Pacific City – Willamina – McMinnville – Portland – Corvallis – Waldport
It was always our intention to visit Portland on this journey. We deliberated about routes and which part of the coast to forgo – reluctant to go/ return the same way. After some investigations we decided to follow a route inland that weaved its way through the Nestucca valley. This had the added bonus of taking us straight through Oregon wine lands (more on this later). Our stops along the way were Willamina and McMinnville. We spent four days in Portland, staying in Chinatown, which is downtown and in the Hawthorne residential neighbourhood in the SE quarter. For our return route we followed the Willamette valley south to Corvallis and from there, the Alsea valley to Waldport.
We cycled around 600km and have had days of constant contrast and variety. It has hit all the senses – chattering swallows; the scent of herb farms and blackberries; wine tasting; intense heat; expansive views.
Rather than recount day by day, I invite you to come on a tour: my A-Z of observations along the way.
Adopt a highway programme – an anti litter campaign to build civic pride. Citizens work in partnership with the authorities and ‘adopt’ a segment of highway and keep it clean and they are named as a sponsor on the road signs. We particularly liked Debi and her feet, very apt! The lack of fly-tipping and rubbish is noticeable and makes a massive difference for us cyclists, residing in the shoulder.
Biodynamic – one of the oldest farming methods, keenly followed by many of Oregon’s winegrowers. We visited Maysara, established by a Persian using biodynamic principles passed down from his grandfather. Vines are grown on half of the estate, the remainder is left uncultivated. On the uncultivated section there is forest where eagles are nesting, they eat rodents that would otherwise become a pest; land provides pasture for cattle and in turn, manure for the vines; nettles are allowed to spread to provide a nitrogen fix for the growing vines. All cyclical. The processes are strictly controlled and there are regular, random inspections by the biodynamic police to ensure certification standards are met. The wine we tasted there was delicious. Pinot noir is widely grown – the Willamette Valley is on the same latitude as Burgundy with similar climate and terroir conditions. Most of the vineyards are small and young, less than 40 years old. The focus is quality rather than quantity. Watch this space. Some of the vineyards are already competing on an equal footing with the best of the French Pinot noirs but at a much cheaper price.
Corgi-fest – we stumbled across at least 50 of these canines early Saturday morning in Portland, dressed to the nines with neckerchiefs and coats! No sign of HRH though !!
Dan, Steely Dan (yes the band!) – who took us up the pesky mountains. There are times when you need an American with a good guitar riff!
Entrepreneur – seemingly the zeitgeist of Portland at the moment; a city where an idea goes a long way. This is drawing people in and the city is seeing some rapid expansion.
Fast cars – we saw “The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles 1930-1942” exhibition at Portland Museum of Art. We’re no car- ofgeeks but it was fab – a fascinating merge of design/ engineering/ physics to up the aerodynamic stakes. To us, the lines seemed organic, elegant and cool colours – just needed kid gloves, headscarf, big shades and vroom!
Gravel – encountered when we decided to detour en route to McMinnville and unwittingly ended up on The Old Mountain Road – the clue is in the name – 20+% inclines, 2 to 3 inches of gravel. Much pushing! It eats your cleats.
Heat haze – smoke from fires in the east of Oregon and California was hanging in the air most of the time. It was very hot and still, over 90 degrees on days. Distant views were very murky, which was a real shame. We also realised how important it is to stay hydrated. Poor Jen suffered for a few days.
Ice cream – so, Portland has an eccentric ice cream parlour serving flavours such as baked bean, duck crackling with cherry preserves! It’s called Salt & Straw. We couldn’t face queuing so can’t comment but it is in LA too.
Jam – an abundance of wild blackberries perfectly ripe, almost cooking on their branches in the heat. Sweet and juicy.
Kitsch– check out the flamingos at theTravelling Taphouse. We saw this at a pop-up in the Mississippi area of Portland.
