A remote, southwestern corner of the Grand Canyon hides a gem.
We sit on the basement “balcony” of our rented condo. Our heads barely above sea level, we have a great view of the Willamette River.
Trains and draw bridges provide entertainment, along with a constant flow of bicyclists, pedestrians, and runners (don’t call them joggers) who cannot help to make eye contact with us as they turn a corner along the Portland River Walk.
Good thing that Jack cannot see anything from this basement balcony, as he would constantly bark. After a run-in with a loud train horn, he refuses to go on the river walk, not even for a swim.
I enjoy the high pitch tuning fork tone of steel on steel train wheels. It feels like I’m back in my hometown of Mingo Junction, Ohio. Only the city of Pittsburgh boasts more bridges than Portland, Oregon.
We’re searching for the “beat” of this city, other than the prevailing motto of “Keep Portland Weird.” Many folks bicycle to work, but that’s not terribly weird. Countless dog-friendly street side cafes serve organic food, and mass transit rules, but what’s so weird about that?
We walk at least six miles daily (walk with your head on a swivel on account of the speeding bicyclists along the river and on the bridges), stopping only to eat meals and drink micro-brews. Although upscale restaurants are fantastic and casual, the permanent food carts are my favorite. The carts surround several city blocks and food ranges from Thai to Hawaiian, as well as new creations. Try the grilled cheese, filled with brie and sliced tomato.
Everyone seems nice. The “genuine homeless” and even the “youthful summer homeless” are polite, perhaps because of the many services of food and housing available. Vehicles stop for pedestrians. Stand on the corner by a crosswalk, and traffic will come to a halt until you cross the street. This is probably the weirdest thing of all.
The eternal long line at Voodoo Donuts appears a little strange, but those are mostly tourists. I like the chocolate and peanut butter creation. Mare prefers the maple bar topped with crisp bacon.
Many folks claim that Portland is the strip club capital of the US. We wonder if Portland might be the tattoo and skin piercing capital. According to “Google” the tattoo crown belongs to Miami. Even so, I’ve never seen so many young women with sleeves (arms covered in ink). Either way, the “tough guy” stereotype does not apply. They are too nice to look so rugged.
It’s weird that most people in such a large city go out of their way to treat each other respectfully. Perhaps that’s what they mean by “Keep Portland Weird.” Ron Mitchell
Let’s face it, there’s a stage during every journey where travel partners grow grouchy. The book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance mentions this natural phenomenon. Living in close quarters can enhance certain challenges. Here are five ways to get over it:
Hike the coast and let Mother Nature pull you out of yourself. Ego means nothing when you traverse along the ridge of Oregon’s southern coastline. From Sunset Bay to Cape Arago, observe seals and whales in a setting that is much bigger than all of us. (Resist the urge to push your partner over the edge)
Camp, fish and swim along a churning, vibrant river like the Rogue. (Don’t accidentally knock your partner into the rapids) Yes, the rainbow trout are small, but tasty little suckers.
Climb a live volcano that patiently simmers beneath two-thousand feet of water at Crater Lake. (No nudging anybody into the snowbank down below)
Drive across the Columbia River into Washington and purchase some real fish from the Native Americans. Now we’re talking…steelhead and sockeye freshly filleted for five dollars per pound.
Let Mother Nature sooth souls. A day-long hike to the summit of MT HAMILTON will exhaust the remainder of your mean thoughts.
In the morning, before you start snipping, walk about a mile up Beacon Rock. Views of the Columbia River Basin will help you to forgive. (Make sure that your partner does not fall off the narrow walkway)
If that doesn’t work, head to the Olympic Peninsula. Writhen trees and branches will carry you into the heart of a cold, green and gray world. Maybe you’ll start to like each other again at the most northwestern point on the contiguous US.
Still grouchy? Take a hike along Hurricane Ridge for views of MT OLYMPUS that you may never see again. (Don’t tell your partner, “Get closer to the mountain goats for a better photo!”)
Now, you may be able to hike to the summit of MT WALKER with no thoughts at all. (You’ll be too tired to push anybody off of anything)
Finally, the best way to not kill each other while camping in the Pacific Northwest (okay, maybe this is more than five ways) is to look way into each other’s eyes, and recognize that there’s no one else in the world whom you would rather spend two weeks with in the back of a pick-up truck…not counting the dog, of course.
Jack and I drive from Phoenix to Portland to hook-up with Mare. We plan to explore Oregon and Washington by camping, fishing, and hiking, when not mooching off of relatives (Sister Pat).
Most tent campsites along the Oregon coast sit right on the line that divides temperate rain forest from the beach. We build a fire, shuck oysters and crack Dungeness crab for several days, while camping at Beverly Beach State Park. A short walk to the beach and Jack does one of his favorite things in life…chasing sticks and digging for rocks in the water.
Haystack Rock in Pacific City provides some R&R, along with a little “combat” fishing on the Nestucca River. Mare talks with a local fisherman. “I watch from my house to see when the chinooks [King Salmon] start biting,” he says. “I let these guys do all the work fishing, and just come down when they start hitting.”
The man might be watching me all day long, as I have no chinook on my hook.
It’s time to head north for a short hike around Cape Disappointment on the Washington coast, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean…named “Disappointment” when explorer John Meares thought he had discovered just another Bay, not a river. Still, it’s not disappointing at all to us.
Back in Oregon, we head inland for a long, exhilarating hike. This one takes us along Eagle Creek, winding through temperate rain forest in the Columbia River Gorge.
We pass numerous waterfalls on a trail that weaves through moss-covered lava landslides and shady forest.
Six miles later we reach Tunnel Falls. We have lunch amidst a magical background. Rejuvenated for the hike back, we are lucky to have missed the crowds, as they pass us on their way in.
The coast keeps calling us, though, and soon we’ll venture to the southern Oregon coast. Ron Mitchell
Marilynn and I were camping with Jack the dog when a couple in the site next door walked over to us.
“Can we borrow some matches?” He said in broken English, making striking motions with his hands. Of course we gave them a handful of matches.
“Where are you from?” his accent prompted me to ask.
“Iran,” he said reluctantly.
“Welcome!” I said with a big smile.
Their faces lit-up. We conversed enough to ascertain that they rented a car in California, and were saving money by tent camping on their way to Las Vegas.
Later, Marilynn said, “It’s so cool that the first thing out of your mouth to that man was a smile and a ‘welcome.’ That’s a result of the thousands of greetings with smiles and welcomes that people from all over the world have given to us.”
We know how it feels to “reluctantly” say where we are from, while traveling in certain countries. Even then, we usually get a warm welcome.
Deep down, all of us are the same.
Thank you, Abundant Universe. Ron Mitchell