It has been quite a few months since the wife and I both had a day off – a weekend day specifically – together. And on these rare occasions we sometimes don’t realize it until nearly the last minute. Of course, the first thing we ask eachother when such a situation arises… is “so what should we do?”
Sure enough, we found ourselves in such a situation this past weekend. There wasn’t enough time for an overnighter, and she wanted to at least sleep in a ‘bit’. So the options for a destination narrowed down to something less than 3 hours away and – because we po’ – ideally something on the cheap. Portland and Hood River were ruled out early on, and since the dog’s been sore lately, so was any sort of adventurous hiking expedition. It took only a few moments before Eugene was suggested, and immediately all combined eyebrows raised without objection.
Our destination was now set and in no time we were jumping in and out of the shower, delightedly clicking through Beer Advocate, and perusing events and attractions in the Eugene area.
With a cursory agenda set, we saddled up the Fitty, corralled the exuberant dog, and hit the road. Rolling out of Bend northward, we stop quickly for a huge iced tea and some greezy breakfast items at Sonic Drive-In, before striking Hwy 20 towards Sisters. We ended up leaving town by 10 and aside from getting stuck behind a house being moved, we enjoy the wide open road.
There are several routes to consider, when driving from Bend to Eugene. All of them pretty, but the McKenzie Pass takes the prize as the most awesome. It’s a scenic byway only open and snow-free for a few months, lined with stunning viewpoints, remote trailheads, waterfalls and all sorts of Oregon’y goodness. We make a couple brief viewpoint stops on the eastern (dry side) before eventually passing westward down the winding narrow road towards Eugene.
The McKenzie Pass is one of my old haunts from years ago, and is featured prominently in my book. We discuss pulling off and taking a stroll. I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s a shady cool forest on a bright sunny day, and just around noon. My first thought goes to Proxy Falls. It’s easily in the top 3 falls in Oregon and is a staple in everything from calendars to advertising…very picturesque. The hike in is 3/4 of a mile, through both forested and rocky/sunny outcrops, before the whisper of the falls meets us. I coax the wife down the rocky scramble to the base of the falls, where we take our time wading out and exploring the crystal clear pools and eddies. I neglect to mention all the little craydads (my own term for crayfish/crawdads) that are surely dancing about our wiggling toes.
The falls canyon is cool and relaxing, but with the thought of delicious craft beer, we scamper back up to the trail and enjoy the stroll back to camp, chatting with some other visitors, making recommendations about nearby attractions. I don’t think we told them I wrote an entire book about said attractions, haha.
The landscape has already transformed into a lush forest of ferns and mosses, primeval almost in its vibrancy. We cruise slowly down the road until it finally levels and straightens into rolling timber hillsides and farmland.Around Blue River or Vida we spot a farm advertising produce and turn around to investigate. We are not disappointed. In addition to you-pick and hand-picked blueberries, they’ve got a little petting zoo, homemade blueberry popsicles, and enough tasty organic produce to make us squee with delight.
We polish off almost the whole pint of blueberries in ten minutes, and were soon seeing signs of civilization and are fast approaching Eugene.
It had been more than two years since either of us had spent any time in Eugene. It was basically just as we remembered. There’s a lot that I can say about the place, and a lot that I can’t quite articulate. It’s unique in a number of ways, specifically a rare and powerful sense of community and diversity. On one hand, it’s a city that seems old and worn…soggy and dirty. Yet there’s no trash, tons of development, and a young population. It’s a haven for the homeless and destitute, yet a vibrant college town. Home to anarchists, hippies and environmental protesters…but also the birthplace of Nike and a mecca for track running and outdoor recreation. It’s a beautifully green town, tree-lined and gardened, with a burgeoning craft-beer scene. This last fact did not escape us, and for this specifically we decided to visit Eugene on a lovely Sunday afternoon.
– Hop Valley Brewing was our first stop. A nifty little brewpub restaurant, technically in the adjacent Springfield, not far from I-5. Their beers are great, their branding and atmosphere just as spot-on. It’s got a decent food menu and the staff knew the beers well. We shared a sampler and a special limited-edition ‘saison’ that was tart and tasted more like a fruit beer – just look at how neon red it is! We also destroyed a sausage plate, which featured their own meats and three different sauces/mustards.On the way out, we also bought a pair of can koozies for home…because well…it keeps cans cold, perfect for camping, and sometimes you just need to hide the shame of that PBR or Rainier.
– Stop number two was the amazing Ninkasi Brewing Company. These fellows don’t mess around and are already brewing multiple-award-winning elixirs, while also supporting tons of awesome events, charities and earning a place in my list of all-around great breweries (tied somewhere in top 5!). We shared an epic flight of their best stuff.
– Our third stop was the venerable Bier Stein. We wanted to pace ourselves (I did have to drive afterall) so we sipped and relaxed, browsing their huge bottle selection like kids in a candystore. I went with a light Kulmbacher, a german pils I hadn’t had in maybe five years. It was delish. The Misses went with an IPA.
– Our final stop was the new Falling Sky Brewing. This was the surprise underdog stop, as we hadn’t had their stuff really and had just looked it up on the fly before the trip. What we did know, was that their menu seemed the most impressive…so we wanted to save them for dinner. The clock was creeping past 6, so we pulled down the alley and were glad to see this vibrant outdoor patio and a bright modern gastro/brewpub. We went with a cloud-shaped flight of their very tasty brews. We also split a BLT with a side of their delicious poutine…which I have a craving for again…being a cheese n’ gravy aficionado as I am.
Jaeda; patio vacuum and part-time dog, joined us for our long relaxing meal at Falling Sky and we spooned at delicious homemade ice cream as a band setup for the evening. The sun was quite low however, and being a Sunday night, we reluctantly groaned to our feet and made our way to the car. We topped off the gas, and hit the road, back east over the pass.
Aside from a stop to water some trees, we also somehow timed some perfectly serene and beautiful sunset views all along the way. We rolled into Bend around 9, unlocking the front door of our house with just a hint of fading twilight to guide the key in.
What a day!