Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Road trip: Portland

September 29, 2014
Walking along the Willamette River
Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

For our three days in Portland, we reveled in our hedonistic sides. Basically, we ate and drank and then ate some more, with some music and urban exploring thrown in.

We were staying in a residential neighborhood on the east side of the river, about a 20-minute walk from the historic Mississippi district. European ship-workers dominated the area in the 1800s, before it evolved into a primarily black neighborhood after a 1948 flood. The construction of I-5 and the Memorial Coliseum in the 1950s and 1960s cut off part of the neighborhood and by the 1980s, it was a center for drugs, gangs, street crime and general urban decay. The city declared it a historic district in 1999, helping spark a still-ongoing revitalization. It's now home to a number of bars, restaurants and shops. Our first night, we wandered into a newly opened bar called the Interurban, with a nice back patio. Ben tried and enjoyed a new type of beer, an India Golden Ale double IPA from Breakside Brewery. [1]

My chosen food truck. The options were overwhelming.
The next day we explored Portland on foot. We ate at the (in)famous food trucks, though Ben chose better than I did with his falafel from Wolf and Bear's. After lunch, we found Powell's Books, which claims to be the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. It takes up an entire city block. And not only did they have a ton of books, but they also seemed to put a lot of care into curation. The staff highlighted their favorites, including this one that Ben wants to read about America's forgotten naval expedition to the Dead Sea. Their store map was also pretty awesome:

Continuing our cultural afternoon, we toured the Oregon History Museum's exhibit on the history of the state. As a bonus, we also got to see a special exhibit on Abraham Lincoln's legacy. We had strategically planned our day to take advantage of happy hour, which we always miss in San Francisco, so we walked along the waterfront up to Deschutes Brewery. The brewery was founded in Bend, Oregon, and opened a brewpub in Portland in 2008. Deschutes is one of the larger craft breweries in the U.S. and its Mirror Pond Pale Ale is pretty easy to find (it's not our favorite though). More in another post on our favorite beers of the trip. Post-drinks it was time for ... dinner, of course, at Bamboo Sushi, which claims to be the first certified, sustainable sushi restaurant in the world.


Ben has a tradition of taking photos with Honest Abe.
The next day we didn't have much of a plan, until our AirBnB told us we absolutely had to eat at the Peruvian restaurant Andina, which someone at a party had also recommended to us. (We basically spent our time in Portland following the recommendations of people who used to live there, which is almost always a wonderful strategy for planning a trip). It didn't hurt that the food in Portland is really good and much cheaper than in San Francisco. Of course, Portland's median income is $51,000, compared to $73,000 for San Francisco, so we imagine the city feels more expensive for people who live there. I guess that's one upside of living in the most expensive city in the country, you start seeing everything else as "cheap."


Portland is supposed to have a good craft distillery scene, and not knowing anything about distelleries, we were eager to explore. Unfortunately, Distillery Row was out of the way, but we found nearby Clear Creek Distillery, which specializes in eau de vie. We still don't know much about distilleries, though we did figure out that neither of us much enjoys eau de vie. After all this eating and drinking, we were ready for a break, so we headed for a cool public park with a fountain, where we enjoyed ice cream and read our books.


Ben loves to recount the story of the wonderful night he spent at the McMenamon's in Portland on his 2006 motorcycle trip. Of course we had to go back, so that's where we headed on our second night. Unfortunately, the vibe wasn't quite as transcendental as the first time Ben visited (possibly because the musicians were somewhat mediocre and told overly long stories about their songs). We followed that up with one more drink at a bar on Mississippi Street, before retiring back to our rental, refreshed for our return to the wilderness. Also, we had washed our clothes, always a plus.







- Steph

Sources:
[1] Guide to the Boise Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon

A Yosemite anniversary

September 27, 2014
Yosemite Valley, with Ben's head bandaged
It's been a whole year since our wedding, and to celebrate our anniversary, we went to Yosemite National Park for a long weekend. Campsite reservations go on sale online months in advance, at 7 a.m. on specific days, and sell out in seconds; we booked a site at North Pines Campground (in Yosemite Valley) at 7:00:15 sharp back in April, in a mad rush to click anything available and check out.

We decided to go in style and rent a car for the four-hour ride each way (it being a rather boring freeway drive most of the way) instead of taking the motorcycle. (This allowed for luxuries like real coffee instead of instant espresso.)

