Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Portland + a 26.2 Parade

My flatmate and I ventured to Portland, Oregon this past weekend in order to participate in the Portland Marathon..but we did more than just the 26.2 Parade...

Before saying more about this completely captivating city and most enjoyable weekend, I want to give praise to the humbling and overwhelming hospitality of our hosts.  As good fortune would have it, we were able to stay with the aunt and uncle of a good friend of mine.  I had only met them once, at a wedding, but when they learned I was going to be in Portland for the marathon they immediately offered me a place to stay...even when they knew we would be arriving (after midnight Friday) and departing (at 0615 Monday) at the worst hours known to man...even when both their sons would be moving that same weekend...they still offered their home up to us.  We had expected nothing more than a place to lay our heads down, and that was blessing enough by saving us the hassle and expense of a hotel, but they flooded us with kindness after kindness that I find it hard to do justice in words...the examples of it will pop up in the post below.  But, they blessed us beyond measure, and I will always sing their praises.

Saturday 5 October 2013
After arriving very late Friday night (or rather very early Saturday morning), our hosts welcomed us into their cozy and impeccably decorated home, and we immediately fell into a deep sleep...but, in our typical fashion, we were unable to sleep in.  We awoke to the most pristine Oregon fall weather: slightly chilly, but a clear sky...promising excellent afternoon lighting for photographs to come.

Around 9, our host offered to drive us into town to the Hilton where we'd collect our race bibs.  First, since we had expressed interest in visiting it later, he drove us to Washington Park...which I shall discuss in greater detail later.

We didn't stay long at the race expo, but hurried ourselves through the various stop points (bib, bag, shirt, out) and began walking to Powell's Books.  Powell's originated in Chicago in 1971, but eventually was exported to Portland where it expanded to 5 locations in the city.  Powell's is unique in its formula of hard copy and paper back, new and used on the same shelf.

As a bibliophile, I've dreamed of going to Powell's for years, and it did not disappoint.  I could have stayed in there for several lifetimes, wandering aimlessly around the various rooms (8 of them, themed in different colors with different colors of books + a coffee shop + a rare books room...don't even get me started on my instant addiction to the latter), and inevitably being tempted into buying far too many books.  So, I limited myself to one, and came equipped with a list so as not to spend my entire Portland weekend at my first Portland-stop getting lost amongst the endless stacks of books.

We met up with my flatmate's friend at the World Cup Coffee and Tea House inside Powell's, and then checked out a Buffalo Exchange across the street.  We then meandered down to Waterfront Park and the Portland Saturday Market that is held there weekly, before making our way to the Portland Tea Shop, Camellia Lounge to meet a friend of mine for tea.  The shop is run by a friendly Kiwi (New Zealander) expat.  The tea selection is IMMENSE (they offer specialty teas from all around the world) and the prices were shockingly low for loose leaf ($6 for two pots of loose leaf, fresh brewed tea), and served in interesting glass mugs with twig-thin handles.

From there my friend graciously gave us a ride to Washington Park, where, if I was not already swooning over Portland after Powell's, I became completely smitten.  The fact that access to a lush forest, complete with 400 acres of trees and 15 miles of trails is adjacent to an urban center like Portland proper came as quite a delightful shock. 

We arrived in the perfection of autumn, afternoon lighting and I took far too many photos of back-lit leaves, light rays peering through branches, and thin-trunked Oregon trees in general. I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t get enough. 
We took the MAX to the stop close to our host’s home and were kindly picked up.  We then were treated to a home-made, carbo-loading dinner of spaghetti & garlic bread with ice cream for dessert. We turned in early that night anticipating the race to come in the morning.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Humbling us with selflessness once more, our host offered to drop us off at the race that morning.  We left the house before the sun was up, but the weather promised to be ideal running weather: no rain, cool but not cold.   However, we knew we were going to be waiting at the start line for about 45 minutes, during which time we would be rather goose-pimply.  So, our host, a veteran marathon runner himself, knowingly and kindly insisted that he did not mind meeting us at mile three to collect a layer of clothing from us: we were to look for him on the left side of the street just past the aid station.

The race started promptly at 0700 and I won’t bore what few readers I might have kept on this far into this blog with the details of the race itself other than to say my flatmate and I both highly recommend it for first-timers and veteran marathon runners alike.  It is most forgiving, with only one notable hill to speak of.  It takes you through downtown, into the industrial sector, across two suspension bridges, and through quaint residential areas, gorgeous trees abounding all along.  If you luck out and get an pristine October weekend like we did, you’ll certainly end up singing the Portland Marathon’s praises as well. 

One slightly humorous aside: at several points throughout the marathon, gummy bears were handed out by friendly volunteers.  As I reached for my first cup...the volunteer warned in an urgent, earnest tone, "they're not organic."  I took my chances in my dire hour of need for those delectable bears.

Only in Portland.

After the race was over, and having collected all our race-finisher swag (a shirt, a coin, a pendant, a rose, a Oregon cedar seedling to replant, and a space blanket) we hobbled over to the waterfront park area to simmer in the sun.  We then began our 1.2 mile walk to Salt & Straw,  for ice cream (which was organic, unlike the gummy bears).  We had learned of this place first through a mutual friend of ours at home and then by several Oregonians during our weekend.  Salt & Straw is known for its use of local ingredients but mostly for its unique flavors that include (but wasn't limited to): Cheddar Apple Pie, Sweet Pepper Jam & Goat Cheese, and Bushwhacker Spiced Cider Sorbet.  After a 30 minute wait, we both elected to go with the Roasted Fig & Yogurt Sorbet.  Let's just say it was worth the hype and worth the wait.

Our host was incredibly kind (once again) and collected us, saving us a hunt for and walk to a MAX station.  He drove us a different way home to show us a bit more of the city, and took us up to Council Crest Park, where Native Americans used to hold meetings and build signal fires.  It has an excellent panoramic view of the city (we got a few pictures of ourselves in our post-race fatigue there), but more impressively it offers views of 5 mountains in the Cascade Range: Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Rainer.  Don't miss standing in the middle of the cement platform there: it's an echo chamber!

We then returned back to the house, showered, snacked, and went to bed early knowing we had an early AM departure the next day.

Monday 7 October 2013
But we made time, by leaving extra early from the house, to make one last essential stop in Portland: Voodoo Donut.  Almost anyone who has spent any amount of time in Portland insists on a stop to Voodoo Donut...however, many give up on the venture when they see the line wrapped around the corner.  Never fret! If you are willing to make the trip at 0415 you will find no line at all!  Victory was ours that fine raining morn...we were in and out with our treats within 10 minutes.  Then off to the airport for our 0615 flight home.

And, best of all, we were happy we got to see Portland in it's proper painting: dampened by rain.

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