A “Bend” in the Oregon Trail: Eastward

During my travels, I’ve compared a lot of things to Asheville; not so much as a standard I hold other cities and towns up to, but more as my own measure of how I’d like to spend my time.  As I enter a city that I’m not familiar with, I might say to myself, what side of town would be like the South Slope (converted warehouse district) or what neighborhood might be like West Asheville?  What nearby park or forest space might be like Bent Creek? As I entered the state of Oregon, my “Asheville” senses were on high alert.

I crossed the Columbia River directly into Portland on a Saturday morning and dedicated the day to experiencing its unique districts: breakfast and the “Tin Shed” on Alberta Street, relaxing in Mt. Tabor park, smoothie and food truck torta on Hawthorne Street, a pint at dog-friendly Lucky Lab Brewery, and finally going to a local Contra dance.  An Ashevillian hanging out in Portland is like being a dedicated fan of “The Office” TV show, and then learning the show and the characters were originally created and popularized in Britain.  You don’t feel quite as original.  Ironically, the hipster fashion and the independent restaurants identify themselves as being different and unique, but they’re starting to all look the same.  That said, with respect to both cities, Portland is a much larger and robust city, bringing both pros and cons; it’s more ethnically diverse, especially with Asian flavor; and they’ve also done a better job of creating space for food trucks, but differences aside, much of my day was spent day was spent spying streets, bars, eateries, and the people themselves that caused me to name their doppelganger equivalent in Asheville.

Road Trip 2015 - Oregon - 2 of 8From Portland I drove down to Eugene and met up with an Asheville running friend, Scott Williams, and joined him for a 20 mile trail run around Waldo Lake.  Though up in the high mountains, the trail itself remained a fairly easy gradient for running as it looped around the lake, and I was pleased I was able to do it in 3.5 hours on a rainy day.

When we finished the run and parted ways, I studied my map and saw I was relatively halfway between Crater Lake and Bend, two places I wanted to visit.  And thus the order I chose to do them in would also dictate which direction I would progress in the overall trip: South or East.  All along, my plan had been to proceed down the coast into northern CA, visit a few more schools I work with, and more national parks and more cities/towns, but I had also kept options open where I could play every day by ear.  And so for the first time, I asked myself if I really wanted to extend my trip down into CA, and I initially answered that I did, but in my own answer I saw a pattern in myself that I was growing weary of.  When I tour/explore a place that I’m unsure when I’ll return to it, I feel obliged to do and see as much as I can.  For example, years ago when I went to the Louvre Museum on the discounted entry a few hours before closing time, I studied the floor plan map as I plunged in and made sure that I walked through every gallery, rubber necking the walls as I walked by without stopping so I could say to myself that I “saw” everything, regardless of whether or not I stopped to appreciate it.  In the middle of Oregon, I felt like I was treating the West Coast like the Louvre – more like a FOMO obligation (Fear Of Missing Out) than to just enjoy it.  I wasn’t pleased with myself that the pace I was keeping didn’t allow me to just relax in the places I went.  I hadn’t been reading the books I brought; I had barely used the hammock and lounge chair I brought; I hadn’t had many lengthy conversations with local people beyond ordering food.  So I made a decision: while I wanted to “see” CA and NV (parts of which I’d been to before) I had “museum fatigue” and to go that route would only increase that sense of fatigue AND lengthen my trip. I felt a sense of relief when I told myself, I could skip it.  Thus somewhat unceremoniously, I realized I was charting a course eastward; I had already hit the Pacific, my trip was geographically over halfway complete, and I was headed toward home.  That felt good.

Having made the decision, I drove some back roads to Crater Lake NP and arrived while it was blanketed in a mix of mist and residual smoke, and a strong wind at an elevation over 7,000 feet introduced me to the first really cold weather of my trip.  While I picked out a discreet wayside where I could park and sleep, I spent a few hours just hanging out in the warm and seemingly luxuriant lounge of the NP lodge.  A warm bowl of chowder, some drinks, and sitting down to complete a communal puzzle at one of the tables seemed to affirm my change of pace.  A nearly full moon welcomed me back to my “parking” site, and El Guapo and I snuggled in the car to stay warm in the night.

