Under The Skies Of Oregon

Most of our adventures start at the Newark Liberty Airport. This is a big hub for travelers around the world and for the main points of operations for United Airlines. Getting there might turn into a nightmare, as every single vehicle on the road seems to be headed in the same direction. Still, we live only 20 minutes away from this gate to the wonders of the world. Remade a few years ago, it looks a little aging right now, but the airport lounges are stylish. There are venues on the main concourses that can make your wait comfortable and maybe add little excitement.

This time we don’t have time for such pleasantries and we head to the gate, our backpacks neatly stacked with the barely minimum gear. We left our skis at home because we didn’t trust the crews will handle the luggage on the Chicago’s O’Hare Airport during the short layover we have there. We carry our helmets, gloves, some base layers and some underwear in our backpacks. Ski pants and jacket were donned right on us to save space and weight. Ski boots are proudly hanging on my shoulders.

Flying to Chicago is a brief trip. Apparently, taxing on the huge airport takes more than the flight itself. We walk just the right time to get to the gate and board the plane for Portland. The views on the windows should be dull as we fly over the Great Plains, but anyway, clouds are interposing between us and the ground. They miraculously move away when we crossed over the Great Divide and the majestic Rockies. Snow covers the earth, a sign that winter arrives sooner on the west coast. The apparition of the spiking through the clouds peaks of the Cascades looks like a mirage at the beginning. The volcanoes are beautiful; they are shining under a generous sun. It’s the first revelation of the destination. Our Mount Bachelor is somewhere farther to the south. Right now, Mount Rainier occupies the center stage, as the aircraft surveys it closely. The sight captivates the captain too, and he announces it to the passengers. The chain of volcanic peaks stretch towards a horizon that is blue and bright. We identify our beloved Mount Hood, and we see the first actual image of Mount Bachelor.

Arrival in Portland adds to our excitement and we ask for a four-wheeler at the rental company. We get instead an all-wheeler Ford Edge, which is good and new, but the main computer is too much in control of the commands, adding uncertainty to the maneuvering of the car. Anyway, we are heading to Govt. Camp underneath Mount Hood, the place we were enamored with since last September. Driving this section of the road, for the first time in daylight, adds novelty to the trip. We pass between the great redwoods and pines of Oregon, lowering from time to time the windows to breathe the air. The snow appears on the sides of the roadway, but is well settled over the blacktop just as we enter the beautiful town of Govt. Camp. We stop here; we have to stop because this place sits in a corner of our hearts. It feels so good to be back here. There’s snow on the ground, there’s snow falling from the sky, there’s a welcoming beauty and quietness around us. We enter a restaurant called Charlies Mountain View to have lunch. The pub is taken over by people that seem local but they belong to a wider community of snow passionate. You can tell that by the way they look, the way they dress. We call them dudes. The term dude is defined as a slang of “men” or “guy”, and “has a distinctive whiff of American West Coast hippie culture to it” according to www.vocabulary.com. For us, it’s the description of the guy that gives nothing for the world around and throws all odds in for a passion. Their appearance is distinctive, and despite the apparent masculinity of the term, there are plenty of girls mixing up into this crowd.

We are just in the right place to put our signature electronically, on a document of great importance for us.

What follows is a tasty Reuben sandwich and a flavored local IPA. Through the windows we can see the winter reigning the world, and through my baby eyes I can see the limitless happiness of unique moments. Just one more reason, out of infinite ones, to love her more and more.

This is a moment that will last forever in our souls. We have to push farther, though. Our current destination is different this time. And here we are, on the road again, testing the Ford, descending the mountain slope and driving roadways stretching over the high desert. There is too much beauty around us to describe it in words. If one’s interested, they have to go there and see it themselves.

The sun hides over the horizon while we’re still crossing this amazing place. As the night falls, there is heavy darkness in the desert. We arrive in Bend. The town is a lot bigger than we expected. We find our lodge, which is named LOGE (the same pronunciation as in lodge). Later we find it signifies Live Outside Go Explore. We’re too full and tired to have dinner, but we do some grocery shopping somewhere in the town, finding local beers as well.

