A Pandemic Weekend in Oregon
Originally when plans were made to head to Oregon in late July/early August the thought was that surely the pandemic would be winding down. We were obviously all too optimistic about that happening by Easter but late July, climate change and weeks of triple digits was finally going to show COVID-19 who was boss. Well, that didn’t happen and to throw a nice cherry on top of it a bunch of Moms in bike helmets were getting the shit kicked out of them by stormtroopers at a Federal Courthouse about 6 blocks away from the hotel we were going to be staying in. ‘Now honey, I know this is a celebration for your master's degree but can I please go see the tear gas’.
My lady friend and I set out for a long weekend in Oregon on a Wednesday afternoon in late July (hey we beat the wildfires at least) and we were quickly greeted with some of the perks of flying during a worldwide pandemic. The drive up to the airport in Austin looked like a scene from the Walking Dead and once inside things were as chill as could be. Everyone on our flight was all too happy to wear a mask and quickly we were cruising at 30,000 ft with as many extra seats on Alaska Air that we could ask for. The airport in Portland wasn’t too much busier and we quickly found our way to the Lyft pick up and away we went to our hotel in Chinatown.
We stayed at The Society Hotel and arrived around 8 pm that Wednesday evening. The place is nice and has a feel there’s maybe a ghostbuster or two banging around the halls late at night. Cute little coffee shop on the first floor, great rooftop overlooking the city and the furnishing were hip yet comfortable. A slight downside was our bathroom was supposed to be shared with another room, a slight upside was the other room was empty that night. We decided to take in the scenes of downtown in turmoil and find the Federal Building where the action was happening. A short walk past boarded-up Starbucks with graffiti on them and we were in the middle of the action if you want to call it that. Felt pretty low key while we were there, someone on a loudspeaker trying to convey a rather noble message, reporters in flak jackets trying to corral some maniac in a gas mask to give them 30 seconds on the air. I guess we were a few hours early as later that night Federal Troops came through again and sent everyone home with tactics that I’m pretty sure are condemned by the Geneva Convention.
The nice thing about downtown Portland is there are all these little pockets of Gyro stands open throughout the night, which turned into our post-riot meal as it was one of the only things open. Gyro was pretty good, being charged an extra $0.50 for paying with a credit card, now that's a war crime (bada bing). But really fuck that guy, although he did offer me free water when I called him on it so that dudes cool.
The next morning we set out to explore the city before driving to the Oregon coast. The Texas heat was finally broken by the cool mornings of the Pacific NW and we were loving it. Took a nice walk through the Pearl District Downtown and then across the Willamette to explore the rest of what Portland had to offer. We made it a couple miles when it was obviously time for a quick pick me up for coffee and ‘oh look, a coffee shop, bike shop, listening to the Obama eulogy of the late great John Lewis on NPR, now thats Portland’ turns out they were just working on their personal bikes or something and not serving coffee. But they did point us in the direction of Compass Coffee Roasters which turned out to be amazing. Good social distancing going on, great conversation and tips from the prototypical roaster/barista, and some damn fine coffee if I do say so myself. I believe I had the Delirium Blend (which is buyable from their website) and very very good. From there it was off to grab a quick bite before the rest of the afternoon. We made it to Proud Mary’s in the Alberta neighborhood and all in all, made it about 4 miles on foot pretty comfortably in a few hours. Got a pre-made fig, brie, and arugula sandwich from their COVID takeout window, which hit the spot after a nice little walkabout.
Now its time to get the heck out of Portland and to the coast. Called a Lyft, got our bags from The Society and made our way to pick up our Turo.
If you don’t know Turo is basically AirBnB for cars and totally badass. Easy to sign up, great pricing, great selection and absolutely no hassle that can come from some rental companies. We got a 2018 Outback — when in Rome — for about $30 a day when all was said and done. After messaging our host through the app and both of us giving it the once over we were on our way to the coast.
