An Ode to Portland

A few days ago, I awoke at the crack of dawn for a flight to depart Portland. Groggy-eyed and sleep deprived, I felt a kind of sadness that doesn’t usually accompany tourist goodbyes. I had only been in the city for four days, but it seemed like I was leaving some sort of permanence there, left among the muraled walls and new friends in between.

This past week in the Pacific Northwest, I felt like I could finally breathe. Cities were not so austerely urban as the east coast — but they were not so two-dimensional as the Midwest, either. The land had texture, terrain — hills. The Columbia River Gorge, Multonomah Falls — they stood in a concrete vastness that overpowered me. There really was nothing quite like nature to make me feel so small.

Portland is a city of come and go, to and fro. I don’t quite know if too many people spend a lifetime there. It is a city of yuppies, hopping the stepping stones and climbing the Mount Hood of the career world. It is a place of childhood suburbia-topia, until everyone itches to break free. It is a tourist area, of wannabe hipsters and converted hippies who believe they may somehow fit in. Maybe I belong in somewhere in those categories.

Most importantly, Portland is where I broke my primary rule for this trip: no male hosts. Ever. Ever ever ever.

As a young female traveling by herself, this may seem like a given, an obvious — a duh. Is this sexist? Generalising all men as potential threats — yes, that’s extremely sexist. However, when it comes down to resorting to stereotypes to determine my safety — it seemed like a pass I could give myself. Of course, I had seen all those documentaries and Lifetime movies and Dateline 20/20 episodes where women met awful fates simply because they didn’t take enough caution. I swiped a hard pass on any male host offers I received — until I got one from Doug, a Duke-educated ex-navy pilot with a wife and two kids, who gave me his address, his license plate, and his Facebook friendship. This could be okay, right?

Nevertheless, days before my arrival, every instinctive nerve within me screamed this was a bad idea. Anyone could be anyone on the Internet, so what did I really know? However, Doug greeted me with the warmest sense of humour, and a “that’s what she said” sarcasm that made me feel immediately comfortable. He gave me my own room, he put food onto my plate at every meal, and he drove wherever I said go.

We simply found solace in talking for hours on end — about broken relationships, trips to prison, drunken nights of debauchery, stupid undergrad stories, and harrowing tales of abuse. I shared details about my life some of my closest friends don’t know — perhaps because I figured I may never see him again. In return, he gave me sincere advice — unhindered by how I may judge or rebut. Those four days with Doug may have been the fastest friendship I have ever forged — and one of the most genuine, as well.

As a Portland native, he showed me around his hometown with the utmost patience, never with any signs of boredom or exhaustion. Even on Saturday night at the bar, he had to remind me who was the “old soul” and who was the nineteen-year-old. I ran around Voodoo doughnuts like a five-year-old, and I swear I squealed just at the sight of Powell’s, the largest bookstore in the world. Yet, he stood by and never judged. He introduced me to oysters and watched as I struggled to swallow the sea. He talked with me about Michigan sports as we followed hundreds of Santas into bars all across Portland. He helped me fall in love with Oregon, a Mother Nature grander than any I had ever seen on the east coast or Midwest.

What I am starting to learn is that travel is not about where you go, but whom you go with.

Even though this may be a solo roadtrip, I have met some of the most interesting people along the way — from Crystal and Evelyn, to Doug, and all the conversations on buses and flights here and there.

Whether it is meeting new individuals, or visiting old friends — the people define the experience. I feel incredibly grateful to have shared my experience with so many kind people — and even more thankful that they took the time to share parts of their lives with me.

For now, onward to California. For later, Portland, I will be coming back.

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