Clean and green in Port­land

There’s a new route for elec­tric cars on the Ore­gon coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - AARON MIL­LAR

Seat­tle had grunge, San Fran­cisco has mi­crochips, but Port­land, it seems, is the city with groove. Long over­shad­owed by its west coast neigh­bours, this hip north­ern cor­ner of Ore­gon is in full bloom, regularly top­ping lists of the most bike­able, sus­tain­able and bo­hemian places to live in the US.

Be­cause Port­land’s pro­gres­sive, green ap­proach is spread­ing into the rest of Ore­gon, you can now visit much of the state by elec­tric car; in the lush farm­lands and vol­canic foothills that sur­round the city, charg­ing sta­tions have been spring­ing up like high-volt­age daisies. My plan is to swap petrol for prin­ci­ples on an elec­tric road trip down the latest eco-route — 585km of misty head­lands and hid­den coves on the Ore­gon Coast Elec­tric By­way, part of the Pa­cific Coast Scenic By­way, and one of the most beau­ti­ful drives in the coun­try.

The route starts in the city, so I spend the first cou­ple of days tak­ing in the or­ganic fare, food carts and mi­cro­brew­eries on ev­ery cor­ner, the vintage bou­tiques and funky gal­leries, eco-cafes and bis­cuit bars with queues around the block — there is a blos­som­ing unique­ness on ev­ery cor­ner. This is a city where any­thing can hap­pen. I dance with a stranger at a craft beer fes­ti­val, get lost in the largest in­de­pen­dent book­store in the US (five storeys high and cov­er­ing an en­tire city block) and feast on ve­gan fine din­ing served by tat­tooed punk chefs. I bike ev­ery­where (there are 530km of cy­cle paths in the city), solve the na­ture of re­al­ity with an old hippy at a bar (it’s a song, or maybe a verb, we can’t re­mem­ber) and find a speakeasy-style joint where cock­tails are made at your ta­ble by a waiter who’s like a ma­gi­cian per­form­ing tricks.

There are in­no­va­tive eco-projects spring­ing up all over, in­clud­ing the Re­Build­ing Cen­tre, which pro­motes the use of sal­vaged and re­claimed ma­te­ri­als, and Trail­head Cof­fee Roast­ers, which de­liv­ers sus­tain­ably sourced cof­fee by neon-glow­ing bi­cy­cle. Even the bins are so­lar­pow­ered to com­pact waste, mean­ing fewer col­lec­tions. Port­land is the US’s em­blem of healthy ur­ban liv­ing, where ec­cen­tric­ity blos­soms, so it is the per­fect start to an al­ter­na­tive trip along the coast.

First stop is As­to­ria, 153km north­west of Port­land — clap­board weather-beaten houses on the banks of the Columbia River, sea salt bit­ing my lips, and the pur­ple moun­tains of Washington ris­ing on the far side of the choppy shore. The river flows fast and shal­low here and has swal­lowed many souls. I stop first at the Columbia River Mar­itime Mu­seum, one of the best of its kind in the coun­try, which tells the story of the fish­er­men who risk their lives in search of the first run of salmon and the elite pilots who nav­i­gate freighters across the Columbia Bar.

Later, in the wild beach grass and rolling dunes of Fort Stevens State Park — 1740ha of empty coast and hik­ing trails through hem­lock for­est — I find my own ev­i­dence of that sea treach­ery in the form of the iron bones of the sail­ing bar­que Peter Iredale, beached in the sand like the dried-out ribcage of an enor­mous whale. Even in the balm of sum­mer there is wild­ness and a rip­ple of ag­gres- sion. And so there should be. You don’t come to the Pa­cific North­west for mild-man­nered beaches; you are here to see the coast at its most spec­tac­u­lar and raw.

This area is spe­cial, too, be­cause it marks the end of one of the world’s great jour­neys. In 1805 the ex­plorer team, Meri­wether Lewis and Wil­liam Clark, com­mand­ing the Corps of Dis­cov­ery, com­pleted their 6500km ex­pe­di­tion to nav­i­gate a wa­ter route from St Louis, Mis­souri, to the Pa­cific Ocean, cross­ing by river for the first time the un­ex­plored vast­ness of the western US. At Fort Clat­sop, named af­ter the in­dige­nous tribe of the re­gion, I pass their fi­nal land­ing site, now a liv­ing mu­seum with cos­tumed rangers, mus­ket dis­plays and a recre­ation of their win­ter camp. Far­ther south at Ecola State Park, I fol­low their foot­steps across Na­tive Amer­i­can hunt­ing trails to In­dian Beach, where they once came to trade with the Clat­sop and plun­dered a beached whale.

