40th Birthday Arrival - Portland, We Love You!

The penultimate day of my 40th birthday weekend was an easy 25+ mile ride along the Columbia River from St. Helens to Portland. Following a restful night and not so enticing stay at the Best Western, we were ready to depart early for Portland. The boys filled up on pancakes, while Janelle and I winced during our meal – a “free breakfast buffet.” (For your information the word “buffet” is akin to a four-letter word in our local-vore, organics only, chef-bespoken household).  The ride from St. Helens to Portland was uneventful. No flats! Just the occasional stop to pump up Caleb’s slow leak (we went through all 5 spare tires!).

The ride along Oregon Highway 30 is easy, but less appealing than central Washington in terms of scenery. Riding through several industrial areas in Northwest Portland was not ideal; however arriving in the Pearl District was a delight (home to an abundant number of cafes, boutiques and Powell’s bookstore). For those who have not visited the Rose City; Portland is akin to the Netherlands in terms of cycle-friendliness. Dedicated bicycle lanes are abundant throughout downtown, and the gradual slope alongside the river makes it easy for riders of all levels.

Thanks to Priceline, we got to enjoy a fantastic 4-star hotel in Portland center city – the Hilton Portland Executive Tower (what a contrast to St. Helen’s Best Western!). After checking in, we took a swim in the pool and then relaxed in the hot tub. (I need a pool / hot tub at our home in Seattle!) That afternoon, we mozied through downtown, landing at Portland’s famous “food truck” scene at 9th and Alder. We all got our individual fix at our preferred street vendor. Yum!

Early afternoon, we strolled south to Director Square at 8th and Taylor – a great outdoor public space, boasting a vibrant scene for people watching and public fountains (attracting children for endless entertainment). We love water! Late afternoon, we reposed at the Regal Cinema (across the street). Perfect! In the evening we enjoyed dinner at Dragonfish, a Northwest staple restaurant for asian food. Our fabulous friends, Matt and Kristin, joined us afterwards (prior to their departure to sail to Canada).

We dropped Anthony and Caleb off at the hotel (to unwind), while Janelle and I went out with our friends to Bailey’s Taproom (a local brew-master pub). Amidst the laughter and stories of Matt and Kristin’s voyage preparations, we got to enjoy several of Portland famous brews. The great benefit of the cycling trip – indulging in food and spirits with NO guilt. ;) Late that evening we casually made our way back to the hotel for a quick nightcap and goodbye to Matt and Kristin.

We slept well and then had a final rendezvous with one of my favorite relatives – Uncle Everett! We had a cup of coffee and reminisced about past times in Portland. Anthony and Caleb got to enjoy some great stories of Everett’s adventures cycling up pill-hill in Portland (as a young doctor, decades before Portland became a bicycle Mecca). The cap stone of Everett’s stories was the daily battle he encountered with Portland’s metro bus service: he eventually installed a rubber-mallet on his bike handlebars to “thump” the buses who were not providing due respect to “share the road”. We laughed heartily.

Finally, we departed Portland – by train! After 220+ miles of cycling, countless memories and adventures (e.g. flats), my 40th birthday weekend came to an end. We loaded our bikes aboard Amtrak (for only $5 each – EASY!), then slow-rolled north to Seattle. It was a fantastic birthday weekend – one which I will recall fondly for decades to come. My birthday wish came true. ;)


40th B'day Excursion - Day 4

Day 4 of our 5 day adventure was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and we planned a leisurely day of cycling from Kelso, Washington to St. Helens, Oregon – only 30+ miles. Before the day began we decided to give the boys a fresh dose of an American tradition – going to Denny’s. ;) Better yet, it was my official 40th birthday - so Denny’s celebrated my day with a free Grand Slam Breakfast. Yipee! Note, we are a family of food snobs – my spouse is chef and writer, we frequent chef-owned restaurants in the food-Mecca of Seattle, and we travel a lot – so we are full of opinions. But, nothing beats the greasy-spoon classic Denny’s. Ironically, none of us felt “classic” afterwards; all of us were a bit lethargic and ready to crawl back in bed.

