Friday, August 8, 2014

Ode to Oregon: A Photo Essay

Wildflowers on Dog Mtn - The Gorge - Washington 
Oregon is my favorite place on earth., not really. With all the varied, culturally significant, and stunningly beautiful places around this wonderful world of ours, how could one really claim a single locale as their favorite of all? It's just an impossible and pointless task. Having said that, I've had the pleasure of visiting an array of exotic, fascinating, and incredible places across the globe, and through it all Oregon ranks right up there as one of my favorites. Perhaps it's because I'm lucky enough to call it my home turf, or maybe it's just because it kicks so much ass on multiple levels.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to head back to Oregon as part of a three day "freedom from family furlough" to attend a lifelong friend's wedding at Skamania Lodge in the Columbia River Gorge. Since I was leaving my wife at home to attend to our lovely daughters on her own, it was my duty to experience as much as I could during my short stint back. As expected, Oregon did not disappoint. 

If there's one thing Portland has become known for over the past decade or so, it is its food culture. I'm pretty sure the term "made with local..." was invented there. Whether its fine dining, food trucks, inventive twists on old favorites, quasi-street, rustic, raw, or mouth watering ice-cream, Portland has it all. And, one of the best aspects of the Portland dining experience is fantastic food accompanied by knowledgable, attentive service without the pretentious vibe you'll often find in bigger cities. That said, their can be a hipster vibe that some people are turned off by. Anyhow, after picking me up from the airport my dad, stepmother, and I went for Spanish tapas and paella at Atuala. Not the best paella in town (that can be found at Toro Bravo), but the cocktails were great and the service was spot on. We finished the night off with some ice-cream from Ruby Jewel since the line at Salt & Straw was around the block. 

The options are endless

I woke up Friday morning to a classic Pacific Northwest morning of gray overcast skies. It was warmish, but there was a thunderstorm the night before which left the air crisp and moist. Typically, on days like this during the summer the clouds will burn off and it will be sunny and warm by noon. It was 7AM and I headed straight to one of my favorite places in the city, Forest Park, for a morning run. To call this place a "park" seems like an understatement. It's one of the largest urban forest reserves in the United States with a vast network of trails and firelanes totaling over 70 miles of hiking, running, and frolicking good times. The park is bisected by the 30 mile long Wildwood Trail, which can be accessed at multiple locations throughout NW Portland. Last July, I ran the Wildwood Trail Marathon and placed 4th overall. I've run and hiked in the park dozens of times, and this morning I was just happy to be in this large slice of city heaven for a leisurely jaunt of an hour or so through the Doug-Firs, ferns, and every shade of green imaginable. The first time I brought my wife to visit Oregon she said she never realized there were so many shades of green and it stuck with me.  

Wildwood Trail

Wildwood Trail to the left, Birch Trail to the right

After breakfast at The Daily Cafe with my dad and stepmother, it was time to head east of Portland 20 minutes to McMenamins - Edgefield Resort, Winery, and Bewery with my buddy Matt. Now, this place is truly unique and the various McMenamins locations throughout Oregon are tourist hotbeds and a testament and living tribute to Oregon's culture, past and present. But, to be brutally honest the wine and the beer are just okay compared to Oregon's many other options these days. Luckily for us we weren't heading there for the beer or the wine. We were heading there for the fantastic 20-hole par 3 chip and putt golf course located on their 74-acre grounds. By this time it was hot and sunny (like I said), so their signature fruity Ruby Ale made with Oregon grown raspberries is actually quite tasty, and potentially dangerous out on the course. I actually had the best round of golf I've ever had out there, shooting a 75 and never losing a single ball, which is nearly unheard of. 

