Category Archives: Oregon & Washington

Oregon and Seattle

The following is a poor recreation of the amazing blog entry that I typed while on the plane yesterday. It was accidentally erased (by Cam!) in the process of trying to upload it to the website! So, here goes… “take 2”.

So far, Oregon and Seattle have been the highlights of our trip! Cam wrote about our cycling experience in Portland — we sure loved the freedom of two wheels in the city. One evening, after buying the ingredients for a picnic dinner, a local cyclist gave us a great suggestion of where to eat it. A nearby park and school are the location of an interesting annual phenomenon: each September, when the nights are getting cooler, tens of thousands of swifts arrive at dusk to roost in a large chimney. They fly in from all directions and form a swirling mass that looks like a black funnel cloud above the chimney. Bit by bit, the birds enter the (no longer used) chimney to the oohs and aahhs of the assembled crowd of onlookers.

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swifts coming in to roost at Chapman Public School

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Part of the crowd that assembled to watch the spectacle. They were even selling pizza as a fundraiser for the school.

As much as we liked the freedom that bikes gave us in the city, we appreciated the generous offer of Seattle friends Jeremy and Pam’s generous offer to lend us a car for the duration of our stay. Also very much appreciated was Jer’s 45 minute drive airport pickup the day before. We visited their daughter Juliana who is a freshman at Lewis and Clark college in Portland. She gave us a great tour of the beautiful campus, complete with big trees and a view of Mt. Hood. Sharing a dorm room with 3 others looked a bit crowded but fun! The coastal rainforest did not disappoint. Short hikes through the old growth took us to wide sandy beaches full of surfers braving the cold water. We only lasted a few seconds in the water without wetsuits.

We thought we were traveling in the off-season (kids being back at school, after all), so were surprised to encounter full campgrounds at every State Park. Obviously, we weren’t the only ones out enjoying a beautiful weekend by the ocean. At Oswald West, there was a steady stream of surfers carrying their boards down to the beach.

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clouds meet forest meet beach

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Once back in Seattle, we hung out at Pam and Jeremy’s. Cam got a (36 hr) crash course in all things technical (Jeremy had a career at microsoft, and we are traveling with an alarming number of electronic gadgets!), which allows us to do things like type a blog entry while on the airplane and subsequently delete it and do it again in Costa Rica… what wonderful time-saving devices these are. We also had to re-think our packing after 2 trips to REI (outdoor store) to fill in some missing pieces. We eventually got ourselves down to the four packs that we will travel with all year (OK, plus a few carry-ons).

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Pam, Jeremy and daughter Jillian

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Will they still be smiling when the packs are on their backs?

We also visited friends Ian and Jen Simpson + their 3 boys who are recent arrivals from Ottawa to Seattle. Ian is the new VP of mobile at Amazon. Ian, Jeremy & Cam were classmates in engineering at Waterloo 25 years back. We loved the Simpson’s new (120 year-old) house in a very funky downtown neighbourhood and were impressed at how settled they seem to be already. We got our final vaccinations at a travel clinic and are now vaccinated for typhoid, yellow fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Hep A & B, rabies, a bunch of lesser evils and have 7 months of Malaria meds on hand – thank goodness for our extended health insurance! With bandaids on our arms we took off to see a few sights in Seattle (when we managed to see past the “Starbucks” signs!) One of those was the very lively Pike Place market where we bought fresh salmon for a farewell group dinner with Simpsons and Mercers.
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The "gum wall" at Pike Place market. Yeah, a bit gross, but at least it wasn't in full sun.
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The Simpsons' new home -- wow!

Ian proved himself to be the ‘superhost’ by getting up at 3am to drive us to the airport! He was going to put in a couple of hours of work before the start of the work day at Amazon (and probably pay a visit to one of the many Starbucks locations.)

So we’ve now arrived in Costa Rica and are staying with our good Peterborough friend Javier’s very good friend Arturo & family – they own/run a large adventure business that has a 8-stage zip line and fabulous mountain bike trails. They are lovely – we are in good hands and are really looking forward to trying some of their adventures. Ecotourism is our next filming focus, so Cam will be doing some homework tonight to start shooting tomorrow.

