Portland and Northwest Oregon

Monday, 29 July 2013 15:30
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Yes, this is sidewaysBeer, wine, and food...for a bunch of tree huggers, Portlanders are pretty hedonistic. 

I came down from Mount Saint Helens and headed toward lovely Scappoose, OR, where my friend (and former employee) Tom Benoit works at my other Oregon friend Michael Curry's design and fabrication shop. Curry is most famous for spectacular puppets and other feats of artistic design and engineering, with their most widely-recognized work probably being the puppets for "The Lion King" Broadway and touring shows. Tom gave me a tour of the shop, where I saw many cool things that I probably can't talk about due to confidentiality issues, and then he and I and Michael went to lunch nearby and had a nice time catching up.

The Curry shop
After a little more time at the shop, I followed Tom to his house in Portland, where I'd spend the next couple of nights with him and his family, which was really generous and nice of him. We went to dinner at one of the McMenamins pubs that dot the area. They try to re-purpose older buildings for their pubs and hotels where they can, and this one was built into an old elementary school.  

Before I set out for Portland the next morning, I had a little automotive maintenance to do. My alternator had been making some bad noises from its bearings for a while, so before it spat one of them out on the road, I ordered a new one and had it shipped to Tom's place. It was an easy swap, and I had the new one in and ready to go in about 15 minutes. The old one was in pretty bad shape, but the new one was shiny and quiet and efficiently making electricity, so I feel much better about my chances with this one going forward on the trip.

Spankin' new alternator Alternator in its new home

I had one full day in Portland, and I was determined to check the place out as thoroughly as possible in a single day, but first I had a little 'housekeeping' to do, so I paid some bills and sent some letters first thing, then set out to basically hike Portland. I parked the car down near the river, and started out with a walking tour of the bridges across the Willamette River. Portland has a bunch of bridges, and they're pretty much all drawbridges, but they're all of different eras and construction types.  

One of many bridges. This one is for light rail (top), and freight rail (bottom) Drawbridge Yes, another bridge

On my way through the river park, I came across one of those public pianos, so I sat down to play for a bit as I hadn't touched a keyboard since I left Vegas. I was a little rusty, but it was fun, and I got some light applause from a group of Chinese tourists.

Some local graffiti One of several public pianos I saw scattered around Some optimistic sidewalk chalking

Afterward, I wandered through downtown a bit, stopping in at the library (I have a thing for old libraries) and a few other spots, then figured it was time for another of Portland's famous features, its food trucks. I hit the 10th and Alder location, which had something like 60 separate trucks around the block, and eventually settled on Nong's Khao Man Gai, largely because she seemed to be having such a good time serving it up. Khao Man Gai is basically just chicken and rice, but from a taste standpoint it goes well beyond that. The menu says:

"Poached, organic chicken with rice simmer in chicken stock and Thai herbs, served with sauce of fermented soybeans, ginger, garlic, thai chilies, vinegar, house made syrup and soy sauce. Garnished with cucumbers and cilantro, and accompanied by a light soup."

Done wrong, it can be pretty bad. Done right, it's the best chicken you've ever had, and Nong's was doing it right. That definitely hit the spot.

Some of the many food trucks and carts Servin' up the chicken and rice

My next adventure for the day was to hike up to Washington Park to see the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese Gardens there, both of which were supposed to be pretty spectacular. Neither disappointed--although it was a little past peak, the rose garden had hundreds of varieties out on display, many of which I'd never seen before.

The rose garden A classic red rose A nicely timed sunbeam I probably should have written down the names of the varieties...I'll call these 'purple'
Many, many different varieties Running out of caption ideas. These are a different color. Yet more roses OK, that's enough roses

The Japanese Garden was probably the nicest one I've seen outside of Japan, and in fact better than quite a few that are there. It was constructed with help and gifts from Portland's sister city, Sapporo, and it included many of the classic Japanese garden features, including a koi pond, a zig-zag path (evil spirits can only travel in straight lines), and a few really nice rock gardens.

The koi pond and bridge Bridge donated by the City of Sapporo They had some colorful koi Pond and waterfall
Crooked stairs Part of one of the rock gardens Zig zag path Back of the main garden house

Once I was done with all that hiking, I met Tom and his wife for a great tapas dinner, then we returned to the house to turn in for the evening. In the mean time, Michael Curry had called me to say that I should stop back by the shop again on my way out of town so that we could have a nice riverside lunch and then go spend a little time on the river in his ski boat. That all sounded great to me and I had plenty of time available to get from Portland to Astoria (my next stop), so I dropped by the shop at noon and we went all of a few hundred yards down the road from the shop to the river, where Michael had the boat already in the water and tied up to the dock at the restaurant. It was me, Michael, Tom, Michael's assistant Kim, and three of the more skateboard/snowboard savvy shop employees, and we were going to try wake surfing.

After a nice lunch, we all got in the boat and headed out to the river. Wake surfing is kind of like wakeboarding, but you use what looks like a very short surfboard and once you're up on the boat wake, you're supposed to toss the tow rope and then just surf. Michael was good at it, and while it was the first time for the employees, they all did pretty well too. When it was my turn, I jumped in and gave it a shot, but it took me a couple of tries to actually get to the 'stand up on the board' part. Once I was up though, it was pretty cool. I never really got the hang of the whole 'throw the rope off and surf' part, as I'd just kind of drift back in the wake and cruise to a stop when I let go, but if I hung on to the rope I could stay in the wake and have some fun. If this is work at the Curry shop, I think I may put in a job application once I'm done with my trip.

