Monday, September 28, 2009

Bend But Don't Break


Before you dive head first into this wildly anticipated, second to last entry of your humble Booktraveler's Western Sojourn Extravaganza, a couple of brief and highly personal...well, maybe not
that personal...comments or observations, if you will.

For those of you following the blog, you'll notice that a fair amount of time has passed since the trip began. You'll probably also notice that it has been quite a while since the last post. This may have you thinking: is this trip ever going to end? Did the Booktraveler move to Oregon, go on a month long bender and disappear Into the Wild? Should we contact the authorities? Jon Krakauer perhaps?

Well, not to worry. Just as Mark Twain wrote "Roughing It" to great acclaim
years after he returned from his sojourn out west, your humble Booktraveler needed a little extra time, merely a few short weeks, to bring things to a resounding, heart pounding conclusion. Not that I'm comparing myself to Mark Twain, mind you - although a few weeks is certainly a lot shorter than a few years - as far as work ethic goes.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the grinding necessities and whirling timetables of your humble Booktraveler's life took a firm grip towards the end of the trip, ripped me asunder and deposited me here, weeks later, stunned and disheveled, but no worse for wear and tear, to complete the task.

Don't worry my friends and readers: with a prodigious memory, copious notes, ample photography and a rapacious (or at least rapier) wit, I am now fully geared up to complete the task and share with you the exciting final chapters of the journey on which I set out lo those many, many weeks ago.

That you are still here to read and enjoy these entries is a testament not only to you as an individual, but to the outstanding qualities of your superior character and intellect. For this, I applaud and thank you!

That said, without any further ado, let us continue tracing with great anticipation the eventful final daze of our western sojourn together.


Bend But Don't Break

As anticipated, it was a rough go the next morning. Somehow we managed to get up, get out and on our way to Bend in the first glow of morning, heading east out of Portland along the Columbia River in my host's two door Jeep Wrangler. Although the Jeep's doors and top were attached, the back flaps were tied open, making for a bracing (and noisy) drive up and over the Cascades.

With multiple layers of clothing and heat going full blast there was still quite a chill once we got up over the 3,500 foot level.This was in August, mind you! After passing through the quaintly named towns of Zigzag, Rhododendron and Government Camp, we made it up and over 4,100 foot Barlow Pass along the shoulder of Mt. Hood and began our long descent to the sparse, arid plains to the east. Looking back, the topmost peak of Mt. Hood, which looked close enough to touch, was crowned in majestic pink and gold by the cresting morning sun.

For every thousand feet we descended the temperature warmed by ten degrees. This made it eminently more pleasant by the time we made it down to the aptly named Warm Springs Indian Reservation, allowing me to abandon a layer or two and truly enjoy the cool summer morning. From there we headed over the spectacular Deschutes River canyon and up onto the flats of the eastern high plains.

Above: Two views of Smith Rocks State Park.

We stopped briefly to take in the beauty of Smith Rocks State Park, whose rocky promontories and scorched valley floors provide startling contrast to the thick forests of the Cascades. We then continued south through Redmond and onward to the outdoor paradise of Bend.

Starting out as a small logging town perched along a scenic bend in the Deschutes River in the early 1900's, Bend has grown to become the largest city in central Oregon with an estimated (pre-recession) population approaching 200,000. The reason for this astounding growth is the unparalleled richness and variety of outdoor activities that draws people to the region. It runs the gamut: from kayaking, rafting, fishing, climbing, backpacking and golf in the summer to world class skiing and snowboarding, cross country skiing and treking in the winter. If that weren't enough, the abundance of nearby natural wonders are ample to keep even the most overactive outdoorsy type satisfied for decades.

After passing through the ubiquitous "anywhere USA" big box store section north of town, we headed through historic downtown, past scenic Mirror Pond, then west on highway 372 to our first stop, Mt. Bachelor, 30 minutes west of town. This world-renowned ski area sits on the rugged face of its imposing namesake volcano, cresting at a blustery 9,000 feet in altitude. In the summer you can ride the chair lift up to Pine Marten Lodge for spectacular views of the region's other main attractions, the towering The Three Sisters and Broken Top volcanoes, which rise above the tree lined valley to the north.

Above: Views from the Mt Bachelor ski lift looking across to Three Sisters and Broken Top.

