Monday, January 31, 2011

Exploring Portland and Beyond

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

The days seem to be flying by. It's hard to believe that today is the last day of January. We have been keeping busy finding out Portland is all about. Shortly after arriving, we made a list of all the things we wanted to do while we're here. If we don't write it down, we'll forget and we'll find ourselves pulling out of town with a lot of "wish we had done that"! Our original list contained more than 15 items and as quickly as we're marking old ones off, we're adding new ones. While that means we'll probably never complete the list, we're certainly trying to make the most of our time here.

We figured one of the best ways to learn about a city is to take a guided tour. On Saturday we took a walking tour of Portland ( It was a little pricey ($19/person), but for 2 1/2 hours of entertainment and education, I think it was well worth it and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
A few little fun facts about the city:

  • How did Portland get it's name? There were 2 primary landholders who each wanted to name the city after their home city. One was from Boston and the other was from Portland, ME. They argued for quite some time and could never come to an agreement. Finally, the townspeople had had enough and forced a decision. A penny was flipped and the winner would get to choose the name. So Portland was literally named by a flip of a coin.
  • Portland is home to the smallest park in the world (designated by Guiness Book of World Records). Originally, there was supposed to be a light post here, but the city never completed the project and instead the median remained dirt and weeds. A local newspaper editor, whose office window overlooked the median, was notorious for griping about the city for years and stating that he had the worst view in the city. One day, he planted a bush there and from that day on, his outlook changed and he praised the city in his columns. (yes, that little tree in the round median is the park!)
  • Portland is becoming well-known for it's sustainability, social consciousness and eco-friendliness. There are many miles of bike lanes (I don't remember how many, but several hundred) and one stat that our guide gave us is that there are over 17,000 bike commuters daily. That's a lot! They are trying to become the most eco-friendly city in the world. But biking is not the only way to get around. Apparently, skateboarding is also a common means of transportation, as noted by the skateboarding lanes!

After our tour, we moved on to another "must visit" in Portland - Voodoo Donut. Now, let me say that we're not donut connoisseurs. I never fell for the Krispy Kreme craze and I can't remember the last time I even ate a donut. But this place was consistently listed on all the 'visit Portland' sites and it is supposedly "world famous", so while we were downtown, we decided to check it out. Well, it certainly does have its following. As we approached the building we could see a long line of people outside. I figured it was for something else, but as we got closer, it was evident that they were all waiting for donuts! The line was a mixture of young and old, local and tourist. How could we not join the ranks and stand in line? And stand we did, for probably a good 30-45 minutes! If we had known it would take that long, we probably wouldn't have waited. But once we were in line and watched as the line continued to grow and grow, we couldn't give up our spot. After all, all these people must know something, right? We finally got inside the very small little, non-descript storefront. There was not really a menu to speak of, just a huge variety of donuts. Some were pretty basic looking, but others were topped with everything imaginable (froot loops, cheetos, bacon, oreos, and so much more). So was the wait worth it? Probably not. The donuts were good, but they're donuts. Personally, I would have preferred a freshly baked cookie or even a fresh piece of warm bread. (I guess that's my age speaking!) Although I'm sure they were just recently made, they weren't "fresh out of the oven" hot, nor was there even any scent wafting around to torture us while we waited. But we're glad we experienced a piece of Portland culture and it's not like we had to be anywhere else!

The line (notice the small, handpainted sign before the marquee. That's the door. We probably would have walked right past if not for the line!):

With our sugar buzz in high gear, we buzzed around the city checking out a few more sites, until the sugar wore off and we crashed and were both ready for a nap. It was a full day, but thoroughly enjoyed learning about and experiencing the city. Although we are not really city people, we really like the vibe of Portland and look forward to venturing downtown again soon.

Almost every day we try to get out and see something new. That is one advantage of not working - there's ample time to explore - and we're taking full advantage of it. Of course with no income, we need to be frugal and many of our outings cost nothing, other than some gas. Oregon has a vast state park system, several of which are close by. We try to get out and hike as often as we can, when the weather cooperates.

Tyron State Park, a rainforest in the middle of the city!

We actually have had pretty decent weather. Granted, we've not seen much of the sun, but the area has been experiencing an unusual "dry" pattern the last couple of weeks. Of course, dry is relative. Coming from the arid Colorado climate, I would not exactly call this dry. Most mornings there is fog and the grass is damp. But I guess because there is no rain falling from the sky, they consider it dry. OK, I'll take it!

One morning last week, when the valley was particularly shrouded in fog, the weatherman said the coast was clear and sunny, so we decided to take a drive out there. We didn't really have a specific destination in mind, but knew that Hunter would appreciate a good run on the beach. These days, he only has about 5 minutes of good running energy, but it's still amazing to see him let loose and go! One of the many nice things about Oregon is that dogs don't have to be on leash on the beaches, just under control. Not that we probably had to worry this time of year since the beaches weren't very crowded, but we do like to adhere to the rules. Unfortunately, the weatherman wasn't exactly correct. Once again, I think their weather terms are relative. We did experience some sun on the drive out, but it was pretty overcast and a little foggy in places. But it was still pleasant and we had a great time.

