Portland and Seattle – Two Nights, Two Cities – Part 2

To review, Daniel, Peyton, and I had just left Portland after visiting my friend Richard and getting a taste for some local food. Our next stop: Seattle. We only had one night in the city and nothing planned. Thirty minutes of scouting google maps resulted in a stop at Swan Creek Park for some spontaneous mountain biking. These trails were the best built on the trip—flowy, fast, and downhill. It was bound to happen to one of us, but I never expected to look up from a GoPro to see Daniel get too forward on his bike at the bottom of a slope and then launch into a flip over his handlebars, body and bicycle at once flying through the air and then bouncing across the packed dirt. He was shook up but fine. We rode back to the truck after another couple laps and locked targets on Fremont.

Riley was one of the coolest dudes we met on the trip. A tall guy in his mid-twenties, tan with dark hair, Riley taught acting at a local school in Seattle. He also acted on Disney cruise ships for months at a time. Back up two days now: the guys and I are sitting around a campfire in Oregon trying to decide where to stay in Seattle. None of my Couchsurfing requests had been accepted, and we were leaning towards booking a cheap hotel outside the city. Then, while looking through hotels and hostels on my phone, I received the notification. Riley last minute agreed to host us two days before our arrival.

Now fast forward again. We just left Swan Creek Park and became stuck in miserable Seattle traffic at about 4:30 pm. Riley texted me along the lines of, “Hey do you guys like salmon.” I, of course, said we did. Riley said something like, “Great! I’m cooking dinner so don’t eat before you get here.” Anticipation and hunger made 20 mph traffic seem like standstill, and so what felt like 4 hours later we pulled onto Riley’s street where he met us all with a smile and a hug. He pointed out our parking spot and then showed us inside where Kenai, his new-ish and excitable pup, greeted us happily. Then, we all dug into the best meal we had on the entire trip. Riley made and had waiting seared salmon on a rice pilaf with sautéed veggies and peppers drizzled in a homemade hollandaise sauce. He apparently was a huge fan of Food Network, and by default, so were we.

Still trying to understand how the food was so delicious, we set off to see Fremont on foot, led by our host. Riley took us around Gas Works Park (formerly the Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant), under the bridge with the Fremont Troll, and past the Lenin statue. We ended that night at a barcade (Bar/Arcade) called Add a Ball that housed a ton of vintage games. The low-lit, grungy atmosphere seemed to draw a crowd of nerds and bedraggled misfits who blended perfectly with the surroundings. They seemed at home and welcomed us, too, into their humble abode.

I’ve said it before, but I believe everyone should at some point try Couchsurfing, at least once. It’s an amazing way to experience a city because it’s just like visiting your friend who has lived there long enough to become a local. They know where to go, when to go there, and what’s worth doing. My two hosts have been extremely kind, welcoming, and accommodating. But “host” isn’t a great word for them because after fifteen minutes we’re all friends. You can chat about absolutely nothing, swap travel stories, learn about each other’s background, engage in deep and meaningful conversations, or just hangout rather quietly. No matter what, you will leave with a new friend and a new perspective.

The next morning Riley cooked for everyone again: fluffy pancakes, crispy bacon, squared potatoes. Again, amazing food. We drove to REI, the one where it all began, to pick up some last minute supplies. Wanting a quick lunch and apparently missing the south, we settled on picking up Popeye’s chicken, which we ate in a funeral home parking lot. Yes, a funeral home parking lot. Next to a cemetery. The Cemetery where sits the Jimi Hendrix memorial. Stuffed with fried chicken, we walked over and paid our respects to the legend. Then, slightly anxious but thoroughly overjoyed, we prepared for our flight. The vast wilds of Denali awaited.

Portland and Seattle – Two Nights, Two Cities – Part 1

After spending two weeks on the road and before embarking on the final leg of our journey, the guys and I spent two nights in cities to rest up and enjoy good company. Leaving the gorgeous Oregon coast was hard, but knowing that Portland was the next stop made our departure easier. Since Portland is well known for its trademarked Northwestern outdoorsyness (it’s a word if I say it is, auto-correct), we actually bypassed the city and drove to a little bouldering spot about 30 miles to the east.

Trusting the website, we pulled off the highway to find a country road that turned into a forestry road and parked in front of the specified gate. While I rallied up some camera gear, Peyton and Daniel stepped out to look around and noted the directions on the friendly climbing forum were decidedly sketchy. Unfortunately they proved to be at least inaccurate because we only found one minuscule boulder, barely worth shoes and chalk.

Anyway, feeling duped, we headed back into Portland to meet up with my friend Richard who was extremely kind to offer up his living room to us last minute. We hoped for a local perspective mixed with some “must-do” touristy attractions, and Richard delivered with a specialized tour only available from one who knows what is cool but still appreciates what is corny.

To begin, we took the train from his apartment to downtown and walked to Deschutes Brewery for a mouth-watering dinner. In true Portland fashion, everything was local. My elk burger was divine, definitely the best meal up to that point in our trip. Richard then took us to the “Keep Portland Weird” sign, which didn’t have a line sprouting out from it, and pointed out a few places we should check out the next day when they opened. To end the night on a high note, he took us to the famous Voodoo Doughnuts. To paraphrase Richard: there are better doughnut shops in Portland, but Voodoo Donuts is an experience you have to have at least once as a visitor.

We took ours to go, hopped on the train, and chilled on the rooftop patio of Richard’s apartment building. Overlooking Portland’s dazzling lights, we chowed down on various doughnuts (mine was covered in Cocoa Puffs) and talked about whatever.

The next day–the day before our departure to Alaska–we decided to hangout in Portland for a bit to visit Richard’s recommended stores and check out the amazing food stands. I found a tiny leather-bound journal at Made Here to take back to Emily as an adventure planning book. We passed Powell’s City of Books but decided not to go in. Instead, we spent our remaining time reading menus on about 60 food carts. Maybe I should have chosen lunch from one of the many amazing ethnic food options, but something about “The Cheesus” just reached out to my American spirit. Two greasy grilled cheeses as buns on the juiciest burger I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t resist. After devouring a heart attack, I was ready to hit the road and find our next mountain bike park in Seattle.