My Wife and I Went to Portland and All I Got Was This Poison Ivy

My sister-in-law had a conference to attend in Portland, Oregon, and she happened to have two companion fare-rate tickets available. What the heck, we said. We’ve never been to Oregon, before.

First of all, let me say that the travel gods were smiling on us for this trip. Not a drop of rain fell the entire time, and the tmperature was in the high 70s and low 80s the entire time. We were definitely spoiled. Portland is an interesting town. Yes, town. Portland is, by the numbers, about the same as Washington, DC: they are within a few percent of each other in terms of population and land area. However, the city seemed small — that is, easy to explore on foot — and empty. We spent two days inside the city, including most of the area covered by the MAX – Portland’s mass transit system, and hardly met any people. I kept waiting for businesses to close and people to come streaming into the streets during lunch, or even at the end of the business day. Such events never came.

Walking around in downtown DC, the sidewalks are teeming with people. Sure, everyone is on a cell phone talking way louder than absolutely necessary, but they are there nonetheless. Being in Portland felt like being in a city that had been partly evacuated.

I mentioned to someone on the MAX that there were plenty of seats in the middle of the day, and that it was nice. She glanced around the train car and said, “well, around five o’clock, it’ll be pretty full”. We were on the train again around that time, and this time I had to stand, along with a reasonable number of people (I’m used to the Orange Line, which is pretty full most of the time, and totally crazy during rush hour). Another train came while we were still standing near the station, and it was practically empty. Very odd. Maybe we were there on some kind of city-wide vacation week.

Many stores didn’t seem to be open no matter when we went by. We wandered around most of the time we were in the city — no specific destinations or schedules. One evening, we were suprised to see that a gelato shop (mmm… gelato) was closed at maybe eight in the evening. The next day, we came by the same block at nine in the morning and it was also closed. Maybe they were only open for the lunch rush.

Maybe not. That same day, we went to the northwest corner of the city for two things: lunch and liquor. We stepped into one of the McMenamins pubs (one of the most prolific pub owners in the city) to get a pint and a sandwhich, and experienced a continuation of our Twilight Zonesque trip in this cavernous pub: there was one guy at a billiard table, one guy at the bar, and a group of 4 people in a booth. Those guys in the booth looked familiar: they were the kind of business-type folks that I’m used to seeing packed heel-to-toe in joints like this in DC.

The place was large enough to seat maybe 100 people, and it looked like there were more rooms if you kept walking into the establishment. We sat next to the foursome at a booth, next to the windows in the front — prime real estate for lunch as far as I was concerned. Where were these people? I think maybe Portland was experiencing a rash of body-snatchings or something.

Okay, enough about the emptiness of portland. There were lots of interesting things to be found in Portland, including an electric car charging station and a distillery. I had never been to a distillery, and since we could take the train to one, we did. We went to the Clear Creek Distillery, who distills their own spirits right in the place we visited (meaning that we didn’t just go to a storefront or anything… we were in the place where they do everything).

Unbelievably, we found a whiskey that ought to be a whisky. A Scotch Whisky, that is. McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt is a 3-year-old whiskey that is so smooth and peaty, I find it superior to many single-malt Scotches that I’ve had. Amazing.

Also amazing were the waterfalls — as well as the canyon walls producing them — along the Columbia River Gorge. We took many pictures while we were there, including some nice ones of the falls and some videos (like this one). I have yet to assemble some of the panoramic sets that I took, which I just remembered that I have to do. We toured the Bonneville Lock and Dam, which includes a fish ladder to allow fish to swim upstream, around the dam. The fish ladder features a narrow route where fish are counted by folks who live to count fish. Our visit occurred on a slow day (otherwise known as “not September”) and so she told us all about identifying and counting fish. We even saw a couple of Chinook Salmon going by the window (pic and video). Mmmm… salmon. We ended up at a restaurant half way up mount hood, where there was still snow on the ground. So much for 85-degree weather in Portland.

The Pacific Coast is also gorgeous (no pun intended). Again, we have some pictures of that outing as well. Unfortunately, I hadn’t charged my camera battery before we left so it crapped-out around four o’clock in the afternoon. We switched to my sister-in-law’s camera, but we had left it in the car since I had mine, so we didn’t get some really nice pictures that I would like to have gotten. Oh, well. At least I got this one of a tree eating me. At some point during these two hiking trips, I got poison ivy.

When I was a kid, I got poison ivy all the time. I was starting to become convinced that doctors just didn’t understand how poison ivy worked, and that I had actually been permemently infected with it, and that heat simply triggered it in my body. It didn’t help that I had no idea what it looked like. Despite my father’s repeated descriptions and demonstrations (with me at a distance, naturally), I simply couldn’t identify the plant. Even as recently as last summer, I went to the edge of a forested plot of land near my parents’ home and said “hey, that’s poison ivy, right? I’ll take care to avoid that.” He pointed out that what I had identified as poison ivy was actually just a harmless fern or whatever, but that several feet away lie the beast. For whatever reason, I simply cannot identify it properly. I can identify things that look like poison ivy, but I don’t think I have a single successful identification under my belt. What I do have under my belt is an itchy rash. Wow, does that sound bad: t’s on my hip, okay!?

On our last day there, Katie and I walked to the Portland Rose Garden, but due to severe scale management issues on the tourist’s map we were carrying, we thought it really sucked. We finally found it, but sadly May isn’t a good time for roses. So, we toured the Portland Rose Bush Garden, sans most of the flowers. After that, Katie used her superior orienteering skills to get us lost in Forest Park. Fortunately, the park is bounded on all sides by roads, so eventually we would have been rescued. When we stumbled across the Visitors’ Center (closed, of course), we were happy to find that trail maps were provided on the outside of the building, meaning we could take one and find our way back to the train.

Finally, we got down to business and started visiting wineries. Unless you’re there, stories about them are dreadfully boring, so I’ll spare the details. Suffice it to say that we toured several wineries, tasted lots of wine, got industry discounts on everything (thanks to Katie’s job at Lost Creek Winery here in Virginia), came home with nearly 40 bottles of wine, and ate lunch at a joint called Nacho Mama’s. Fortunately, we opted to ship 2 cases, so we lugged fewer than half of those home with us on the plane.

So, I’m going to go assemble those panoramas. I have only one decision to make: shall I have wine, or scotch?

Update: 2006-05-28 17:03 – Panoramas are available for the Columbia River Gorge, some random mountain, and Mt. Hood. I had scotch.

2 thoughts on “My Wife and I Went to Portland and All I Got Was This Poison Ivy

  1. Dude, the rose garden is sweet when there are actually roses. I’m not even that big a fan of flowers, and I was thoroughly impressed. I am skeptical of your Oregon whisky that is claimed to be superior to that of the auld country.


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