I awoke to sunrise over Crater Lake and to clear skies.  I went on a short jog up to one of the crater’s highpoint overlooks, and then began to circumnavigate the lake as the sun rose higher and warmer, revealing the famously blue waters in their rightful glory.  This deepest lake in America is supplied completely by snow melt through the centuries, rather than rivers that wash in sediment; hence its extremely clear water and diffusion of blue rays.  I stopped for short jaunts at nearly all of the overlooks and even hiked down to the one place you can access the waters and went for a refreshingly cold swim, the day having turned hot by mid-afternoon.  I highly recommend this National Park for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

I continued on to Bend in the early evening where my first order of business was to eat a proper meal, since I had basically been “snacking” my way through the last few days.  After walking around a bit, I ended up at the very dog-friendly 10 Barrel brewery, and as it got dark, the guy at the barstool next to me told me I could easily find a place to park and sleep by taking the same road we were on to the outskirts of town a few miles.  I did so, and found that Bend basically borders National Forests to the west.  I parked and slept by a trail head.  I was awoken at sunrise to find that I was at Bend’s equivalent of Bent Creek, as my car became surrounded by ambitious locals meeting up for early morning mountain biking or trail runs.  I felt like I should get up and get on my way down the road, but then thought “wait a minute; I’m not an interloper; this is what I do; this is my community.”  So I put on my running shoes, studied the map at the sign board, and El Guapo and I went for a 6 mile run.

The run was interrupted by a phone call with a “technology emergency” with work.  I finished up the run and went to a river side park where I could turn my phone into a Wi-Fi hot-spot and spent a few hours getting on top of some work communications.  I still had a nice chunk of the day to enjoy Bend.  I had lunch at Deschutes Brewery.  I had pieced together some things I heard with a bit of Internet research and learned that Deschutes is the same “undisclosed company” that is in talks with Asheville to potentially purchase a large track of French Broad River frontage property just a mile from my house.  A decision hasn’t been made yet, but I think it would a good thing for our neighborhood, much like the New Belgium’s East Coast expansion in the River Arts district has been a catalyst for much needed greenway and recreation enhancements.  I hope it comes to fruition.

Road Trip 2015 - Oregon - 7 of 8I spent the remainder of the afternoon by the Old Mill district and inflated my SUP so I could paddle out on the Deschutes River at, against and with the current.  I certainly wasn’t the only one out there.  There were lots of tubers and paddlers, and while the sight of El Guapo on the edge of my SUP usually elicits entertained stares elsewhere, it was more common place in Bend, as I saw a number of other dogs on SUP’s.  The dog park there even has an enclosed section with river frontage so they can go swim and play fetching toys from the water.  I was in Bend for the total of a day, but I felt like I enjoyed it like a local – a trail run, doing some work in modern mobile fashion, eating and drinking local, enjoying park and river resources.  All with El Guapo by my side.  I didn’t feel like a tourist and I felt like I was taking my time.

I was told Bend was a lot like Asheville, and I would certainly agree – mostly because of the size of the city is about the same, they’re surrounded by great natural resources for recreation, and local initiative and entrepreneurship is evident everywhere.  But these sister cities have their differences too.  While Asheville has better architecture and a more abundant music, dance and art culture, Bend is stronger on the health and fitness side, and seems to have the affluence you’d expect of a popular ski town.  I liked it a lot, but also had a bit of the sense I got some years ago during a visit to Boulder, the quintessential progressive outdoor city.  They’re cities that share the same ethics and values as the Asheville I love, and they’re doing a “better” job of it than Asheville, but they’re also full of people who appear to have the money to live out those progressive values.  Whereas Asheville has a lot more people who DON’T have the money to live out those same values, and yet they’re doing it anyway.  There’s a do-it-yourself frugality and an un-manicured struggle living itself out in Asheville that I admire, and while I think it’s a good thing that I’ve seen the populace of Asheville take on a more professional and moneyed flavor in the 9 years I’ve lived there, myself and many others often lament the transition.  We look forward to the enhanced recreational and cultural infrastructure, but don’t want to lose our warehouses and shanties of weirdness.

I bade farewell to Bend, and headed toward an appointment I had set up in Idaho.  Spent the night on the crest of a little used highway in the Painted Hills of central Oregon.  Slept solid.  I hiked through the Blue Basin and drove through through towns whose frontier style clapboard store fronts made me feel like I was time traveling.  This was a frontier, as evidenced by the many murals in Vale, the last town I stopped in.  They commemorated the Oregon Trail and America’s expansion to the West.  I was on that trail now myself, only going the opposite direction:  East, toward home.


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