Visiting Pat in Oregon


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Pat Doesn't Live in Portland Anymore

October 2, 2006

Didnít Pat move out to Portland last year?  Thatís what I thought, and thatís what Iíd been telling everyone. It turns out I was wrong.  In fact, she lives in the boondocks.  It takes about an hour to get from Portland to Patís new house, and itís like traveling from civilization to Jurassic Park.  Where Pat lives, cougars eat your pets for lunch. Volcanoes erupt and pour lava on your neighborhood.  The rain falls in tropical forest quantities, yet summer is called fire season because the forests get so dry.  You live in the shadow of a huge mountain, and yet you never see it.  The snow begins in September and can accumulate to more than 20 feet high.  Everyone owns a truck, and they all do crazy things like camping, hiking, kayaking, and skiing.  And, weirdest of all, the locals assign odd names to places:  Zigzag Village (Patís ďdevelopmentĒ); Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain (a nearby peak); and Government Camp (a popular little town halfway up to Mt. Hood).

My trip began on the morning of Friday, September 15, with my usual frantic race to the Philadelphia Airport.  With all the new security measures, they always say things like, ďGet to the airport three hours early.Ē  Apparently, thatís not my style.  After some nerve-racking rush-hour delays, I arrived at the airport with less than an hour until my flight.  Somehow that was enough.  I always thought Portland was a big city, but unfortunately it is not big enough to merit more than one direct flight per day from Philadelphia.  My itinerary took me through Phoenix, and I had just enough time there to savor their hot, dry, sunny weather, knowing that my next few days would be quite a bit different than that.

Our war on terrorism is never far from the minds of air travelers.  I, for one, hate those new restrictions on bringing fluids onto airplanes, and I happen to think theyíre stupid.  My ears have big-time trouble during air travel, and I always make sure to have a bottle of water to sip on descent.  The airlines are very stingy with their drinks, so I have taken to bringing a bottle on board with me.  On this trip, that was not possible.  (Fortunately, the Transportation Security Administration has since loosened the restrictions on liquids.)  One byproduct of the latest security measures was the scant amount of carry-on baggage.  The flight to Phoenix was completely sold out and filled up, and yet Iíve never seen the overhead compartments so empty.

Although the war on terrorism is mostly an inconvenience for air travelers, for a few people it is much more than that.  As our flight descended into Phoenix, the pilot announced several times that a woman in the sixth row was a military escort, and that in order for her to perform her duties, she must be the first one off the airplane, so no one in the first six rows should stand up until she had gotten off the plane.  We were told nothing else about the duties of the military escort, but after I got off the plane I looked out the window of our gate:  A casket was being carefully and solemnly removed from the cargo section.

Nine and a half hours after departing Philadelphia, my flight arrived on schedule in Portland.  Pat was there to greet me on the other side of security.  She quickly disabused me of my belief that she lives in Portland, explaining some of the differences.  Portland is at sea level and gets 36 inches of rain per year Ė less than Philadelphia.  Zigzag is at 1700 feet, and gets over 100 inches per year! And I should expect to receive some of that annual allocation during my visit.  (I did.)  Finally, if she lived in Portland, we would have been just about home, but in fact we had a one hour drive ahead of us.

On the drive to Patís house, she surprised me with the news that she was now engaged to be married to Richard.  (Congratulations, Pat and Richard!)  She instructed me to keep it a secret Ė she hoped to surprise the whole family with a group announcement during her visit to Philadelphia in October.  She had no choice but to give me an early tip off because I would soon meet some Oregon locals who had already heard the news.  Alas, secrets are hard to keep!  Upon my return to Philadelphia, Liz asked me whether I had heard any ďbig newsĒ while I was out there.  Nope. I did not.  Iím not a good liar, but I did my best.  Then, deja vu:  Several days later Janice asked me whether I had heard any ďbig newsĒ while I was out there.  This is starting to sound like a pattern!  Again:  Nope.  I didn't hear any big news.  But apparently this administration has some leakers!

Arrival, at last. Imagine yourself living in a comfortable vacation retreat in the mountains.  Youíve just imagined Patís house.  It is everything you would expect of the house built by a person who had remodeled the six previous houses she lived in.  In a word: beautiful.

Pat's house.  Darcy's truck.