As I walk through those steep forests, with head­lands float­ing in fog and sea mist as if sus­pended in air — a view Clark de­scribed as “the grand­est my eyes have ever sur­veyed” — their story, how­ever bold, be­comes dwarfed by the for­est. In the drenched cli­mate of the Pa­cific North­west, na­ture knows how to flex its mus­cles. Sitka spruce trees, more than 60m tall and about 5m thick, drip in moss like a wet fur coat; ferns, salal and salmonberry clam­ber for light. It’s like see­ing the world through the eyes of those early ex­plor­ers: a rain­for­est ev­ery bit as lush as its South Amer­i­can cousins.

From there I spend two days buzzing slowly south. At Cannon Beach — a cute sea­side town of colour­ful beach cot­tages con­verted to bou­tique ho­tels, gal­leries and restau­rants — I wade to the base of Haystack Rock, a mono­lith cir­cled by puffins and gulls in the shal­lows. In the long, wet sheen of low tide the enor­mous rock spires are re­flected in sym­me­try with the clouds; it’s like walk­ing on the sky. At Cape Ki­wanda, in Pa­cific City, a laid­back lit­tle beach town with one of the best surf breaks on the coast, I climb a mas­sive sand dune to watch the sun rise as dory fish­er­men — a fleet of flat-bot­tom boats sta­tioned here for more than 100 years — strike out to sea.

And then I come across a bizarre tourist at­trac­tion — a work­ing cheese fac­tory with win­dows to let you see the pro­duc­tion line, crowds fight­ing for a look and hair­net­ted work­ers wav­ing like rock stars. I don’t know what it tastes like, but Til­lam­ook is the One Di­rec­tion of cheese.

For the most part, elec­tric road trips are easy. Charg­ing sta­tions are placed roughly 90km apart and I use the Plugshare app to fa­cil­i­tate pay­ment and di­rect me to the near­est charg­ing points. There are nu­ances, though. Speed is my en­emy — any­thing over 90km/h and the bat­tery emp­ties; hills gob­ble up charge; putting on the airconditioning is the equiv­a­lent of slash­ing my petrol tank.

At Lin­coln City, the Elec­tric Coast Scenic By­way car­ries on for another 350km. How­ever, I turn in­land, join­ing the tail end of another elec­tric by­way that crosses the wine lands of the Wil­lamette Val­ley. This is pinot coun­try. Fer­tile vol­canic soil and mild, moist con­di­tions have trans­formed these for­mer dairy lands into a patch­work quilt of bou­tique vine­yards that are tak­ing on Bur­gundy and the world. I am­ble through a pick’n’mix of small fam­ily tast­ing rooms, in­clud­ing Win­der­lea and the strik­ing new res­tau­rant at Sokol Blosser, over­look­ing the sun-blushed vines of the Dundee Hills. But the best I have to work for. Barely sign­posted, 3km up a dirt road, on top of a breezy hill, is J Wrigley Vine­yards. Ten years ago John was mak­ing wine in his bath­tub, then on a whim he bought this farm and planted some grapes. He has been win­ning awards since. The wine is like liq­uid silk. What re­ally sets it apart, though, is the fam­ily at­mos­phere. Mum makes fresh salmon pate. Dad takes me on a trac­tor tour of the es­tate.

Soon I’ve left the winelands and the lights of Port­land are again upon me, my elec­tric road trip wind­ing to an end. Such a trip re­quires slow­ing down. Zero car­bon equals zero rush. Per­haps that’s also what Port­land’s groove is all about. Some­where, I can still pic­ture that wild Ore­gon coast, pounded by the sea, spec­tac­u­lar and raw and all the bet­ter for see­ing it emis­sion-free.

THE TIMES

The coast­line near Cannon Beach, Ore­gon, top; elec­tric car charg­ing sta­tion in Port­land, above left; a Port­land food cart, above right; Sokol Blosser vine­yards, be­low

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