RENTON, WASHINGTON—Freed from the self-imposed constraints of my preparatory daydreams, I’ve relished the the unexpected rewards of vagabondage. No longer eschewing the Interstates, I followed I-84 from Pocatello to Portland. Much of it follows the Columbia River and its gorge that leads into the Cascades. Sunny scenery surrounded me as a 25-knot headwind dragged my mpg into the low 40s. At first I thought the wind, which frosted the river with whitecaps, was the luck of day. And then I noticed that most of the trees I passed had a distinct eastward lean. Knowing that I was not the only one who’d dealt with the adiabatic buffeting made me feel better.
From a rise that preceded the shallow dip that started the climb into the Cascade Mountains I could see the snow-capped Mount Hood on the horizon. My first sight of the mountain, I stored the image in memory. Climbing higher into the mountains brown gave way to green and the vegetation grew taller. The road started to twist and turn through the trees. Wisps of Celtic clouds wreathed the highlands with dramatic woofs and warps of 64 shades of gray. The road was rain wet, but the air was cool and dry and Ole Blue eagerly leaned left and right as we summited the pass and coasted toward Portland.
There I reunited with Scott, a childhood friend I’d last seen around Christmas of 1969. We reconnected about a year ago on Facebook, and in our e-mail catching up, he said that if I was every in the neighborhood… Zumo the GPS led me to the front door of his tidy green bungalow. Across the street was a tiny Free Library box on a post, packed with paperback fiction and a few hardbound books. A Prius with a roof mounted bike rack in the driveway verified my destination.
Last year, Scott and his wife, Karla, a retired ICU nurse, pedaled a tandem bike from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, and I intuited a lot about them from the blog posts that recounted their progress. His core personality, open, outgoing, and adventurous, was unchanged. Despite the intervening decades, we quickly reestablished the bond that united us as kids who built tree houses and underground forts in the woods behind our boyhood home of Streamwood, a post-War suburb planted in the cornfields west of Chicago.
Over a healthy lunch at the Breakside Brewery we caught up on the intervening years. He retired from Intel after more than two decades as a software engineer, an early in life career change that started with a degree in entomology and working for a commercial bee keeper. But we didn’t dwell on his work or mine. About a month in recovery from bypass surgery we set off on a brisk walking tour of the city, starting on the river walk esplanade. Scott pointed out the bridges that crossed the Willamette River, giving the ages and history of each. It was a fascinating perspective on the city, one that I would not have noticed if I’d been trying to find my way without a guide. I filed that revelation in my vagabondage handbook.
A serious wine collector, his selection complimented perfectly our dinner of Copper River salmon grilled on a soaked cedar plank, fresh asparagus, and a salad of grilled potatoes. Two more bottles of red wine fermented from Willamette Valley grapes fueled out conversation that lasted until midnight. We mused on why the city fathers had the sculptor cover the exposed breast of his immense pounded-copper Portlandia on the Portland Building. And we talked of family and friends not long heard from and our curiosity about how their lives had gone since we all were free-range suburban kids.
Sleeping in to miss the Portland rush hour, Blue and I followed I-5 north. Our traffic suffering was rewarded by a mountain trifecta. Having visited Portland and Seattle several times, I’ve only seen Mount Hood and Mount Rainer once each. On this trip these peaks stood proudly snowcapped in a cloudless blue sky. Not to be outdone, Mount Saint Helens, with show adorning its leveled-off peak, stood resolutely between them.
The weather held and I saw Rainer again as it turned down the road toward the home of my riding buddy, Ed, which surprised me. Having traveled the road several times over several years, I would have never guessed that this tree-framed panorama has been hiding behind the clouds. With a day off for laundry and butt recovery, we start east tomorrow and the second half of our vagabondage adventure. Ed takes lead on this leg, so the unknown awaits.