After golf it was time to complete another mission on my list. We headed to Portland Running Co. to look at a few pairs of running shoes, which I really had no need for considering I'm cycling through about six different pairs currently. One look and one trial run around the block in these Nike Lunar Racer 3s and I simply couldn't pass them up. They're light as a feather (6.5oz), fit like a smooth butter glove, responsive, and they're snazzy looking. In some selfish, rational way the purchase made sense since not only are Oregon prices cheaper than Canadian prices, but there's no sales tax, and they were offering a 15% discount on top. All the necessary boxes were ticked, and in the end I walked out of there with a shoe that on the off chance I was able to find it in Canada would've cost me at least $50 more. One could even convince themselves this was a prudent purchase...maybe. However, I did just set a new 3K personal best of 10:32 (down from 10:55) the other day wearing these shoes, so there you go.

Luckily for us, Rontom's, one of Portland's best bars with an absolutely phenomenal back patio was just down the road from the running store, and it was prime patio time. Allegedly, the guy who opened this place about ten years ago was burnt out on the corporate rat race lifestyle (he worked for...wait for it...Nike), so he cashed out, followed his dream, and opened a bar as you do. There's also another story associated with this bar. It's a "romantic" one, and it involves me proposing to my wife while we waited for a table at a much nicer restaurant, Le Pigeon, next door.  The bar was not necessarily part of my master plan, but we had just purchased a puppy (Carter) earlier in the day, and I couldn't contain myself any longer. Besides, the proposal was just a formality by that point as we had been together for a few years, and when you buy a puppy as a couple it's a done deal. I have no idea what's in the drink pictured, but I'm sure it included bourbon, and it was in fact deeelicious.

Look, it's Portland's best outdoor drinking patio

Who could resist this face? He was the biggest of his litter and they called him, Bubba.

The next morning was Saturday. The big day. Wedding day, and I had a lot to accomplish before its 4pm kick off an hour away in the Gorge. The first thing Matt, wife Celeste, baby Maya, and I did was head down to the Portland Farmer's Market. I've literally been to dozens of farmer's markets, and I've yet to visit one better than the Saturday farmer's market in the park blocks in downtown Portland. The supply and variety of produce is off the charts. Oregon has so many delectable types of berries it's almost comical. The sweets and treats are heavenly. The breads are creative and fluffy. The salmon is wild and line-caught from the Columbia River, and the meat has the whole sustainable, free-range, grass fed, humane vibe to it. There's even a vendor, Tails & Trotters, who specialize in selling pork from pigs fed on hazelnuts. It's pretty damn tasty. The food vendors are so good there's usually long lines by 10am, and many of them have been so successful they've been able to open restaurants around the city. And, there's always two live cool vibe bands who play at different times in the morning and afternoon. In fact, we found the band for our wedding at the farmer's market one Saturday morning.

Got kale?

My friend Celeste's both at the Farmer's Market

Unfortunately, this day I had a mission and time constraints so I wasn't able to laze a good portion of the day away as we so often have many times in the past. I was there for a hearty breakfast to fuel my run up a mountain later that morning, some post-run fruit, a coffee, and to see my lifelong friends at Cherry Country (Celeste's family business). A hearty breakfast of fried market veggies, fresh kale, white beans, and two "happy" eggs on top of two handmade corn tortillas from Verde Cocina was a no-brainer.  Next, I headed straight to Baird Family Orchards for two plump, juicy, and crisp Oregon peaches (God I miss these things). I found a vendor with massive Marionberries - exclusively Oregon - and I was set. Time to head east for the Gorge.

Fresh market veggies on the flat top grill

The hearty Huevos Rancheros breakfast

The Columbia River Gorge extends east of Portland for roughly 90 miles. The Columbia River used to be a mighty beast and throughout its time carving up rock it has left a vast, jagged, and deep Gorge in its wake. The river's raw power has been harnessed by dams over the years to provide Oregon and Washington with an abundance of cheap, renewable energy for the power grid, and loads of irrigation water for the agricultural industry in the rural areas east of Portland. The deep gorge also acts as a reliable and consistent source of wind, making Hood River, about 50 miles east of Portland, one of the windsurfing capitals of the world, which is just one of a multitude of other outdoor activities at their doorstep. East of Hood River for miles and miles is also where you'll find loads of wind turbines capitalizing on those stable winds to provide yet another source of renewable energy. 