We drove up Thursday and set up camp. On Friday, we hiked to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, taking the Mist Trail up and the John Muir trail down. On Saturday, we hiked up to Dewey Point. About halfway up, though, I tried to cut a fallen branch into walking sticks by kicking it in the middle (while it was propped up on a log), but I miscalculated the angles and it snapped up and hit me in the head, knocking me down and causing a nice gash right over my eyebrow. Steph patched me up with our first aid kit (and later with butterfly bandages bought at the general store) and we decided to head back down. We were surprised by the lack of any medical services in the park on weekends. (Fortunately it seems to have healed well.)

Injury aside, it was a very fun weekend, with perfect weather, and obviously beautiful scenery everywhere.

We're thinking next time we go, rather than stay in the tourist-heavy areas like this time, we'll do a backpacking trip through the wilderness further north and at higher elevation. (We haven't done real backpacking since Patagonia.)

Liberty Cap, view from top of Nevada Falls

Vernal Falls (with a rainbow) on left, Nevada Falls on right
Vernal Falls



Driving to Yosemite

Panoramas: the view from the top of Nevada Falls and our campsite at North Pines Campground. Scroll to the right to see the whole photo.

panorama yosemite national park

panorama campsite yosemite national park

Boo-boo
- Ben

Road trip: Oregon coast

August 23, 2014


Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

We made it to Oregon! Next we spent three days exploring the coast before heading inland to Portland.

Day 3: Crescent City to Oregon Dunes (170 miles)

Goodbye California, hello Oregon! If I had to pick one disappointing day of the trip, this would probably be it, though I don't want to speak too badly of it, it just had a lot of amazing days to compete with. I had read all sorts of good things about the southern Oregon coast, particularly the stretch between Brookings and Gold Beach, which includes Samuel H. Boardman State Park. The problem was that I hadn't realized how different the riding is between Route 1 on the California coast and Route 101 on the Oregon coast. Route 1 literally hugs the coast. It's one lane in each direction with lots of sharp curves that freak cars out and scare away most RVs. You could never get off your bike and you'd still have a beautiful view all day long. In contrast, Route 101 is set slightly inland. It's a multi-lane highway with an average speed of at least 60 mph and the only curves are long sweeping ones. If you don't get off your bike, your view mostly consists of a lot of trees. You're rewarded with stunning vistas if you stop at the many turnouts, but this isn't ideal on a bike. Each time we stop, we have to take off our gear and either lock it up or carry it with us. We had a beautiful view at one of the few turnouts we stopped at, but we had a lot of miles to cover and couldn't afford to stop every few miles. The RVs on the other hand seemed to be in RV heaven.


Which brings me to a few thoughts on the differences between the California and Oregon coasts. When we planned the trip, I debated how much time it was worth spending on the Oregon coast, because I didn't know how it differed from the California coast. Overall, we decided we prefer the California coast, but that's largely because we travel by motorcycle. As I said, the California coastal road has tighter turns, with slower speeds and beautiful views. The Oregon road is faster, with long sweeping turns and minimal views. Oregon definitely wins for having the best beaches. California's coast is much craggier, so the beaches are usually small enclaves tucked between rock-faces. These beaches are often difficult to access and sometimes dangerous because of the risk of a sudden large wave. In contrast, Oregon boasts long, wide open beaches. And finally, the two states seemed to have come to different conclusions about how to regulate public vs private access to the coastline. California has protected thousands of acres of land along the coast from any further development. This means the coast is less inhabited. And there aren't many oceanside houses (at least in northern California, I imagine southern California is another story). Oregon declared that all beaches are public, which is a lot of land. But the land beyond the beach is private, and thus usually occupied by private homes. The road is more of a way to access all these communities, than it is a way to see the coastline, which is what it is in California.

None of which is to say that the roads in Oregon aren't fun for motorcycling. Ben liked one stretch so much he drove it twice. I, on the other hand, had clung on tightly the first time and preferred to be left on the side of the road rather than drive it a second time.

Passing through Coos Bay


And if the morning had been a bit disappointing, the evening definitely wasn't. We were set to camp at the Oregon Dunes that night, which was one of the destinations on the trip I was most looking forward to visiting. What can I say, wide open expanses appeal to me. I had carefully chosen among the many available campgrounds — the dunes stretch 40 miles along the coast — to avoid those popular with ATVs. Our campsite turned out to be both private and quiet. We picked up some steak and corn at a local supermarket, where we were amazed at the ginormous shopping carts.

Most campgrounds have hosts, who live at the campground for the summer and help tend to the area. The host at this campground was a retired couple from Texas who come up for the summer in their RV. The husband also rides so he came over with his boxer to chat with us for a while. He was telling us about the riding in Texas, where they sometimes ride 600 miles in a day through west Texas because it's boring and flat and they don't want to spend any more time there than necessary.

