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The Bradism Top Ten Things about the Pacific Northwest

As I travel through time on my flights from Portland back to Adelaide I reflected on my top ten highlights of the Pacific Northwest.

Elk Meadow, Mount Hood

image 1917 from bradism.com

There are many great day hikes in the Pacific Northwest, and Elk Meadows on the southern slope of Mt Hood is where we'll start. The moderate trail first offers a river crossing under the looming gaze of the Hood summit, before switchbacks take you deeper and higher into the forest.

Elk Meadows wildflowers.

Elk Meadows wildflowers.

The trail loops around the meadow, which opens up from the trees to a wide expanse of (depending on the season) grass, a carpet of wildflowers, or a plain of snow). If you are very lucky you may also see Elk.

Mt Walker Summit

Steeper than it looks.

Steeper than it looks.

Somewhere on the drive between Olympic National Park and Seattle is Mt Walker, an hour south-east of Port Angeles. Walker is short, relatively, compared to some other Olympic peaks but the walk to the top is one of the most challenging. Over 625 metres of elevation is achieved over just three kilometres of switchbacks through towering Douglas firs and flowering ferns.

image 1933 from bradism.com

The reward at the top is panoramic views of the Olympic mountain ranges on one side, and ever more panoramic views of Puget Sound to the east, as well as the satisfaction of conquering the brutal incline. Just be careful stepping off the track to pee while descending, because you do not want to slip on a wet log and take the shortcut down.

Voodoo Doughnuts

Two quote/unquote gourmet donuts on some gourmet paper.

Blue Star Donuts' attempt.

If you're ever researching things to do in Portland you will uncover online debates about whether Blue Star Donuts is better than the longer established Voodoo Doughnuts. I figured I'd be willing to eat both to decide for myself
In my opinion it's not even close. Yes, Blue Star's gourmet donuts can be described with words like "hints" and "dashes", but while that's all very grown up Voodoo Doughnuts is plain fun. I understand why the line up goes around the block any time of the day.

image 1921 from bradism.com

The pink store, and its giant menu, produce huge, delicious doughnuts with toppings ranging from sprinkles and chocolate, to Captain Crunch, Graham Crackers, Oreos and Peanut Butter (together). The dough, icing and custard cream has all been perfected. The apple fritter, cinnamony and crispy and packed with flavour, was exceptional.

Second Beach, La Push in the Mist

image 1922 from bradism.com

The Pacific beaches on the west shores of Olympic National Park have an edge of the Earth feeling to them. Shrouded in mist, protected by dense, towering trees, before ultimately crossing a field of driftwood logs each the size of a whale, by the time you reach the sand you have left the world behind.
Second Beach at La Push is one such beach. A short descent through coastal forest leads to the ocean, swirling around the archipelago of tiny, teeth-like islands crowned with more firs that somehow survive the salty winds. Visit at low tide, so you can stroll further into isolation, and at sunset, if you're lucky enough for the fog to lift enough to notice.

Flatstick Pub, Pioneer Square

image 1923 from bradism.com

If you love historic districts, mini golf and craft beer, Flatstick Pub in Seattle's Pioneer Square will bring you joy. Not far from Pike Place Market and the waterfront, the Pioneer Square neighborhood streets are lined with late 19th and early 20th century buildings including Smith Tower, one of the oldest skyscrapers in the USA.
Flatstick Pub hosts a huge, rotating collection of local craft beers on tap, and a challenging 9 hole course of mini golf to enjoy with your drinks. There's also board games, mini-basketball and other mini games to try.
There's also a Flatstick Pub south of Lake Union, close by to some of Seattle's big tech offices. The course there is different, and good, but the location has more of a corporate team building vibe there.

