#smalltownproblems

Although most of the time, I enjoy living in my new small town, I do on occasion encounter what I call small town problems. I am certainly familiar with the aforementioned “problems” having grown up in a very small town. But something about having lived in Dallas for the previous 7 years has made re-adjusting to small town life challenging at times.

Exhibit A: My kitchen has been only partly functional for the past 8 weeks due to a water leak and subsequent repairs. At times it has been entirely non-functional. Like earlier this week when I came home and my oven was in my living room. Being frequently unable to cook in my own kitchen has meant eating at restaurants. Living in a small town means there are few options and certainly few non-fast food options. That is a small town problem.

Exhibit B: There is no Target. Enough said.

Exhibit C: One thing that is absolutely wonderful about where I live is that I spend my weekends hiking in beautiful places. One of the less wonderful things is that sometimes I want to also spend my weekend doing things like shopping at Trader Joe’s and Target, which I obviously cannot do in my small town. How does one fit both hiking and necessary shopping in (sort of) far away places into a single weekend day?

Well, like this.

A couples weekends ago I was determined to hike, eat at a great restaurant, and shop at Trader Joe’s. And when I am determined (because by determined I really mean stubborn), I am usually able to make something happen. After a bit of research, my plan was made.

On a recent Saturday morning, I made the one-ish hour trip to Eugene and made my way to Mount Pisgah Arboretum. The western summit trail begins just outside of the arboretum parking lot and ascends 1.4 miles to the top of Mount Pisgah. Even on a cloudy, cool, and frequently rainy morning, I enjoyed the view from the top.

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Of course it was raining. When is it not raining? #westernoregonproblems
Of course it was raining. It is always raining. #westernoregonproblems

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After a bit of hiking in the cool and the rain, I was ready for lunch and something warm to drink. Now, the greatest challenge of my multi-tasking day was my wardrobe. I didn’t particularly want to change clothes in a gas station bathroom, which ruled out a completely new outfit. After some debate I settled on an outfit that was both comfortable for hiking, but also could be considered casual Saturday attire. And a change of shoes. Yes, I realize I probably spent waaaay too much time thinking about this decision.

Although I spent a ridiculous amount of time deciding what to wear, the area of my day I actually spent the most time researching was where I would eat lunch. That pretty much sums up my priorities.

I eventually settled upon Off the Waffle. Because waffles.

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And not just any waffles – authentic, sugary, Belgian liège waffles with creative and delicious toppings. My waffle was topped with pear slices, brown sugar glazed bacon, brie, and a maple-balsamic glaze.

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Pair that with a cup of organic hot chocolate topped with several inches of fresh whipped cream and I was a happy girl.

And then there was Trader Joe’s.

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Living in a small town may sometimes be inconvenient or mean that I have access to fewer options, but this is the life that I chose to live. So if I encounter the occasional #smalltownproblem, that just means I have to apply a bit of creativity to finding a solution. And sometimes that results in a day that somehow includes a combination of hiking, waffles, and a carload of groceries. In the 3 ½ months I have lived here, it seems to be working out just fine.

Although I am loving exploring Oregon (and then writing about it), I just bought plane tickets for my next major trip. Although the trip is still a few months away, I will be going to… China!!!

Hood River, Oregon

I did it. After making a very public commitment to do so, I took my first solo trip. Well, that is if you don’t count my move halfway across the country chronicled here and here. Ultimately, I chose to go somewhere within driving distance, both to minimize costs and because I can’t really take time off work yet. Starting out early on a Saturday morning, I drove north to Portland and then headed east toward the Columbia River Gorge, where I spent the night in Hood River. Based upon my single case study of traveling alone, I offer the following insights gleaned from what was a quite pleasant weekend.

1. Do things you like. This may seem obvious, but too often we do the things we think we ought to do or see when traveling, rather than considering what we might actually enjoy. Or the opposite occurs, we avoid the “tourist traps” because going there would be trite or, gasp, uncool. The point is this: do what you want, regardless of what anyone else may think of your choice or choose to do themselves.

On this, my first solo trip, my first stop was Multnomah Falls.

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Arguably in the “tourist” category, it was nonetheless a place I wanted to see. And I’m so glad I did. From my first, spectacular glimpse of the cascading, tiered waterfall to the breathtaking view of the Columbia River Gorge after I had hiked to the top, each moment was beautiful.

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IMG_4313Sure, it was crowded, but sharing the beauty of the falls with others in no way diminished the experience. If I had been looking for a bit more solitude, I could have hiked to the nearby, but less visited, Wahkeena Falls. But this time, I wanted to see Multnomah Falls. So I did.

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The other big thing I planned for my weekend getaway was a drive around the Hood River Fruit Loop. After my stop at Multnomah Falls and a detour for lunch, I continued to head east toward Hood River for a drive around the 35-mile loop of vineyards, fruit stands, and farms.

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Despite visiting in the fall, many of the stops were still open and I got to enjoy all of the beautiful fall colors on display. In the spirit of doing exactly what I wanted to do, I stopped when I wanted to and bypassed places in which I was less interested.

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I saw vineyards aflame with fall, walked through pumpkin patches, tasted cider, petted alpacas (and yet again got the sudden, but transient urge to learn to knit), smelled freshly baked pies, and just generally appreciated an exquisite autumn day, made more beautiful against the backdrop of Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Adams to the north.