The drive out of Portland was simple and beautiful and we decided to take State Highway 26 to Highway 6 to Tillamook on our way to Newport for the night. It added about 25 mins to the total drive time but let us hug the coastline for a lot longer and it let us visit the Tillamook Creamery. Here's the one thing about these fools in Oregon, they might hate the Gov’t, they might love the Gov’t, they might disagree if you should pry their gun or skateboard out of their cold dead hands, but one thing they will agree on is that you better take your ass to the Tillamook Creamery. Wasn’t really on the radar and all a sudden the barista and our Lyft driver both wouldn’t shut up about it when we said we were going to the coast. The only thing that was rough as we were a little unprepared for it and reservations to tour the place were booked through the summer it felt like. We took the chance and drove there anyway and it was impressive. Very cool, very new, family-friendly atmosphere. Didn’t get to take the tour but got to hit up the ice cream shop and it was solid. Went with the Marion Berry, which was wonderful and to my astonishment wasn’t named after the notorious crack smoking mayor of our nations capital.
The car was great for the obvious flexibility throughout the drive and it paid off twice that day. The first time was when we stopped at the side of the road in the Tillamook State Forest and hiked about an 1/8th of a mile to the Wilson River and jumped in right there. Water was cold, ‘come on in’, which was exactly what quite a few other travelers were doing along the way.
And then after Tillamook we made our way to Oceanside, which again was about a 10 min detour of our trip but one that was totally worth it. Big sweeping beaches, mist settling over the whole thing while great rocks erupted out of the sea in front of us. All in all a magical place and one that I would look forward to going back to again soon.
Alright back to the trip, to end a full day we finished off the last hour or so of driving by zipping down US 101 to Newport. Which is a nice little fishing village, that has a few little kitchy looking tourist trap seafood restaurants that are pretty darn good. We got an AirBnB for the night for about $50 and walked to the water to watch the sunset and get some food, all very needed after a big day. We tried a few places but they were either full or closed for COVID and settled into a cozy place called Ocean Bleu Ginos (see kitchy). The service was great, food was filling and good (razor clams and rockfish) and we were more than satisfied.
After a good night's sleep and waking up the temperature in the low 50s we jumped in the car and started south down the 101 again, this time with Eugene as the final destination. We kept along the coast and although it added up to a few more hours it more than made up for it through the frequent beach stops and views throughout a couple of days. We ended up stopping at Cape Perpetua in the Siuslaw National Forest for a beautiful and fairly easy hike from the water's edge to the Discovery Loop Trail which gave us an amazing view of the Pacific and the coastline. The fee to park at the ranger station was $15 and was right off the highway. All in we probably spent 2.5 hours bouncing around the trail and the coastline with not enough other people around to really overcrowd anything. We were back on the highway and right as we hit the sand dunes of Southern Oregon we took a hard Larry on US 126 for Eugene. Like everything else, the drive was pretty, relatively flat but through some nice trees and farmland. We ended up stopping at a little roadside farm shop called Morning Glory Farm and Espresso along the way. They sold your prototypical veggies, honeys and jams but they did throw in the nice espresso machine and kombucha offerings as well. After our pick me up at the old Morning Glory we fired our way into Eugene, home of the Ducks, for a couple of days.
Pulling into Eugene with an empty belly and a little bit of time to kill before our AirBnB (a very nice guest house with a hot tub and Sauna for $80ish bucks a night) we did a little drive around and began looking for food. It was summer and COVID was in full force so the campus was pretty deserted but we got a pretty easy glance at all the Nike-funded facilities at OU and the weather was perfect. Ended up over at Happy Cow which was a nice little burger joint that served us a great kimchee burger and some pretty decent fries to tide us over until dinner.
Next stop was Sundance Natural Food next door for some provisions for the hike the next day. Trail mix was good and it looked like the fruit and veggie selection was pretty solid, sprinkled in was the ‘Chemtrail Warning’ flyer posted on their bulletin board and the protest that was supposed to be taking part later that day outside. Our AirBnB was located in a nice residential area near campus that was saddled up next to Eugene Pioneer Cemetery which seemed to be a nice little place for the Oregonians out for a quick afternoon jog and a place we took a nice stroll in ourselves. Got to check out the final resting places of some of the towns and Universities founders all in a pretty dope wooded setting.
The lady and I headed into town to taste the local offerings and decided on Izakaya Meiji Company. They were only offering limited patio seating at that phase of post apocalyptic USA so we had to kill an hour by walking around the neighborhood. Which was dope, they had a pretty decent sized brewery, a bunch of nice looking restaurants and coffee shops blended within the houses of the neighborhood and a hippy, punk, hipster block party taking place around the block. Side note, not totally sure how to describe the Oregon hippy or if they’re a hippy. They do seem to be on a bit of a higher plane of existence that is both enticing and terrifying at the same time. Couches, bowling balls, tents and plastic animals plotted the front yards. Music was blasting and a nice home video was being projected on a sheet hung between two trees. Overall everyone seemed well behaved and enjoying their gas masks and costumes that evening.