Eel Creek Campground in the Oregon Dunes






This camp host was at least the third person on the trip to come over and strike up a conversation with us because of our motorcycle. Earlier that day, a elderly vet had started talking to me about how he used to ride a motorcycle all over the country. He'd just drive with no destination in mind, stopping wherever he pleased. And he would bring along his small dog, who would sit in front of him, without a harness or anything. Throughout the trip, whenever we stopped somewhere, other riders would come up to ask where we were headed and inquire about our bike (which isn't a model you see very often). Before I started riding, I hadn't realized how much of a sub-culture there is around riding that extends far beyond the stereotype of leather, Harleys and bad boys.

Day 4: Oregon Dunes to Yachats (56 miles)


When we pared down our trip itinerary, we added in a few extra days in the places we were already going. We upped our stay in Portland from two days to three and we gave ourselves five days to make it up the coast, rather than three. With 56 miles to cover, day 4 was one of those days that got added in, which gave us lots of time to enjoy ourselves. We started out with a hike along the dunes. I had been envisioning a nice hike to the ocean, but the ocean turned out to be three miles away. So instead, we hiked the John Dellenback Dunes Trail until we saw the ocean, which was good enough.

See a panorama view from the dunes.

These are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, with some dunes reaching 500 feet above sea level. Says the U.S. Department of Agriculture: "The sand comes from sedimentary rock uplifted 12 million years ago in Oregon’s Coast Range Mountains. Rivers moved the rock downstream, tumbling and grinding it into sand. The present shoreline stabilized about 6,000 years ago. The strong elemental forces of tides, waves and winds have been constantly moving the sand for centuries—up to two and a half miles inland in places!" It was drizzling when we started hiking, which we think actually made it easier, as it made the sand a bit firmer. And we were the only people crazy enough to be out there.

We enjoyed just letting go and running/falling down the dunes (recorded as snapshots in continuous-shooting mode):


After the dunes, we pulled into the very cute oceanside town of Florence for lunch. Then we went in search of the Hobbit Trail, which had been recommended by our friends. The problem was we didn't quite know where it was. This is what we were going off of for directions: "Six miles north of Florence on the left side of 101 just south of the sign for Carl G. Washburne State Park." And: "About two miles from Washburne, you'll find an easy-to-miss parking lot on the east side of the highway, with signs pointing to different trails, including the Hobbit Trail." Left side of the highway is hardly helpful as left is a relative direction. And while the parking lot is on the east side of the road, the sign is on the west side. So we actually pulled into the correct parking lot without realizing, then backtracked to a state park to ask a ranger. As a reward for not knowing where we were going, we got to witness this view:

The ranger gave us clearer directions and we eventually located the Hobbit Trail, so named because of the twisty trees and overhanging canopy that make you feel small like a hobbit? Or something? I'll have to rewatch Lord of Rings to give you any better explanation than that, but it was a easy hike with nice scenery. At a few points you had to limbo under branches blocking the trail.

Hobbit Trail. Same photo here, in brighter colors.



After not too long, the trail deposits you on a secluded beach that was empty when we arrived. We sat and read a bit and enjoyed the scenery. California is beautiful too, but the best spots near San Francisco are usually crowded. The beautiful spots in Oregon were much more deserted.

No other people on Hobbit Trail beach

The Pacific Ocean is cold.


Along the way, we stopped for ice cream in Yachats, which seems to be everyone's favorite coastal Oregon town. Absolutely everyone we asked for Oregon recommendations mentioned Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots). The local ice cream shop carried Tillamook ice cream, made farther up the Oregon coast in the town of Tillamook. I enjoyed black cherry and Ben ate something that was probably equally yummy but more chocolate-y, all of which reminds me that we need to find Tillamook in San Francisco, because it was seriously delicious.



We planned to camp that night at Beachside Recreation Area, which I had also been looking forward to because you can camp right next to the beach (I have a thing for beaches). But when we arrived, we learned the only remaining campsites were not next to the beach, but next to the highway. To make things worse, as we were touring the campground, it started raining. Now we're not idiots. We know it rains a lot in Oregon and we had waterproofed all our stuff. But it had been sunny all day and at that very moment we weren't wearing our rain gear. So we were getting wet and we had to decide whether to camp next to a highway or continue in the rain in search of a better option. We opted to try Tillicum Beach, just a few miles away. And again, most of the remaining campsites were near the highway. Except for one. I saw its potential right away but Ben was skeptical. It was right next to the walkway to the beach and he thought we'd have no privacy. I apparently sounded so sad at the prospect of not getting to camp next to the ocean that I won out, luckily for both us because this is where we got to spend the night.


