The Washington-Portland Excursion

Posted by Arlo on Nov 8, 2008 under Life of Arlo

Kiteboarders on the Columbia

Oksana wanted to know if I would accompany her to Portland for the weekend. She was bound for her first business conference – a thrilling adventure shared by all Toyota comptrollers of the Pacific Northwest – all I could look forward to was a couple days alone in the hotel room. You know what they say: A boring day sitting in a hotel room is better than a great day at work. I told her I’d be happy to make a long weekend out of it as long as she handled the details.

Our Wednesday departure date came along in late October; we put in half a day at the office and then hit the airport. Oksana scored some first class upgrades, so our Seattle to Juneau leg was a little more comfortable than usual.

We arrived late in the evening, grabbed our rental car (which was upgraded to a Dodge Avenger because all the compacts were taken) and started driving along the Columbia River towards Stevenson, Washington. Oksana, unused to big city night driving, was forced into the driver seat on account of my outstanding warrant in Oregon. [1] Fortunately, traffic was light (although the wind was strong) and we pulled into Stevenson about forty-five minutes after leaving the airport.

The conference was held at the Skamania Lodge – a sprawling complex, luxuriously fashioned, complete with manicured grounds, golf course, and spa. While Oksana spent the day networking with her fellow accountants, I passed most of the time in our room, enjoying the excellent wireless internet on our new laptop. Oh, it wasn’t all blog-writing and Warcraft playing. When the sun broke through the clouds, I hopped in the car and drove down to the main street in search of a few Diet Cokes.

Oksana was fairly busy the first day, but she managed to break away for an hour or two just before dinner. The sun was out, even if the strong winds off the Columbia were a bit chilly, and we decided to walk along the waterfront. Three bewetsuited kite surfers were out on the water, tacking back and forth the entire width of the river. We stopped for awhile to take pictures of them and the beautiful fall colors around us.

Kiteboarder coming in to shore

Later, walking along the paved path high above the waterline, I noticed a handful of rotting apples on the ground. Looking up, the tree was loaded with tiny green apples. One of the larger specimens was within reach; I picked it for Oksana. She pocketed it for later, wanting to wash it first. Back at the hotel, she took the first bite. I expected such a small, green apple to be tart, hard, unripe. Her face lit up and she pushed it to me. I took my own tentative bite and was surprised to taste a perfectly ripe apple. Neither mushy nor hard, not even a little bit bitter; except for its size, it would be the cream of the crop at the grocery store. I think maybe Washington might be on to something with their apples.

Oksana points out fruit


Day two at the lodge was much like day one, except that I had to check out of the room a few hours before Oksana’s conference was officially over. I spent about an hour and a half surfing the internet from a lounge chair out in front of the lodge, getting slightly, deliciously, sunburned. Oksana brought me cookies on her breaks.

We seriously considering staying at the lodge another night, but instead opted to let Priceline secure us a good deal on a hotel in downtown Portland. 4-star hotels were a minimum of $149; we bid $89 and got a reservation at the Hotel Monaco. While the free evening wine social, chair massages, excellent wi-fi, and “if the mood takes you” leopard -print lingerie in the closet were all appreciated, I was really just happy to be walking distance from Powell Books.

Our plan was to hit the bookstore in the morning, be we made such good time getting out of Stevenson, we still had daylight to burn after reaching Portland. We strolled on over and spent the next two hours browsing a whole city block full of books.

At first, I despaired that Powell Books was simply too large. I reflected that to fully enjoy the experience the store has to offer, one has to either stop by often or come to the store with a huge list in hand. After wandering through six rooms and any number of Dewey categories without a single book, I began to worry that I’d leave empty handed.

And then, the sci-fi section. Seven aisles, floor to ceiling, literally hundreds of shelves of new and used books that were right up my alley. Oksana saw the writing on the wall (so to speak.) With a wave over her shoulder, she said, “I’ll be back in the accounting section.”

Surprisingly, we made it out of there for only $63. And for the record, I was ready to go before Oksana. She found the cooking section.

