Archives for posts with tag: Portland


A sure fire way to tell if someone is new to Portland is hear them pronounce the name of the river that runs through the center of town. Newbies mistakenly call it the /wil-la-MET/, instead of the proper /wil-LAM-it/. I can still remember being corrected in 1991 by a native Oregonian who explained, “It’s called the Willamette, damn it!”

For much of the twentieth century the Willamette River was a dumping ground for sewage and industrial pollutants. It was considered by many to be one of the countries dirtiest rivers. That started to change in the late sixties with more stringent environmental protection laws and with the twenty year $1.4 billion Big Pipe project which redirected sewage away from instead of into the river.


Despite the fact the river is as clean as it’s been in a long time and perfectly safe for recreational activity, it continues to be scorned by locals. This is something that the Human Access Project is hoping to change. Their mission is to transform Portland’s relationship with the Willamette. This is from their website:

The Willamette River is our home. We live on or near its banks and cross it every day. Yet, for generations we humans have mistreated, neglected, and scorned it. Well, the tide is turning. Together with others, the Human Access Project (HAP) is helping people “get into” this natural treasure – to enjoy it, preserve it, and cherish it for generations to come.  Join the Riverlution!

To help change public perspiration of the Willamette, HAP has initiated many events and projects, probably the best known of which is The Big Float. Now in its fifth year, The Big Float is a huge downtown beach party where thousands of people play in and float on the Willamette. This event has done wonders to sway public opinion.


Another thing HAP does is organize regular swims in the Willamette during the summer. The River Huggers Swim Team meets three times a week and with the support of safety kayakers swims under the Hawthorne Bridge, tags the other side and then swims back.

Since I broke my foot last month I’ve been swimming nearly everyday at this great outdoor pool at Grant High School. I hooked up with my old coach for some brushup lessons and dug out a training plan from three years ago. My swimming skills are still in the beginning stages, but I’m surprised how much I enjoy these after-work swimming sessions. Last week a woman in the next lane said to me, “This is so much better than happy hour!”  I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve been having so much fun I decided to join the River Huggers for a swim of the Willamette.

It’s surprising how warm the river is in the morning and with so little rain this year there’s hardly any current at all. I was definitely nervous beforehand, but everyone on the team was really supportive, even the guy who said, “Yeah, we’ve hardly lost anyone to shark attacks this summer.” We all left our flip flops and towels at a dock on the east bank and at 7am unceremoniously hopped in the river and took off.


I had never swam in open water before, so it was a bit unnerving to not be able to touch or even see the bottom. In a pool, you’re in a narrow lane, so it’s easy to swim in a straight line, but here in the open water, I was zigging and zagging and would have to stop frequently to recorrect.

It was pretty cool to swim under the Hawthorne Bridge and look up through the grates at all the cars on their way to work. But at around the halfway point I started to panic, realizing there was still a long way to go. If you’re running and get tired, you can always take a break, but if you stop swimming, you to start to sink. Luckily I remembered some survival strokes from high school swim class and was able to recover enough to start free-styling again.


After about 20 minutes the whole group was already across, waiting for the new guy who was holding up the whole operation. I must have looked bad when I finally arrived because several of them asked if I was doing alright. It was a huge relief to finally be able to touch the bottom again, but I barely had a chance to catch my breath before they all took off again. I then looked at the safety kayaker, shook my head, and told him that I’d be making the return trip on foot. Though he didn’t say anything, I could tell he agreed with my decision.


Hundreds of cyclists commute across the Hawthorne Bridge every morning and many of them were surprised to see this waterlogged, half-naked, barefooted dude stumbling over the bridge. I must have looked like a homeless person who got drunk and fell in the river.

It was a bit embarrassing to do the walk of shame back to the other side, but then again, I was proud to have made it at least one way across the river. It’s only been four weeks since I started swimming again and this experience has motivated me to train even harder. One day I’ll do the full round trip of the Willamette and become a real River Hugger.

Most everyone I know here is not from here.  This city is filled with people from other places.  People that moved here not for work or for school, but for the simple reason that here, more than anywhere else, was where they wanted to be.  I like being around the type of person who has placed a high priority on living somewhere that complements their lifestyle.  The occupational, academic and romantic details are secondary.  That all can be worked out later.

This past weekend there was yet another article in the New York Times singing the praises of Portland.  This particular article was about our small batch coffee roasters, but there have been numerous others in the last few years talking about our cycling culture, our food carts, our microbrew pubs, our sustainable restaurant scene, our Portlandia TV show and our Pinot Noir prowess.  Listen New York, when are you going to realize that you will never be as cool as us.  Will you please just accept it and move on before we have to get a restraining order.