After paying the requisite fee we jumped aboard the lift and headed up to the Lodge, enjoying spectacular views along the way. Disembarking just above treeline at 7,700 feet, you're met with stunning views of the rugged Mt. Bachelor peak and turning around, the amazing beauty of Three Sisters and Broken Top. There's a frisbee golf course at this level of the mountain, and I saw more than a few discs get hurled into cracks and crags along the rocky face, never to be seen again. Bummer Dude!

We walked around the otherworldly terrain, enjoying views from as many angles as possible. After stopping in the lodge for refreshments, we headed back to enjoy the unique thrill of riding the ski lift down the mountain. A unique experience to say the least. It was time for lunch as we headed back into Bend, and on the recommendation of my friend and host, we stopped at the Cascade Lakes Brewing Company Lodge just outside of town for some fine home brew and victuals. Ohhhh baby, was it ever worth it...just for the beer alone!

After a lager or two or three, we headed in to explore the wide variety of shops, stores, specialty retail outlets and restaurants skirting scenic Bond and Wall Streets in the central downtown district near Mirror Pond. There, much to my surprise, I discovered a veritable cornucopia of unique used bookstores and indies offering a prolific potpourri of printed perusables along with great coffee and entertainment to boot!

Above: Dudley's Bookshop Cafe. Clockwise from top left: facade, coffee bar, downstairs lounge and upstairs reading room.

Dudley's Bookshop Cafe at 135 NW Minnesota offers a great selection of new and used books in a colorful and cordial establishment that has ample places to sit, relax and enjoy. There's a great coffee bar with coffee, espresso, teas and a range of delectable treats downstairs, with a comfortable upstairs that offers reading solitude within a series of huge windows that offer a superb view of the street below, far above the maddening crowd. Opened in December of 2008, Dudley's features work by local authors and artisans as well as a bustling schedule of live readings and musical performances. It's a one stop cultural collective that has a little something for everyone and well worth a visit if you find yourself wandering aimlessly around town looking for a cultural fix.

Above: Pegasus Books, front and interior featuring owner Duncan McCreary.

A short block away from Dudley's is Pegasus Books, owned by Duncan and Linda McCreary. Pegasus has been a staple of the community for over 25 years offering an outstanding and interesting collection of comics, graphic novels, pop culture ephemera, action figures and toys along with a great selection of new and used books. The store is a must see simply for the posters and action figures alone, and Duncan is a helpful and knowledgeable host. Great place for the enthusiast and layman alike. You can read Duncan's blog at .

Duncan and Linda also own a great little used book indie on the outskirts of town called The Bookmark on Greenwood Avenue. It offers a diverse selection of general used titles covering a broad range of subjects from bestsellers to local interest, all at great prices. Unfortunately we arrived there too late to go in (they were already closed for the day) so all I could do was view it drooling from the window. Hopefully they'll be able to clean the window and I'll be able to stop in on my next visit to Bend.

Above: The Bookmark, outside and in.

Just across the street from The Bookmark is The Open Book, also on Greenwood Avenue, which features a great selection of used books and an even greater selection of used and reasonably priced CD's. Last but certainly not least, there's Between the Covers Bookstore on Delaware Ave., which offers a great selection of used books along with an outstanding coffee shop, or perhaps it's the other way around.

Above: Between The Covers bookstore and coffee bar.

Anyway you slice it, Bend is a bodacious bonanza for any bibliophile and we're not even mentioning the large bookstore chains just out of town. At any rate it was getting late and we stopped in at the pub and brewery at McMenamins Old St. Francis School for dinner and draft specialties, after which we retired to our digs at the Hampton Inn outside town. I usually stay at the fabulous Mill Inn when in Bend, but they were booked so I had to opt for the antiseptic comforts of the national chain.

Left: Early morning drive to South Sister, Mt. Bachelor in the background.
Right: Our destination: the summit of South Sister

Next morning we were up before the sun and headed west again, this time to scale South Sister, Oregon's third highest peak after Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson. We stopped at a local eatery and grabbed a couple of breakfast sandwiches to go, along with supplies for the hike. It was a 12 mile round trip hike going up (and then back down, let's not forget) 5,000 feet in altitude or 10,000 feet total.

Left: Halfway up South Sister heading to the final steeps.
Broken Top mountain in the distance taken during the final ascent.

