A Good Road Inland and Urban Hiking in Portland

In Travels With Myself on July 25, 2013 at 1:43 am

Leaving the Pacific behind, I drove in yesterday morning along Oregon Rte. 18. I had been looking for a good road in through the Coast Ranges and Rte. 18 looked fairly straight and direct on the map. Turns out it was a good choice. As it was described by the slow-talking, but amusing manager at the motel in Lincoln City, Rte. 18 is “subtle.” There are about 10 miles of slightly winding, slightly rising and falling, mostly two lane, well maintained road, but it is otherwise a good easily traveled route in from the sea. The one disconcerting sign was the one that warned of the possibility that the road might be closed by snow. I guessed that this would not apply in late July, however, and kept on.
I spent yesterday afternoon in Tigard, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. I had stopped to have Taliesin’s tires rotated and the brakes inspected and the front end aligned. This ended up taking nearly four hours, which I spent wandering through a Fred Myer store, where one can buy just about anything, but where I found only a need for a new stylus for my cell phone and a cup of coffee. It was good to have Taliesin in certifiably good shape before starting east toward the mountains.
This morning I got up early and walked around the southwest quadrant of Portland. This is one terrific city for urban hiking. It’s thoughtfully laid out, so that traffic is busy, but not congested. Trolleys, three or four cars long, move easily along tracks in the roadways, but never seem to get in the way. And there is plenty to see when you get out of the car and hoof it.
First, the city is lined with trees and filled with parks. The South Park Blocks is a long park area intercut with quiet cross streets that runs from Salmon Street in the center of the SW Quadrant six short blocks and two long all the way to Portland State University at the southern end of the city. There’s another Park Blocks in the northwest quadrant and the Westside Riverwalk follows the riverbank all the way from Steelbridge in the NW quadrant to Clay Street at the at the southern end. In a downtown section that is no more than two miles long by a mile wide, I counted no fewer than a dozen parks and squares.
And all the parks and squares, as well as the sidewalks throughout the city, are filled with sculptures; and not just statues of famous people (though there are a few of those), but an eclectic mix of modern, non-representational sculpture and more traditional forms, including water-filled concrete tubs with bronze beavers and ducks and seals and bears and all manner of creatures climbing around them. The parks are shady and well-designed for a leisurely lunch or a morning run. In the middle of the Riverwalk, there is a wading fountain (in which I, of course, waded, and an old upright piano with a sign that says “play me.” So, after listening to some excellent jazz being played, at the same time that a couple of other people (one with a guitar and the other with a harmonica) played some blues on the other side of the fountain, I decided that I should play the piano, too. I can’t say I gathered any cheering crowds, but nobody booed, either.
They city fascinates in other ways, also. I started my walk about 7:00 am, and there were people out washing the sidewalks, and the bricks in the courtyard square. It was a bright day, and fairly warm, but a gentle breeze moved through the city constantly, like city-wide air conditioning to keep it from getting too hot. There are water bubblers on the sidewalks: they each have four separate bubblers, so they look like thick bronze flowers growing everywhere. The city is a bicyclists’ city and there are bicycle lanes everywhere; the Portland Art Museum even has an exhibit right now of designer bicycles. The Oregon Historical Society Museum has a tour guide in a wheelchair (which may someday not be notable, but I haven’t seen one before). Oregon loves its coffee; there are lots of independent coffee roasters and coffee shops all over the city, and you can only get decaf if you take a decaf Americano. (Actually, this is true everywhere I have been in Oregon. Every little town has several small drive-thru coffee huts in parking areas or strip malls. Some of you may remember the photo developing drop-off places where you could drive up; that’s what these are like, only coffee, not film.)
Perhaps Portland’s most fascinating feature, however, is the food cart. There are parking areas that abut the sidewalks, and these are lined with “gypsy” wagons offering almost every imaginable cuisine. In just one of the smaller cart parks, I saw Mexican food, Thai, Iraqui, Korean (which offered tacos filled with Korean fillings), Indian, something called “Egyptian and New Yorker” that also offered Halal and Kosher foods, Hawaiian, Vietnamese, and burgers all sitting cheek-by-jowl along the sidewalk. Apparently these carts are the go-to for lunch in the city. People flood the streets at noon, queuing up to order, then sitting in the parks to eat.
I left the city about 2:00 in the afternoon, drove across the river to Vancouver, Washington, and started east along Rte. 14, following the Columbia River Gorge, but that will be a subject for my next entry.

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