Epic Journey Day Nine — Farewell to Portland

This was our day of departure from Portland, but we still had one more touristy thing to do with John before we said our goodbyes and headed toward home. Multnomah Falls is an incredibly popular 611-foot waterfall, one of several found along the Columbia River Gorge. A paved hiking trail leads up to a picturesque bridge from which visitors enjoy taking photos of the falls and of one another. That same trail also leads to the top of the falls, but we didn’t go that far up. 

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​The views are well worth the climb, to say nothing of the long wait for parking, which is limited relative to demand. 

After viewing the falls, we got a table inside the Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant. I had it on good authority that their Fish ‘n Chips are awesome. That turned out to be completely true. They use wild-caught Alaskan cod and it is quite delicious. But then so is the Flatiron Steak Salad. 

Once lunch was over with, we spent some time in the gift shop, took a few final photos, and then followed John out to Interstate 84 and to a gas station where everyone fueled up or topped off before saying goodbye. Then two motorcycles and the chase van went east on 84. One motorcycle went west, back to Portland proper. It was three in the afternoon. 

I could not get over how quickly green gave way to brown as we followed 84 along the Hood River, but that’s exactly what happened. The temps went up, too. My bike’s onboard thermometer read 102 at the warmest point, but I attributed a couple or three degrees to engine heat. 

We rolled on, mile after mile, down I-84, up I-82 into Washington, onto US 395, which took us northeast through some of the brownest agricultural land I’ve seen on this trip, and also tied into Interstate 90, which brought us to Spokane Valley, where we stopped for the night. 

It felt awkward having only two motorcycles in our group. It felt awkward asking for a table for four instead of five. We’ll quickly get used to it, of course, but this day was a little bittersweet for me. While I am truly anxious to get home and see my daughter, spend some quality time with our family pets, and go hang out with my friends again, there is no use denying how I knew darned well I would feel when this day came. 

I miss my son. 


Epic Journey Day Seven — Mt. Hood and Much More

Day seven had us back on the motorcycles for a mix of riding that ranged from urban streets to mountain roads. For openers, we rode into Portland proper to check out a unique coffee bar and motorcycle shop called See See Motor Coffee Co. This is a unique place and a must-see for any motorcycle enthusiast who finds him/herself in Portland.

Bikers of all denominations come here to drink coffee, eat breakfast or a light lunch, buy cycle parts or novelties, and perhaps most of all, talk about motorcycles. We stopped in for breakfast when coffee bar was open, but the shop was not, so we ate, drank, and planned to return and buy some See See merchandise.

By the time we left, the number of bikes parked outside had multiplied, as had the number of people hanging out, both inside and out. As I approached my own ride, a gentleman in a cowboy hat walked up and began asking me about Miss Scarlett, my ’12 Victory Vision Tour. He also shared stories of the bikes he has owned and/or built over the years. As we talked, I tried to figure out the gentleman’s accent, which seemed at once western and eastern. Turns out he was originally from the Bronx, but had not lived there for many years. I enjoyed talking to that guy. Even though we had never met before, we were not total strangers. That is, we knew something about each other by virtue of where we had found ourselves hanging out that morning. It’s a biker thing.

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From there we headed out of the city on US 26, toward the mountain we couldn’t even see as we rode past it last Thursday in the pouring rain. Today we saw Mt. Hood in all its glory. Had a great time riding toward it and around it via Highways 26 and 35. We also enjoyed the roads and scenery afforded us in the Mt. Hood National Forest. But the high point occurred when John led us off the road and down to this paved (not a given around here) scenic pull-off.

Besides being able to see the top of this majestic snow-capped mountain, we also happened upon a mountain stream that was tracing the path of a massive avalanche that had occurred here in 2006. That turned into a thing in itself, but we had to be cautious getting to and from the rushing stream, as most of the rocks were quite loose, having only been placed there about ten years ago by said avalanche, which had been set off by a storm called the Pineapple Express.

Then there were the few other people, some with dogs, who stopped while we were there. John and Eddie spent some time talking to a man who had been in these parts back when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, and watched it happen—from a great distance, of course.

What was intended to be just a quick stop turned into quite a visit, but nobody seemed to mind. Me, I was happy as a clam (assuming clams are very happy), because to me, things like this feel exactly like a vacation should. I love it!

Next stop, lunch. My son John has developed this uncanny ability to pick great places at which to eat, and this was no exception. We were running along on 35 when John suddenly slowed up, signaled right, and pulled off toward what looked like a small logging operation of some sort. But before we entered their unsaved lot, he veered left and led us into a small, paved lot for the Saw Tooth Roadhouse.

How did he even see this place?! Tucked away in the middle of nowhere, this place serves up some awesome food. We all ate our fill, talking with the owner from time to time—a great guy, by all indications. Had John been there before? Nope. He pulled off on a whim. We were amazed.

The next leg of our day trip was pretty amazing, too. We rode up to a visitor information center on the banks of the Hood River. Just across the river lay the state of Washington. One of the staff members suggested that we could cross the river via the toll bridge, just beyond where we were standing, then ride west for about 20 miles on the Washington side, before crossing back into Oregon on the Bridge of the Gods. We thought that sounded like a cool idea, so we did exactly that.