The Gorge, as it's affectionately known locally, is thoroughly littered with vistas, ridges, streams, waterfalls, and trails on both the Oregon and Washington side. Many of the trails link up to create a vast network of hiking and, in my case, runnable terrain. It's also home to Multnomah Falls, Oregon's most popular tourist destination. The gorge seems more raw on the Oregon side. The mountains and cliffs rise higher, and mini-gorges cut into the cliffs are more jagged. Since the roads run along the water and most the trail heads start near the roads, most of the hiking and running takes you up. Many of the trails are very reasonable and forgiving in their ascent, but there are also some doozies on the Oregon side that will take you straight up over 4000 feet in four or five miles. I've only done one of those, Ruckle Ridge, and we weren't running, but we did have Carter with us. 

Since the wedding I was to attend was on the Washington side, I decided to head to Hamilton Mountain. Karen and I have done this hike a few times in the past as it offers an array of vegetation zones, waterfalls, plenty of vert, and a nice long ridge at the top with views of the gorge in either direction. It also had the added bonus of being only ten minutes away from the location of the wedding, so yet again I was faced with a no-brainer.

So many shades of green at the beginning of Hamilton Mtn trail

Looking back down the trail towards the trailhead

Rodney Falls up top trickling down a rock bed

This is a popular destination for both hikers and campers, and I as made my way into the parking lot at the trailhead it was packed full as expected. To make matters worse the overflow parking and picnic area just up the road was reserved for a wedding party. After a mini-panic attack that my plan had been foiled, I remembered there is a little known day parking area slightly further up the road just past the camping area. The campgrounds are set amongst a thick forest of second growth Douglas Fir trees. The setting is lush and green. The trees are massive and covered in moss. This is idyllic Pacific Northwest at its prime, and I was invigorated and giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. This is what I miss, and this is what I'm here for. Of course there's a spot in the little known parking area designed just for me on this day.

Where I live now in Guelph, Ontario there are no mountains. I wouldn't even say there's a real hill, although the locals I run with may disagree with me. Sure there are some decent rollers and an incline here and there, but I think we'd all agree it pales in comparison to what you find in the Pacific Northwest. This is of some significance since the Hamilton Mountain trail gains 2000 feet in just over 4 miles (6.5km). When I lived in Oregon I was a pretty good hill climber, especially on a bike. But, to be honest, I was a bit worried about whether or not I'd be able to handle it now three years later. I knew I could make it to the top based on past hikes, my current fitness, and sheer determination, but I wasn't interested in "just" getting to the top. I wanted to run as much of this damn thing as I could. 

I knew weeks before coming back to Oregon I was going to run this trail. So, in the couple weeks proceeding my visit I shifted my training focus a bit to help meet the challenge this mountain was going to throw at me. Twice a week instead of doing 8-10 sprints at the end of my easy runs, I did what I called "hill blasts," which consisted of sprinting up a fairly steep grade for 20-30 seconds near our house. And, once in the middle of a long run I threw in 5 x 1 minute hill sprints on the longest hill in town, which is nowhere near as steep as most of the four miles up Hamilton. Other than that, I was counting on my strength from speed training this summer, my relatively light weight, my aerobic fitness, and my excitement and giddiness to carry me to the top.

