March 28, 2010 - 10:58 PM
Spring Break is just about concluded, and in about fifteen hours I will begin my final term at the U of O. I have avoided feeling nostalgic about my "lasts" at U of O so far, but it's really starting to set in that the Willamette Valley is not going to be my home much longer. For that reason, I really took full advantage of my last few days of Spring Break by exploring Portland (and the Portland nightlife) with my girlfriend Melissa and some of my best friends Jeff and Jake. It's taken me a few years for it to set in, but there is an incredible quality of life in Oregon.
My friend Jake just started his spring break at the University of Montana, so I met him in Portland to spend the weekend in the city and toast to finally both being legal age. We visited the usual haunts: Powells, Buffalo Exchange, the Goodwill on Burnside, Saturday Market, and the waterfront. However, we also explored the bar scene for the first time visiting a wide variety of bars from a sports bar in Pioneer Plaza to Kells Irish Pub to My Father's Place on the East Side. It was a lot of fun to catch up over local microbrews while seeing the various types of people at different bars. I think we came to the consensus that My Father's Place was our favorite, though it wasn't very happening when we were there. Nonetheless, their prices, laid back mentality, and '70s retro décor combined to make a really fun scene.
While in Portland, I also had a couple really amazing breakfasts. We went to Stepping Stone Cafe and the Screen Door. Stepping Stone is in the Northwest District, and it has a really great neighborhood feel. The line out the door was an eclectic mix of young moms in exercise gear, hipsters, and old folks. Everyone had something in common though: great taste in breakfast food. Stepping Stone had great food (I ordered their country fried steak and gravy), and they have a great attitude with the motto: "You Eat Here Because We Let You."
Finally, Screen Door was possibly one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. We waited an hour this morning to find a seat, and we agreed to sit on the chilly, windy porch so we could nosh faster. Jeff's mom treated us to breakfast, and both Jeff and I indulged with the chicken and waffle. Screen Door piles three (yes, 3) chicken breasts atop a sweet potato waffle dusted in powdered sugar and drizzled with syrup. It was incredible. I was uncomfortably full afterward, but I enjoyed every minute of it. If you find yourself in Portland, I strongly recommend either breakfast establishment.
It was a great weekend in the Rose City, and an awesome way to close out the break. With that I'll sign off for the night and get ready for bed, still (now comfortably) full of chicken and waffle.
March 25, 2010 - 6:53 PM
Three nights, three hundred miles, three hundred foot trees, and a sixty foot tall lumberjack later I'm back in Corvallis. I've spent the last four days unplugged and in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. My girlfriend Melissa and I backpacked through the woods to the Pacific Ocean enjoying the beautiful scenery.
We followed the 4.5 mile Miners Ridge trail that winds through towering redwood groves to Gold Bluffs Beach. The beach was home to part of the gold boom in the 1850s when gold was discovered in sand deposits that flowed from streams into the ocean. There is no longer evidence of the miners' camp, but there is plentiful views of gold hued bluffs, towering trees, and sea stacks jutting out of the ocean. It was absolutely serene.
Melissa and I spent two nights at the Miners Ridge camp, and we spent our days exploring the coast and lounging on the beach. I had been to the Redwoods once previously, but I didn't really understand that the National Park actually includes the coast, I thought it was more inland. It was incredible to emerge from the canopy of several hundred foot giants onto a beautiful sandy beach with the deep blue of the ocean meeting a cloudless blue sky. I can't imagine what it was like for the first people to make that trek through the forest to realize that they'd reached the end of a continent. Even for me, with a map and knowledge of where I was headed, it was spectacular. There's something incredibly powerful about hiking towards the coast from a trail head that's in a a deep, luscious forest, to the edge of the continent. There was a sense of accomplishment and completeness to realize that I hiked as far as there is to go.
At long last, we made our way towards the car on a misty, foggy morning. The upper canopy locked in fog that hung above the moist ground, giving the tall trunks a peaceful serenity. It was a great way to end the trip. Heading back into civilization, we drove past 60 foot statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox at "Trees of Mystery" along Highway 101. We snapped some pictures of the ridiculous tourist trap and continued north back home.
March 21, 2010 - 10:59 PM
The weekend in Corvallis is drawing to a close, and tomorrow it's on to the Redwoods. With health care reform passing setting the tone, it's been a great weekend. We went to a great organic restaurant by OSU called Nearly Normal (I recommend the falafel and pad Thai, I do not recommend getting too close to OSU), watched plenty of NCAA basketball, walked the dog around the neighborhood, and mountain biked on some great single track. However, there was one exceptional standout this weekend: Nancy. Nancy is Melissa's cat, and she's a treasure. This is a photo post about Nancy.
This is Nancy doing her best Kansas Jayhawks impression (who got knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Northern Iowa), going "belly up."
Here's Nancy in character doing some performance art. She calls this one "Obama's Health Plan." After months of Congressional Republicans filibustering, Nancy portrays Obama's ability to "think outside the box" and bring about sweeping reform (represented by the fireplace broom in the background of the shot). The fire she looks longingly into is the bright future ahead for America.
Nancy also shows that she is a family woman, cozying up to Melissa. After all, it's spring break, and she likes to just "hang."
Nancy reacts to the news that Mike Bellotti will leave the Athletic Director job and become a college football analyst for ESPN. After the football team arrests, Ernie Kent's firing, speculation that the [completely irrelevant] P.J. Carlesimo might be the Ducks' new basketball coach, and the realization that she doesn't have front claws, this really sent her over the top.
