Portland to Portland – 129Km (Total 2248km cycled)
Highlights: FOOD, climbing Dog Mountain, wonderful warmshowers hosts, peanut butter, roses, Voodoo doughnuts, bicycles, four-legged companions, liberal lefties, making friends with Elo!
Day 127 – May 14 : Food galore
After a long flight from Buenos Aires we arrived in Dallas, TX, to endure our final visa test before entering the United States. We stood in the queue for over an hour and started to really worry that we’d miss our connecting flight to Portland, OR. When we finally got to the desk the process was painless: the guard stamped our passports and wished us happy travels. We rushed through the airport to find that our bags and bikes were there waiting for us, and bar a little damage to the cardboard boxes they looked OK. The airport staff very helpfully pointed us in the right direction for our connecting flight to Portland.
Arriving in PDX, as Portland is known by the locals, we soon found out how cycling friendly the town was. A dedicated cycle assembly area had two Park Tools bike stands and a cycle lane right into and out of the airport.
In a turn up for the books, a friend I’d known in London emailed me just before we arrived in Portland to say that he was now living there and that we’d be welcome to stay. Small world! As we’d already arranged to stay with a couple from warmshowers.org, we headed that way first. First, though, there were some tricky logistics to deal with. I had to borrow a front wheel from Paul since my SON front hub started to play up in Buenos Aires after nearly 28,000km and needed a service. So, Paul’s lovely wife Lena and six-month-old Elouise greeted us at the airport with a spare front wheel and chatted while we put the bikes back together. What nice people!
We cycled out of the airport towards food and our warmshowers host in the centre of Portland. We didn’t know Portland at all, so we zig-zagged a bit more than necessary, but we soon saw how good the city is for cycling. A bit more work and it might even start to compete with the best cycling cities in the world: Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
We arrived at our host’s delightful home, rather tired and hungry, and were greeted by Laura and her two lovely dogs, Sancha and Pinta. We immediately clicked and launched into enthusiastic discussions about all things cycling. We were shown to our room (a whole floor to ourselves!) and then, noticing that we were ravenous, Laura pointed us towards New Seasons Market. Little did we know the wonders that awaited us! New Seasons is a dangerous place, in a good, wholesome, organic way, when you’ve spent a good amount of time with limited access to fresh groceries. Plentiful fresh produce! And such choice! Peanut butter in seventeen flavours and types? No problem!
During the last few months in southern Chile and Argentina we struggled to get our hands on fresh food. Particularly in the Aysen region where there were long-running strikes, finding vegetables without mould on them was a challenge, and we often made do with squashy onions, mouldy peppers and black bananas. In Villa O’Higgens we remember fondly finding a tiny supermercado which had recently taken delivery of fruit and vegetables – the first delivery in a few weeks. Peli came out with a huge smile clutching avocados, peppers, grapes, plums… What delights! And often shops were few and far between, so we’d have to stock up for several days at a time.
So, you can imagine that we were like nippers let loose in a sweet shop when we dragged our tired, jet-lagged legs into New Seasons Market. We drooled over the cream cheese brownies and peanut butter slices at the cake counter. We salivated over the marinated meats and asparagus bread pudding at the deli. We slavered at the wall of colour in the fruit and vegetable department: juicy, fresh, delicious-looking. We squealed at the discovery of Marmite, seventeen varieties of fresh milk, Green & Blacks chocolate… And yes, we attracted the attention of staff and customers alike, who looked on in bemusement. We still wonder what they must have thought of these two dishevelled zombies staggering around with delight and incredulity on our faces, gesticulating wildly as we discovered something even more interesting in aisle 17, and loudly reading out food labels to each other…
And the peanut butter aisle was something to behold. At least eight different companies producing around two to three different kinds of spread: creamy, crunchy, roasted. With chocolate (white, milk or dark), or even nut butters made from almonds or cashews or hazelnuts or… We had to adopt a process of elimination to narrow down what we wanted. There was simply too much choice.
We walked back to our warmshowers hosts’ clutching our purchases in something of a daze, and wondering how we’d taken this choice for granted before. (In the case of the US, too much choice, even.)
Day 128-140 – May 15-29 : Walking the dogs
After our first experience of US food emporiums, and a well-earned rest, we got to chat properly to our warmshowers hosts. And even got to walk their lovely little dogs. At first, Pinta and Sancha were not quite sure who these two strangers were and started longingly back at Laura as we left the porch, but they gradually got used to us and let us walk them a bit longer than just to the end of the road.
Laura and Steven and their dogs even treated us to a trip hiking, taking us up (and up, and up) and down the fantastic Dog Mountain Trail in Washington State. It does astound us that we can happily cycle hundreds of miles, yet a seven-mile hike leaves us almost crippled for the next few days! Our legs are just not used to walking. And our hosts even treated us to a meal or two in Portland and shared their great knowledge of the city. We really feel that we have found some new friends and do recommend the warmshowers system.
Laura runs a brilliant scheme in Portland: goboxpdx.com, a service which provides reusable containers for your takeaway food in return for a small yearly fee, therefore drastically reducing waste (have you seen the size of the plastic throw-away food boxes in America?!). Portland has a large selection of ‘food carts’ in the city centre, allowing this kind of scheme to work well. We got to try it out for ourselves (and, of course, to try the great food from the carts in downtown Portland).
While we waited for our refurbished hub to return from Peter White Cycles we spent a few days pottering about Portland, including spending time in REI (a brilliant outdoor store in the US – a cooperative) and stocking up on the essentials: camp knife, bear deterrent spray, shorts.
We moved house in Portland and settled in for a week or more chez Paul, Lena and Elouise, who constantly entertained us with her big smile. While there we got to drink lots of tea and eat good food and felt truly at home, thank you. On Peli’s birthday we took Paul out for a little ride (or rather, he dragged us out on his skinny tyres vs our fat off-road tyres and gave us a nice workout). On the return leg birthday girl did give Paul a good run for his money as they sped away from me – Peli, competitive?! We arrived home to a massive CAKE! that Lena had brought home. How she managed to carry little Elo and the CAKE! we still cannot work out. We were still eating this vegan- chocolate-pecan-coconut deliciousness a few days later (it really was that big).
Paul even supervised my rebuild of the newly-refurbished SON hub. It took a few attempts to lace it up correctly, only to discover the ‘wear hole’ just as I was putting in the final spoke. Bother! The wear hole is a little cutout in rim that becomes visible as the rim wears down. Not bad going, 28,000km, for my rim on dirty, rough roads in Europe and Patagonia. The timing of this discovery – 30 minutes before the bike shops shut for the holiday weekend – could have been better, however. At least I hadn’t trued the wheel yet, though!
While in Portland we also managed to meet up with Shawn of Urban Adventure League, who gave us some excellent route advice out of Portland and told us what to expect down the coast. He’s a fellow Surly Long Haul Trucker rider and with his Carradice (Peli proudly mentioned that the factory was near her home town) and retro get-up, he wouldn’t have looked out of place on a London Tweed Ride. We enjoyed our afternoon chatting to him over cups of tea and locally brewed beer.
We really felt at home in Portland with its liberal, laid-back attitude and bridges and bike shops and rose gardens. We were warned that it was not representative of the rest of America, however. What a shame.
Finally, if you should happen to be in need of a wedding while you’re in Portland, there is always Voodoo Doughnuts where you can tie the knot over a casket of the sweet things. You can even get a maple syrup and bacon topping. (Peli gags.) We are in America, after all.