After a late start, we gathered our bikes and rode through downtown Longview, before approaching the “Lewis and Clark Bridge” – a massive cantilever bridge spanning the Columbia from Washington to Oregon (same designer as the Golden Gate bridge). While the bridge originally accommodated both pedestrians and motorists (built as a private tollway) – subsequent improvements have all but forgotten people. We elected to walk our bikes up and over 2.3km bridge with a peak of 340ft (a long, tall bridge) – windy too. (Note, I would not recommend even walking over the bridge for young children, our adolescent boys are experienced cyclists and of adult-size already. As an alternative, it is not uncommon for local trucks to offer a ride over the bridge – pick up at gas station/espresso stops on either side of the bridge – you’ll need to offer about $20).

Upon cresting the Lewis and Clark bridge, we crossed the Washington/Oregon state line and rode downhill into Rainier. Hooray! 200 meters later, and another flat! Yet again, Caleb had gotten stymied by radial-shrapnel (from semi-truck blowouts left-over alongside the road). After realizing we had no more spare tires for the boys (and a few expletives on my part), I sat down roadside to “teach” the boys how to repair a flat (then wait and let it dry…). Fortunately, an espresso stand and bathroom were nearby, so we may good use of the break (as Denny’s passed through all of us).

Oregon Highway 30 (Starting in Astoria) is a traditional start/end point for trans-America cyclists (going East across the entire state of Oregon following much of the Columbia River). However, a Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, and nothing was open (including, no bicycle shops). After reassembling Caleb’s bike, we clambered back aboard and rode along to St. Helens. It was an easy, rolling river-basin ride and we made good time as our pace quickened drafting one another. We did have to stop about every 6-10 miles to pump Caleb’s sagging tire, but it worked. While stopped, we met some local cyclists and Europeans too – setting off to cycle across America (cool!). By mid-day we arrived in St. Helen and unloaded in our hotel, the Best Western. Unfortunately, the hotel was a “dump” – easily one of the worst of many travels near and far. Undeterred, we unloaded quickly and then set-off to find the best food experience we could off the highway, down along St Helen’s quaint waterfront (Note, whenever accommodations suck, we always elect to splurge on a great meal – it can make up for a lot).

Downtown St. Helens boast some nice B&Bs and great food options (from fine dining to pub grub). We collectively decided to try the Klondike Restaurant & Bar and were delighted. Offering a variety of bistro and burger favorites, the Klondike hit the “mark” for all of us. Our enjoyment was further complemented by great, draft root beer for the boys and fantastic cocktails (meaning, like top 3 places we’ve had cocktails worldwide). Janelle and I were shocked! Thankfully we did not drive, so we ordered several concoctions of the Klondike’s talented bartender. Like I said, a great food (and drink experience) can easily overcome poor accommodations. Score!

Unfortunately, the ride back to the hotel after our meal (about one mile away) was a bit painful. Note to self, stay in one of St. Helens fancy B&Bs (within walking distance) for a get-away weekend with Janelle. We’ll be back. ;)


40th B'day Excursion-Day 3 (Sun!)

On Day 3 of cycling from Seattle to Portland (STP) we were greeted by a warm, sunny morning (our prayers were answered!). We were already half-way through our trip (in terms of mileage), but the next 3 days promised to be slow and easy 35-mile jaunts. In fact this section of the STP route, Chehalis to Kelso proved to be the most appealing stretch of the entire trip. Rolling hills, deserted stretches of country roads, quaint small towns (Napavine), and quirky tributes to put a town “on-the-map” (e.g. the World’s largest egg in Winlock!).
Despite another flat (James) and a broken chain (Anthony), we had a fantastic day. Note, good equipment and tools (in this case, a spare master link which I carried the first time on this trip) is the difference between a quick 15-minute fix, and a significant wrench in your plans.
Just after midday, we landed at Hattie’s in Castle Rock: a classic, small town diner that boasted great burgers and milk shakes (we were satiated). We cruised the last 10+ miles into Kelso, then arrived at the Red Lion Hotel. That evening, we were in for a surprise. We walked over to the Kelso “fun center”, where we had a raucous good time bowling (disco lights and all), playing glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, and ordering pizza and wings to go. Music was appropriately themed too, with classics by Journey, Van Halen and REO Speedwagen, took me back to my youth. Ironically, my kids love "Classic Rock" too (thanks to the Guitar Hero product managers!) Though the food in Kelso left much to be desired, the fun center activities were unexpected and refreshing – not soon to be forgotten.


40th Birthday Excursion - Day 2

Planning our cycling trip from Seattle to Portland (STP), I had forewarned my family that Day 2 would be the most tedious and challenging stretch of our ride (65+ miles). What we didn’t expect was being saddle sore, and the onslaught of God’s wrath - generally reserved for January (versus end of May).

