15 June, 2018


The woods at Cape Lookout State Park come right up to the edge of the sea. In the right spot you can sip a cup of tea and feel the little flecks of spray on your face as the waves thunder up the rocks. Nestled in the carpet of ferns that cover the ground are the primitive campsites and it was there that my detour to Portland would begin.

Having said goodbye to a pair of Canadians also cycling South, I put on every piece of clothing I had and made my way through the morning mist and up the hill towards Tillamook (an ordinary town, famous mainly for its cheese factory). Two buses a day run between Tillamook and Portland and they are both affordable and fitted with free bicycle racks that make them an obvious alternative to a long, hilly and unscenic ride.

The journey takes 2 hours and once your bike is loaded (the first few corners are nerve wracking as it feels as if at any moment it might fly off in to the bushes), the journey is pleasant with USB outlets a welcome feature for the powerless cyclist.

At Portland Union Station I unracked my bicycle and thanked the driver. I'd booked last minute Airbnb in the south part of the city and began to make my way across town. Portland is notably more bike-friendly than any other US city I've visited, crisscrossed with bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure. A dedicated bike path runs all the way down the east bank of the Willamette and half an hour later I arrived in Sellwood and unpacked my bags, ready to head out for the evening.

I aimed for buckman, on the east side of the river across from the steel and glass of downtown. The streets are wide and the buildings pleasingly low-rise, giving the whole city a relaxed and airy feel. Sellwood is a largely residential area but pockets of trendy restaurants and coffee shops can be found everywhere and in buckman every other block houses a brewpub. Portland is a centre of the craft beer scene in the Pacific Northwest and this in combination with a roaring live music scene makes for a fun Friday evening.

Hopping from brewery to brewery with a brief interlude to sample a the cheap but delicious Pad Thai Kitchen nearby, I chatted with the locals and sampled the mammoth selection of local beers as rows of polished steel brewing tanks simmered away in the background. Ending my night with some live music at The Liquor Store, I headed home, happy that I'd discovered a truly great city but sad that I only had one more day to spend in it.

Waking late on Saturday (in what was to be the only bed I'd sleep in for the rest of the trip), I patronised either/or, an agonisingly trendy but excellent local coffee stop and cycled up towards Washington Park on the west side of the city. Too hazy to catch a glimpse of Mount Hood, I settled for a visit to the Japanese garden.

Billed as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan, I wasn't disappointed and spent a peaceful 3 hours wandering the delicately arranged shrubs and artfully directed streams. Knowing nothing about the philosophy of Japanese garden design was hardly a drawback and by lunchtime I was hungry but gloriously relaxed, ready to return to the bustle of the streets.

The remainder of the day was spent meandering around the rest of the city, courtesy of the excellent cycling infrastructure. A guided tour of the submarine USS Blueback was both cheap and entertaining, courtesy of our sassy guide, an ex-navy man who lavished us with interesting facts and fun anecdotes about life as a drill sergeant. My only regret was that I was not able to experience the 3 hour "Full engineering tour" which although niche, sounded genuinly fascinating and is apparently wildly popular.

Making the most of my final night in a proper bed by getting up at 0645 to catch the early bus, I made my way back to the bus stop and eventually back to Tillamook to continue my journey down the coast. Slumping in to the seat, I reflected on how even over just 2 days I'd seen much to love in Portland before immediately falling asleep in a heap of panniers and camping equipment.

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