We had plenty of privacy and after slicing some onions in the tent, the rain even let up for long enough to eat dinner and sit by our campfire. The next morning, we walked the beach without the storm clouds.

Day 5: Tillicum Beach to Portland (150 miles)

We had been planning to grab some breakfast on the way to Portland. I was texting with our AirBnB host in Portland to coordinate our arrival and mentioned we were near Yachats, to which I received this reply: "Yachats is my favorite town. Hope you're having breakfast at the Green Salmon!" Good enough for us, off to the Green Salmon Diner we went. Ben is still talking about how good his lox sandwich was. And our latte was big enough to caffeinate several giants.

Espresso and lox at the Green Salmon Diner


We detoured along a scenic byway to a lookout with some nice views, which you can see in the photos below. Then we headed inland and didn't see much along the way, except for a bunch of trees. The Willamette Valley (pronounced wil-LAM-it) outside of Portland is famous for its wine, but we arrived too late to do any tastings. We did pop into a coffee shop in McMinnville, where we shared a Mexican hot chocolate and played Uno. By late afternoon, we pulled into our AirBnB place in Portland, more than ready for a real bed, some clean clothes and a break from riding.
 


Keep reading to follow along as we explore Portland.

- Steph

I tried to include only the very best photos in these posts, but we took many more. I included a few more favorites in the slideshow below.


Panorama view of the Oregon Dunes

Scroll to the right to see the whole thing:

panorama oregon dunes

- Steph

Road trip: California coast

August 19, 2014
For the first part of the trip, we drove straight up the coast, from San Francisco to Portland (read about how we chose our route). It took us five days to cover 750 miles and we camped every night. A few of the highlights: ribs in Cloverdale, redwood-lined highways, hiking the Oregon Dunes and a beautiful campsite on the ocean.

Day 1: San Francisco to Fort Bragg (165 miles)

We wanted to make our way through northern California fairly quickly, so we headed straight up Route 101 until Cloverdale, where we cut over to the coast. This route had two advantages. First, we stopped for the most delicious ribs in Cloverdale. I was imagining a nice large salad for lunch so I wasn't thrilled when Ben spotted a sign for BBQ and quickly turned in. I got over it, though, because these ribs were amazing. So amazing that we're going back there in October for my birthday. The second advantage was that we finally got to drive Route 128 through Anderson Valley. As we were setting off, some other bikers came over, asked about our route and commented: "Enjoy. It's the best stretch of road in California."

Boonville, in Anderson Valley
Route 128 through Anderson Valley

We took a wine and ice cream break in Boonville, which prompted me to vow to eat ice cream every day on the trip (we ate a lot of ice cream, though not quite every day). We picked a winery at random because we hadn't done any advance research. The wine was only mediocre but the conversation was engaging. We learned that Mendocino County banned the cultivation, production and distribution of genetically modified crops, making it the first jurisdiction in the country with such a policy. We also learned that many of the landowners out there are expecting to replace their grapes with marijuana once marijuana is legalized. The X factor for them is how much the price of marijuana will fall once it's legalized. At the moment, those who are growing marijuana are making many many times more per acre than those growing grapes. And finally, we learned a bit about "dry" wines and residual sugar. According to this particular winemaker, wines that are labeled as "dry" in the United States can have up to 1% residual sugar, whereas in Europe the upper limit is either .3% or .4%. Also according to him, at some point, no one's taste buds can taste the residual sugar, but Europeans pick it up at lower levels than Americans do. (I can't verify any of this on the internet, but it was interesting nonetheless.)

We left Boonville and continued on to Fort Bragg, where we ate at North Coast Brewing Company. When we first moved to California, an employee at Whole Foods recommended a wheat beer named Blue Star. We've been drinking it ever since (it has competition lately though from our favorite Oregon beers). At some point, I discovered the brewery was in Fort Bragg and have been waiting for the chance to go. Fort Bragg is a bit far for a weekend getaway so this trip presented the perfect opportunity. We split a pizza and a beer flight (the first of many on this trip). Our sampler included a Red Seal amber sale, an Old Rasputin Russian imperial ale, a Brother Thelonius Belgian-style abbey ale, a PranQster Belgian-style abbey ale and possibly one other. Then we headed to our campsite at Russian Gulch, coincidentally the second campground we ever stayed at in California.

