Without Further Ado: Portland in all its Splendor!
After 51 days on the move, spending an entire week in Portland was a serious change of pace. We were used to tiny towns with a church, a restaurant (if we were lucky) and seldom more than a few hundred residents. In towns as quaint as these, there was not much navigating or decision-making to speak of. Upon entering Portland we found ourselves surrounded by a never-ending supply of people, restaurants, food carts, breweries, shops and outdoor summer festivals. We had no choice but to hop back on our bikes, keep our maps handy and go exploring.
Even if you know nothing about Portland, you’ve probably heard, like we had, that it is an extremely bike friendly city. We were all very excited to learn how Portland’s bike system worked; visions of magical bike routes and express biker lanes danced in our heads! But what we learned was that this well-deserved reputation depended, more than anything, on a commitment to and respect for bicycle culture and a critical mass of people on bikes. We also learned, after a few days of making wrong turns and hitting dead ends, that knowing the layout and the neighborhoods of a city is (obviously) the key to having a pleasant biking experience!
Did we mention biking makes us hungry? This was not a difficult problem to solve in a town brimming with tasty restaurants and food carts. From late night chocolate prociutto crepes and poutine to delicious korean burritos and super spicy Thai duck, we sure sampled our fair share of Portland’s culinary bounty. But our most exciting food adventure of all was getting to experience a food cart in the making. After a friendly conversation with Andrew, an employee at Tender Loving Empire (Awesome craft store, silkscreen operation and record label: http://www.tenderlovingempire.com/) we got invited to taste (I mean eat..a lot of) Belgian waffles at the house of Andrew’s friends who had just recently decided to open up a waffle cart (VolksWaffle: http://www.facebook.com/pages/VolksWaffle/140341299324897?ref=ts). They had spent the month revamping their van, perfecting their recipes and making the necessary phone calls and were only a week away from opening up shop. We were ever so willing to help them with their trial run by chowing down on delicious, hot waffles, home-made fruit spreads and spiced butters. And we had lots to talk about because it just so happens all of the waffle folk had also gone on bike tours of their own! Oh, Portland…
Another exciting culinary treat was getting to eat and drink at Irving St. Kitchen (http://irvingstreetkitchen.com/), Portland’s ‘Best New Restaurant’, according to Willamette Week. We felt like celebrities as we received dish after complimentary dish, sent out to us from the kitchen by Jenny’s high school Buddy Brian who works as the restaurant’s sous chef. We were also quite taken by the dining room’s interior which was finished with reclaimed barn wood and light fixtures made from rusty chicken feeders and milk bottles. A modern-rustic farmhouse décor, if you will. In addition to feeding us in this classy joint, Brian also let us crash on his floor for a few nights!
At the Stumptown roastery we got to taste – or as they call it “cup” – some of the hottest (get it!?) coffee on the market. We learned how coffee is picked, roasted, brewed and about all of Stumptown’s awesome sustainable business practices: how they are able to address all sorts of social justice issues while simultaneously producing a top notch cup of joe.
Because summers in Portland are so beautiful and unusually sunny, there are a bunch of organized events held outside! At the Bones and Brew outdoor festival, we enjoyed some ribs and cider.
We looked on in awe at the strange and wacky spectacle that is the ‘Last Thursdays’ street fair on Alberta Street, complete with drum circles, hula hoopers, people handing out free lavender, “professional” advice givers and lots of art and crafts.
And we sat back and relaxed among hundreds of other Portlanders to watch The Three Amigos outside on the Pioneer Courthouse Square. If you must know, Janelle is Chevy Chase, Joey is Steve Martin and Jenny is Martin Short. These roles replaced our previous trio: Jenny as William Clark, Joey as Meriwether Lewis, and Janelle as Sacagawea.
Also, we went to Cannon Beach (on a bus, whoops)! Jenny was transformed into a mermaid and we took a very pretty hike in the Ecola State Park while the sun was setting over the ocean. How romantic!
There’s lots more we could say about Portland but really, we just think everyone should pay it a visit. It is all the wonderful things everyone says it is, and then some. If and when you go, bring your bike.
So ends the Giant Mega Adventure. We have enjoyed ourselves immensely in these 8 weeks. Hopefully we were able to convey some of our experience through this blog, but for every person, place and thing that we wrote about here, there are 10 more that we didn’t have time to mention. Being on a bike and away from the comfort of our homes has meant experiencing so many extremes in such a short amount of time. Our intense hunger was met by ever-larger plates of breakfast food. The excruciating pain of riding through a relentless headwind culminated in a sense of triumph and satisfaction that you don’t get from a trip to the gym. The dirt and salt caked on our skin made even a three-minute coin-metered shower feel like luxury. Such extremes can be exhausting, but they are also exciting and life affirming and have a magical way of waking you up to all sorts of possibilities.
The most important and memorable extremes of the trip were when we were feeling low and just plain tired of being homeless and strangers invited us into their homes (or yards!) and cared for us like we were their own. The spirit of generosity, trust and kindness that we encountered so often in our travels will not be forgotten any time soon. We are headed home to see our families now, but we learned during our Giant Mega Adventure that it is when strangers treat one another like family that the world becomes a very lovely place indeed.