While researching vacation spots in the West Coast of the US, it was one thing that sealed the deal: The River Gorge that runs through Portland. Even months before my travel, I started fantasising about my weekend by the river. I dreamt up perfect picnic scenarios with friends and beer. It would be the best vacation ever.
Fourteen days before my flight to Portland, a fifteen year old kid set a firework loose in the river area, burning up most of the bicycle and hiking trails in and around the gorge. Within days, the damage had extended to over 55,000 acres of land, and my picture perfect picnic evaporated in a cloud of fiery smoke. I was in Pleasanton when it happened, but I’d already made arrangements and didn’t want to change them at the last moment. Besides, devastating though the news, my friend had promised me a drive around what remained of the gorge. And so with a mixture of excitement and apprehension I landed in Portland. After visiting the Washington Park and the Powell’s Book Store, however, I was glad I hadn’t bailed on Portland.
On a Sunday my friend wrote to me asking if he could take me on a small hike up hill somewhere near the gorge. Not one to turn down a walk, I agreed, and with bubbling eagerness we drove towards the Beacon Rock. It began to rain on the way, but I’d been in Portland long enough to know that it’s typical of the city. Unlike myself, my friend came prepared with an extra rain coat. When we reached our destination, the rain had reduced to a drizzle. Gearing up nevertheless, we took the first step of what would be many.
It was my first real hike. I’d walked a lot before, but it was the first time I followed a proper trail uphill. The way was well-paved and easy to walk on, but on either side trees and bushes rose in all their wilderness and glory. It was as walking through a dense jungle without the strenuous effort of walking through a jungle. About two minutes into the hike, my friend stopped, directing me to wipe my feet on a small stone on the side. On the stone was a brush that wiped away impurities from our shoes, so we don’t carry harmful elements onto the rock’s surface. I’d never heard of such a practice, and we repeated the process in the way down, too.
After that first little stop, we stopped no where else for a long time. We kept climbing, stepping on sliding stones, and stumbling on smaller slopes. The trail, though scary in a lot of places, felt safe to trek on. Most of it had been formed by chipping the rock itself, but here and there wooden planks supported the structure. As we went, Portland clouds welled up and teared on an off.
Halfway up the rock, we stopped to examine the view. Below me spanned the entire Columbia River, looking majestic and unapologetic as is its right. Along the river appeared the gorge as a thin vein cutting through a fleshy mass. The smog from the last of the fires hung over the gorge like a pall shrouding the city with its death-like gloom. In the distance, my friend spotted smoke rising from the still-raging, yet now diminished fires. It took me a while to discern the smoke from the trees and the fog from the clouds. When I did, however, my heart expanded with fresh and fierce venom at the kid who thought it a good idea to set fireworks off in the wilderness. All I could do though was seethe in fury.
The further we went, the more I saw of the river. By the time we reached the top, I was so moved by what I’d seen that I’d forgotten about the kid. I still fumed, but the glorious water made me realise how thankful I was just to experience it. No one can predict if the gorge will regain its grandeur. One thing’s for certain, though: The river gorge is beautiful beyond words. And a fire does nothing to depreciate the affection that Portlanders (and I!) have for her.