So you've got it bad? Try this guy's route

COLUMBIA -- Despite soaring gas prices, Richard Vierra continues his long commute -- 400 miles each way.

The Columbia College culinary instructor drives once a week from southern Oregon to the Sierra foothills and back.

Not wanting to give up his cooking hobby, Vierra, 62, continues to drive back and forth each week. He teaches two culinary classes Monday through Wednesday, then spends Thursday through Sunday in Klamath Falls working in his wood shop and helping his wife train horses.

While in Columbia, Vierra said he stays in an inexpensive lodge for two nights. He makes the 6½-hour trip there early Monday morning, and then returns to Klamath Falls after his final class Wednesday.

A former restaurant owner, he took cooking classes at Columbia to get an official culinary certificate. He grew up in Manteca and spent time as a sonar technician in the Navy and as a construction worker. He moved from Escalon to Oregon in September.

The Bee talked to him about his commute:

Q: Why do it?

A: The job is good. Columbia is a nice place to be. ... I've cooked and served most of my life. As I get older, I want to share my experience.

Q: What kind of car do you drive?

A: A 1996 Hyundai Elan-tra. I get 45 miles to the gallon. It used to cost me $18 to gas up (one way). The gas is a total negative. Now, it's about $28 to gas up. I replace the tires every year. It's got 169,000, 168,000 miles on it.

Q: What do you do while driving those long trips?

A: I listen to NPR. When I'm driving down to Sonora, it's all news, so I get caught up. Going back, it's usually in the evening and it's a lot of classical music.

Q: How many stops do you make while en route?

A: Though I could make it on one tank, I like to keep the tank half full -- you never know what could happen out there. ... On the I-5 corridor, there are some nice rest stops.

Q: How does Oregon compare to Columbia?

A: Gas is a little cheaper. ... The weather is colder. While it's 65 (degrees) in Sonora, it's about 32 in Oregon. Oregon's property values are a little lower. We just wanted to get away from people.

Q: Why cooking and teaching?

A: Cooking -- I like everything. You gotta eat. It doesn't matter. I like to cook everything. ... What I like about teaching, you take someone right out of high school and can show them the necessary things to make them a good chef. Then you sit back and watch them grow.

Q: What do your wife and daughter think of your commute?

A: They don't like it. They're loud about it, but I just tune them out. ... They tell me all the time, "drive careful."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.