Captain Curry Michael wake surfing  

As promised, embarassing wake surfing video. I'm staring at the water like it's going to change, then get all of about a second and a half of actual wake surfing. Still fun, regardless. 

When we got back to the shop, I dried off, said my goodbyes, and jumped back in the car and headed for Astoria. Astoria is located at the far northwestern tip of Oregon, and it's where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. It started as a big fur trading outpost, and continues as a deepwater port to the Columbia for ships heading in and out of the river. It's small and quaint and historic and well off the major highways, or in other words, a good place to stop for my trip.

I stayed at another Airbnb place, this time a little bungalow up on a hill overlooking the river with my host Judith and her dog. The view was great, and the bedroom was very comfortable. I took a walk around the railroad trestle path down near the river to watch the sunset, then went into town and got some dinner and local beer, all of which were pretty awesome. The town shuts down for the night pretty early, so afterward I went back to the house and settled in.

Sunset behind the fog A few Canadian tourists Ships coming in More sunset action

The next morning, I got up and drove back into town to walk around in the daylight a bit. Downtown is full of late-1800s architecture, a few pretty good restaurants, and a lot of gift shops. It's fairly tourist-centric, but there weren't that many tourists around, so it was nice to walk around. I had a sandwich at one of the little restaurants, then continued my trip southward along the coast.

One of the locals, out for a walk Everything a man needs

The next major town I encountered was Tillamook, which you all know as the place that the cheese comes from. The factoryis right on the main road, and there was a sign out front saying that the visitor center was open until 8pm, so naturally I had to stop in to see where the magic happens. It's not exactly hand made artisanal cheese, but for an industrial operation it's relatively small. I did not know this, but they also make ice cream and fudge, which naturally I had to sample. Not too bad.

Cheese central Big cheese becoming smaller cheese Workin' on the cheese line

After cheesing up, I continued south-eastish to the Tillamook State Forest to camp for the night. I found a nice secluded site under the pines, and had a nice picnic (complete with Tillamook cheese) and very restful night in some pine-scented cool temperatures.

The next day was a long one. The plan was to get from where I was on the western side of the state over to southeastern Washington for my next Airbnb stay in Waitsburg, near Walla Walla in Washington's wine country. I had also noted while hiking around Portland that the Oregon Brewer's Festivalwas coming up, and since I had to pass through there to get back to the Columbia River Gorge anyway, I figured I'd make a pitstop.

Portland is probably the second worst traffic I've been in since I left (with the worst being Los Angeles). It seems like the place got popular, but the infrastructure didn't quite keep up. In any case, I fought my way through, parked in town, and spent about an hour at the Festival getting some classic beer-related lunch (a pretzel and a bratwurst) and trying tastes of several of the offerings of the many craft breweries represented there. Oregon does make some darn fine beer, I must say.

A beer-themed lunch One of the beer tents


I fought my way through traffic out of Portland again and got on Route 84, which runs eastward along the Columbia River Gorge. The scenery was great (I stopped at Multnomah Falls), but the road was four lane divided 65 mph freeway, which was really no fun after all those great backroads. I switched over to Route 14 on the Washington side of the river at Hood River, where I'd stopped previously to watch windsurfers on my way to Mount St. Helens (nobody said this trip route made any real sense). This road was smaller and slower and closer to the river, so it made for a better drive.

Multnomah Falls
As I got farther to the east, the terrain started changing back to desert and lava flows. I made a stop to check out the John Day Dam, one of larger hydroelectric dams on the Columbia (in terms of megawattage). The dam was pretty cool, but it would have been pretty neat to be able to see the Columbia running before all the dams were installed. (I've been reading the Lewis & Clark journals while I've been traveling around this area.)

Makin' electricity with water
A bit further on, I started running into Washington's agricultural area, or as it's probably better known "most of Washington state". I drove through fields of wheat, corn, soybeans, hops, and sorghum. Like a lot of people, all I really knew about Washington produce was cherries and apples, but as I learned getting into Wainsburg, they do much, much more than that here. More on that in our next episode...


+1 #1 Mom 2013-07-30 17:46
The more I see these posts, the more I wonder why I lived in NJ all my life !
#2 lectacave 2013-07-31 09:03
Never too many roses, I say. I'm so glad you went there, and to the Japanese Gardens too! Well played, by the way. Continued safe travels and most excellent commentary!
#3 sk8rchk 2013-07-31 20:09
Eagerly awaiting the video. The "piano thing" is so cool. I never knew about them.
#4 laceytrynn 2013-08-01 07:23
kids loved the cheese factory!
#5 minwoo 2013-08-02 11:42
This post has my favorite pictures so far! Beautiful!!! Loving traveling with you all the while having all the conveniences of home.
#6 lectacave 2013-08-12 13:03
Yay for the video!
#7 Mom 2013-08-12 16:10
Video is very impressive...th ose old SIC days and boogie boarding paid off !!

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