We are doing the classroom component of our SCUBA certification tonight, to start our course Monday. Adios, till our next entry ….

Yvonne

Pedaling in Portland

Portland, Oregon is well known as a pioneer in the field of bicycling infrastructure and for this reason made it onto our travel itinerary.

Our home city of Peterborough has been engaged in a very  heated debate for the past few decades about whether to build a new arterial road (the “Parkway”) through the middle of town.  A right of way was set aside years ago for this possibility, but in the mean time it has become a fantastic linear greenspace corridor with a fabulous walking/cycling trail that our family and many others make great use of.  The debate came to a head this past year through the completion of an Environmental Assessment that ultimately recommended the building of the road and a huge new brid1ge for the tune of $80 million.  The paving over of the greenspace corridor and construction of the bridge over the city’s most beloved park was opposed by a huge number of citizens and I have been very active in organizing against the project.  Yvonne, Kaia, Jake and I all spoke out against the project in the public meeting.  So if not a new road to deal with potential future congestion, then what?  Many of us have argued that Peterborough needs to more aggressively promote cycling, walking and transit before encouraging more auto use.  But it became clear through letters to the editor that many other citizens were sceptical about the prospects of increasing cycling numbers.  I don’t believe these folks have been to world class cycling cities like  Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or … Portland!  We spent our time in Portland learning how they managed to get so many people onto their bikes.  We will do the same in Copenhagen and Amsterdam and will bring our stories, photos and video back to Peterborough next year.
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Portland used to be like any other city … stumbling along with sprawl, and then building new roads as sprawl demanded.  In the 1980s a new freeway project ignited a debate not unlike ours in Peterborough that ultimately led to a decision NOT to build the freeway but to invest in cycling infrastructure instead.  They hired Mia Birk to lead this work and she has not let up since.  .  Following a very successful (and challenging) stint as bicycling coordinator, Mia has gone on to found her own consulting firm (Alta Planning) that helps cities around North America get folks out of cars and onto bikes. We borrowed a copy of her book “Joyride” from the Peterborough library before we left, and through a fortuitous connection were able to arrange a meeting with Mia while in Portland.  Our interview with Mia represented the start of our video work.  Kaia and Jake posed a series of questions, with Yvonne filming the questions and I catching Mia’s responses.  Mia is lovely, and very articulate, and was open to being interviewed  … perhaps because of the novelty of the 12 and 13 yr old journalists?!   Our hope is to produce a series of video vignettes centered on different elements of sustainability.  They will be aimed at the grade 7-9 classroom, hence K&J as the hosts.  I am learning film work by seat of my pants and some very helpful coaching from friends Chester, Barbara, Michael & George.

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We rented bikes the 1st day in Portland and set out on a self guided tour of the cycling infrastructure that the city has set up for folks like us.  GoPro camera on the bike, hand-held video camera on the ready.  Through this tour, and from our meeting with Mia and reading her book, we saw how Portland has, among other things,
– created over 300km of cycling/walking paths

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– designated key arterials and many other roads as cycling boulevards with very well marked lanes

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– marked “trouble spots” (where cyclists and motorists typically tangle up) with green paint to get attention of both users)

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– installed bike parking racks in previously car parking spots in commercial zones (these were very well used and appreciated by adjacent business owners – 10 bikes can park in 1 car space)

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– removed some street parking to put in bike lanes
– installed special street crossing controls for cyclists to help them cross busy arterials

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– developed and delivered cycling training programs in city schools to improve skills/confidence
– facilitated the accommodation of bikes on the city’s LRT (this really opens up possibilities for commuters)
– created a floating bike path (the “Esplanade”) on the Willameette river to link two bike paths that were otherwise unconnectable
– installed directional signs along all paths and routes, indicating cycling directions and distances to city landmarks

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– held parties on bridges to celebrate installation of safe lanes to cross the bridge (bridges shut down for the day!)

