North By Northwest: Wintery Oregon Days Housesitting & Exploring

November 2015

My heart was pounding louder than a big bass drum. I stepped up to the counter positive the immigration officer could hear the THUD THUD. We had arrived in Dallas on route to Portland and this was the moment of truth. We had used 87 days of our 90 day visa allowance on our first stay in the USA. Would three weeks in Costa Rica be enough to reset the clock? We had heard horror stories of people being held or denied access. It wasn’t the thought of not being in the US that had us so nervous, but the fact that we would be letting people down. 

Julie waved her passport at the automatic machines and was granted instant access. Trembling with fear, I stood in front of the nicest, most charming immigration officer we had met. Welcome to the USA and Happy Thanksgiving. YES!

sunset over the vines

The north west of the USA would be home for the next two and half months. After a bus ride from Portland, first stop a house sit in Eugene, Oregon. A week long stint looking after several rescue animals. To be precise - 2 dogs, 4 cats, 1 very old parrot, 2 rams and several chickens. Our host, Barbara, lives on an 8 acre vineyard. On our first afternoon Barbara took us for tastings at two of the vineyards she has supplied grapes to. A great start to the week.

Barbara’s home is full of books, puzzles, DVDs and a running machine. No getting bored here. For a birthday treat for yours truly, we booked tickets to watch the local college basketball team, Oregon Ducks v Fresno State. Not quite a full house but still plenty of atmosphere helped by the energetic cheerleaders and marching bands. The Ducks hung on to win 78-73, the crowd went quackers.

After spending so much time in warmer climates, the cold of Oregon took its toll. I spent a couple of days in bed with a severe case of man flu. I did manage to drag myself out for lunch at Papas Soul Food Kitchen, who serve up good wholesome southern fare. Instead of a birthday cake, Julie baked a delicious blueberry pie. Went down a treat with a scoop of the local ice cream.

Unfortunately, on Barbara’s return, we found a hole in the roof of the chicken coop. Some chickens and a duck had fallen prey to local wildlife. We were gutted.

Next, time to explore with a road trip. With record-breaking rainfall in the area, we skimmed down the Oregon coast, back up the freeway to Portland and along the magnificent Columbia River Gorge.

Our first stop was the charming town of Astoria. Decked in all its winter finery. We checked into the resplendent Commodore Hotel and were offered a turntable and some vinyl for the room. Politely declining, we did take them up on the offer of a free beer tasting.

chic digs

In need of refreshment, we wandered the streets until we found Himani Indian Cuisine. A cavernous venue with just one waitress (it was a quiet night), complete with a baby strapped to her back. The tasty curries were just what the doctor ordered.

After dinner, our next stop was purely for research purposes. We popped into one of the new kind of stores that have opened up throughout Oregon. After completing a simple questionnaire and providing proof of ID, we were granted entry to the back store, an Aladdin’s cave. Hundreds of sweetie jars filled the shelves full of pot with groovy names such as Dr. Who and Lamb’s Breath. Pot or weed or ganga or grass or broccoli (yes broccoli) has been legal for personal use in Oregon since July 2015. It’s legal to buy, carry and use, all within strict limits and if you are over 21. Washington, the neighbouring state has raised more taxes through legal sales of marijuana than it knows what to do with. Research completed, we giggled and weaved our way back to the hotel.

We had only the one night in Astoria, but it’s certainly somewhere we could happily return to. The rain dampened our desire to climb up the Astoria Column.

The following day we hugged the coast or what we could see of it through the driving rain, passing through several super cute seaside towns. We stopped to dive out between showers to take a few snaps of some rusting Kombis at the side of the road.

We arrived at Lincoln City and found a nice motel style lodge, Coho Oceanfront Lodge. The best rate was only available online. So I stood in the reception jumped on and then showed the receptionist the booking confirmation. This is the modern world. Our room offered impressive views of the wild coast. Not much to do other than watch the waves pound the beach.

wild pacific coast

Heading further south we stopped at Depoe Bay. This is the centre for whale watching in the area. From mid-December through to late January, thousands of whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska down to warmer climes of Mexico. Given the weather, all that was on offer was the waves crashing through blowholes in the rocks. 

We could not head any further south as the road was closed due to a shooting. Only in America. So we headed inland and up to Lake Oswego, just south of Portland, to catch up with a fellow New England Patriot nut. Becoming buddies through a Patriots Facebook page, we met up with Chester who runs the Oswego Grill. We had a blast, talking football and enjoying a delicious meal. We were blown away when Chester picked up the bill. A very generous gesture.

we have 4 Super Bowls, looking for a fifth

The wild weather continued as we headed through the Columbia River Gorge, keeping away all but the hardiest of hikers. We jumped on the historic highway 30 and made our way to Hood River, stopping at Latourell Falls to complete the two-mile loop walk. The scenery is simply breathtaking; moss covered trees and waterfalls at every turn. The low cloud seeped through the valley creating an eerie atmosphere. There is little wonder that the gorge is the number one thing to do when in Portland. 

Hood River is another charming town glistening with winter lights. Dinner was at a funky pizza restaurant called Solstice; most likely the best pizza we have had in a year.

Day two in the gorge, we set off to tackle the Eagle Creek trail. A ten kilometre walk through lush forest. The torrential rain had created hundreds of small waterfalls, with water cascading over our heads as we trekked up a narrow path.  Soaked through and with squelching boots we decided to turn around halfway at Punch Bowl waterfall. A nice warm soak in the bath beckoned.

wet and wild

river runs through it

At the Columbia Gorge Discovery Centre, we learned about the two guys that feature on most of the road signs. Lewis and Clark explored this region on behalf of President Jefferson in the early 1800’s. By chance, we also enjoyed a live raptor display with several rescued disabled hawks and an owl.

It's a hoot in here

Oregon is an interesting and diverse state. Rugged coast-line, fantastic forests, gob-smacking scenery, great tasting wines, laid back locals and enough rain to fill an ocean. As modern day explorers, we loved retracing some of the steps that Lewis and Clark took.