About halfway up Hamilton Mtn, looking west towards Beacon Rock

Loaded up with Camelback, camera, and IPod (I don't normally run with music in nature, but I felt today called for my special Run playlist) I set off through the campground to the trailhead. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. While we lived in Oregon we hiked and explored dozens trails throughout Oregon and Washington, but one thing I've always regretted since moving away is never running any of the trails in the Cascades, or the Gorge, or the Coastal Mountains. It was too easy to just go to Forest Park and keep it quick and simple. I was also a different person at that time. I was someone who enjoyed running and ran a few times a week. However, since moving to Guelph and immersing myself in a culture of runners and great people in what is likely Canada's "running epicenter" I've evolved into "a runner." Whereas, this type of excursion might've seemed fun, but painful and debilitating a few years ago, it just seems like an obvious thing I need to do on a given morning while going about my day now.  

Single track mind

Nifty staircase, so well maintained
I won't go too deep into the details of the run. About a mile into the trail you come across a couple waterfalls (pictured above), which are really great in late spring and around October. From here the trail really starts to go up. There's a few nifty stair sections, and soon you come across a fork in the trail. The sign pointing to the left reads "difficult" and the sign pointing to the right reads "more difficult." Well okay. I chose to go left since I wanted to run. I'm not going to lie, it got "more difficult" for my breathing real quick, but your body when trained for this adapts and I soon found a rhythm. If I had to I'd walk for one or two minutes, and then I'd run for at least double that, but usually five minutes or more. I must admit, as I made my way up and saw the looks of "holy shit, look at this guy" on the faces of the folks coming back down, or the people struggling their way I was inspired to keep pushing. I couldn't very well stop and walk in their view. After a while I recognized where I was at and knew the summit was near. I forged ahead never stopping again until I reached the ridge at the top of the mountain. Prior to this I had obviously looked at my watch for my run/walk breaks, but I hadn't really comprehended my overall time. As I stopped at the sign signaling Hamilton Mountain's summit I glanced at my watch and it read 54 minutes. Not bad considering my little side trail detour to get a picture of the waterfall, and the few other times I stopped for photos. 

Even the sign looks cool
My first selfie - looking east up the Gorge

Ridgeline at the top

Bonneville Dam in the distance at the top of the tall tree on the right

I took a few minutes at the top to soak it all in and shoot off a few text messages. I thought about the first time Karen and I hiked this and had a mini-picnic on the upper ridge overlooking the gorge. I thought about the next time we hiked it with Carter for the first time, and how excited he was when he found a great swimming hole in the creek on our way back down. I thought about our girls and how much I look forward to hiking these trails in our future. I thought about how lucky I was to able to do these types and be there at that moment. And, I thought about the wedding I had hustle up and get to. Then, I geared up and bombed back down the mountain in 34 minutes. 

What a wonderful bridge

The day, and my trip, were capped off Saturday evening when I watched a lifelong friend (a buddy who some 10 years ago pushed me to pursue running) that I've known since I was nine get married to a woman I've liked and known was perfect for him since the moment he introduced us. It was truly a wonderful trip back to Oregon, and it was their wedding that brought me home. Although, I'm happy in Guelph and it has forever changed me into a better, healthier person, I miss Oregon dearly and can't wait to one day move back there and raise our girls Pacific Northwest style. 

More Oregon Photos From Years Past...

Blue Basin - eastern Oregon desert

Crater Lake, OR - straight out of outerspace

Diamond Lake - southeastern Oregon

Joseph, OR - northeast - "Oregon Alps" (Wallowa Mtns) in background

Lavender farm - Hood River, OR

Mirror Lake in May - Mt. Hood in background (11,000 feet)

Oregon's tallest lighthouse - Yaquina Head - Newport, OR 

McKenzie River trail backpacking trip

Upper McKenzie River falls

Monkeyface rock climbers - Bend, OR

Ecola State Park - Cannon Beach, OR

Ecola State Park

Bullard's Beach - Bandon, OR

Oregon surfer at Smuggler's Cove - Oswald West State Park 

Waldport, OR

Portland in October

#1 and mom - Oregon Tulip Festival
*All words and images are my own.

1 comment:

  1. Ecola State Park looks amazing...I will come visit for sure once you move back. Maybe I'll get that runner's high we talked about?