Ainsworth State Park proves a useful and peaceful location for us, hosting us for four days, before we head over in to Washington.
Loops and I decide to be active in visiting a couple of the waterfalls nearby, for you cannot visit an area renowned for its waterfalls and then simply ignore them. How rude would that be?
For our first excursion we pop just a couple minutes down the road to Horsetail Falls. I enjoy this stop more than our second, because here you have to put at least a little effort in to gain the view, you can’t simply drive up to it and see it from the window. It is also in no way limited in its access, you can walk right up to it and stand under the hammering water should you wish. Loops and I take a short 15 minute hike up a rocky hillside with switchbacks, round a corner and there it is – Horsetail Falls, and very aptly named too. The water flows over a jutting out ledge and from such a height that it gives the impression of individual liquid strands as opposed to one huge cascading wall of water, giving a fair impression of the strands of hair from an equine tail.
Due to the protruding ledge, a semi-circular open cave exists behind and underneath the falls, with a pathway through it, meaning you can walk and stand behind the water flow. There are no barriers here, no signs to tell you to stay away from the water. You can walk right up to the falls themselves and swim in the pool where the water is collecting. And this is what we find a number of people doing this afternoon. I stroll down the water’s edge to stand next to the thundering falls and enjoy feeling the power of it; it is tangible, the force of nature at work.
Still, it pays to always be careful out here in the wilderness, as we are reminded by watching some local rangers wheel an empty rugged rolling stretcher past us, off in search of a missing injured person higher up in the hills. They don’t seem to be in much of a hurry though, and shortly after passing us, they stop. Loops goes to enquire what they are up to (as he does), and finds out that they have received a call for help, only the person doesn’t know where they are located. These rangers are waiting for another team to give them an accurate location before they wheel their stretcher any further, and potentially in the wrong direction. Later on we discover that a second team has to be sent up as one of the rangers themselves has fallen and severely hit her head on the way to rescue the first person.
So, always be alert and be safe people!
After our short rendezvous with nature we head a little further down the I-84 to the larger waterfall we passed earlier in the week, the one that can be seen from the road – Multnomah Falls.
The falls here are a huge local attraction; the car parked is completely rammed, there are people swarming all over the place, and I can see crowds packed all along the path and bridge where you can view the falls more closely.
This is an 180o experience from the one we have just had.
Loops and I shuffle our way along the pavement, following the hoards to the viewing area. Multnomah is an impressive sight to be sure. The drop of the falls is 611 feet, and is a picturesque thin, ribbon curtain of water dropping to the floor in an impressive roar that lands and throws up a misty cloud of spray.
From a distance, the falls looks almost broken in two, a top section and bottom section. This is due to the charming Benson Bridge that has been built across the waterway at the foot of the falls.
This means you have a number of viewing opportunities, one at the base as you approach from the car park, one hanging in the air from on the bridge, and for those wanting to stretch their legs further, one from the top of the falls if you continue up the path.
Having already taken a stroll that morning, we opt for the first two views before making a cursory weave through the gift shop and back to The Beast. I have had my fill of people for the day.
Time back at the bus passes well. Loops keeps himself busy tinkering with Belle, fending off non helpful comments from the RV chap across form us, and spending the afternoons watching people trying to back into the incredible tight spaces in the park (one of his most favourite activities).
We also discover we have an interesting family residing diagonal to us, whom we both spend a lot of time people watching because they really are quite fascinating. The family seems to consist of a mother and father with 2 small children; one of them is maybe three, the other just a baby.
They have a car and a family sized tent. And boxes. And a dog. And some chickens. Free roaming.
In reality, they look like this is how they live full time, in the car and tent, moving from campground to campground.
And in one sense, that isn’t too unusual. We live full time on the road and so do plenty of other people in their RV’s, including people with young families. However, these people have only a car and tent with all of their other belongings strewn about their site (all the kids’ toys and play chairs etc.) with their boxes piled up outside the tent. And the dog and chickens are just roaming about with no cage or restraint but don’t venture further than their campsite (and I don’t know where they put them at night?).
