Oakley & I - The Voyage of Discovery

Benford begins literal world tour – Daily American: Somerset

Video: “The Voyage of Discovery” World Tour Revealed – trekking to 221 countries, driving my Jeep Wrangler to 150+ countries, 7 continents, and learning 15+ new languages

 

Jessica Benford with the 2010 Jeep Wrangler she’s dubbed “Oakley.”

Posted: Saturday, March 28, 2015 7:49 pm  

Somerset Daily American                                     (Front Page)

 

BAKERSVILLE — Jessica Benford insists the upgrades to Oakley were an absolute necessity.

She’s spent approximately $15,000 for the new front bumper, 2.5-inch lift, 33-inch tires, 17- by 9-inch rims, Smittybilt sidesteps and winch, 50-inch front light bar, and a plate-metal roto-rack with canisters of water, spare fuel and First Aid materials.

If it seems like overkill, it’s maybe because you don’t know Benford. The self-described adrenaline junkie didn’t enhance her 2010 Jeep Wrangler because it looks cool or because she likes to throw money around.

She did it because she aims to take the Jeep across the globe. Literally.

“I kind of went nuts this past year,” the 31-year-old Rockwood native said Friday as she sat down to an appetizer at her family’s restaurant, Laurel Mountain Inn, immediately after completing the 11-hour drive from her residence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She later had a send-off party Saturday at the inn with more than 100 friends and family members.

Some of the upgrades, she said, she hopes she won’t have to use: “(But) if I do, I have the utilities. I have the weaponry in my favor.”

Benford will soon begin her self-described “voyage of discovery,” an eight-year plan to hit all seven continents and about 150 of the world’s 221 countries. It’s a realistic goal because her career as a marine mammal scientist allows her to take extended periods of time off in between jobs.

Professionally, the Penn State University grad is contracted by international oil and gas companies to conduct independent research on the industry’s impact on wildlife near deep-sea drilling. She listens to whales and dolphins, also watching for behavioral cues. If marine mammals are being disturbed by the operations, the oil and gas companies may be forced to shut down and move elsewhere.

Given the fact that her “daily grind” for the past eight years is already akin to adventure for most of us, it should be no surprise that Benford goes to even more extreme lengths to get her kicks in her spare time.

Her mother, Maggie Benford, visibly beams with pride when she recalls how entralled her daughter became with the dolphins and their trainers while visiting Sea World as a young girl.

“She would literally want to go talk to the ones there,” she said. “She was like, This is what I want to do. And she never let up.”

Though Benford’s voyage is expected to take nearly a decade, she’s OK with that. She said it’s already been about eight years in the making as she has researched and meticulously planned her journey.

Benford was first inspired to traverse the globe after taking a sidecar motorcycle trip with a friend several years ago from California down through Mexico. In the past five years alone, she has been to 57 different countries.

“It just kind of clicked,” she said.

That doesn’t mean she’s neglected the good ole U.S., either. Just two years ago she took a U.S. National Park trip through 27 states. The sightseeing took nearly three months, and added about 16,000 miles to Oakley’s resume.

“It was an amazing trip,” she said.

To document her upcoming tour of the world, she is bringing seven or eight cameras, including a helicopter drone she plans to fly over Bolivia’s infamous “Death Road.”

For at least some of the trips, she will be accompanied by her videographer and brother Josh, who said he’s actually looking forward to Canada the most.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity,” he said.

The trip, according to Benford, isn’t going to be a typical tourist’s trot. Not only does she plan to stay off beaten paths, but also spend time volunteering and pitching in with various conservation and cleanup efforts.

“As a traveler, it’s amazing how many people you meet,” she said. “There’s just so many great people.”

Benford also wants to use her experiences for education. She is looking to give lectures at universities, and may write a book someday.

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