a fellow guest about the parallels of her work in school food reform and my public health Graduate studies. Additional surfing and socializing concluded my sojourn and I cried when I left this kind family. I turned my truck onto a northern heading and spent the drive home in a contemplative state; ignoring my iPod’s persistent attempts to communicate with me through its shuffle function.

The following months brought a series of events all related to this spontaneous road trip. I ended up in Santa Barbara as an intern for the woman from Christmas brunch working on innovative school food reform programming. Again, I found myself in unexpected situations with advantageous consequences. At the last minute I fortuitously accompanied my supervisor to a certain meeting that illuminated the exact research topic we had only recently decided that I should pursue. The need for further inquiry into this issue was then definitive in our minds. I built upon the information we received by conducting research on a topic that has since informed influential food policy statements on salad bar protocol in elementary schools.

As my time in California wound down, I began plotting the next adventure. Though I did not yet know what it would be, I was certain it would involve activism, outreach, and adventure… The seed for the School Food Tour had been planted.

Part 2 coming your way in early March!

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