Sustainability in America

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, work together.

Bec Cotton, Summit Club Member

Summit Club member Bec Cotton is a firm believer that the only way we can make a difference is by acting as a community. This philosophy led Bec, a 23 year old Sustainability student from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, to embark on a 10-month journey of adventure and discovery across North America and Mexico.

Taking a well earned break
Taking a well earned break

Bec travelled along the west coast of North America and Mexico, working with sustainable communities, and creating memories that will last a lifetime. This is Bec’s story.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

I began my journey at AMK Ranch in Grand Tetons National Park, during the northern hemisphere summer. I assisted PhD projects from some world-leading academics studying everything from Parnassus butterflies to brown bears; which included memorably canoeing hundreds of kilometres along Snake River in search of Otter latrines.

My journey wasn’t all about sustainability work though. In my downtime, I pushed my boundaries and fully immersed myself in the incredible environment of North America. I am an avid hiker and climber, so I pushed myself mentally and physically by hiking as much of the Teton Range as I could manage.

I conquered over 10 of the major peaks and hikes in the region; the pinnacle of which was a 4-day, 65km solo hike of the Teton-crest trail.

Grand Tetons National Park
Grand Tetons National Park

Organic farming (Jackson, Northern California)

The next stop on my journey took me to Jackson, California. I volunteered with Paloma Pollinators, a small-scale organic farm that services the Amador /Calaveras County region as part of the community supported agriculture program (CSA). We managed various fruits and vegetables, two pregnant Jersey cows, a Llama, six crazy free-range chickens and about fifty beehives!

The days were long and the work was tough, but I gained a real understanding of what it takes to be an organic producer. I also developed an appreciation of the economic challenges facing independent farms, and why it’s so important for communities and local organic producers to support each other.


Hybrid Adobe building (Santa Cruz, California)

In Santa Cruz, I learned about how communities can build low-cost sustainable housing using Hybrid Adobe, a non-toxic, renewable material that is fireproof and flexible enough to provide effective earthquake resistance.

It was amazing to learn about recycled building techniques as a practical way of re-using the waste we produce and reducing carbon emissions. By using mainly newspaper and glass bottles, we can produce strong, durable and beautiful livable structures.


San Pancho Turtles (San Francisco, Mexico)

After enjoying my Southern Californian summer, I ventured south into Mexico. My first stop was the village of San Pancho (San Francisco), where I volunteered with an organisation called San Pancho Turtles. They are an animal conservation group, dedicated to protecting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and their nesting beaches.

We spent our days, and often nights, patrolling the beaches for nesting turtles. We collected about 40 eggs per nest, which we took back to the nursery for incubation. After a 90 day gestation period, we return the hatchlings to their original nesting sites or release them into the ocean.

After the storm
After the storm

The eye of the storm (Nayarit, Mexico)

Shortly after leaving San Pancho, I briefly stayed in a tiny palm-fronted beach hut in La Ticla, a small coastal town in Nayarit, Mexico.

On 23 October 2015, Hurricane Patricia; the 2nd most powerful tropical storm ever recorded, struck the region. It was a terrifying experience. Luckily, the predicted destruction never fully materialised, and I was impressed by the way my little hut withstood the incredible winds, rain and waves. I still haven’t told my dad I lived through the eye of a hurricane! I was really saddened by the devastation across the coast.

Despite the best efforts of local relief groups and the inspirational sense of togetherness displayed by the local community, it’ll be many months before the area is restored to its former glory.

The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon

Living the dream

Between these amazing projects and my travelling adventures, I feel like I spent my time in North America and Mexico living the dream. There were almost too many highlights to mention, like hiking the Grand Canyon; exploring California’s giant Redwood Forests; and cruising along Big Sur searching for the next big wave.

I went skydiving and tramping through Moab, Zion, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah; I was captivated by the diversity of wildlife at Yellowstone National Park; and I even climbed some of THE most intimidating rock faces at Yosemite National Park. In Mazatlán, Mexico; I prepared a vegan meal for over 30 leading Yoga instructors, and I discovered some of the best secret surf spots along Mexico's west coast.

Overall, my time was jam-packed, breathless, and completely incredible.

Are you inspired to get out there and make a positive change? If you're like Bec and you travel with purpose, then we're inviting you to apply for Summit Club Adventure Sponsorship.