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– encouraged employers to install showers and secure, out of the rain storage of bikes at work
– encouraged employers to invite bike mechanics to the workplace for bike tune-ups

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– fixed potholes and other dangerous cracks in the roads anywhere frequented by bikes

How successful has Portland been?  There are cyclists EVERYWHERE!  They go by in waves.  Not much lycra – just folks getting from A to B … in the roads, along the paths.  We actually created some commotion while trying to film in the bike lanes.  A full 8% of Portlanders commute daily on their bikes, and 35% use their bikes for some trips around the city.  Cycling is clearly a big part of the city’s culture, and this eco-status and ease of getting around has resulted in a significant upturn in tourism.  And then there are the physical and mental health benefits of active transportation, cleaner air, less CO2, less congestion, more greenspace, and much money saved through avoidance of new road contruction (all this infrastructure comes at a cost of 1% of Portland’s transportation budget).
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A large message board at the end of Hawthorne bridge provides realtime updates of bike traffic over the bridge – for the day and the year to date.  The yearly increases in bridge traffic are nothing short of phenomenal since Mia got to work in the early 90s.

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I told the barista at iconic “Stumptown Coffee” why we were in town, and he immediately replied “who needs a car …. you can cycle anywhere in Portland!”.  I then of course asked him if he’d mind saying that in front of my rolling camera (note to self … ask video coaches how you’re supposed to handle this sort of thing).  So, Peterborough, it IS possible.  And Mia reassured inquiring Kaia and Jake that these strategies work in harsher climates (of course, rates dropping through worst of the winter), and work especially well in smaller cities.  Anyone needing further convincing should know that the cycle shop that we rented our bikes from offers a cycling tour from local brewery to brewery.  Hopefully along especially wide paths and lanes!

To close out this entry, here are some more pics of Portland bicycle culture. And our hats off to Mia for her leadership and making time for us.

I typed this entry entoute between Seattle and Houston. After 4 hr layover we are about to take off for San Jose Costa Rica. Whihoo!

Cam

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This is what Miss Oregon wore for the Miss America pageant. Beautiful! Thanks Pam for the link to this.

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Just back from our little Oregon Trip!

On Wednesday we left Seattle for Portland, Oregon.  When we got there, we went to an outdoor store to get rain jackets, air mattresses and stuff, bought some greasy pizza that sort of made me nauseous, drove around for an hour (while getting lost) to find a campsite, and then went to sleep. Fun.

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Portland, Oregon

Thursday, we woke up early and drove 40 minutes to get back to Portland, where we rented bikes. Portland has done a lot of stuff to get people riding their bikes. There are bike lanes on almost every street, bike parking everywhere, and a lot of other cool stuff. We also met with Mia Birk who was the cycling coordinator for Portland for so many years and we interviewed her.  It was really interesting.  Then, we took the train to the top of the mountain with our bikes and rode down. It was so much fun!

That night we slept in a nice little guest house. And in the morning we rode back to the bike renting place. Friday, we visited some people we know and also a science museum called OMSI. There we saw the movie Flight of the Butterflies about the migration of the monarchs. It was so cool! We also saw exhibits about sustainability, and in one room there was a display of each week of the development of a fetus! It was an awesome museum.

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That night we drove to the Oregon coast and camped near Lincoln City. And Saturday and Sunday were spent hiking to beaches, seeing huge trees (and I mean HUGE), and watching people surf in the freezing Pacific Ocean. Without a wetsuit, our legs were numb after 20 seconds. After 30+ temperatures in Portland, I was so cold wearing my fleece AND rain jacket on the coast. But I must say the Oregon coast is beautiful.

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read my T-shirt …”I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees”

I think I’ve covered a lot of the school subjects so far- let’s see,

  • Gym (riding a bike around Portland)
  • Oral communication (interviewing Mia Birk)
  • Geography (finding my way around Portland)
  • Science (going to the OMSI)
  • Math (my mother)
  • Writing (this blog entry)

We had a great little trip to Oregon. Can’t wait for Costa Rica on Thursday!

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looking over Cape Lookout, wouldn’t want to fall down there!

 

Hope everyone is having fun back at school 🙂

Kaia

September 8th