written by Kevin Max
From the McKenzie River, we headed to Oregon’s pie filling—Hood River. Cherries, apples, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and rhubarb are abundant in Oregon’s Fruit Loop.
By now, Kristina was miles high on an intercontinental flight home to Stockholm. Into the breach stepped Fiona and Isabel, our teenage daughters.
None of us knew what lay ahead as we drove north to Hood River for the Memorial Day weekend. For once, none of us really cared.
Friends of friends, Megan Davis and Clint Harris, have a horse property in the rolling hills above Hood River. We had mountain bikes in back as we marveled at the bumper-to-bumper stream of vehicles heading the opposite direction to Central Oregon.
By evening, the kids were hungry as we pulled into Parkdale, essentially a small social hub for the surrounding orchardists. There’s a barbeque joint called Apple Valley BBQ and Solera, a brewery with locally sourced food, good IPAs and an outdoor dining area that backs up to views of Mt. Hood.
One thing I’ve learned early on about camping in the Northwest is never assume that you’ll get the spot you want. Sometimes you can luck out, as we did, pulling into narrow gravel driveway opened onto a sprawling grass field and buildings accumulated over years and for different purposes. We parked the trailer on the edge of the horse pasture and began to prepare for our first night of dry camping, or boondocking with no hookups for electricity or water.
A sliver of a moon rose in the black western sky and crowned Mt. Adams to the north and Mt. Hood to the southwest with a halo glow.
My mountain bike was finally in a state of repair that took me to the next level. In the steep terrain in the area, having a functioning back brake was a vital necessity. Last season, I had grown wary of skidding out on my front brake and of the trees coming at me too fast and too close. Nature was reckless that way.
Clint took us out for “a nice little ride” that lasted nearly four hours of steep climbs and descents. We linked together three trails—Eight Mile, Bottle Prairie and Knebal Springs—17 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. A blackbird perched above this effort would have been amused by the wondrous surroundings and the desperate breathing below. This was apparently enough commotion to dislodge a bear from the underbrush, sending it scampering away downhill.
My lungs bloated to capacity. My legs pickled with lactic acid. My mind locked into the last climb. We finished just after noon, sitting in the back of a pickup truck and plotting our next adventure with a recovery beer. It wasn’t until we were leaving the next day that we discovered that Clint, who finished the ride no worse than he had started it, was on the United States’ national development team in his younger years.
On the way back to camp, we stomped on the brakes for a sign announcing huckleberry shakes. Apple Valley Country Store is where fruit from the area is canned and jarred into amazing finished products. We bought rhubarb-strawberry jam, a rhubarb-jalapeno spread and huckleberry shakes.
For dinner, we all brought something to the communal grill. We dove into tri-tip, flank steak, grilled chicken and salads of every ilk. With dessert came another revelation. Megan is a world-class baker, having come from the founding family of the Grand Central Bakery in Seattle and Portland. She now puts her skills to work in her own Pine Street Bakery in Hood River. Her rhubarb pies were unlike anything I’d ever tasted. The conversation easily changed from thrilling downhill sections of the ride to the pie’s golden crust. Before it came, I made the argument that rhubarb needed a sweet sibling to make for a proper dessert. I happily ate my words.
That night, we slept with all of the windows open. Outside, frogs croaked nonsense up to the quarter moon.
In the morning, we put on our running shoes and headed for the nearby Post Canyon—the trails pulling us into the forest once more before we got back on the road.
We returned just as the rest of the group was finishing a farm-fresh egg scramble and Megan’s fresh scones. Megan had been up early. “No, Dad, you have to try this!” Fiona insisted as I whipped the batter for Swedish pancakes, determined to rise to the challenge and create a conduit for the homemade rhubarb-strawberry jam from Apple Valley Country store.
Cooking breakfast on a gas flame in a Flying Cloud trailer is a beautiful thing, even if your wife is less enthusiastic for your effort. “We don’t want Swedish pancakes,” she crowed. “It’s too much of a hassle.” I continued to whip the batter in defiance. The local jam and granola was a topping that would make us all 10 percent happier, I thought.
Should I top it with whipped cream? “No one eats Swedish pancakes with whipped cream,” she said, the implied “Stupid!” mercifully withheld. She had probably covered that topic too, with her Swedish friend. “Have you ever seen whipped cream at Ikea?” Mmmhmm.
We packed up and wound our way out, Mt. Hood centered on the windshield. There is something different, some connective tissue between the sight of a snow-covered mountain, a soothing blue sky, the saturated green of orchards and the emotional desire to explore, to climb, to hike across a field. To join with the others who have made these journeys during their lives. With each moment, this feeling intensified.