Carving our own Oregon Trail

Oregon was a place I was excited to visit not only because of its raw beauty but also to experience America’s liberal, hipster, heart.

This is the place where (in the major centres, at least… pretty sure its guns and trucks all the way in the rural areas) cold brew coffee, dogs in handmade leather berets and food trucks reign supreme. We had planned a one night stop over in Portland to soak up the uber-hipster-ness before moving on to spend the rest of our week in Bend – Portland’s smaller, more laid-back and mountainous cousin – but then, well, Paul Kelly happened.

Paul Kelly is an Australian musician who has been everpresent throughout our relationship and one whom we both love. So, when we saw he was playing in Portland two days after we were passing through, we rerouted our trip to allow us to experience this Australian music legend at the Doug Fir Lounge, purportedly one of the best small music venues in the US.

Some context for the Australian audience: Paul Kelly is virtually unknown in the states. When Erik (the fountain of all musical knowledge) first came to Australia he didn’t know who Paul Kelly was. With this as our baseline, we knew we were pretty much guaranteed to see Kelly play to a smaller crowd than we’d ever witness him play to in Australia. Oh, and all for the princely sum of $15 each. Because that’s how they roll in the states.

Some context for our American audience: Paul Kelly is to Australia what Bruce Springsteen is to the US. If you want to see him play in Australia, he is selling out venues which hold around 12,000 for around $99 a ticket next month. No joke. Because PK is the shiz… oh, and because liking music in Australia is akin to having a house mortgage (and let’s not start on that).

Paul Kelly, Portland
Paul Kelly in Portland

And it was phenomenal. He played for two hours to about 150 people (I don’t think I’ve been in such close proximity to so many Australians since I disembarked my last Qantas flight in LAX). It was heartwarming to hear so many people singing along to songs about our hometown 13,000km away.

A few days in Portland also allowed us to get our hipster ON. We drank good coffee, spent hours pouring through the never-ending selection at Powell’s City of Books (it really is a city… or in the very least, a complete city block) ate exceedingly well, and stayed in a hippie Airbnb commune.  Our only let downs were the miserable weather (which is apparently true to Portland style) and the night we walked 40 minutes to one of Portland’s many food truck parks only to find ‘open’ on a Monday meant 15 closed trucks and one which was closing down.

Having our Portlandia fill, we drove through the Willamette Valley and the beautiful (albeit frozen) Willamette National Park to Bend. Set in the high desert, Bend is far drier than Portland, so we rolled in on a mild autumnal day and set up our camp as the sun sparkled on the river in the ever-so-pretty Tumelo State Park.

Willamette National Park
The part of our Oregon Trail that led to Bend.

It is hard to verbalise what we liked so much about Bend, but it is one of the handful of places we have visited on this trip that we put in the ‘yep, we could live here’ basket (for those tracking at home – or potentially planning future holidays to visit us – NYC, Asheville, Charleston, and Seattle have made the cut). It just felt like we could spend alot of time there.

Tumelo State Park, Bend
Tumelo State Park, how I loved thee!

Our time in Bend was not only to see this delightful part of the country, but also to catch up with Erik’s friends, Conan and Amy. These guys were the ultimate hosts (not to mention a blast to hang out with) spending all three nights we were there with us, and even inviting us to share in their son Tegan’s eleventh birthday party. And with an eleven-year-olds birthday we even got to learn about the Walking Dead comic books, to boot.

We were sad to leave Oregon, and Bend in particular, but the mighty Redwoods of California were beckoning the ‘roo onwards. There is no doubt we’ll be back, and hopefully for much longer than 5 days, next time.

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