Deer Lake and Sol Duc Falls

image 1924 from bradism.com

In the temperate rainforest and old growth forest around Sol Duc hot springs is a day hike with nearly everything. Starting with a temperate rainforest stroll to the beautiful Sol Duc River falls and canyon, the trail turns up the mountain through more spruce and ferns and increasing elevation.

image 1925 from bradism.com

All kinds of flora is on display as you climb, crossing streams, fallen forest giants and rocky inclines. Then, inexplicably, a lake appears through the trees. Already over 1000 metres up the mountain, the still lake is surrounded by meadows climbing up a ring of even taller peaks, with a little glimpse of snow, and maybe in the blue sky a bald eagle circling. A short trail loops around the lake, passing camping and lunch spots, plus a long drop latrine. The way down is easier, and the ferny, dappled rainforest corridor known as lover's lane follows the Sol Duc back to the hot springs resort. There, if you don't mind other people's skin cells, you can sink into the mineral pools and watch the sunset play across the tree covered slopes all around.

Portland Bookstores

image 1926 from bradism.com

There's a famous bookstore in Portland named Powell's which you may have heard of. I visited it, and it was fantastic, and I even got $2.75 credit for my copy of a JG Ballard paperback at their buying counter. It also made me happy to see so many people in downtown Portland carrying books from Powell's.
That said, Powell's felt a little sanitized, particularly by Portland standards. It sold a lot of classics and stickers and quirky greeting cards. There was a Wholefoods a couple of blocks down.
Half a neighbourhood away, in a tiny store with fading signs was the best bookstore I've ever visited. Cameron's Books & Magazines is an eclectic collection of books and stacks of magazines consuming almost all available space. The prices are cheap, the range unbelievable. I bought a bunch of old Asimov's magazines ranging from 1975 to 2016. If you love words, check out both.

Paradise in June

image 1927 from bradism.com

There's something magical about snow. Well, there's something magical about snow when it's summer and the sky is blue and you can go hiking around on it wearing shorts. (I myself did not wear shorts, but I saw more seasoned locals who did.)
There was plenty of snow near the peaks of Mt Rainier and Mount Hood. The Timberline Lodge was abuzz with skiers and snowboarders in the first week of July. But it was Paradise, on the southern slope of Mt Rainier that won me over. At the heart of a dozen trails, the Paradise visitors centre is spectacular in its own right. You don't need to hike far to find snow beneath your boots.

Replace with DSLR photo later.

Replace with DSLR photo later.

The white trails lead to stunning vistas, glacial waterfalls, and lookout points worth the high altitude exertion. The snow is slippery, but safe to cross if you follow the rule of sticking to others' footprints. After watching your feet and fighting the slope, you can then turn around and see why they named the place Paradise.

Craft Beer

image 1929 from bradism.com

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say every small town in the Pacific Northwest has at least one craft beer microbrewery. And the ratio of one variety of IPA per thousand people in the country continues in the built up metropolises of Seattle and especially Portland. Everywhere you turn is a brewery or pub serving up seasonals and the Pacific Northwest specialty: the IPA. Beer is everywhere. You can even buy six packs of craft beers at supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations.

The beer in this photo has a street value in Adelaide of half a million.

The beer in this photo has a street value in Adelaide of half a million.

The craft beer market is saturated, but I did my best to dry it out. A full review will come shortly. Stand out places to sample include Fremont brewery, Deschutes, and Ten Barrel Brewing.

Hurricane Ridge at Dusk

image 1931 from bradism.com

There's a webcam feed which shows the visitors centre, perched 1600 metres high, at the top of Hurricane Ridge. You can use it to check if the skies are clear, and if there's space to park your massive car. If those conditions are true, take advantage of America's willingness to pave roads to the tops of mountains and visit right before the sun sets.

image 1932 from bradism.com

As the golden hour begins, take in spectacular, 360 degree views of the Olympic mountain ranges, watching elk crossing the alpine meadows, breathe the thin, crisp air and marvel at one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The White Suburban

I can post this now the car has been returned in one piece.

image 1910 from bradism.com

In January I made a reservation for a "mid-sized SUV" for three weeks of driving between the towns and the trail-heads of the Pacific Northwest. I'd expected a Ford Explorer, like the last time I'd hired a car in the US. Or maybe an ironic reunion with a Jeep Patriot after ditching my right-hand drive version a year earlier.

