James Bach is cleaning up Orcas Island to impress his wife.
And he says it’s working.
For the past month, the long-time resident – clad in a bright orange vest – has been seen beside island roads, shoving litter into a 30-gallon bag.
“Wherever my wife goes, that’s where I want to pick up trash. If she drives by, I want it to be clean,” said Bach, who has been married to Lenore for 26 years. “The second thing that keeps me going is that my doctor said I have metabolic syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying that I have chronic belly fat. She told me I had to lose weight and exercise. I also have a Vitamin D deficiency from working inside. I’m like Gollum. I hate the sun. I want to be in the caves.”
James is a renowned software tester, author, trainer and expert witness. James moved his family to Orcas 10 years ago to be closer to his father, author Richard Bach. James and Lenore own a consulting firm, which requires him to travel around the globe. But this year has been different, and he’s spent most of his time on Orcas.
This past March he started walking on the trails in Moran State Park, which is near his home. James tried listening to podcasts to break up the monotony but found it cut him off from the landscape. He began to notice trash on the trail, so Lenore gave him a garbage bag for what became a game of “find trash on the trail.” Then he saw debris on the main roads and had the idea to start walking and picking up trash all over the island.
“My wife has always told me not to walk on the road because she thinks I am nine years old. So she got me a high visibility vest, and now she deploys me to areas,” said James.
When he began exploring the Orcas outdoors, his fitness level was “very low.” Now he climbs Mt. Constitution and Mt. Pickett and has lost 30 pounds. He plans to lose another 40 pounds.
Four weeks ago, James dedicated himself to cleaning up the roadways multiple times a week. He’s traversed 60 miles and monitors 15 miles from Olga Road to Orcas Road and ends at Orcas Recycling, where bags of litter can be dropped off for free.
“They thank me so many times that it actually motivates me,” he said of the transfer station crew. “They gave me a special track-picker tool and a metal water bottle.”
James says his efforts also “tickle” his fatherly instinct because he is cleaning up the island for visiting families.
“My son is 23 now so it’s a way to express my feelings as a father,” he said.
Each day, he alternates between a 10-mile, uphill hike or cleaning a local road for three hours and walking four miles. He will also spruce up the retail parking lot of “anyone who has been nice” to him.
About one out of every 20 drivers say thank you or wave at James during his treks. He is surprised at how clean Moran State Park is and at the absence of “drug paraphernalia and burned ransom notes” amongst the garbage he collects from the roads.
James says the island produces “innocent trash” like clothing, pieces of cars, receipts, old beer bottles, small pieces of plastic, lottery tickets, bottle caps and construction materials. However, there are so many cigarette butts that his efforts in that department are futile. A few times he’s discovered entire bags of garbage. He is still hoping for a “mysterious” piece of garbage that launches him into a lengthy, behind the scenes investigation.
James keeps a map of all the roads he’s covered, and hopes to one day have traversed the entire island. If anyone has requests for areas of road that need to be cleaned, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m doing it for my health but I also have this nice glow of superiority over my fellow man,” laughed James. “I feel possessive of the sides of the road now. If I see trash, it will not stand; I pull over and pick it up.”