Day 2: Fort Bragg to Crescent City (217 miles)

At 217 miles, our second day was one of the longest driving days on our trip, but we were pleasantly surprised by how manageable and even enjoyable it was. In the northernmost part of California, Route 1 no longer hugs the coast, instead it meets up with 101 inland, before 101 heads back to the coast at Eureka. But for an inland, highway stretch, this was a pretty great one, with lots of wide open vistas. The best part is that for 31 miles you can escape 101 and follow the Avenue of the Giants through groves of giant redwood trees. We had done this drive in a car and had been eagerly awaiting the chance to do it again on a motorcycle, which made the trees feel even more impressive.








There were also hundreds of other bikes on the road because of a big Harley rally occurring in Piercy. A bunch of people asked us if that's where we were headed, but big biker rallies aren't for us, plus we ride a Triumph, not a Harley. One side effect of having so many bikers on the road, though, was that everyone stopped acknowledging each other. Normally when two bikes pass each other, the drivers wave, left hand down in an open palm or V. It's a cool custom. If you've never noticed it, watch for it next time you see two motorcyclists pass each other coming from opposite directions. But with so many bikes on the road, everyone dropped the wave. We waved as normal for the first part of the day but gave it up because a) no one was waving back and b) it's kind of annoying to wave every two seconds.


On our first California road trip, as newbies to the state, we paid to picnic at a state park, even though we were camping at a different state park that evening. Now we know all the rules, including that your camping fees gets you free entrance to all other state parks the day of and after your reservation. That means that we enjoy stopping at state parks if we want to take a break, because they're usually pretty and have picnic tables and restrooms. This time we stopped at Richardson Grove State Park for a nice lunch of bread, cheese and nuts (we highly recommend this cinnamon swirl bread, it's 100% whole wheat and amazingly fluffy). We followed that up with a coffee and second lunch in Eureka. We almost bought some fresh salmon for dinner but didn't want all our stuff to smell like fish, so we shelved that idea for a later day and continued to a campground at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, just south of the Oregon border. When we arrived, the ranger warned us that a baby bear was wandering the camgpround. We weren't to touch or approach him because if he didn't learn to stay away from people they'd have to kill him. They believe his mother was killed on the highway not long after he was born so he's been on his own.

Ben washes laundry in our new Scrubba.
For dinner, we made our favorite camping meal: pasta with onion and sausage. And Ben tried to do laundry with our Scrubba. (You can see how that turned out here. Hint: not as well as hoped.) We also made a campfire, which turned into a bit of a tradition on this trip. Our first campfire together dates to our first camping trip on Cape Cod, but we often skip the fire in favor of cooking on our Pocket Rocket because Ben doesn't enjoy the lingering smoke smell on all our belongings. I requested a fire on this night because we weren't carrying effective bug spray. And now that Ben has realized that fire has magical bug-repelling powers, he's 100% on board. I think we made a fire nearly every night we camped. (Mosquitos take an unnatural liking to Ben so keeping them at bay is a herculean task).

Assorted thoughts

Overall, we were both amazed at how well everything worked out on this trip, starting with the fact that we actually fit everything on the bike. I was skeptical that 2.5 weeks worth of stuff would fit on one little motorcycle (by cruiser standards, our bike is small). I would estimate that we have less space than we would if we were each carrying a hiking backpack. So when I packed up everything the night before and had space to spare, I was certain that we'd end up in Oregon with no toothpaste, no underwear and no way to cook anything. Turns out we did have everything. We've just gotten very good at only bringing the essentials, plus every trip we make a few space-saving upgrades. This time, we brought a Scrubba to wash our clothes, which let us cut back on how much we needed to bring. We also bought motorcycle pants, which meant we left our jeans and rain pants at home. And Ben replaced his heavy fleece with a much lighter North Face jacket.

We also benefited from two new gadgets: headsets and a USB charger. Our old headsets had never been great — we couldn't listen to music on them and only Ben could initiate conversations, but at least we could communicate to each other, which was the primary purpose. But a few months before our trip, our headsets started to fizzle out. Even when shouting, the other person could maybe pick up a few words. We replaced them with brand new Sena SMH-10 headsets, with about three times the battery life and the ability to pair with our phones. We also mounted a USB charger and a phone holder on the bike, which meant that we could keep our phones fully charged, while also using them for music and navigation. Ben could even ask Siri for directions when we realized we didn't know where to go. We could also use the USB charger to charge the GoPro remote, which has a terrible battery life. And if we had brought the right cable, we would have been able to charge the GoPro.

Keep reading to follow along as we travel up the Oregon coast.

- Steph