The next day wakes us up with clear skies. We rush to have breakfast at Cafe Sintra. We feed on great Huevos Rancheros and sip our coffees. The next stop is to the ski shop to rent skis and poles. We will probably miss our owns later.

And here we are, heading to the mountain. The road is climbing steadily among the beautiful woods, and just right after a curve, the great Mountain Bachelor is taking on the scenery. This is one of the sacred moments of our lives that transcends time and space, leaving behind unforgettable memories.

Getting on the slopes is easy, the mountain is not crowded; we are in the pre-season, and only the most dedicated [the previously mentioned dudes] came to hit the slopes. Adding to our luck, we get good deals on lift tickets, only $39 a day, which sounds like a bargain in these times. We’re not smart enough to buy three days in the row, and we’ll end up paying a little more on Friday ($82 for a half day).

We hit the slopes with the usual excitement at starting a new season. Snow is deep enough to cover all rocks, all of it is natural, and the grooming machines and their operators are doing just the right job. The sun is up on an unbelievably clear sky.

At dusk, we are watching in awe the full moon rising over the peaks. Another moment for which there are no words.

We dine at a western-looking restaurant called Tumalo Steakhouse. There is also some history behind the name and the place, but the generous stove in the lobby offers just what you need after a chilly day. The recommended porterhouse steak comes almost cold though, spoiling our experience. This is probably the price we pay for a place too popular and personnel that are overwhelmed. Nothing can break our mood. We are in the West, and here the hope is not ephemeral.

We fall asleep in our cozy room, heated by a noisy radiator, while outside clouds gathered somewhere above the Pacific, roll over the Northwest territory bringing one of the famous snows of the Rocky Mountains.

Breaking the fast with another masterpiece of the farm to table culinary industry in the state of Oregon, at Chow Cafe, near the fireplace, makes us forget the last night’s experience. On the speakers, Bruce Springsteen sings out loud his “Merry Christmas Baby”. Some call this synchronicity.

The next day of skiing means powder, fresh powder that falls over the country with a frenzy only seen in fairy tales. Strong winds are blowing as we close the higher altitudes in a somewhat old-fashioned quad. But isn’t this what we dreamed about? Oh yes, it is!

Driving down the mountain, on freshly plowed roads, aboard of a car in which AI is the ruler, makes one timid. And that is happening to the driver, which has to slow down to a snail’s pace to avoid skidding.

Next on the list for dinner is a local burger place called Bend Burger Company. Another pleasant surprise, offering dangerously tasty burgers to devour. Just a perfect match for a fresh hazy IPA.

The night passes fast while outside the snow drifts continue in full strength. We decide to take the bus up the mountain and leave the car at rest in the Park and Ride location, which was a smart decision, even though it consumed some of our time allocated for skiing on the last day on the mountain. The snows grew deeper on the slopes, and the crowd got augmented by the upcoming weekend and the promise of fresh tracks. They hit the mountain, making the ultramodern system of live pricing the lift tickets to blow the costs up to higher levels and we end up paying $89 for half day (from $39 full day). But the fresh pow is priceless. This is a unique occasion to just dive in the drifts and cut your turns freely. Arctic winds and low visibility send some fanatics home early, and some of the installation cede to function because of the inclement. We’re hopping on the 4pm bus to get down in Bend earlier than expected. It was the evening to return the skis and dine at Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. There is a fine atmosphere, good food, excellent beer and a fire outside to enhance the joy.

As an accolade, I need to mention that beer seems to be the major product of the people inhabiting this beautiful place. There are tons of local breweries spread all over in the town. Beer is sold in the most unusual places, from a clothing store (a corner is furnished with leather armchairs and a small counter to serve drafts, probably for impatient men or women to make the wait sweeter while their partners are shopping) to an antique bookstore, in a basement of a building downtown (what can make a book better than read while sipping on a craft beer?).

