From what I understand of the Northwest, it’s populated primarily by outdoorsy white women, brewery employees, and members of various militia. Despite that, the few times I’ve visited have been nothing short of magical, and I never turn down an opportunity to leave the city and taste oxygen again.
Bend, Oregon, in particular, has the kind of beauty that’s straight out of a horror film. The countryside is covered by acre upon acre upon acre of fat-leaved trees, rivers with beaver dams (like from a cartoon), and the occasional washed up carcass of an elk that drowned days earlier. Immediately every basic, Spartan, faux-survivalist desire arose within me. I read Hatchet in third grade, I know I can fight a wolf. Everyone has doubted me, and now the people at Visit Bend and Visit Central Oregon were allowing me the chance.
At the time, it was lost on me that I was thinking all this in a rented luxury SUV, on the way to a suburban golf resort in southeast Bend. Awaiting me in my suite was a gift bag stuffed with stroopwafels, beer, and an expensive looking backpack with a concealed carry compartment. An odd and alarming assortment to receive in one of the whitest places I’ve ever been, (note: I am a black person) but a gift is a gift, and I crave adventure. I’m like a Jack London protagonist.
Our first activity of the three-day trip I went on was skiing. Being the only one in our group of five who had never skied before, I was required to take lessons. I was told I’d be coached by a private instructor and thus wouldn’t have children in my class. This really excited me, because no matter how at peace you are with yourself, it’s embarrassing to be classmates with a six-year-old. What was less exciting was being told that all the children that I would’ve started with had already advanced to the next level because it took me forever to grasp how to get on the ski boots.
Having now skied, here is my personal take: Skiing is an awful, terrible sport that only the rich have the money and soullessness to truly pursue. It takes hours to put on gear, the snow is absolutely blinding, and all the children in level two laugh at you for being bad.
My instructor Linda and I went at it for almost three hours, and she did her best, really… but fuck skiing forever. I told everyone on the trip I loved it and had a great time, because they seemed really invested in my happiness, and I have a hard time letting people down. But really, if you take nothing else from this piece, let it be this: I am not going to ski ever again.
(For what it’s worth, Mt. Bachelor is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; I bought a beanie and everything.)
After a rushed lunch at the Parrilla Grill, (which has high % CBD Kombucha, gross but useful) we were to take in some whitewater rafting down the “Big Eddy” with the good people of Sun Country Tours. While it was a relatively cold, overcast day, this was definitely a highlight of the trip (and where I saw the aforementioned elk remains, to which the guide responded ominously “we don’t uh… we don’t normally see that kind of thing out here, them just drowning like that.”).
I grew up kayaking, and white-water rafting is pretty much that, except mildly terrifying at certain points. Our guides were these two Dad-looking bearded woodsman types that would bark orders at us from the back of our respective crafts. Typically, I hate authority, (because I’m very “punk rock,” is why) but there’s something hypnotizing about being screamed at by a burly stranger while toiling away with an oar. It satisfied that inner Grizzly Man within me. One day I hope to be the next Grizzly Man. (Note: I have not seen this movie, but I assume it’s about him being very strong.)
That night we dined at The Blacksmith, which is a phenomenal, traditional steakhouse in downtown Bend. The rib-eye is a treasure — the result of serious chefs making their homes in Oregon’s high desert — but more importantly, our waitress told us this long story about how it was haunted by the previous owner and that she sees demons sometimes because she has “the gift.” We tipped her well and wished her the best; I can’t imagine that being a pleasant life.
I slept in and skipped skiing the next day, because I wanted to save energy for what I always knew would be my favorite part of the trip: mountain biking. After catching up with the rest of the squad, we headed to the top of Phil’s Trail. Most of what the folks at Cog Wild mapped out for us was downhill with a few tough exceptions, so not only was it a blast, but I also was able to work out these skinny legs and semi-visible abs. (Note: I have abs.)
Dinner that night was at Hola! — which describes itself as serving “nouveau Mexican and Peruvian” cuisine. They also had a lot of Thai and Chinese food on their menu, so it was a really satisfying “all over the place” experience (if a bit lacking in direction). All of their drinks were too sweet for my taste, but I did get drunk, which is ultimately what counts.
This is how it went for the duration of the trip: Adventure by day; well-crafted food and drinks by night at Places Crux Fermentation, where they make beer and one hell of a cheese plate. The city of Bend itself has the kind of alluring, natural landscape you might spend your final years contemplating while finishing a novel on the human condition. It’s also the kind of place you’d hide a body in a Coen Brothers’ production. Above all else, it’s just a chill ass place to kick it with your friends and soak in a couple of beers while you stare at a fire. “Beer, Rec, ‘n Tech” I overheard many times — an unofficial slogan for the rapidly expanding small city.
Having lived in a warm climate for most of my life, I’m still so lost in the sheer amount of different environments you can take advantage of in one day alone in the PNW. Winter at the top of the mountain, Spring on the river, and Summer on the trails. I can see myself one day returning to Bend, Oregon (or a town a lot like it), to raise a strong black child among nature and the dead elk, teaching him the ways of the woods. (I’m just going to assume I’m a single father in this scenario.)