Despite a humble beginning cycling through Puyallup (including a one-mile walk uphill – the most difficult on the STP route), torrents of rain, hail and wind arrived during the most treacherous segment of our trip: a 15+ mile, two-lane highway along the south-side of Fort Lewis.

I had forewarned my family about the highway (boasting a meager 18-inch wide side strip), but the weather made it downright perilous. Large, 18-wheel semi-trucks roared past us, hail pelted us, and we were wet to the bone (notwithstanding ‘water-proof’ shells). Sadly, we were geared for summer cycling – with the hail, temperatures dropped into the 40’s: it was COLD.

Good fortune carried us safely to Yelm, where we had the reprieve of a great cycling trail (off the highway) and some respite from the rain. Notwithstanding’s Caleb’s flat tire (#2 – no worries, 3 more spares), we made it to a great off-the-trail diner in the middle of nowhere (Sonja’s CafĂ©: Rainier, WA). The owner greeted Janelle and the boys with warm towels to dry off, and an order of hot cocoas was placed immediately. We ate our fill (burgers for the boys, and a bento box for James/Janelle); it was a great find.

With only 25 miles left to Chehalis, we thought the worst was behind us. Then, God unleashed the rains and floods – seriously 3+ inches of water rushing across the roads as we cycled into Centralia. Either we were in a state of delirium induced by hypothermia, or perhaps it was the impossibility of it all, but we all started laughing hysterically. ;)

A few miles prior to our hotel Caleb graced us with another flat tire (#3 – no worries, 2 more spares). We unpacked and enjoyed the reliable service offered by the Chehalis Holiday Inn Express, including a quick dip in the pool to refresh ourselves. Afterwards, we walked downtown to enjoy a wonderful dinner at The Shire. We are ‘food snobs’ and must admit to being pleasantly surprised finding the Shire in Chehalis – we enjoyed salmon, short ribs, lamb, wine (Oregon Pinot Noir) and excellent service. It was a great nightcap, to a seemingly impossible day. In consideration for my sons’ efforts, I agreed to buy them new wetsuits (seriously); and I promised Janelle the next 40 years of my life (and fair weather cycling trips in our future). ;)

We fell into bed, and chuckled as we watched Uncle Buck before dozing off to sleep.


40th Birthday Excursion - Day 1

My wife Janelle asked me what I wanted for my 40th birthday – some suggestions: (a) a trip to some warm exotic location, (b) a fun weekend in Las Vegas, or (c) a night out on the town to soak up food, entertainment and a 4-star hotel in downtown Seattle? I passed on all the above.

My 40th birthday wish was simple – I wanted “time” with my family, unobstructed by our normal lives. Good clean fun, games, entertainment and conversation together. I suggested [and eventually coaxed my family into] a leisurely 5-day cycling trip from Seattle to Portland. 200+ miles together: no email, yard work, soccer games or other obligations to distract from my birthday celebration. Given my birthday is May 29th, we leveraged the long, Memorial-day weekend, plus a couple of vacation days for good measure. Naturally, we don’t like to rush when we cycle. We like to stop and have a glass of wine, spontaneously drop in on a flea market, or peruse antique stores en route.

We departed Seattle mid-day on Thursday, with spotty clouds threatening rain. We cycled from our front door, 3 blocks down the hill to the Burke Gilman trail, along the north shore of Lake Union/Portage Bay, before heading south along Lake Washington.

We were making good time, and getting back into “gear” (just like cycling across Europe). The sun broke through the clouds as we made our way along South Lake Washington and I was enjoying the moment. Then phew! – Anthony got a flat tire as we entered Renton (thanks to some metal debris on the road). Fortunately, I was ready for a quick repair job (4 more spares in my pannier), and the friendly Renton Midas car repair shop gladly allowed us to use their air compressor for a quick, air refill. Thank you Midas!

Thereafter, we jumped onto the Interurban trail in Tukwila and headed south through Kent and Auburn. It was casual ride on a wide, safe bike trail that afforded us time to just talk and soak up the environment. Eventually we landed at the Sumner Holiday Inn Express for our first night sleep (about 35 miles in on our first day). We ordered pizza to the hotel, swam in the pool, and relaxed our muscles in the hot tub. Relief! It was a great spot to unwind, right off the Interurban trail. Day one accomplished. We were on our way.


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