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.
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
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
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
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.
Pat and Karen (in blue), and growing crowd of attentive tourists.
ďOur wayĒ was to take a hike along the
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
down a rocky embankment to our deaths if
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
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
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.
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.
Along the way we stopped at the
the third highest year-round waterfall in the United States.
Pat and Vickie at Multnomah Falls.
Next we stopped at one of the most interesting tourist
sites of my entire trip: the
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
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