Cannon Beach:

We still have a long list of things we want to do while we're here. We have reservations here at the park until mid-March so that will hopefully allow us to check off many of the items. Despite the weather, we are enamored with the state of Oregon. I don't know exactly why, but it just has the right feel to us. If we ever decide to settle down, this would be high on our list of places. And until then, we hope to return often. Of course, the "problem" with this lifestyle is that there are so many places to go and we want to see them all! It's difficult to think about returning to places we've already been, no matter how much we like them, when there are so many unexplored areas. It's a tough life, but someone has to live it!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nothing Beats Sleeping In Your Own Bed

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

After several delays and a lot of frustration, we finally took possession of our home on Monday afternoon. Our primary frustration centered around the lack of and mis communication by the RV dealership.

All week long, we were led to believe that the repairs would be completed by Friday afternoon at the latest. When we talked to the dealership on Thursday afternoon we were given the same timeline. On Friday morning, however, we were given a new twist to the story. Long story short, we wouldn't be able to pick up the rig until Monday, but were told that it would be ready first thing Monday morning. I don't know why we believed them because when Monday morning arrived, we were told it wouldn't be ready for a couple of hours. Those couple of hours spanned into most of the day.

We finally were able to do a walkthrough around 1pm and found several issues. Although we made sure that they fixed everything to our satisfaction (mostly), we were extremely frustrated because most of the issues implied (to us at least) a lack of care to our home, which equates in my mind to a lack of quality. The good news is that the tech who was doing the majority of the roof work seemed to know what he was doing and was very conscientous. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the staff. Needless to say, our nerves were frayed by the time we finally pulled out of the dealership at 3:15. So much for getting an early start to the day!

This was certainly not ideal because we still had a 3 hour drive ahead of us. We were headed to Portland and we needed to be there so that Tracy could start a job on Tuesday morning (which didn't work out, by the way). We really didn't want to set up in the dark, but ultimately didn't feel like we had much choice.

We had a couple of things on our side, however. It was MLK day so the traffic was pretty light and it wasn't raining. Luckily, we had toured the RV park awhile back, so we kind of knew what to expect. The roads within the park are fairly narrow which made manuevering a little difficult, but we finally got parked with a huge sigh of relief.

We did the minimal setup for the night, had a quick dinner and fell into a wonderful night's sleep in our own bed. After sleeping in a hard, creaky hotel bed and cooking in a less than ideal kitchen, being back in our own home is heaven! Sometimes, it's hard to appreciate what you have until you are without. I sincerely hope that we are never without our home again.

The one bright spot in this whole ordeal has been our insurance company. I have been very impressed with them. Our adjuster has been responsive, pleasant and exceedingly quick in processing our claim. I mentioned in an earlier post that it all seemed way too easy, but they really seem to have their act together. For anyone looking for insurance, our policy is through Victoria, the RV specialty branch of Nationwide. We bought our policy through Miller Insurance. I would highly recommend both companies.

I wish I could say the same about the RV dealership, Fife RV. We had some warranty work done by them in October and were pleased, but I think that in part that might be because we gave them 3 weeks to do a 2 day job. Now that we asked them to handle a much larger job, many of the problems became obvious. It seems like it's a poorly managed shop. I'd like to believe that the techs are skilled (we saw nothing to the contrary), but they definitely seem to work at their own pace. And the endless runarounds and poor communication certainly did not exude much confidence. We will not do business with them again.

But we hope that it is all behind us now. We are slowly getting settled in Portland and are eager to explore this city that we've heard so much about. The weather is even improving. They are predicting 5 days of dry, partly sunny weather. That's about as good as you can ask for around here in the winter!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Progress At Last

Current Location: Fife, WA in an extended stay hotel

The new RV parts finally arrived on Monday afternoon. They had done all the prep work and were ready to dive in. We stopped in on Tuesday morning to check it out in person. We didn't stay long because we didn't want to impede their progress, but were able to snap a few pictures.

It's amazing how much they had to disassemble. On the slide, they took out the light fixtures, removed the decorative paneling, moved all the furniture and removed a couple of the cabinet doors. On the main ceiling, they removed the ceiling fan and the air conditioner. On the outside, they removed the roof vents and stripped both roofs. It's hard seeing our beloved home in such disrepair.

But the good news is they anticipate that it will only to take a few days to do all the repairs and put everything back in order. I'm cautiously optimistic, but won't be at all surprised if it takes longer than they expect.

We're hoping to be back in our home on Friday. We'll find out tomorrow if we'll make that date.