Saturday is reserved for another amazing experience, but gets canceled by the fury of the weather. We would have to drive down south to Crater Lake National Park and go snowshoeing with a park ranger. It’s not to happen, but added on the wish list for a future visit. We spend the day in the town instead; we enjoy Bend a little more, but not before exploring a handsome piece of land between our lodging place and the Deschutes River, immersing in the serenity of a protected national forest. Afterwards we have a lovely brunch at the Blissful Spoon, followed by some regular shopping in the downtown. At evening we attended a live performance in the LOGE lobby. Two sensible and talented men played beautiful pieces of music created by themselves to a tiny and mostly inattentive audience. These tourists, and their selfishness!

We end our day with pizza and beer, ordered from the town and delivered by a polite driver to our door despite the ice and the drifts. The comforts of the city exist wherever there is a demand for.

Our last day in Bend brings more snow, making it even harder to say goodbye. It is magically beautiful, and we think this is the way Mount Bachelor is showing its feelings. Hardworking people plowed the roads, but there is not much slat or gravel added on them to make driving safely from the point of view of a city guy.

As we descend the mountains, the snow turns into rain, but Oregon and its rain forests kept their attractiveness. We pass Eugene, thinking of one of Dolly Parton’s songs, but we don’t stop, neither do we continue to the ocean, as per the initial plan for the lack of time. Instead, we drove to Portland on the shortest and safest route. It’s time to say goodbye to the beautiful Oregon and dream of a return.

There is something in the West that is a little intriguing. Every time we visit that part of our beautiful country, we are falling in love with the place and the people. It might be some kind of good that preserved there since its inception. Locals are kind to the core, to paraphrase the logo of the company I work for on the east coast. They seem to really care about your needs, and they will run the extra mile to help you. A waitress at the restaurant we ate breakfast on the morning of the day of our return home answered our concerns about the status of the roads and the best route to get Portland. It was a snowy day; the snow was covering the ground at far faster pace than the plow machines could clean. A kind of day that looks just like a fairy tale, but one that can turn into a nightmare if you need to drive a few hundreds miles to a destination, passing some 5000 feet high mountain passes on the way. For her, as a local, this was just a normal winter day. They are all driving four-wheel-drive trucks with winter tires and they are not doing it for show off, but out of necessity. She explained what will the best route was based on her experience, and she could have had just end up the conversation there. The place was overflowing with patrons. Reservations were required, people were waiting for a table outside in the cold. But she did not and looked for advice from others with more experience. Then another person, that seemed to be the owner or manager, came to our table to provide more info. Together we all concluded that because of conditions and the car we were driving, we should follow a longer route southbound, turned towards the coast and crossed a mountain pass with more approachable climbs and descends. We found icy roads here as well, but the car managed them decently. The restaurant’s name is The Lemon Tree, and by the way, the food was awesome. Kindness is part of the cooking process, too.

That is not happening here anymore, or is happening on so rare occasions that might fall unnoticed. It might be some instinct of preservation present in the common mindset or, God forbid, it might be just a distorted image of the world that we are traveling as tourists. But whatever it is, we hope it will stay preserved because it feels good. And yes, places are different and preserving that variety might serve a common good. Hope seems to be the definition of the American West, so let’s keep it alive, just the way it is.

The beautiful state of Oregon, or at least the part we visited, is an amazing place to see. Beautiful plains have farms spread over, wineries are producing superb wines, there are traces of hard logging, and it has an aspect of a country of hard-working people. Visitors can enjoy its beauty because of their work, and we should respect that. It might be the homogeneity of the population that gave the land a certain distinction, and we all know that the pioneers settled it by replacing the indigenous people who were the righteous owners. It’s all part of a history from which we can learn but which can’t be erased. However, they built this state; the results are what we see today. The price to be paid was high, and abuses and injustice abounded. We might look at the dimensions of the logging industry with great concern, but isn’t that wood that literally builds America? These people earn their living through hardship, and that might be the key to preserving the kindness we too often are missing.

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