I watch the family in the morning especially, while I’m eating my breakfast and working. I find the kids pretty interesting, they totally amuse themselves. The older child wanders around their little site playing by himself, he doesn’t wander off, he doesn’t scream or cry or demand attention. There is obviously no TV or computers or phones in his life. He’s very self-sufficient for a child under four, or at least I think so.
The family don’t go anywhere, they don’t leave their site, they just….hang around together.
I look at them and I think that some people would be derogatory about them, would be horrified or look down on them. But when I look at them the words and feelings that form in my mind are: simple, calm, self-possessed, loving, bonded.
It reminds me that we all walk a different path in life. And that there is no right or wrong way to go about it.
Before we leave for Washington, I have one final task to accomplish, a treat for myself – it’s time to visit some friends! Yes, I am very quickly coming to realise how my acquaintances I have scattered around this continent, and I have two of them right down the road in Portland!
I take The Beast, leave Loops to his pottering, and head into the centre of Portland to meet a fellow AT hiker – Lighthouse. Lighthouse has recently moved to Portland. As in he landed about a week ago, having left his home in Scotland to start a new life out here in the USA.
Lighthouse and I have an interesting history in that we both hiked the AT in 2012, we started chatting online through an AT forum exchanging ideas and tips before we set off, but never actually met in person before or during our hikes. It wasn’t until we both returned to the UK the following year that he came to visit me for a weekend in Winchester. We have kept in touch ever since and I have followed his travels as he has proceeded to hike both the PCT and the CDT in the past four years, something I envy and am in awe of.
And now we find ourselves crossing paths out here in the USA, both about 6,000 miles from our homes.
I find Lighthouse to be a quietly excitable chap; he has tons of ever-changing ideas about what he wants to do in life and where his future is headed. I’ll frequently check in with him to see how he’s doing, only to find he’s come up with yet another plan to implement, like heading off to hike in the Himalayas (yes, he’s done that too). Lighthouse I also find fascinating for he loves America in exactly the equal, but opposite, amount to how much it disquiets me. And he especially loves the West Coast, though I am quickly seeing why.
He has no fear of moving country and dropping himself into a completely new city with no friends really to speak of, and just making a go of it. He really does inspire me at times and to boot; he’s not even hit his mid 20’s yet.
I drive into the downtown area of Portland where we have arranged to meet on the waterfront, near the Saturday morning market held there. Our plan has a couple flaws in it, seeing as neither of us have been to the waterfront before and therefore trying to locate each other without any ability to give reference to where we are is a bit dubious, but we manage it in the end – I see him striding down the pavement and we hug it out when we meet.
Portland is not my city. I would not choose to live here. Lighthouse seems to love it and it suits him well. While the city isn’t as oppressive as a massive skyscraper dominated metropolis, it is still clogged with traffic and pedestrians and many, many homeless people. And that’s actually my main impression of Portland; it is the land of the homeless.
Now, we have homeless people in England of course. People become homeless for a large number of reasons, and many due to circumstances beyond their control. You will find homeless people busking on the streets, sitting with their pets asking for money, or sleeping in doorways. Usually they are either alone or maybe you might see just a couple people together.
What I have never seen at home is a tent gathering of homeless people in a main city. And this is what Portland has.
As Lighthouse and I wander the streets, I see communities of tents, 5 or 6 together, set up underneath a road bridge or sitting right out on the pavement next to the road. As I have driven through the city, there are tents set up on the grassy road verges or off the exits to the motorway. I simply can believe the number of people in this city living in tents, out in the open and no-one seemingly doing anything to stop it or to help alleviate the problem. I really am shocked by it.
I’m guessing the residents here are used to it, no-one else seems to notice them and Lighthouse doesn’t seem surprised by them.
He and I wander through the market together, not really looking but more as an activity while we talk. He tells me about his current job and his plans to become an electrician over here (a change from the chemistry degree he studied back home). We discuss the differences in the educational systems (which I’ve had my own troubles with) and then move on to what he enjoys about this city compared to where he had stayed on a previous trip down in Bend.