My jetlagged body needed a rest, so Friday evening was for taking it easy.  Pat cooked delicious hamburgers for dinner and we just hung out.  Darcy and some friends made a brief appearance, then moved on to spend the night at Government Camp.  Donít worry.  Although it sounds like they were roughing it, Government Camp is actually the name of a town.  (Once upon a time, a US Army regiment abandoned a camp there; settlers in the 1800ís found the discarded equipment and thus a town got its name.)  Darcyís friends are illustrations of what kids will do to snowboard.  Originally from Virginia, they recently arrived in Government Camp to take advantage of Mt. Hoodís year round snowboarding.  Having no money and no place to stay, they camped out during their first month there.  Hey, itís better than living in Virginia and not snowboarding!


We dedicated Saturday to exploring the area, starting with a walk around Zigzag Village.  This community isnít exactly like a condo or townhouse community.  At heart, it is a bunch of property owners who want to share a sewage processing system.  Oh, you thought the government provided that sort of thing?  Remember, this isnít Kansas.  Pat showed me the sewer plant Ė it was the only thing that reminded me of Philadelphia during my entire trip.

We walked down to the Sandy River (that name is a bit grandiose; where Pat lives, Iíd call it a creek), which borders the village on the southeast.  Many of the trees were covered with lichen (pronounced liken) Ė a wispy, light-green web of symbiotic algae and fungus Ė making the trees look like Christmas trees decorated with silky tinsel.  Besides imbuing the forest with a wonderful ethereal feel, the lichen is a sign of good living:  It only grows in non-polluted environments.

Lichen photo courtesy of Pat.

Pat noted a difference between Zigzag rocks and Pennsylvania rocks:  Zigzag rocks are rounded; Pennsylvania rocks are flat and jagged.  (This isnít meant to imply the superiority of one or the other.)  The rounded rocks along the Sandy River were formed by volcanic activity and erosion.  In fact, as recently as 200 years ago, Mt. Hood, an active volcano just 12 miles from Pat, dumped lava into this stream bed.

When walking along the Sandy River, it seems that a favorite diversion is to build cairns, which is a fancy word for "rock pile".  The favored architecture is to build the cairns straight up, one rock on top of another, as high as you dare.  Large and small cairns were all over the place along the stream Ė some constructed with many rocks piled several feet high, others having as few as two little stones.  Pat was happy to find, still standing, a large cairn built by Richard during his previous monthís visit.

On our return to Patís house, we stopped at the Zigzag Village outdoor pool, open July through September.  Not surprisingly, there was no one in the pool on this cool 50 degree September day.  Still, the pool looked quite inviting, with steam floating up from it.  They keep it heated to 80 degrees, and I was positive it would feel wonderful in contrast to the cool air.  So if you visit Pat during the summer, donít forget your bathing suit!  And by the way, speaking of hot tubs, you pretty much have to have one if you live here.  One night I heard all sorts of frolicking emanating from behind a neighborís house; I was informed that they were having a hot tub party.  Pat plans to add one to her house too, as soon as her budget will allow.

In the afternoon, Pat took me around to see some local points of interest.  We stopped at Government Camp, where I finally got my first caffeine fix since arriving in Oregon.  What a relief!  Government Camp is at 3,900 feet, which is 2,200 feet above Patís house.  During the whole trip, my ears never recovered from the trauma of decompressing and compressing on the trip from Philadelphia.  Always going up and down all those mountains didnít help.

Next we went to Skibowl, an adventure park where Darcy was working.  Darcyís job that day was to operate the cherry picker at the end of the Zipline:  After someone would fly down the hill on the Zipline, Darcy would raise the platform, pluck the customer off the cable, and bring them down to the ground.

Timberline Lodge from above.
Pat and Richard plan to have their wedding here.

Other places we visited on Saturdayís whirlwind tour:  Timberline Lodge, the ski lodge at the tree line of Mt. Hood; Little Zigzag Falls, a waterfall on the mountain; the Barlow Trail, one of the original pioneer trails through the area; and the old growth forest, featuring trees up to eight feet wide.  The area is filled with natural beauty, and Pat has clearly spent a lot of time savoring it.  Her knowledge of the flora and fauna was excellent, as she could name and describe many of the local species.  Unfortunately, my visit was a tad too late in the season.  Pat told me that many of these locations had been covered with wildflowers earlier in the summer.  The flowers were all gone by the time I got there.  In fact, the mountain had had its first snowfall just before my arrival.