It was a beautiful morning when we set out. Hazy, with just enough clouds clinging to the peaks to make it supremely breathtaking. The trail head starts from the parking lot at Devil's Lake Campground out past Mt. Bachelor. Even at this early hour it was hard to find parking and groups of hikers were already scurrying across the highway. We found out later there was a large group of marines climbing the mountain that day, which was one of the reasons why it was so crowded at 6 am.

Left: Near the top of South Sister looking down the rugged trail.
North Rim of South Sister. Watch that last step, it's a doozy!

Once on the trail, the crowd cleared quickly and we soon found ourselves panting alone on our way up the mountainside, caressed by the gently sounds of nearby cascades. For the first three miles, the trail winds its way up through thick temperate forest. At you approach the mid section of the climb however, the trees fall away, providing spectacular views of the stark, rough hewn landscape.

The trail continues over a relatively easy high shoulder to the base of the steep final section of the climb. From there it's a steep, two mile, 3,000 foot climb over loose rock and gravel to reach the summit, the meat and potatoes of the climb. Even at this relatively low altitude, the climb proved quite formidable. It was slow and meticulous going, but well worth it once we reached the top where, chests heaving, we were rewarded by 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Left: Views of Middle and North Sister from the summit.
Crossing the snow filled caldera at the summit to begin our descent.

At 10,353 feet, the top of South Sister is a broad, glaciated caldera about a half mile across. We climbed around the difficult northern ridge and had lunch with our feet dangling off a 500 foot drop, with Middle and North Sisters standing tall above the beautiful snow laced valley below. After about an hour at the top, we headed back directly across the caldera glacier to the trail head to begin our descent down the mountain.

Peering down the steep crusty trail, I was amazed to see a near continuous line of humanity snaking up from the rocky reaches below. Starting down, the unrelenting downward pressure on my knees had me shifting quickly from a knee buckling plod to a faster albeit more dangerous jog down the rugged terrain. While this provided welcome relief for my knees and greatly speeded the descent, I didn't feel much love from the hikers on their way up who found us suddenly bearing down on them in an hail of roiling dust and igneous rocks. Of course, it was also abundantly clear that many of the people along the trail had no business whatsoever being on the mountain.

As we reached the bottom of the initial 2-mile descent, we found a group of people gathered around a large and rather rotund woman in sneakers wearing orange socks and shorts and a white t-shirt. She was rolling around in the dirt screaming and, I might add, working up quite a formidable cloud of dust. Spit came out in spurts and drops from the corners of the dirt covered mouth as she cried. Everything was covered in dust, including her hair, and a redish mud was beginning to form in areas bathed in sweat and spittle.

Her party (and a growing crowd of interested bystanders) stood transfixed by the whole thing, unable to decide what to do. The woman bellowed hysterically through tears that she couldn't make it one more step. Seeing as they hadn't even made it to the base of the final 2-mile ascent, I had to agree wholeheartedly. However, a few of her companions were in no mood to turn around and had obviously discussed this eventuality beforehand. A fight ensued, which was our cue to continue on our merry way down the mountain.

Another mile or so along the trail we came upon a mountain rescue team sitting in a large clearing. They were waiting for a medevac helicopter that had been called in to take out a middle aged man who was suffering from chest pains and having trouble breathing. A couple of the rescuers were attending to the victim who was now laying on the ground wearing an oxygen mask. The others stood around talking or smoking. Truth be told, some of the rescuers looked in as bad a shape as the victim after their three mile climb up to the clearing, and seemed none to pleased at the prospect of the hike back down.

Continuing along, it seemed twice as far back down to the Jeep as it had seemed on the way up. Several times I thought we had lost the trail and would have to fend for ourselves cold and alone in the untamed wilderness overnight. Rounding the final bend however, there we were, back safe and sound at the Devil's Lake Campground and the comfort of a sun-warmed jeep with plenty of cold brewskies. A refreshing way to end the day's expedition!

With an hour on top for lunch, the climb had taken about five and a half hours total. Not a bad way to wrap up our stay in Bend. We headed back into town to enjoy a late lunch at the Deschutes Brew Pub. Their microbrewery is located nearby, so it was great to enjoy my beloved Mirror Pond Ale on draft just a block or two from the source.

Above: Mount Jefferson viewed from Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.

