Late Tuesday afternoon of my West Coast adventure, my friend Jax picked me up at the Portland airport. She whisked me away and before I knew it, we were cruising along the highway through one of the prettiest landscapes I’d ever seen: the Columbia River Gorge. Our destination? Hood River, Oregon.
To visit Hood River is to step inside the pages of Outside magazine, in the most fabulous way possible. It is a summer sport mecca. Running, hiking, and mountain biking? They have miles upon miles of trails and scenic roads. Water sports like windsurfing, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and kayaking? They have rivers. Skiing in the summer? They have the celestial Mt. Hood, standing sentry over the town. Feel like taking a breather from all that outdoor exertion? They have multiple yoga studios. And after a day of doing all that, they have so many delicious restaurants – many of which use “gorge-grown” ingredients – and microbreweries that it more than makes up for the fact that even in the summertime, layers of clothing are required.
And yet…the place isn’t intimidating. Yes, the residents are extremely active, and most have an incredible collection of stories about their adventures, but these people are nice. They don’t make you feel like you’re not active enough or not green enough; they make you feel welcome. I found this out almost as soon as I arrived in town.
From the airport, Jax brought me to her place, where I dropped my bags and met her boyfriend, Lance. He’s a native of the area and is a photographer specializing in extreme sports – super cool guy. We then drove to a place called the Ruins, site of a weekly al fresco Hood River shin-dig featuring live music, local beer, wine, and food vendors, and general socializing. We immediately bumped into some of Jax and Lance’s friends. Suddenly I had a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. Who was I to argue? To top the evening off, a couple of fire dancers took center stage. As I stood there among new friends, watching wide-eyed and clapping with awestruck delight as the dancers twirled various flaming objects about, I said to myself, Welcome to Oregon!
The next day, Jax and I went for a run along the Columbia River. It was a gorgeous day and as we trotted around, I reveled in being in one of the most runner-friendly states in the USA. Okay, maybe Hood River is a little more surfboard than track spikes, but still. It felt awesome.
After an absurdly pretty mountain hike later that afternoon, we took a field trip to the neighboring town of Mosier (population 430), home of the Thirsty Woman pub. Every week, a group of people ride their bikes from Hood River to Mosier for the sole purpose of going to the pub. They ride on a historic highway that’s closed to cars, and go through really cool tunnels along the way. Jax made the ride that day, but Lance and I opted to drive instead, meeting the bikers at the pub. We all hung out, drank some yummy beer, and had the best tater tots I’ve ever tasted.
Nothing follows an evening of beer and tater tots like…a 6 a.m. hot yoga class. Jax and I sweated and stretched and twisted our way into waking up, and it worked. Which was good, because we had some work ahead of us. Jax and Lance are getting a puppy soon, and in anticipation of the pooch’s arrival, they’re building a fence. That day, the three of us and their friend Justin put up fence posts to begin the process. Let me tell you, stirring concrete to pour into the holes around the posts is not exactly like stirring brownie batter. But we were outside, doing honest “immediate-gratification” work on a beautiful day. Tough to complain about that.
Even tougher to complain, considering what that evening held in store: an exploration of one of the Columbia River Gorge’s finest assets. I refer, of course, to breweries.
Our Tour de Brew commenced at Everybody’s Brewing, a place across the river in the town of White Salmon, Washington. We tried their sampler beer flight and enjoyed the town’s aptly-designed crosswalks:
The next stop was Pfriem, a newer spot in Hood River by the water. This place featured big community-style tables and probably the classiest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a brew pub. Hey, it’s the little things, right?
Our last stop was at Double Mountain, a local favorite and one of the older breweries in town. Here, we finally gave in to our tummies and ordered pizza. Perhaps the beer clouded my judgment just a tiny bit, but that pizza was PHENOMENAL.
Unfazed by the Tour de Brew, we got up early-ish the next morning to do some serious scenic hiking. We headed over to Dog Mountain, a hike of 7 or 8 miles round-trip. Don’t be fooled by the area’s proximity to sea level: the hike was tough! The trail cut steep swaths up into mossy pines [firs?] and ferns and Lord knows what else. As we trekked steadily upward, giving the balls of our feet a solid workout, there were times when we had to push through all the greenery – praying that we weren’t rubbing against any of the rampant poison oak. The view from the summit was worth every bit of it, though:
We cruised back down the mountain, stuffed our faces with delicious Thai from a food truck, and then…sadly…it was time for me to scoot out of town. But Jax and Lance, flawless hosts, managed to slip in one more show of Oregon’s splendor along the way:
Thank you to Chris, Tanya, Jax, Lance, Hudson, and Roscoe for showing me a stellar West Coast vacation!!!