Our main goal accomplished, we were all ready to leave Portland the next morning. We woke up early, got some coffee at Starbucks and walked back towards Powell’s to visit the Whole Foods store. Oksana picked us up some road food while I stopped at every camera store along the route looking for a decent monopod (no luck.)

We tossed around a lot of options. Drive up to Mount St. Helen’s to see the big ‘splody mountain? Call up any of a number of friends in Oregon and ask if they were free for lunch? We settled on the choice with the least commitment – drive down the coast, see where the road takes us.

It was a fantastic choice. The suburbs of Portland quickly fell away to rural country roads. The sun slanted through the leaves, highlighting fall colors that far surpassed mere “yellows” and “reds.” Patches of scarlet and gold broke through the evergreen canopy; we were driving through a Porsche commercial.

Our first stop was slightly north of where we intersected the coast. Seaside, aptly named, gave us our first views of the tempestuous waves pounding the Oregon coast. The wind, which tore a thick mist from the cresting waves, was chilly enough to necessitate a fleece, but its picturesque affect on the far hillside was worth it.

Arlo and Oksana in Seaside, Oregon

Oksana on a stump

Misty view in Seaside

Driving south, we pulled over periodically to take pictures of the rocky formations along the jagged coastline while discussing their symbolic contribution to the cinematic masterpiece, the Goonies.

Oregon coastline

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in the sizeable Lincoln City. We pulled over at a beach access parking lot and checked for a wireless signal. It was sporadic, but good enough for us to book a room at a hotel across the way. Another fancy deal (for us), the O’dyssus offered a wine social, free breakfast delivered to our room, and a 6pm “turn down service.” We just liked the gas fireplace in our room.

We skipped the wine social again, however, and stepped across the road to a seafood restaurant called Kyllo’s. The food was good, if nothing to rave about, and we watched to sun swell and sink into the ocean while we ate.

While we were in the room, Oksana was flipping through a magazine full of advertisements. She discovered that Lincoln City was home to a outlet mall; one with a Coach store. This is the part where the guys go, “Huh?” and the girls go, “How much did she spend?” Two bags, two-fifty.

Our flight was due to leave Portland at 6pm, so we drove out of Lincoln City around noon. Our GPS wanted to route us through I-5, but I figured we had enough time to wind our way through more rural wonderlands. We marveled at the fall colors, listened to RadioLab and This American Life and the Dr. Horrible soundtrack on Oksana’s iPod, and generally enjoyed another relaxing drive.

Back near the airport, we stopped at Costco to fill the rental’s tank. At $2.35 a gallon, fully $2 less than back home, we topped off the tank at a mind-bogglingly-low $36. Not bad for close to four hundred miles of roaming.

We killed our last hour in Portland wandering the aisles of Costco. Oksana couldn’t resist the sushi, I had to buy one more book, and, of course, a hotdog “for the road.” We both admitted that we it was time to go before we bought enough stuff to warrant a new piece of luggage.

Everything about the airport went smoothly. We returned the car, checked in our newly overloaded bag (a full pound-and-a-half below the limit!), cruised through security, and enjoyed free PDX Wi-Fi while waiting for our flight.

In Seattle, we were warned that the weather in Juneau was spotty, but we were flying first class again and couldn’t be bothered. I figured the worst that could happen was we spend another night in a hotel and I skip another day of work. We drank our free drinks, ate our in-flight dinner, and enjoyed our extra legroom all the way home.

Back in Juneau, we suffered a 40 degree temperature drop. While we’d been driving with the windows down in 75 degree weather, our friends were celebrating the first snow of the season. We’d only been gone four days, but the sun, the relaxation, the respite from the unrelenting rain of Juneau, all somehow contributed to an extended weekend that seemed much longer.

View of the Oregon Coast Highway

We didn’t realize it until we were there, but we needed this trip to Portland. It would have been the perfect pre-winter get away… if we hadn’t already lined up an even better one in November. Argentina, here we come!

[1] To be fair, I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations is up on that. [x]