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-


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