We headed back for Portland full, tired, happy and bathed in the late afternoon sun. It was warm and comfortable and we enjoyed the panoramic view as we passed from the Sisters to Mt. Jefferson, then on towards Mt. Hood and the Cascades. It was getting late when we turned off the highway for a quick trip up to Timberline Lodge for a view of the Mt. Hood Summit. We walked around above the lodge and after a quick Mexican Coffee or two at the bar where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Summit, we made our way down to Portland and the comfort of our soft, inviting beds.

Left: Timberline Lodge Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood approaching the lodge on Timberline Drive.

It was hard to believe I only had one day left before heading back to the east coast. I was determined to use it to the fullest. In the morning we were headed west to the coast and the storied port town of Astoria, Oregon, the land of Lewis and Clark, Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. Here, the five mile wide Columbia River meets the North Pacific in one of the most treacherous stretches of marine navigation in the entire United States. It should be fun! Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Join me, won't you?

Until then-


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

City of Books, City of Beer, Oh What a City!

Up and Adam, or up and at 'em as the case may be.

Day two in Portland started out a little rainy so I took a little time to do some writing before heading back to Milo's City Cafe (everybody loves Milo's) for another outstanding, albeit late, breakfast (complete with mimosa, of course). The rain had abated by the time I was done leaving behind a cloudy yet pleasant day.

I hopped on the MAX once again and headed into town. This time I jumped off at Pioneer Courthouse square, often referred to as "Portland's Living Room". This beautiful red brick square is sort of a downtown hub, an epicenter for transportation and people watching, where street musicians, suburban professionals, the homelessness and near homeless all merge together into one very "Portlandesque" street scene.

My destination today is Powell's City of Books. Started from a humble store front in 1971, Powell's has grown into one of the best known bookstores in the country and one of Portland's most visited tourist destinations. Although they have several stores in and around the greater Portland region, their downtown store at 1005 West Burnside is the main attraction.

This self-proclaimed "largest new and used bookstore in the world" (and I believe it) occupies an entire city block and stocks over one million new and used books across 3,500 different sections in nine color coded rooms covering 68,000 square feet. As soon as you walk in you know you're in bookstore nirvana.

I entered the store at the main southeast corner entrance and proceeded past the huge counter where they buy over 3,000 books daily to grab a store map. The store is laid out in color coordinated sections on four different floors. After carefully studying the map I made my way around the store with relative ease, only getting lost only once or twice amidst the impenetrable jungle of book shelves.

It takes a while to navigate the entire store, particularly when you're continually sidetracked by an endless array of amazing titles. After a few hours I wasn't sure if it was day or night or even what day it was. Luckily I was able to head down to World Cup Coffee and Tea, Powell's in-store cafe emporium to regain my bearings with a cup of superb coffee, a sandwich and...alright...perhaps a chocolate chip cookie or two.

I wandered back to the streets dazed and confused by the new reading lists swirling through my head. On my way back to Pioneer Courthouse Square to catch the MAX, I stopped in at a the nearby Deschutes Brewery for a pint (or two) of Mirror Pond Ale, my favorite Deschutes Brew. SWEETNESS!

It was getting late and after leaving Deschutes I had to high tail it over to the MAX to get back across the river to meet my host for a drive over to SE Portland and the Hawthorne area to visit a couple of stores that are not as easily reached via public transpo.

First stop was Longfellow's Bookstore, one of Portland's oldest independent used bookstores at 1401 SE Division Street. Owned and operated by father-son partners Jon and Nile Hagen, the store has been in continuous operation for over 17 years and offers a great selection of quality used books, collectible periodicals, first editions and ephemera in a store of elegant and loosely organized chaos that's fun to peruse. While some components of the inventory are more than gently used, there are plenty of nooks and crannies full of interesting titles that make this staple of Portland's southeast community a worthwhile stop for any booklover.

After adding yet again to the collection of books I'll have to fit into my suitcase, we left Longfellows and headed east on Hawthorne Blvd. to the super clean, super fun and super specialized (I'm running out of superlatives) Murder by the Book. This popular new and used indie has been "knockin' em dead" on Hawthorne Blvd. since 1983. They offer a great selection of traditional and hard-to-find mysteries in cloth and paper, with a great collection of mystery author backlogs. Owners Barbara Tom and Carolyn Lane truly know their stuff and can answer virtually any genre-related question you could possibly have, and even a few you couldn't. If you're a mystery buff (and what exactly is a buff?) this place has got the goods.