Unfortunately, we must leave Nancy behind. Melissa attempted to put her in the bottom of her backpack, and I know there's gotta be a punchline here along the lines of "letting the cat out of the bag," but nothing is coming to mind. It's spring break. I'm off to the Redwoods (sans Nancy). See y'all in a few days.
March 19, 2010 - 2:53 PM
Sitting in my Renaissance Thought final exam this morning, my hand aching from furiously scribbling four mediocre essays, it finally hit me: this is the last final I will ever have to take. Winter term has been really exhausting with work obligations, class assignments, thesis work, and Teach For America responsibilities. For this reason, this Finals Week was relentless for me playing catchup by writing an entire chapter of my thesis and preparing for a final exam. However, I emerged from the Chiles Center, my head spinning from focusing on notebook paper and Renaissance thinkers for the last two hours, to be greeted by a warm, sunny afternoon; spring break has begun!
I recollect my previous spring breaks in Eugene have always started with gray, cold weather, but this year has started right with the last couple days being sunny and sixty degrees. Needless to say, I enjoyed it by sitting in my dark basement watching the NCAA tournament. Not really, I've enjoyed Eugene's unusual early spring by sitting outside on my deck, barbecuing, and and running along the river. However, I have split time between those activities and watching plenty of NCAA basketball.
So, beyond that, my spring break plans: relaxing in Corvallis, backpacking in the Redwoods, and bumming around Portland. My girlfriend, Melissa, and I are headed to Corvallis for the weekend to relax with her parents. It's always great to enjoy the comforts of home (that a college house doesn't quite have), go mountain biking with her dad, and explore Corvallis (which, unfortunately, doesn't compare to Eugene). Following Corvallis, we'll zip down I-5 to the Redwoods to do a three day camping and backpacking trip. It should be beautiful, relaxing, and exactly what I need before I head to Tulsa where I'm not sure if they have trees (pictures to come later). Finally, my friend Jake is coming to Portland from Montana for his spring break, so it will be a blast to bum around Portland while enjoying the nightlife as a 21-year old for the first time.
It should be a great break with a lot of variation, and I'll keep y'all updated as the week progresses. There should be some memorable stories coming soon...
March 16, 2010 - 4:09 PM
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a fever. Once a year at this time I contract March Madness. Sure, sure, everyone loves filling out their brackets, rooting for Cinderellas on CBS, and following their school in the tournament. However, for me, the tournament is always the best time of the year.
Since the eighth grade, my Dad and I have been to the NCAA Basketball Tournament every year minus one (my freshman year of college). We don't travel with the Ducks or any team in particular; rather, we pick whatever site is most convenient or fun in the western bracket. We've traveled to Salt Lake City twice, Seattle, Sacramento, Tucson, and Portland. In the course of two days (broken up with one day in between the first and second rounds), we spend about twelve hours inside an arena and probably about an additional twelve watching other games on TV in sports bars. However, outside the arena we do get a taste of the city, go snowboarding, and visit with family.
It's great time to spend with my Dad (who began the tradition eight years ago), and in the years since we've added family to the mix with my Uncle Mark joining us from Seattle, my Cousin Betty from Fresno, and last year Cousin Mel from Portland and my Mom. It's a great way to see family in an atmosphere that is absolutely incredible.
During the first and second rounds you get eight different schools converging on a city. There are always heavyweight favorites like UCLA, Duke, Michigan State, or Indiana with an air of confidence that the first and second rounds are simply a warm up for their team that's headed to the Final Four. However, there's always small, obscure schools like Vermont or Weber State that are just happy to be there. Once inside the stadium, you see the difference in basketball programs and regions with Southern California schools' cheerleaders perfectly tanned, and then you see the Midwestern girls from a directional school pale and white. The bands tell a lot too. Bigger schools typically have pretty comparable bands that play the same pep tunes, and their uniforms are fairly normal. On the other hand, the small schools have a pretty shaggy looking bands that look like they just rolled out of bed. That said, they have some of the best chants because they are the cheering section for schools that don't travel well. I remember Montana's band chanting during free throws, "you will not make this shot. You will not make this shot." It was pretty straight forward, but it was effective.
The Tournament Anthem
Finally, the tournament has such amazing drama. In person I have gotten to see so many amazing players that have gone on to the NBA, but perhaps more importantly I've seen players that made it to the NCAA. For most athletes, this is their "shining moment." They aren't going to play on a bigger stage than the NCAA Tournament, and frankly, I think it's perhaps the pinnacle of college athletics. For fans at home, you don't see the full storyline with maybe a player's face cutout among the collage of other teams and players that make the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual tournament issue or you see a quick clip of players crying or celebrating in the Tournament's recap during "One Shining Moment." However, you don't see Channing Frye's jubilant mother decked out in Wildcats gear on the plane, debate brackets with Paul Davis's father, shed a tear with a Western Kentucky player's family crying in the hotel elevator as you both return to your respective rooms, listen as the public address announcer becomes a broken record repeating "Craig Smith with the basket" as he puts up a ridiculous number of points, and you certainly don't watch Kennedy Winston leading the Alabama band as flash bulbs strobe after knocking off number one seed Stanford. You begin to understand that this is more than a sporting event. You understand the time, effort, and love families have committed to sending their children to college and teaching them the game of basketball. You begin to realize the joy basketball brings whole towns and communities that come together around their team.
I've been incredibly lucky to be able to have these experiences over the last eight years, and I strongly recommend you look into doing it yourself if possible. I'm very bummed that I won't be able to do it this year in person, but I am excited that the first and second rounds are in Tulsa next year (I'll be there)! The mixture of family, sport, drama, sadness, joy, and local culture make it an unforgettable experience every year. I can't wait to do it again in 2011. And who knows, maybe the Ducks will make an appearance.