It was an exhausting day.  After a great shrimp stir fry dinner, we decided to take it easy by watching a rented DVD:  16 Blocks.  Want a review?  Everything you need to know can be summarized in just two words: Bruce Willis.

Meanwhile, Darcy went camping with some friends of his.  Apparently, going camping does not necessarily involve sleeping outside.  The next morning we found that Darcy had returned during the night to the comfort of his own bed.  And one of Darcyís friends was lying asleep on the floor in the upstairs TV room.  All the benefits of camping; none of the inconvenience!

View of Mt. Hood from inside Timberline Lodge.
People are skiing up there all year round.
In the winter, this view would be blocked by a 20-foot snow drift.

On Sunday, Pat and I picked up Patís friend Karen.  We crammed ourselves into Patís little Volkswagen Golf Ė Patís the only person within 30 miles of Mt. Hood who doesnít own a truck Ė and went back up the mountain to the Timberline Lodge.  The lodge, site of the 1980 horror movie The Shining, was built as a WPA project during the Great Depression (FDR officiated its grand opening).  The US government leases it out to a private company for use as a hotel and ski lodge, but the public is free to visit.  In fact, over the summer Pat worked there every weekend as a volunteer park ranger, giving group tours to visitors.  (They offered to give her one of those funny-looking hats. Dang it, Pat. Why didnít you take it?)  Pat gave me and Karen a personal tour of the building.  We momentarily stopped in front of the big window with the view up the mountain (see photo above), with Pat talking away, and before we knew it there was a crowd gathered around to hear her spiel.  It wasnít easy, but we shook those pesky tourists and went on our way.

Timberline Lodge.
Pat and Karen (in blue), and growing crowd of attentive tourists.

Timberline Lodge.

ďOur wayĒ was to take a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs close to the Timberline Lodge.  For me, this was a thrill!  Iíve wanted to hike the PCT ever since reading the June 1971 National Geographic article about it.  I finally did it, if only for two miles.  At this point, thatís about all Iíve got anyway.  (Patís neighbor has a friend who is currently hiking the entire 2,650 mile trail with just a 10-pound backpack.  Despite making it so easy by using the ultra-light approach, apparently the excitement wore off after just 1000 miles.)

Shortly after this photo was taken, we arrived at a
spot where we thought we would probably slip on the ice
and plunge down a rocky embankment to our deaths if
we proceeded any further.  We turned around at that spot.

Pat and Karen on Pacific Crest Trail.

Mt. Jefferson, as seen from Mt. Hood.

Mt. Hood, as seen from Mt. Hood.
In the winter, the spot where I am standing would
be covered with snow, and people would be
skiing 20 feet above me.

After the hike, we had to scramble to get ready for Patís housewarming party, to which Patís workmates had been invited.  We had dilly dallied on the mountain, so there wasnít much time available to get ready.  I donít like cleaning house or preparing food, so I volunteered to stack wood.  Pat had recently had 1.5 cords of wood dumped on her driveway.  Pat and Darcy had already stacked a lot of it, but there was still a big pile left in the driveway, crying out to be stacked.  It seemed like it would be easy enough, but the task went on and on and on.  I finally finished up just as the first guests arrived.  Meanwhile, Pat had transformed the inside of her house into party central.

The party went well.  Everyone was very impressed with Patís new house.  As usual, there was way more food and drink than was needed, so we continued to feast on the leftovers for the rest of my visit.

Timothy and Luca relaxing after a tough day.

After such busy days, Monday was mostly to be a day of rest.  But first we visited the old growth forest for a long hike.  Youíll never find trees this large back east.  They are hundreds of feet high, and very wide:  Some of the Douglas-firs were as much as seven feet wide, and I measured one cedar tree at nine feet wide at the base.

Old growth forest.

Old growth.  (The tree, not Pat.)

More of the old growth forest.

