Our last few urban stops were short and stressful due to the difficulty of finding overnight parking, but we needed to make sure our visit to Portland was under better circumstances so we could give it a fair evaluation as a place we might call home. By appealing to our network of friends via Facebook, we arranged to park in a gated space behind a commercial building very close to downtown. We stayed for five nights – long enough to really check out the city, but not too long to overstay our welcome (or our water tank capacities).
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, which happened to be Bike to Work day. Now, we may not be working, but we love bicycles and thought this would be a good opportunity to join in a group ride. We cycled over to the meeting place for the after-work group ride. The route to the downtown park was entirely on bike lanes, because the city has great cycling infrastructure, and car drivers are even respectful of bicycles. When I got to an uncontrolled crosswalk across two lanes of one-way traffic, I stopped and intended to wait for John to catch up, but both lanes of traffic stopped for me to cross. No traffic light, no traffic cop, two lanes of cars just stopped because I was standing adjacent to a crosswalk. Entirely flustered at the unexpected courtesy, I crossed the street and waited on the other side for John. I am used to riding in New York, where cyclists have to aggressively fight for space with cars and pedestrians, even space within dedicated bike lanes, and every intersection has a traffic light (NYC drivers would never yield to pedestrians otherwise). Cycling in Portland is a whole new experience. The most aggression I witnessed between any two users of the road was at dusk when a cyclist said to a driver in a completely calm voice, “Turn on your lights, bitch”. I am not naturally an aggressive person, quite the opposite in fact, but I became a cyclist in New York City and the cyclist I became is the aggro-NYC cyclist that can navigate the hostile roads of that city. Turning that off will take some practice, but cycling in Portland is so much more pleasant. The group ride, though, was a bust. A small number of people gathered who had all come out of a business conference together, it was not the diverse group of dedicated bicycle commuters we had expected, so we left and went on with our evening.
Uncharacteristically for the northwest in May, the weather was amazing for most of our stay. Sunny, dry and warm. We cycled all over the city, checking out different neighborhoods, parks and gardens. We met up with friends old and new over some of Oregon’s famous craft beers. We paid an obligatory visit to Portland’s most famous attraction, Powell’s bookstore, checked out a specialized bicycle store dedicated to folding and commuter bikes (John loves to look at bikes as well as ride them), walked through the Saturday Market, and cheered for runners at the Rock and Roll half-marathon. I even had opportunity to check out two different food coops!
We had an amazing time exploring the city by bicycle, and decided that yes, Portland is a place we would like to live. We love the infrastructure for and popularity of cycling. It is small enough that we can get from one end of town to the other in about an hour, but big enough that there is an urban core (albeit a tiny one) supporting businesses that offer us career opportunities. There are many farmers’ markets, parks, and it is close to the mountains. Portland definitely offers everything that we are looking for in a new home.
May 17 – 20, 2014