We made it to dinner and got a very chill two top in the corner of their patio. Our server was kind, enthusiastic and on top of menu offerings. We went with sharing 5–6 dishes based on the servers recommendation and the fried chicken sandwich and the salmon onigiri stood out most to me. The dinner was perfect held for the bros next to us who kept wandering over to their bro friends table across the patio to take their masks off to watch some twitch video and get told constantly by the staff to put their god damn masks on and behave (old man yells at cloud). After dinner we made our way to what appeared to be the local hot spot for ice cream in Prince Pucklers. Line was decently long but the weather was kind and we moved along steadily. Both got the hot fudge sundae because I guess thats what you’re supposed to get and it was pretty nice. No complaints here as I embarrassed myself and my date by putting on an ice cream eating display for the children of the region. It was the perfect way to end a solid first day in Eugene.
The next morning with our hippy dippy trail mix in tow we headed out for Willamette National Forest just east of town. The drive is beautiful as you bop along the McKenzie River through little towns and stops for motorized and man-powered bikes alike. We got to the trailhead for Tamolitch Blue Pool Lake after a little over an hour and found it already a little more trafficked than most other things during the pandemic. The trail is about 4 miles to the pool and back and we didn’t encounter too many folks along the way and those we did were pretty chill on putting a mask up for the pass. The trail was pretty level as it hugged the river and meandered through some rock formations and well-spaced out trees. We got to the lake after an hour or so and truth be told that thing was pretty damn blue. It kinda one of those things when you look online at the photos and you think that some instafluencer has dialed up the filter machine a little too high but in reality, it was just as beautiful in person as the pictures. Hung out there for a while and made our way back to the car. By the time we got to the car around noon or so the number of cars in the lot and road leading to the trail had increased noticeably and it was time to jet. Stopped for a salad and some pretty decent wings at a McKenzie General Store on the road home. Seemed to be a place the bikers stop for a beer and a bite along with their weekend rides. The food was good, service was easy and looked like they have some live music when there’s not some kind of national emergency going on. Made it back into Eugene for a soak and sauna at the AirBnB and rested before dinner.
We bounced around trying a few different places for dinner that night and after some indecision (and a stop for gummy bears so my childish hunger attitude was slightly pacified) we made our way into Grit Kitchen+Wine. The place was your well to do farm to table, let's make sure everything complements everything well and every month is Movember type joint and it was really good. The menu is seasonal and we went with a few different dishes to share, with the Horton green salad being one that stuck out. The atmosphere and staff were great and seemed to be navigating the seemingly impossible task of operating in the first few months of COVID very safe and efficient. No ice cream that night, which was a disappointment and settled in for the evening
The next morning we got to hit the Lane County Farmers Market which is located in downtown Eugene. Food trucks, local farmers, artisans and drum circles were the perfect way to be sent off from our visit to Eugene. Got on the road to Portland after that and made the shot up to Portland in less than two hours. We decided to visit the herald Japanese Garden but when we realized it was $19 a pop and we only really had 30 mins to be there we decided to walk over to the Portland International Rose Test Garden which was right next door, perched on the hills overlooking the city. Price was right (free) and we were able to check out an alarming amount of different types of roses. On our way to drop the Turo rental off, we stopped into the Elephants Delicatessen to grab a couple of bites to grub on before our flight back. Got a slice of pizza and a Rueben, both well portioned for this man and solid. Plus when I got my cup of coffee the gentleman mentioned that it was the end of the pot (best part, am I right) and gave me a refill from the fresh one, so I had that going for me. Drop off of the rental car was as easy as the pickup and we were soon in a Lyft headed back to PDX.
My first real encounter in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest was eye-opening and fulfilling in a lot of different way. The changing landscapes and scenery is something far different than most areas of the United States and something everyone should strive to see at some point. The food culture is alive and well, thriving off the open and creative spirit of the people pushing it ahead. And the people, the people are something else. Kind, generous, happy, independent, creative and tuned in to a different wavelength that in my opinion, maybe a few of us should tune into every now and again as well. Thank you Oregon and its people for a wonderful trip.
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