Logging – we are sure getting our fill. Mile upon mile of pine forests with trees that must be 100ft tall. In places a steady stream of logging trucks carrying said timber, pretty hairy when they don’t give you much room on the shoulder. Willamina (we spent a night there, in bunk beds) was an important lumber rail town and still has large timber yards where trunks are de-barked, graded and transported.
Mangarie – a friendly Italian restaurant in Independence where we stopped one day, hot and hungry, and to our surprise on questioning us about our journey the chef gave us lunch on the house ( I think he was gobsmacked at the fact that two middle aged ladies could cycle so far with such small bags – where is all your stuff!!!)
Nuts – Oregon is considered to grow the world’s highest quality hazelnuts. We passed many fields of nut trees, growing in tidy rows. And of course, have been eating them too.
Orange – the colour of Biketown, the cycle share scheme in Portland. Needless to say sponsored by Nike. Surprisingly, not nearly as prolific as the cycle hire in Seattle.
Powells in Portland– the largest independent chain of bookstores in the world. Almost too much choice but a wonderful place to peruse and we replenished our travelling library. With limited packing space we have to acquire/ leave books as we go along. Later in our stay we came across a local bookstore promoting a ‘date with a book’. Books were wrapped in brown paper with only the opening paragraph written on the front; don’t judge a book by its cover. A brilliant idea, and I bought one.
Questions , questions, questions– why so many people living on the street? we have been shocked at the number of rough sleepers and those living in make-shift shelters; people of all ages. It is evident in the towns as well as the cities (and will become worse as we head towards San Francisco and LA). We realise issues are complex but it seems many people are falling through the net….indeed is there a net to catch these people and give then a little bit of help?
Regeneration – apologies but there has to be a planning reference. Of note, the Granary Quarter in McMinnville where old livestock food warehouses are being converted in to studios, workshops, bars and restaurants with new street planting and public realm tying it together. It is early days but there’s the seed of a creative vibe. It’s great the industrial buildings are being adapted rather than flattened. Areas of Portland are also being transformed – flexible, mixed uses moving into former warehouses and striking new buildings. Controversial, however, as local communities are being priced out. An eternal problem.
Scooters – the latest sustainable transport share scheme. But with apparent contradictions – people register to drive around the city collecting scattered scooters to take them to the depot for re-charging. Is it a fad?
Taste sensations – it wouldn’t be a blog without mention of restaurants. Little Bird (creative French with a Portland twist), Bollywood Theatre (Indian street food with a Portland twist), Shalom Y’all (Middle Eastern), Water Avenue Coffee (the best in Portland).
Unusual – wonderful glass sculptures in Old Town and China Town, Portland by artist Dan Corson, inspired by tropical plants. With photovoltaics, they glow in the dark.
Valleys – we cycled through many, always beautiful, generally quiet and atmospheric following the Nastuca River, Willamette River and Alsea River. They took us winding up through the mountains, across sweeping fertile plains, over wide estuaries to the sea.
Weed – a curiosity. Marijuana is legal under Oregon State law although not under Federal law. Cannabis shops are prevalent, often boutique, some with architectural panache. Products are reviewed in the local newspapers – appearance, taste, THB content, effects. Much like the weekly wine review!
X – extras. We are still getting our head around the tipping/ service protocol. Having read the federal minimum wage is only $7.25, this is an important top-up for many. And whilst on this – the process of paying by card seems way behind the UK, the card is usually taken away, certainly no chip & pin or contactless.
Yoga – naturally, we have dropped in to several classes along the way – 4 Elements in McMinville our teacher’s brother was a cyclist and also a student in our class and she uses him to test and develop moves to stretch and bend the static cyclist, perfect. And Pearl in Portland, where we sweated out in hot Vinyassa flow.
Zinfandel – fortunately, not a whiff around here. Although we may change our minds once in CA.
Which leads neatly on to Oregon Coast, Part 2 – the road to California.