Although when traveling with others, you will often have to compromise to do things that others want to do (and there is nothing wrong with that!), one of the joys of traveling solo is the opportunity to do precisely what you want. Don’t let the expectations or perceived judgments of others be what prevents you from doing so.

2. Explore a bit. I’m a planner by nature, although not having a plan has become somewhat more tenable for me during the past year or so. As much as planning in advance how to spend my time while traveling is something that is both a fun pastime and a mental comfort to me, I know some of the best things happen when I let go of my plans and explore new places and unexpected opportunities.

This time, I made an unplanned stop for lunch after my morning at Multnomah Falls. Despite being a bit out of my way, the Yelp reviews of Beacon Rock Cafe were too good to pass up – phrases like “hole in the wall,” “located in a general store,” “brioche buns,” and “lamb burger” were bandied about with the end result that I didn’t care how far I had to drive to eat there. It was worth driving to an entirely different state. Of course, that just meant paying a toll to drive across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington, but saying I drove to another state for lunch sounds like major commitment to my food choices.

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Breaking out to explore a bit (and for me, going anywhere my GPS does not work is exploring; I clearly live life on the edge) resulted in a delicious lunch and a lovely drive along the Washington side of the Columbia River.

3. Spend time outdoors. Okay, I know this sounds a bit like I’m telling you how to spend your precious vacation time, which I expressly contradicted in number one. So take it as a general suggestion. Whether strolling through the countryside or exploring a city on foot, spending time in the sunshine (or the clouds as is often the case for me these days) will bring a whole new perspective to your travels. Plus, outdoor activities can be a great way to either meet people or avoid them all together, whichever is your preference at the moment.

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On my trip, I enjoyed nature amid the crowds at Multnomah Falls and in a solitary ramble along the Columbia River. Both were wonderful.

4. Eat great food/drink great beverages. And yet again I’m sort of telling you what to do, so feel free to disregard as needed. However, I truly believe that food can connect you in a unique way with a place. When eating a meal alone, there are no distractions from the experience of the meal. Of course, I’m often tempted to seek shelter behind a good book when dining alone, but this time I was intentional about focusing on my meals free of distractions and enjoying every bite.

After considering several options, I decided to have dinner at Celilo in downtown Hood River. I made a  good choice.

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I truly struggled (my life is soooo difficult) to choose which of the delicious options I wanted to eat, but I eventually settled upon the pappardelle pasta because it was a (much) fancier version of one of my favorite meals to make at home.

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The house made pappardelle pasta was mixed with wild mushrooms, carrots, and ricotta and then topped with a perfectly poached egg. Paired with a fantastic glass of Oregon wine, I could not have imagined a more delicious dinner. And then, just when my meal seemed like it could not get any better, I ordered the creme brûlée for dessert. And there was a chocolate chip cookie.

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The best part? I did not have to share.

The next day, I spent a rainy and cold Sunday morning shopping in downtown Hood River.

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I needed to warm up. And I was craving pizza. That is how I ended up at Double Mountain Brewery. The place was seriously cool and would have been fun to see at another time. Perhaps on a night when they had live music. But on this particular morning, I was quite content with a house brewed root beer and brick-oven pizza.

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My pizza was topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, kalamatas, peppadew peppers, and basil. They had me at “goat cheese.”

Also considering the delicious cider I tried at Fox-Tail Cider the day before, I tasted many delicious things during a 30-hour trip. Thinking about it now, I am surprised I had time to do anything else.

5. Make time to relax and be in the moment. I will admit, I struggle with this. When I travel, I have a tendency to be constantly on-the-go with an itinerary planned down to the second. In the past, this was counterbalanced by traveling with someone who was much more easy-going and who would insist that I not over schedule. When I am traveling on my own, I have to be more intentional about this. Although taking time to slow down and relax will inevitably mean missing out on doing “more” (thus why considering and prioritizing what you want to do is so important), those are the moments that give you the energy to appreciate the busier parts of a trip.

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One of my favorite moments during my trip was curling up with a cup of coffee watching the sunrise over the river. I was not doing anything, but those moments brought beauty and energy into my day. As did the coffee I consumed.

6. Talk to people. Okay, I might actually be worse at this one than at relaxing. In the past, I have avoided this at all costs. But recently I have been working on this, whether it was talking to the cute guy at the craft cider tap room or chatting about the best places to shop with my waitress, I’m slowly working on pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It’s definitely a work in progress, but meeting new people can be a meaningful part of solo travel. I’m learning that the more I do it, the easier it gets. And sometimes I actually like talking to people. Imagine that.

7. Make an effort to feel reasonably safe (and comfortable). I don’t think I will ever be as worried as my mother is about my personal safety, but it is a consideration when traveling. For me, this often starts with staying in a place where I feel safe and comfortable. The Best Western Hood River Inn was perfect.

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It was in a good area, it was well reviewed, and the rooms were clean and updated. And then there was the view.

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I mean really. I was pleasantly surprised that my free night (I earned a free night from the 3 stays I had during my move) was in a river view room and included breakfast in the restaurant. Even when I am not too far from home, I like knowing that there is a comfortable place I can return to at the end of the day, no matter how much I have ventured.

8. But…don’t hesitate to go outside of your comfort zone (in travel or in life). Because that is where the real fun/growth happens.

My first solo trip is officially done! I am sure it is no surprise that I am already planning where I will go next…