Hotel living has grown old. We've developed some habits we're not too proud of. We sleep late because there's really no reason to get up. We're limited in what we can do during the day because we can't leave Hunter in the hotel alone and it's too cold to leave him in the truck for too long. We try to get out and walk every day, even in the rain. We've explored many of the city parks and walking trails. We've eaten out a lot more than we normally would. That's in part because it's something to get us out, part due to our limited cooking facilities in the hotel, and part because we're on someone else's dime (insurance is covering our living expenses). In short we've become slugs and we're not happy with ourselves.

We're really anxious to get our lives back on track and the pieces are starting to fall into place once again. Once we get the rig back, we'll be headed directly to Portland, OR, about 180 miles to the south of us. Tracy has accepted a temporary contract at a printing company and she starts on Tuesday. I don't have any solid leads yet, but hope that things will pick up once we're settled. I'm also looking into some volunteer opportunities. It will be good to have a reason to get out of bed again. I never thought I'd say this, but I miss working.

We're not even 2 weeks in to 2011 and things are already looking up. I have a good feeling about the things to come!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blue Sky And Bright Sunshine...Where Are We?

Current Location: Fife, WA in an extended stay hotel

For 6 days in a row, we woke up to bright blue sky and sunshine. We must be dreaming! We haven't seen this much sunshine since we left California. Maybe our luck really is changing in 2011.

Well, the sunshine didn't last (we are now back to rainy days) but we tried to get out and enjoy as much of it as we could. Tracy was still recovering from the crud that so many caught over the holidays so we stuck to low level activities.

We started out going for a drive to get some good pictures of Mount Rainier. "The Mountain", as it's referred to by locals, is visible from pretty much anywhere in the Seattle-Tacoma region. Its summit is over 14,400 feet and when you're standing at or near sea level, that's pretty darn high. It's an awesome sight when it's not shrouded in clouds.
The next day we drove out to Mount Rainier National Park.
The view of The Mountain is far better from outside the park. Once you're inside, it seems to lose some of it's massiveness.
Also, the park is very forested and while it is very beautiful, you can't see much from the road. This is one of the buildings along the park road. It was built in the late 1800's and is now used as an administrative building. We loved all the icicles hanging over the dark wood.
Most of the roads through the park are closed in winter. I didn't know this but the Park is known as one of the snowiest places on earth. The town of Paradise (elevation around 5400 ft), which is inside the park, has had over 220 inches of snow by the end of December and last winter recorded a total of 650 inches. The highest amount of snow recorded in one winter was 1,122 inches in 1971-72. That's almost 100 feet! That's a lot of snow!

We drove about 10 miles into the park until the roads started getting a little slicker than we were comfortable with. We continued on for another mile or so until we could find a place to turn around our big truck, but we just took it slow and made it back down without any trouble.

We also spent a day exploring Tacoma and drove out to Point Defiance Park. It is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. It contains a zoo, an aquarium, and multiple gardens. We hope to be back some day when all the gardens are in bloom. It also has miles of hiking trails and lots of picnic areas. I'm sure this place is crazy in the summer, but it was pretty quiet during our visit. We did a short walk along the beach, during which we saw some whales and a couple of eagles.
There is a 5-mile drive through the park which contains a lot of overlooks. One is of the Olympic mountain range.
From another stop, we could see the Tacoma Narrows bridge. It is the 5th longest suspension bridge in the U.S. We've been over this bridge several times since the dealership where our RV is currently living is on the other side. Not something that Tracy is exactly fond of, but she crosses it like a trooper (and with her eyes open!)
We stopped for a bowl of chowder at Dukes Chowder House (highly recommended!) along the waterfront. That's the restaurant on the right-hand side and The Mountain in the background. The steam you see on the left hand side is from the Port of Tacoma, one of the largest ports in North America.Although we haven't had the best luck during our stay in the region, we do admit that this is a very beautiful area and we look forward to coming back in the summer when we can truly enjoy the outdoors. And hopefully we'll have a few more days of sunshine yet this winter.

We ended our afternoon with a stop by the RV dealership to check on our RV. Not much progress has been made as they're still waiting for the parts to arrive. They do have it inside the bay so it is protected from the cold which was a relief since we've had several nights below freezing. They've started doing some prep work on it but not as much as we had hoped. They said the parts were shipped on Friday and were expected to arrive either Wednesday or Thursday. We're not sure why it took until Friday to get them shipped since we agreed to their estimate on Tuesday. I know it was the holiday season but what was happening on Wednesday and Thursday? We didn't ask about the delay, but I think we're realizing that we may need to stay on top of them to ensure that things are moving as quickly as possible. On Monday, they said that it would still probably be another 2 weeks before it's done. We dropped it off the previous Monday, which means that we'll probably be in the hotel closer to 3 weeks. Uugh. I sure hope it's not any longer as we're already getting itchy to get back in our home and on with our lives. But we also recognize that getting frustrated or depressed about the situation is not going to help anything, so we're trying to stay relaxed and make the best of it. It's all part of the adventure, right? :)