The rest of Monday was spent hanging out at the house, reading, talking and trying to get Patís wood stove to work.  Pat is very excited about her wood stove.  Besides providing a nice rustic look to her mountain home, it should be able to heat the whole house more efficiently than her standard heater.  Unfortunately, starting that blasted stove turned out to be a problem.  Despite meticulously following the directions that came with the stove, throughout my entire visit the wood had an annoying tendency to not catch fire.  We finally concluded that the 1.5 cords of wood must not be as dry as advertised.  By the way, following the directions was Patís idea Ė any guy could tell you that you donít need to read the directions to start a fire.

Pat's living room, featuring wood stove.

While puttering around on Monday, we learned about one of the areaís more interesting inhabitants:  cougars (aka mountain lions aka pumas).  There are over 5,000 of them in Oregon (one every 20 square miles), and their presence is felt Ė this is cougar country.  Patís friends have spotted them, and pets go missing when cougar sitings are up.  Cougars can be up to 8 ft. long, nose to tail; they may weigh as much as 150 lbs.; and they are strong, jumping up to 40 ft. horizontally.  Youíre not safe in a tree either Ė they can jump into a tree easier than you can climb it.  Parents are well advised to stay close to their little kids when outside.  Although I didnít see any cougars while I was there, itís not the ones you see that you have to worry about!

View from Pat's front deck.

Pat's street.

Tuesday was my last day in the world of Zigzag.  But Pat would not have to wait long for her next visitor:  On Tuesday morning we drove back to Portland International Airport to pickup up Vickie, an old friend who would stay with Pat for a couple days before going to a vet tech conference in Portland.  Pat's guest bed does not stay cold for long!  And no wonder; it is quite a comfortable bed.

Instead of making a beeline back to Zigzag, we took a scenic route, driving west along the Columbia River, which forms the border between Oregon and Washington, and which runs along the north side of Mt. Hood.

Along the way we stopped at the Multnomah Falls, the third highest year-round waterfall in the United States.

Multnomah Falls.

Pat and Vickie at Multnomah Falls.

Yours truly.

Next we stopped at one of the most interesting tourist sites of my entire trip: the Bonneville Dam.  The thing that made it so interesting was that we had hit the salmon migration at its peak, and were able to watch hundreds of salmon struggle up the fish ladder to get past the dam.  Some of those fish were huge, and the currents they were fighting were incredibly strong.  It really is a miracle that they make it up the river.

Observation window at Bonneville Dam.

Fish Counter.  This person's job is to sit
there all day and count fish.  Every fish
passing this dam also passes her desk.
Her computer has a button for each species.
There are also buttons for reducing the count,
in case a fish swims by the wrong way.
Crazy job, but you could tell by her attitude that
there was no place else she would rather be.

Bonneville Dam.  On the right is a worn out turbine blade.  The young
salmon swimming out to sea must swim through such turbine blades.
Surprisingly, they don't get ground to a pulp in the process.

Hydroelectric power is big in Oregon.  These high tension lines are
carrying clean energy to California.  Pat has some of these lines
about a quarter mile in back of her house too.

Bonneville Dam Hatchery, just downstream from the dam.
The tank in foreground is filled with Coho salmon migrating to their
birthplace, which happens to be the tank in the background.
When enough fish arrive in lower tank, they will be allowed into
the upper tank, where they will spawn and then die.
The big fellow jumping up the wall can't wait!
(He thinks 70 virgins await him, and he's right.)

Finally, we continued driving east along the Columbia River, past Mt. Hood on the right, and then drove around Mt. Hood to return home.  There is a stark difference in climate between the Columbia River Gorge (which is at sea level) and the mountains.  As soon as we went over the first high ridge, the weather changed from being desert dry to being humid and rainy.  It was like someone flipped a switch.

By the time we got home, there was just enough time for me to pack up and then head out again.  First, Pat, Darcy, Vickie and I went to the Rendezvous Grill and Tap Room for a delicious dinner.  Afterwards, Darcy took Vickie back to the house and Pat drove me directly to the airport for the second time that day.  I got there with plenty of time to catch my non-stop, 10:45pm red-eye flight back to Philadelphia.  I didnít sleep very well on that flight, but itís much better than having to make connections.  (And that really is the choice: the only non-stops to and from Portland are at inconvenient times.)

Thanks again, Pat, for being a great host!  I had a great time in Oregon.  Congratulations to you and Richard on your engagement!






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