After the late start, it was quickly turning into a late finish and well past time for a dinner and a little R&R. We headed a little further east on Hawthorne and parked our rear ends at the Bridge Port Ale House for a superb slow cooked dinner washed down with perhaps a few too many pints of their award winning IPA. Oh Portland, land of great food and great beer, it's so great to visit thee.

Luckily, we avoided being pulled over on the way home (don't try this at home, kids). Staggering in well past midnight (sorry roommates) we hit our respective hays immediately, already lamenting the now immutable decision to leave for Bend, Oregon at the crack of dawn.

It's going to be a rough morning, but well worth it to enjoy the outdoor paradise of Bend, Oregon where we'll be climbing South Sister, the third highest mountain in Oregon and of course, visiting the many indie new and used bookstores and superb restaurants that populate the quaint streets of Bend. Join me, won't you?

Until then-


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bookish Meanderings in the Land of the Tattooed (and pierced)

The morning came late and I was happy to have the extra hour with the time change (do we ever get those hours back?). After writing a little while I headed out into the streets. Not having a car I was relegated to public transportation which, in Portland, means the superb light rail system know as The MAX (Metropolitan Area Express).

Before the short ride over the Willamette river into town, I stopped by a local favorite for breakfast: Milo's City Cafe near the Lloyd Center Mall. They have a great selection of unique breakfast dishes to compliment tried and true favorites, and I couldn't help but have one of their tasty mimosas to give breakfast a little kick in the pants. The place is awesome and I ended up eating breakfast there every day I was in Portland. Usually I shoot for more diversity, but sometimes you just can't argue with success.

The Max stop was a short walk from Milo's, so after a great meal and 3 or 5 cups of excellent coffee to counterbalance the mimosa, I started off in that direction. Due to the proximity of the city, the MAX is free to downtown Portland from the Lloyd Center area, which I found extremely commuter friendly. The clean, smooth riding trains offer ample seats and have a unique bike rack setup inside each of the doors to accommodate the many two wheel rider-commuters.

Speaking of which, Portland must be the bike riding capital of the Universe. There are as many bicycles clogging the main arteries during rush hour as there are cars. Traffic laws in the state give these commuting pedalers the right of way, which makes for some interesting altercations and no small bit of occasional controversy. These indulgent laws have made some cyclists prone to scoff at laws not so indulgent (like stop signs and traffic lights), so the cops have cracked down. I saw three separate bicyclists "pulled over" by police cars throughout my first day in Portland, a sight I have never seen even once in NYC or Philly on any occasion.

The MAX train pulled up just as I was approaching the stop. I jumped aboard to enjoy the view of downtown as we crossed the river into Portland. Portland is a medium size city with a distinctly small city feel. Downtown sits along the western banks of the Willamette River and is backed by the verdant hills of Washington and Forest Parks.

Washington Park, on the hills above the west side of town, is home to the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Japanese Garden and the famed International Rose Test Garden. This beautifully tiered garden offers excellent views above the city looking east to Mt. Hood and (on a clear day) north to Mt. St. Helen's and is one of the main reasons why Portland is often referred to as The City of Roses.

Above left: Downtown Portland. Above Right: Cameron's Books

My first stop was the funky and recently (and perhaps not fully) gentrified area in the low numbered streets near the river south of the Burnside Bridge. Here I stopped in to visit Cameron's Books and Magazines, claimed as "Portland's oldest used bookstore". This distinctly old school used bookstore has been open since the late 1920's. Current owner Jeff Frase been running the show for the last 20 years or so.

Above Left: Jeff Frase, owner of Cameron's Books. Above Right: Cameron's interior

The store has an interesting selection/conglomeration of books, magazines and ephemera that, while perhaps more than gently used, offer a diverse range of titles you don't often see. Even more interesting are the magazine collections, filed by date, stashed away from public view in the back room. These include complete collections of Life Magazine, The New Yorker, Playboy, Look, Post, Time, Newsweek, and many magazines I've barely even heard of. It's a pretty cool collection and the store still buys "good" books and magazines from customers each and every day.

Above: Cameron's magazine collection; away from public view.

