Zach on Vacation: Portland Days 1/2

We scheduled this Portland/Seattle trip last September, shoehorned around a conference that I’ll discuss in another post. We wanted to get somewhere that we have never been before, and seeing as this is the year of our 10th wedding anniversary, an epic trip was in order.

Alison’s the daughter of a travel agent, so setting things up went into her lap, and not out of duty. She enjoys scheduling trips. She set it up so that we would fly into Portland on July 4th and fly out of Seattle on July 11th. We’d get about equal time in either city.

On the first day we woke up at 5 a.m. Atlanta time and got into Portland around 2 p.m. We wandered into downtown, found the river and a blues festival, and in a classic know-thyself moment, headed to a brewery.

portland2We went to Deschutes first, mainly because it was the shortest walk and we were unsure about crossing a bridge on foot. Atlanta isn’t as sidewalk- or bike-friendly as Portland. Ken Moody of DLF, a guy so into his family that he didn’t have time to meet for a beer (I kid), recommended the joint. At about 4:30 on July 4, it was a mad house. My first beer of the day was the King Kong of their beers, a special brew called Black Butte XXV. I love beer glasses. This one wasn’t the tulip shape I’m used to seeing for most high-gravity beers. It was flat on the bottom. The beer had all the fruit flavors that were described, along with a bit of a toffee kick in the end. Did I mention kick? The beer clocked in at 11.3% alcohol.

portland3

We found a table and I ordered thai fire wings with peanut yogurt sauce, some sweet potato fries, and a big pretzel that we dipped in cheese and beer mustard. The brew pub food is good, but pretty darn heavy. We wandered back to the hotel room, after a stop in Powell’s Books. If you think you’ve been in a big bookstore before, you haven’t been to the biggest. Browsing is intimidating because there are shelved dedicated to every book ever written, as far as I could tell.

On the way back to the hotel, because we hadn’t consumed enough food, we stopped at a cupcake boutique store. That’s another cool part of Portland. It’s full of locally owned joints. There are very few chain stores in town and the streets are littered with old neon signs. We got back to the room and didn’t stay awake until sunset. We heard nary a firework.

July 5

On Friday morning we got up early because we’re still not used to the time change. The concierge at our hotel told us that street parking was free until 8 the following morning. We got to our car at 8:02, paid for an hour more, and ate at a local breakfast joint called Mothers. Alison had the salmon scramble, taking advantage of the local seafood that’s not my thing. I had blueberry pancakes. Yes, there’s food porn below.

Our initial goal was to drive to the Columbia River Gorge. What’s awesome about this city is that you don’t necessarily need to leave the city to get to nature. When you do leave the city, there’s a lot of it. When we arrived from the airport, I saw a “Columbia River Gorge” exit so I thought it was nearby. The Google maps said 40 miles. It seemed like a long way to go. At about mile 30, we saw an exit to Multnomah Falls and decided to make a stop.

portland4We left an extremely wet Atlanta, which is unusual for early July. Portland is a completely different weather situation. From what I hear, it’s a lot of drizzle most of the year, then in July the clouds part. It was overcast in the morning, and we wish that we brought jackets because it was about 60. It felt more like October 5 than July 5. You get to the base of the waterfalls, look up and wonder why the hell would you want to walk to the top. The sign at the bottom said it was a mile to the top, which isn’t terrible but it’s about a 10% grade the entire way. It became one of those stupid challenges that we felt compelled to complete. There were tons of switchbacks on the way up and some grousing but we did it in about 45 minutes. The path reached a peak and actually went down a bit before you reached the “top” of the falls. I tweeted at one point that the water that travels about 600 feet down from the top dreams of becoming beer. You can’t prove me wrong.

The down walk was a lot easier and the crowd was getting thicker so we picked the right time to go. We ended up in the gift shop with the most impressive array of “customized” gifts I’d ever seen. Alison picked up some postcards because she’s the last person in America who likes to send postcards. We didn’t quite make the Gorge but we did stop and drive over the “Bridge of the Gods” because you always stop when you see a sign like that. The bridge itself wasn’t much but the view, of the river beneath you in both directions was pretty sweet. We drove back into town and wouldn’t you know it, stopped at another brewery.

I’d say that the Hair of the Dog Brewery is on a bad side of town, but I could be unreasonably prejudiced by the razor wire on top of the fence that guarded the parking lot. We entered a small room with a bar, sat down, and perused the menus. I’ll say that menus are the key to the brewery experience. The good ones described the beers in detail. What’s great about the microbrew scene is that they encourage experimentation by allowing you to have “tastes” that come in cute little glasses. Sometimes, you don’t even progress past the taste. I had the Adam and the Wes, and yes, they name beers after people. I got confused on which one was which. The one to my left was dark and smoky (I thought it was the Scottish Ale) and the other one was caramel colored with a little sweetness. I ordered a full one, got the smoky one by accident, and still enjoyed myself. The food was good, we had no idea how much Portlanders like mac and cheese and my wife enjoyed it, which is a good thumbs up. The people to our right must have been serious hop-heads, as they ordered what looked like every taste twice and a couple of the “reserve” bottles. Hair of the Dog is the only brewery I noticed that sold older bottles. Vintage beer is a relatively new concept to me and I was a little sad that I passed up the opportunity to try one.

Not surprisingly, we napped before getting dressed for the evening activities. The opening party for the World Domination Summit was going to be at the Oregon Zoo.

Alison signed us up for the World Domination Summit because she was familiar with some of the speakers and it was something we could attend together. At worst, we’d get a trip to Portland. We took the bus to the zoo, and it was quiet and quick. Portland has great mass transit, although we didn’t experience much of it. We mainly walked.

I don’t remember the beer I ordered at the zoo. I’m so sorry. I did drink the big bottle of Black Butte XXV prior to leaving and it might have been a bit much for an hour’s worth of drinking. It’s a heavy beer, delicious but strong like a beer called Black Butte should be. Back to the zoo. We saw a couple of exhibitions, some penguins, an elephant, goats with their coats about to fall off now that the sun’s out, and then I saw it. The reason why I signed up for the summit was staring me in the face. It was the mechanical bull.

Was there any doubt that I was going to get on the bull? In life there are times when you must project confidence. The people getting on the bull before me struggled to get on and fell off quickly. I think the operator of the machine was a bit of a meanie.

I kicked off my shoes, like a man, and jumped on the back of the machine. I put my hand up with confidence. Yes, I made sure my wife was recording on her phone. This might be my only chance in life to go viral. The machine lurched slowly for a couple of seconds. I stayed strong. Maybe I’d set the record of 42 seconds. Instead, the following lurch threw me off like if I was trying to block J.J. Watt. Every person before me asked for a second chance. I was done. You have to pick your spots.

We talked to a couple of people, but when it comes to these kind of events, we are the introverts’ introverts. There was a band that was like the Portland version of the Rebirth Brass Band, playing funky music while half the band danced, a couple of them on stilts. We left relatively early. After all, the conference was starting the following day.

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