We wander further into the heart of the city and make a trip to the infamous Powell Books, a stop for any book lover in Portland. The store is amazing, heaven for bibliophiles. One of the things I’ve found that I like very much here in the US are the independent book stores that I’ve come across selling both new and used books. I’m quite happy to purchase a book that someone else has read, especially if it saves me money. And here at Powell’s there is a large collection of books to trawl through – we spend at least 45 minutes browsing while Lighthouse tries to entice me into trying new sci-fi or fantasy books, the sort where the first ten pages are maps or character lists. Um, no. I enjoy the genre very much, just not when people start inventing their own language or when you have to read a back history of a fantasy world just to understand the beginnings of the plot!
I do manage to locate a missing book in the series that I am currently reading (The Landover books by Terry Brooks, in case you are wondering), so I’m happy to have bought something in this fabulous store.
We round off our time together by visiting a water feature in the city, having lunch at Chipotle (a first for me) and driving to Target so Lighthouse can buy himself a pillow (he’s been sleeping without one).
All in all, a good morning.
I drop him back off at his new abode and bid him farewell until the next time our paths cross, and head off to my next visit, with Lacy.
Now a little while back when we passed through Salt Lake City in Utah, I mentioned seeing a friend who I had worked with over at The Tracey Aviary one summer. Today I get to visit another friend from that summer, Lacy, who moved to Portland about 10 years ago and has become a head honcho person at a wildlife rehab centre there.
Lacy is another both fascinating and inspiring person to me. The summer we worked together in Utah she just had this never-ending supply of energy and fun and laughter to her. She’s very serious and dedicated when it comes to her work, but to look at her she is a contrast from most of the animal industry people I work with. For a start, she has a rather lot of tattoos and some large gauges in her ears (I’d never, ever seen or heard of these until I met her). She likes some hard-core type music, plays the bagpipes and has taken up running in her spare time. She is just a very eclectic in my opinion.
I visit Lacy at her house where we just spend an hour or two catching up with the changes in our lives of the past 13 years since I saw her last. She is both the same person and completely different. She seems to have mellowed, there is a calm to her that wasn’t there before, but at the same time I still sense the same personality simmering under the surface. She has grown up and now owns a house, she is an experienced animal rehab manager and is married; but as we talk it is interesting to hear some of her thoughts on her life now, and she reminds me a little of myself and my circumstances from when I first met her. She has now all the trappings of normal life and is wondering if it is enough, or maybe if it is the right thing at all. Maybe there is something else out there waiting for her.
My father passed away four years ago this month and ever since that moment my life has changed. For the past four years I have spent looking, watching, listening and thinking – both at my own life and others around me. I feel that a change has come over me; how I perceive things, what I am choosing to value, and an understanding of how short and precious life really is. I talk to my friends and family, to new people that I meet, to acquaintances I haven’t seen in a long time; and I am realising the similar threads that run through people’s lives. I am now seeing and listening to the quite discontent or questioning of aspects of their lives, and realising how much I once thought of myself as alone in this regard, but actually that so many people seem to carry these thoughts with them. And this is exactly what I feel while I am talking with Lacy, and feel somehow lightened as this realisation takes hold.
My visit ends with an impromptu personal bagpipe concert, with Lacy explaining the pieces of the instrument, how it works and how much hard work and dedication it takes to become proficient. I find something stirring and moving about the sound of bagpipes playing, they give me a chill of sorts when I hear them. They have the ability to sound both incredibly happy and cheerful but also soulful and sad. I sit and listen while Lacy plays through a couple of jig pieces that she has been practicing for an upcoming competition and the sound just overwhelms the whole house and probably the neighbourhood too.
It is a delight and leaves me grinning ear to ear.
And it is on this wave of glee that I depart Portland, head towards the bus and ready myself for the adventures to come tomorrow, as we finally leave Oregon for our next state.