Directly across the street from Cameron's is one of my favorite stops for slow cooked food in Portland: Mother's Bistro & Bar. Although it hadn't been that long since breakfast, I couldn't resist a bowl of Belle's Chicken Noodle soup and an perfectly chilled pint of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Ah, Portland, city of superlative food and beer.

Moving on a pied, I made my way west towards the center of town. Of course, when one speaks of Portland and books, the first name to come to mind is Powell's City of Books. But hold yer horses there pardner. While Powell's is a nationally recognized landmark bookstore, it is just one of many cool alternatives for used and indie books in this most left-leaning of locales. This is made abundantly clear when you peruse the helpful Portland Area Booksellers Directory for new, used and out-of-print books published by the Portland Area Used Booksellers Association (PAUBA).

Armed with their handy printed pamphlet of purveyors of printed prose I was headed up to my second stop on the list: Daedelus Books. Walking around Portland is trip in and of itself. While tattoos and piercings are common in any major US city, the sheer degree of decorated humanity is on a much grander scale here.

Heading west on West Burnside towards Nob Hill, I couldn't help but wonder if the spiderweb tattooed across one young gentleman's multi-pierced face would hamper his efforts at gainful employment as an account executive, or if the full neck, breast and sleeve tattoo covering the upper half of one young lady's torso might frighten her grandchildren when she takes them to the pool 40 years from now. One can only speculate.

I climbed the hill and waded into the beautiful, tree-lined streets of Nob Hill. Most of the mansions in this pricey Alphabet Historic District have been converted over to apartments. Of those remaining, a few have been restored to their original early 20th century beauty (chah-ching!) with a few remaining untouched like homages to Sunset Boulevard (the movie, not the street).

Above left: Daedalus Books. Above Right: Daedalus counter.

Daedalus Books is stashed away a couple of blocks north of W. Burnside at 20th and N.W. Flanders. Portland native Matt Groenig based many of the names of his Simpsons characters on street names in this district (Ned Flanders, the bully Kearny, Reverend Lovejoy, Mayor Quimby) and Deadalus Books offers a great little oasis of reading amidst the trendy high end boutiques and fine dining establishments in the area.

Above left: Daedalus Books. Above right: Daedalus Internet warehouse.

The store has a great selection of academic books, philosophy, history, art and Jewish studies with their very own Internet warehouse (which is even larger than the store itself) in back. They offer new and used books and true to their listing, pay the highest prices for quality used books. It's a pretty cool setup and great aesthetics to match.

After perusing around Daedalus for a while, I headed back down the hill, stopping off for a quick lunch of enchiladas and a margarita (or two) at the nearby Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant. It hit the spot. Crossing back down W. Burnside I passed longingly in front of Powell's, then headed catty-corner a block further down to my next stop: CounterMedia.

Above left: CounterMedia. Above right: CounterMedia underground comics.

So, you may ask, how does a roughly 1,800 square foot new and used indie bookstore thrive for over 13 years just a block away from Powell's? Simple: by having "the Northwest's largest selection of erotica, underground comics and books on fringe culture", both new and vintage. This is no ordinary bookstore, mind you. Owner and proprietor Charles Boucher said the store carries every erotica title currently in print. Looking around at the vast and varied selection, I was inclined to agree.

Above: two views of the CounterMedia erotica room.

The underground comics and recent erotica were great, but for my money, nothing beat the vast collection of vintage erotica paperbacks. These lurid treatises of early porn, many dating from the 1940's to the 1960's, offered tantalizing tidbits covering everything from the depraved sexual habits of the lower, middle and upper classes to unseemly incidents involving interactions among members of the same family, with plenty of grainy photos and shocking illustrations to go along.

It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Feeling a little flustered and flushed, I headed next door to Crowsenberg's Half and Half to re-center with a coffee and pastry before heading down one more door to Reading Frenzy, yet another small indie just two doors down from CounterMedia and one block down from Powell's.

This unique little gem of a bookstore is celebrating its 15th anniversary as an "Independent Press Emporium". Tiny at 650 square feet, Reading Frenzy is still four times larger that it was when it opened back in 1994. With a great selection of (new) small and independent press titles and a whole lot of kitsch, it's easy to see how this great little store has managed to flourish in the shadow of Powell's. It provides the perfect coda to a fun day of bookish meanderings.