"We'll upgrade you to something more comfortable," the car-wrangler told me at the SEATAC rental car garage. This was the first sign something was wrong. Unless there are tips involved, when a service person says they're doing something for you it almost always means that they're doing something for themselves.
He handed me a key and said "Take the white Suburban."

I'd never heard of a Suburban before, but if you have you would know where this is leading. I was already nervous about interstates and national park navigation and driving on the wrong side of the road. What I didn't need was the biggest American car ever built. (An incorrect assumption, but that's how it felt at the time). 6 metres long, over two metres wide and nearly as high, the Suburban would have been big and wide enough to fit the old Jeep in the backseats. (Almost)

The Suburban in its natural habitat.

The Suburban in its natural habitat.

I requested an alternative vehicle from the car-wrangler, I.E., the midsize SUV I'd originally requested. The manager got involved. This was apparently not possible. I'd come at the point in the day when all they had left was Suburbans. It was true. There they were, dotted, unwanted, among the empty car parks.

I had to make a decision. I mean, it was just a car, I rationalised. Thousands of Americans drove chonking units like it daily. My anxiety had to be getting the best of me. So I agreed to take it. We loaded our suitcases into the trunk and I slowly, gently got it down the ramps of the parking garage and, sooner than I'd have liked, onto the highway.
It was there, at 65 miles per hour, I quickly realised I was out of my depth. The slow lane constantly turned into an exit lane, and I was forced to merge, maneuver and keep straight this titanic on wheels. A Jeep Patriot passed me, and it looked so small, like a red handcart spied out the window of an aeroplane. Nobody honked at me, but I felt closer to death than ever before. I reached over to squeeze Vanessa's hand but the car was so wide I could only reach as far as the second column of cup-holders between us.
The steering was sensitive, the V8 engine roared, but the Suburban weighs three tonnes. The hour of driving it took to get out from Seattle's web of freeways passed mostly in silence, some swearing, country music on the radio.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Aberdeen, and my first American freeway parking lot, I was beginning to feel more comfortable with the Suburban. For starters, there were helpful safety features, like lane assistance guidance to vibrate the seat when you drifted into other lanes, and extra mirrors to provide visibility of all the parts of the road you couldn't see because of the girth of the ginormous chassis. Features that, you could argue, wouldn't be necessary if the Suburban had been built to normal proportions. But they helped, and driving almost became... Enjoyable.
Then I had to park it. There are more fun things to do than park a Suburban. Vanessa was very helpful.

Once I had the hang of the dimensions, the cruise control and the fuel consumption, the Suburban was, I guess, "comfortable." And as it accompanied us on drives through temperate rainforests, up mountains, along rivers and to misty beaches I realised that maybe the car was also out of its comfort zone of city streets and fast-food chain drive-thrus. Without the Suburban I would never have made it to the top of Hurricane Ridge, or the snowy vistas of Paradise, nor the canyons of Mt Hood and the trails of the Olympics.

image 1912 from bradism.com

image 1913 from bradism.com

image 1914 from bradism.com

And it hit me, as I reached the summit of the final ridge of our last hike - my unconditioned ankles tender from the climbs, my office-worker skin scratched and weathered, the remnants of a hundred spiderweb strands clinging to my hat - that I was a big chonker out in the world too. I was oversized, but getting it done in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

image 1915 from bradism.com

I was also a white Suburban.


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Winter in Summer

Forced myself to wake up at 6AM today in the hopes of dodging both UV and other humans on the Winter Track near Waterfall Gully. I didn't quite wake up, but we got there and I was pleased to discover that my legs were still capable of hiking up steep hills. We did four kilometres of incline and the same four down, both at a similar pace. It was nice.

image 1840 from bradism.com

This was motivated by reaching the six month mark in the countdown to our trip to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, where we will be doing summer in winter.
I hope all the bears and moose are as apathetic about my visit as those kangaroos.

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