I’ve done things in Portland I never thought I’d ever do. Maybe it’s something about this place – the blend of bohemianism and hedonism that gives the city it’s reputation for being, well, a little bit weird. Whatever it is, I’ve been drinking it all in. The younger crowd here skews hipster, and the colourful Pearl district is rammed with trendy themed bars and way-too-hoppy beers. One place I kept returning to was Powell’s, a labyrinthine bookstore worth visiting just for its café. It’s hard to pin down the city’s weirdness by just listing examples, but it seems like everything has to be a bit different here. As one person on the train put it: Portland, Oregon is ‘crazy, but in a good way.”
I became a proper Couchsurfer here by staying with my first host. It was an awesome experience to meet up with some strangers in a bar and later go back to their house to stay as if we were old friends. Couchsurfing has really changed the way I travel; I used to rely on hostels to meet people, but they can be very hit and miss. When you’re staying at someone’s house, then not only have you already met someone, but they’re a local who knows a bit about the area. My hosts had another guest, a traveller like me, so it was a very sociable experience. We stayed up late drinking beer by the back yard fire, and they took as to some great brunch spots in their leafy neighbourhood.
It was far to warm for museums, but I passed the Portland Maritime Museum and couldn’t resist: it’s on a boat! The Portland is an old steam tug boat that’s still operational, and a volunteer tour guide led me and some German tourists around the boat to see how things used to operate in the days of steam. One thing I learnt is: even the backups have backups!
For an American city, Portland is surprisingly cycle-friendly. At no time of year is this more apparent than the annual World Naked Bike Ride, a global phenomenon that Portland has very much taken to heart. Every year, thousands of cyclists gather in the park with their bikes, take off as much clothing as they are willing (the dress code is ‘as bare as you dare’), and take to the streets en masse to protest the global fossil fuel industry. It just so happened that this year’s ride coincided with my visit to Portland.
Well, I couldn’t not, could I?
My new friend and I rode to the park in the early evening filled with trepidation. Neither of us had done anything like this before. At first it was extremely awkward, with just a few nudists confidently striding around the park, but gradually more riders began to arrive. As the park filled the atmosphere turned to that of a festival, with loudspeakers blaring and revellers dancing. Eventually a critical mass was reached and the shy among us shed our inhibitions and our clothes and joined the fray.
The ride began at 9pm but there were so many thousands of riders it took a good half an hour to get out of the park. At the exit the street was lined with people watching and cheering on the participants. Surprisingly, I felt no embarrassment, just adrenaline and eagerness to set off. Once we were on the road it was a great feeling. People waved and whooped from their houses and the roadside, I high-fived a few people as I soared past, a guy on a skateboard boldly rode the sidewalk waving at passers-by, loudspeakers towed behind bikes gave us an ever-changing soundtrack as we progressed. There were cyclists, skaters and runners in various states of undress, some with body paint, some in costume; but the one thing we all had in common was that every single person was having the time of their life. The ride was over far to quickly as we arrived at an undisclosed location, chaotically converging on another park in the darkness.
So why did I do this? Three reasons. I believe in the ride’s cause protesting the dominance of fossil fuels and gas-hungry cars; I used to be extremely self-conscious and have been trying to change that for many years; and most importantly, I thought it would be a great laugh. And I was right – this was one of the highlights of the trip. I would urge anyone to give it a try at least once, remember it’s ‘as bare as you dare’ – you don’t have to go completely nude if you don’t want to. So I’m sure you’re all wondering if I bared all, or retained some modesty? Well, I’ll just have to leave that up to your imagination!
Even without that excitement, Portland left an impression on me. I love it’s laid-back atmosphere and it’s quirky charm, and I want to go back some time. Maybe I’ll do the bike ride again next year. Who wants to join me?