Heading back on the MAX with the teaming hordes of rush hour commuters and bicyclists, I was able to marvel yet again at the sheer number of decorative embellishments applied to various body parts of the esteemed citizenry. Arriving back at my host's establishment, we headed off to a superb six course prix-fixe meal at one of Portland's most talked about restaurants: Beast.

As the name implies, this unique, tiny and superb haute cuisine establishment is frank in their appreciation of meat. An interesting premise to say the least here in the capital of vegan vegetarianism.

There are two seatings for dinner Wednesday through Saturday evening, with a four-course prix-fixe brunch on Sunday. We selected the six-course wine pairing option to go along with our meal (substitutions respectfully declined) and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Each course was served with an introduction and overview, outlining the local source for every delectable item served. It made for quite an enjoyable evening, at a prix-fixe price that puts many lesser restaurants to shame.

Bleary-eyed with food and drink we headed back home for a night cap before turning in. Tomorrow is reserved for Powell's and after that, it's off to Bend, Oregon for a few days of hiking and of course, perusing the local bookstore scene. Join me won't you!

Until then-


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Descent into Portland

The sun slipped below the horizon as we began our descent, the sky casting a bright blue glow over the darkening world below.

Bird's eye view of Mt. Jefferson, sister volcano to Mt. Hood, 45 miles to the south. Taken from above Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood during a Booktraveler visit to Portland summer of 2008.

Descending into Portland offers some of the most breathtaking vistas in the country. From the right side of the plane you get spectacular views of the mighty Columbia River Gorge framed by the intermittent high volcanic peaks of the Washington Cascades.

Columbia River Gorge from the Washington State side looking east. Also taken in 2008.

First to come in to view is the massive Mt. Adams, second highest peak in the Cascade Range at a glacier encrusted 12,307 feet. Next, the infamous Mt. St. Helens, at 8,366 feet, 1,311 feet lower than it stood prior to its eruption in 1980, the deadliest (57 killed or missing) and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Finally, another 50 miles to the north, you can just make out the imposing humpback outline of Mt. Rainier, the regions tallest, most famous and most photographed volcanic giant at 14,411 feet.

Mount Hood, viewed from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, heading east on highway 26. Summer, 2008.

I was on the left side of the plane this evening however, and that means peering down through the darkening sky at a the single most amazingly beautiful and prominent feature of the northern Oregon landscape: Mt. Hood. This craggy, snow covered peak rises 11,249 feet above sea level, making it Oregon's tallest.

As the plane veers down on its final approach to Portland International Airport, the mountain rises to fill the entire southern skyline, it's rocky peak looking close enough to touch as the plane passes over the glacier-encrusted expanse. With no other mountains of similar magnitude nearby, Mt. Hood stands alone, towering high above the lush green Cascades, an awe-inspiring sentinel to the immense and timeless forces of nature.

It had been a late winter season in the northwest, a point made abundantly clear by the heavy late summer snow pack still blanketing the higher reaches of the peak. This "most climbed" of Oregonian mountains is attempted by over 10,000 people a year, so I guess it's no surprise that 130 people have met their untimely end amid its lofty, snow covered crevasses and crags.

I've been to the northwest three times and have always wanted to climb this alluring peak. It would have to wait yet again, as plans called for only one mountain ascent this stage of the trip, and that was up the 10,363 foot South Sister near Bend, Oregon. But first things first.

After landing, my Portland host steered us to an astoundingly good Spanish-themed "Tapas" restaurant in the historic northeast end of town with the apropos name of Toro Bravo or Fighting Bull. Their superb menu and tremendous drink selection made it an evening well worth remembering. I can't recommend this place enough if you find yourself in Portland in search of a good meal after a long day, or on any other day for that matter.

Stuffed and somewhat more than mildly inebriated, I turned in for the night at my host's cozy abode, thinking over the long and eventful day which started in the high mountain valley of Buena Vista, Colorado. Tomorrow I would head in to town via the nearby Broadway Bridge. My meanderings will lead me to the many used and indie bookstores of Portland including, of course, the inimitable Powell's "City of Books" which dominates an entire city block of the nearby Pearl District.

But for now - full, tired and happy, I vanquish myself to the world of dreams, visions of great literary travels coursing through synapses. Good night!

Next post: Bookish Meanderings through the Tattooed Land of the Politically Correct. Join me won't you?

Until then-