While running west on the Washington side, I noticed a freight train motoring east between us and the river. As the engine passed John’s position and approached mine, I raised my right arm in the direction of the locomotive in a friendly waving gesture. The engineer responded with a single blast of the train’s mighty horns. I found out later that the horn blast had started my son almost to the point of jumping off his motorcycle. I found that rather amusing. John, not so much.

We returned to Portland and stopped at See See Motor Coffee Co. about a half hour before closing, to check out the shop and buy our souvenirs. The atmosphere was still the same—people outside, people inside, all talking bikes in some way, shape or form. On my way in, two tattooed guys sipping iced drinks at a picnic table outside struck up a conversation with me, first about me and my bike, then about the differences between Chicago and Portland (one of them had just been to Chicago). We were strangers, but not. It’s a biker thing.

On my way out, I noticed my son John talking to one of the two guys with whom I had chatted on my way in. I went to the street to get a closer look at a custom (pictured above) that had caught my eye on the way in. Within moments my son calls me over. Turns out the guy he’d been talking to had built the bike. I asked him a few questions, which he gladly answered.

From there we ran back to the hotel in Lake Oswego, freshened up, hopped in the van and went back into Portland for supper. I couldn’t help but notice Mt. Hood in the distance as we drove over one of Portland’s many bridges.

On this day, supper was not just a lucky pick. The My Thai Bistro is a favorite restaurant of John’s, and we soon found out why. The food was excellent, and so were the staff, who seemed to know John on sight. Karen snapped a photo of John with the owner.

This had been an awesome day.

Epic Journey Day Six — First Full Day in Portland

In all candor, after five consecutive full days on the bikes, over 2,000 miles worth, I was ready for a day off. That day was today. John rode his Honda over to our hotel, a 15-minute trip, and then parked it in the underground garage, next to mine and Eddie’s, for the day. Then we all piled into the minivan and John took us into Portland proper for the day. 

Compared to Chicago, Portland seems far less big-city-like. The buildings aren’t as tall and what tall buildings they have aren’t as dense. Traffic can be slow, but drivers on the whole seem more courteous. Vehicles from both directions will stop suddenly if a pedestrian steps into the street. Try that one in Chicago sometime. Or even the Chicago suburbs. You’ll probably make the news. Portland is also greener, in every sense of the word. For whatever it’s worth, according to my son, Portland tops the list of cities to which people are moving. Even the maintenance man at our hotel, a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, told me that he prefers Portland to Southern California, where he had lived before. 

Unfortunately, Portland also has a substantial and highly visible homeless population. This may be the result of tolerance as well as climate. But for whatever reason, they are there, they are human beings, and just like anyplace else, some are very nice, some aren’t very nice, and some appear to have substantial problems beyond being homeless. 

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We got a tour of John’s studio apartment, which is currently being used as a set for a web series about a highly disturbed individual. Worry not. Despite indications from his interior decore, my son is not a psychopath. 

We visited Powell’s Book City, a bookstore on steroids, that takes up an entire city block in a four-story building. This place is incredible and perhaps a bit overwhelming, but we spent a couple of awesome hours there and, predictably, came away with a fair number of books. 

Next came our tour of the Portland Actors Conservatory, the whole reason John is out here and subsequently, the whole reason we have taken this epic road trip. 

John seemed very pleased to be showing us his school, and we were positively tickled to be there.

Next came supper and drinks at the Rogue Hall. We had copious amounts of food and several beers, and nobody complained. Seriously, it was quite good. 

That brought us back to the hotel. After helping us get our belongings into our rooms, John took his motorcycle and returned to his apartment. It was an excellent day! 

Epic Journey Day Five — The Long and Winding Road to Portland

Day five was all about two-lane blacktop, national forests, and mountains. We took no interstate highways. We also took all day to cross Oregon, from Ontario to Portland—and that was just fine. 

We were on US 26, which passes through several national forests while going over and around the mountains, three ranges worth—the Blue Mountains, the New Cascades, and the Western or Old Cascades—before descending into the Willamette Valley.  It’s a road filled with twisties and sweepers, but not many towns, and even fewer gas stations, so fuel stops were critical. Oregon is not a self-service “pump your own” state, but stations, at their discretion, will allow motorcyclists to fill their own tanks. 

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My favorite part of the day was our lunch stop in Mitchell, a small (and I mean small) mountain community with a really crappy gas station—only 87 octane gas, plus diesel—and a charming little cafe, where I had one of the tastiest burgers I’ve eaten in a very long time. I was fatigued from chasing my son through the mountains (he likes to zip through the twisties, whereas I prefer to cruise at a relaxed pace), so I did not object to taking our sweet time in Mitchell. It’s a friendly little place where everybody talks to one another, locals and travelers alike. 

Between the mountains and forests, the scenery was simply incredible. I would like to have stopped more, to take photos, but our trip took all day as it was. And besides, I wasn’t leading. 

We were hoping to see Mt. Hood, but it was up in a cloud. A rain cloud. A malicious rain cloud.  Yes, as is often the case in the Pacific Northwest, it was raining over the Old Cascades and the Willamette Valley, where Portland is located. We knew this in advance, so we pulled off and donned our rain gear in bright sunshine. Moments later, we were in the drink. Conditions ranged from a slow, steady rain to a driving torrent. 

It took us over two hours to get through the Old Cascades and across Portland to our hotel in Lake Oswego. My son John had done an admirable job of leading us safely to our destination. 

We have now come well over 2,000 miles. After touring Portland and the surrounding area for a few days, we will begin the journey home, minus my son.