Portland (Oregon) & Highway 101

Portland (Oregon) & Highway 101

I’ve now been to Portland on both sides of the USA. Two very different cities where the shared name is the only thing they have in common. Portland Maine is a beautiful harbour town that serves great seafood. On the other coast, Oregon’s Portland is known as a smaller Seattle but does have some notoriety of its own. I’m told it has the largest number of strippers, per head of capita, in the entire country!

Before visiting the city at night I spent the best part of two days walking around. No need for a bus tour as the city centre is small and there are plenty of useful guide maps. A pleasant enough place with a small financial district and a well organised shopping area. The only building, which looked vaguely unique was the Court House with its mock British influence. Fortunately I was in the city on the first Thursday of the month.

The day the city’s local art galleries link up to promote their artists and exhibits. They put on a bit of a show with: talks, promotions, music, wine and cheese etc. I visited a few places including the Shaffer Fine Art Gallery and the Attic Gallery. A pleasant afternoon where I chatted with some nice folk, saw paintings and sculptures ranging from USD50 to USD200K. Also, it was more personable to visit some owner-managed galleries instead of the big museums for a change. And to their credit, the day is not an aloof gathering of art aficionados as the less informed are equally welcomed. Thankfully. Quite a civilised afternoon which continued later that night.

With such an infamous claim to fame I was curious to see if it was all just bravado. Got to go and see for yourself. You know a trip to Amsterdam is incomplete if you just visit Museumplien and skip a visit to the Red Light District. In Seattle I was given the name of places worth visiting which included: Mary’s Club, Union Jacks, Blue Dolphin, Sassy. Interestingly many of them serve food too. I choose Sassys as it’s also a grill house where Mary’s has a Mexican (food) menu.

I arrived around nine o’clock and the place was fairly busy already. Which was a pity as all the ringside tables were taken. However the hostess gave me a good spot on the quieter side of the large room, as there was a small stag party on the right side of the extended walkway. I got there just in time to see a tall bucksome blonde perform a great routine to a Lady Gaga number. Gaga ulala indeed. About twenty minutes or so later my steak, fries and coleslaw arrived.

It seemed a bit surreal to dine over a 10 oz ribeye and glass of Cab Sauv while watching a half a dozen very talented girls dance. I haven’t been that excited over dinner since I saw Avril Lavigne’s first video. And nice of the hostess to enquire if I’d like a private dance for dessert. All in all -quite a delectable experience.

And the other tasty experience included a trip to Voodoo Donuts. Another must do according to the locally published visitors guide. I was keen to see how it compared to Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts. I didn’t think it possible put Voodoo pipped the post on the donut contest. However Voodoo is purely a donut store and has no seating. In fact the store only holds about eight customers. So the queue extends outside the store with a: one out, one in line. Which is a pity, as you have to eat your donuts on the street or at home. Consequently, for the experience Top Pot wins.

A good two days in Portland but I was lucky the art show occurred on the first Thursday, as otherwise I’d have been a bit bored. However not a bad place to start my trip south on the west coast.

This entire trip was spawned by the idea of travelling on the west coast of the US, as I hadn’t previously visited that side of the country. And starting from Portland meant the journey was a comfortable two day trip of eight hours each day. Moreover it took me on the famous Highway 101, which after the now closed (original) Route 66 is perhaps the most famous in the United States. For the benefit of those who haven’t driven in the US, a highway isn’t what we’d call a motorway in Europe. An Inter-State Freeway is probably the right equivalent and the highway closer to our secondary or national roads.

So naturally I looked forward to riding on a strip of road that straddles the Pacific Ocean, transverses forests and cuts through many small towns. What a journey it was – a pleasure cruise. At low levels the ocean lay next to me while at higher altitudes the sheer drop from the side of a cliff was amazing. Unfortunately however, the weather on the first day wasn’t great. Where the experience was somewhat dampened by moderte winds, grey skies and a constant wet mist. But I can’t complain as I’ve been blessed with great weather throughout the trip. I’ve only been soaked once so far. Got to take the bad with the good.

Anyway, to see the sea during a storm, albeit a light on, is also impressive. There were some large waves crashing on the beaches. I’m sure the few surfers didn’t mind the conditions. I did stop at Cannon Beach to take a couple of photos. This was the backdrop in a couple of scenes in the film Goonies.

On the first night I stayed in a small beachfront motel. It was nice to rise to brighter conditions as the mist had cleared although it remained cool. Since this was my first time to wake next to the Pacific, I braved the cold and walked down to the beach. With shoes off I put my feet into the ocean. My first time in the Pacific Ocean.

Before setting off on day two I fuelled up at the local Denny’s. A national chain of diners that serves up great pancakes. Their Grandslam breakfast is delicious. The US equivalent of an Anglo-Saxon fry up or a Dutch uitsmitjer; where the bacon and eggs are served up on two pancakes. Of course this comes with a quart of thick maple syrup. Well – one or two every two decades can’t be unhealthy.

Day two took me along the coast again but also through some forests including Siuslaw and the Rogue River National Forrest. This includes the Redwood forest, which is the home of the Bigfoot legend. Although I didn’t see him, I did see some of the largest trees in the world. Driving through Redwood the road reduced at one point to a narrow corridor of two single lanes; which gave the feeling of driving through a tunnel as the huge trees arched together to block out the sun. Incredible. Not long afterward two bikers on Harleys joined the highway.

Great to have biker company on the road. Overall I’ve driven cautiously on this trip, as I don’t know the roads, want to avoid encounters with the police but mostly because I have a trip to finish. Where there are no prizes for early arrival. These guys seemed to know the roads and with two pace makers just ahead I was able to comfortably (and confidently) push it. Cornering at low angles with speed and opening up on the straights all served to raise the hairs on my neck. After about 45-50 miles I had to honk farewell, as it was time to refuel. Best adrenaline ride so far. Whoha.

Not long after this I arrived at my buddy’s house in Sebastopol, which is a small town one hour outside San Francisco. I hadn’t seen Jeroen in almost five years and was looking forward to catching up, to meeting Gail (his now wife) and his son Chuck. And classy guy that he is, using the website to time my arrival he greeted me in the driveway where we clinked two glasses of Duvel.


Al Dempsey
25 November 2010.
PS. Happy Thanksgiving from Las Vegas.