Though I don’t need the New York Times to tell me that Portland is a great place to live, I must admit that I have had a few weak moments this winter when I questioned why I don’t live somewhere with a more agreeable climate, better employment opportunities and a lower cost of living.  But no sooner do these thoughts creep into my head, than the city of Portland and the State of Oregon stand up and prove their worthiness.  Here are some of things that happened in the last few weeks that made me proud to call this my home.

While the rest of the country was watching the Super Bowl and munching on bean dip, my buddy Greg and I drove up to Mt. Hood to go snowshoeing.  The parking lot at Timberline Lodge was packed.  Obviously us Oregon folk would rather be participants than spectators when it comes to sports.  Greg  and I climbed up to 8,500 feet enjoying the clear crisp winter day.  After taking in the view that stretched across half the state, we swapped the snowshoes with snowboards and cruised our way back  to civilization.

Last Monday, Yoshimi and I hiked out to a beach where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers meet.  We brought some binoculars to do some bird watching and were able to spot different varieties of duck, geese, loon, and heron.  While we were snacking on some  rice crispy treats, an oil tanker the size of a football field floated by.  With our binoculars we could just barely make out the captain returning our waves.

Early one morning before work I ran from my apartment to Mt Tabor, an dormant volcano a few miles away.  The whole city was socked in with a damp thick fog.  As I made my way up Tabor the fog got progressively thinner and then just as I reached the top the sun finally broke through.  I was alone on a tiny urban island in an endless sea of white.

In January at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, two of the three women to make the Olympic team were from Oregon.  Congratulation to Shalane Flanagan & Kara Goucher and best of luck this summer in London.  In the men’s race, another Oregonian, Dathan Ritzenhein, finished fourth, missing out on the Olympics by a mere 8 seconds.  It’s alright Dathan, I think you’ll still make the team at the 10,000m qualifiers in June.

In other running news, the two biggest ultra distance races so far this year were also won by Oregonians:  Tim Olson at the Bandera 100k and Hal Koerner at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler.  In addition my friend Jon completed his second 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon.  He set a new personal best in 22 hours 38 minutes and earned a Texas-sized belt buckle for his performance(100 mile races have a tradition of awarding belt buckles to anyone who can finish in under 24 hours). Good job man.

Jon's sub 24 hour buckle

And finally, here’s a link to an incredible time-lapse video compilation filmed over a six month period across the state of Oregon.  If you’ve never climbed Mt. Hood, camped at Crater Lake or biked across the Alvord Desert, this is what you’re missing.

By the way, my last blog post was accidentally sent out to the email subscribers before I had a chance to finish it.  Click here to see the full report on the race my brother and I ran in Florida.

A few months ago Outside Magazine ran an article on America’s Best Trails.  I was thrilled (but not totally surprised) to see the Wildwood Trail chosen as the best trail within city limits.  The Wildwood is a 30 mile trail that zigs and zags its way along the spine of the Tualatin Mountains in Portland’s Forest Park, one of North America’s largest urban parks.

I first become aware of Forest Park soon after moving to Portland in 2000 and was shocked to discover that it is much more forest than park.  In fact, it’s much too dense for a game of Frisbee, a summertime picnic or other typical park activities.  Forest Park is a full on wilderness experience and all within the city limits.

There are more than 70 miles of trails within the park, but the real showpiece is the Wildwood.  It has numerous trailheads, the closest of which is about 5 miles from my home and just two miles from my workplace.  I can access the trail on foot, by bike, bus, or light rail.  For a trail-running urban dweller without a car, it’s a dream come true.  In the last twelve years, I’ve logged hundreds of miles on its hard packed switchbacks sometimes before work, sometimes after, and occasionally even sneaking in a “quicky” on my lunch break.

The Wildwood does get a little crowded on weekends and in certain sections, but the further you get from the popular trailheads the less people (and more animals) you’ll see.  Once while in the depths of the park I came across a couple of elk.  If you’ve never seen an elk before, let me tell you, there’s no mistaking these guys for deer.  They’re HUGE.  Supposedly there are also bear and mountain lions hiding out in there somewhere.  However, if I had to nominate one animal to be the Wildwood’s official mascot, it would have to be the giant slug.  These slimy critters use the trail almost as much as runners do and can grow to about half the length of my size 12.5 Sauconys.

If you live in Portland, I highly recommend checking out this gem of a trail or taking part in one of the races that utilize it.  Next month the Oregon Road Runners Club is putting on its annual Wildwood 10K.  There is also a 50K ultra marathon in May and for the first time this year, a trail marathon in October.  Proceeds from the marathon will benefit the Forest Park Conservancy, the non-profit caretakers of this urban forest reserve.  Because of its size and density, Forest Park can be a bit intimidating at first.  Before diving in, you should pick up one of Green Trail’s waterproof Forest Park maps or a copy of the book, One City’s Wilderness, and then you’ll be all set to get wild on the Wildwood.