Days 49 – 52 Portland & Seattle

Portland, OR – Seattle, WA

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On Day 49, I awoke under the Redwoods and was off to Portland for the first time to meet Ali and also conduct an overdue tire change. I had an appointment at Portland Motorcycles on Saturday so if I didn’t get there before closing, I wouldn’t be able to pull out of Portland until late Monday. Despite having a bit of time pressure, I drove the first half of Oregon along its beautiful coastline where I saw countless stretches of rocky beach virtually uninhabited.

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But by noontime, I had still about 200 miles to ride so I cut inland and headed for the I-5 Freeway to make up some time. I arrived at Portland Motorcycle with 30 minutes to spare. The great folks at the shop threw Bumblebee on the stand and got me on my way in no time.

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So this was my first visit to the city of Portland, and man, I was impressed! What a great town! Ali and I stayed at the Kimpton (another first for me) which is a terrific quirky hotel brand that resembles a W, but is notoriously pet friendly and throws a great happy hour in the lobby where they encourage guests to mingle and get to know each other. Great location and a great hotel.

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We woke in the morning and decided to head to the region’s well-known Wilmette Valley wine country where many of the country’s best Pinot Noirs are grown. We visited the tasting rooms of Barking Frog Vineyards, Adea Vineyards, and Winter’s Hill. But by far, Monk’s Gate Vineyard was our favorite. We approached their red barn which also served as the storage shed and tasting room. We quickly met with the owners and winemakers, Ron and Linda Moore, who let us taste their Pinot Noir and Pinot Rose and play with their bloodhound who kept sniffing our shoes (we didn’t step in anything). For all the reasons I criticized Napa Valley in an earlier post, this wine trip had a feeling of discovery and building a relationship between the wine you taste and the people and place it came from. Building those connections is the entire point of wine tasting.  And the best part is that each tasting was merely $5 (or free). Go to Portland. Drink great wine. Forget Napa.

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We ended the evening back in Seattle sampling the famous Voodoo Donuts because there’s really nothing like a 1,200 calorie, sugar-laded gutbomb to help you sleep easy in your bed. Pretty fun scene at 11pm, and the freaks were definitely getting their fix on.

The next day, we made the quick hop up to Seattle, and checked into the Sheraton downtown. Ali headed into her office, and I had meetings down by the fish market with a creative team interested in creating a graphic novel for my podcast, The Leviathan Chronicles.

On our last day, I followed my typical Seattle routine by heading to Vivace Coffee that pulls this unreal expresso drink called a Café Nico. Basically, its a 4-ounce mixture of espresso, steamed half and half, orange and vanilla syrups, orange spritz and cinnamon. I’ve talked about how it’s tough to make the needle jump for me caffeine-wise, but just on taste alone, I normally drink 4 of these in a single sitting.  So delicious.

Next morning, it was time to say goodbye to Ali and to Seattle before making my final push north to Vancouver. Time to get some riding done!

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WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

I’m done with wine tasting trips to Napa. I was so enchanted with the approachability of the Oregon Vineyards along with the outstanding quality of their wine. Also, Portland has the best food truck culture I’ve ever seen in a city. Vacant lots are used for all the trucks to congregate together selling everything from exotic fruit smoothies to Vietnamese chow to Hawaiian food to BBQ. Pure heaven. Why isn’t NYC doing this?

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Days 41 – 45 Sideways and Byways

San Francisco, CA – Napa, CA – San Francisco, CA

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With my motorcycle safely in the shop, Ali and I decided that we should use our bike-free time to visit our old haunts in Napa Valley and also explore some new vineyards. Napa is obviously a huge epicurean playground. It’s pretty hard to find a bad meal anywhere, and vineyards litter Route 29 with tasting rooms and cellar tours. In fact, my wife and I have probably visited Napa over 10 times in the last 10 years, and during this last trip – I had an epiphany.

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It’s not as great as it used to be.

Now hear me out. It’s still terrific, and if you haven’t gone – you should absolutely check it out. You’ll have a marvelous time and eat like you never had before. But you might have had a better time 10 years ago.

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With the exception of Chimney Rock, Ali and I visited about 6 vineyards that were all good, but not great. That would be fine, except that every vineyard in Napa Valley is now charging $20 – $40 dollars for a tasting flight. Think about that. You’re really paying $20 (or more!) for what amounts to a glass and a half of wine. At the upper end, you’re actually tasting sips of wine that would be cost prohibitive to buy an entire bottle (i.e. at $40 tastings, you’re drinking $150 – $200 bottles of wine), so I guess that’s OK.

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But bear in mind that most tastings in Napa used to be free. And on top of that, none of the wine struck me as that great (not bad, just not great) which was in direct contrast to the platitudes espoused by the tasting room employees. And again, 10 years ago you’d be having the winemaker or owner walking you through their vineyards and talking you through each of their wines. Now it’s an out-of-work actor in a Hawaiian shirt reciting a routine script written by the owner who probably lives in New York regarding the wine you’re drinking.

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Please don’t get me wrong! It’s an amazing time, and I had a ton of fun. But I sort of feel like someone’s Grandpa describing what flying was like in the 1950s on Pan Am versus being crammed onto a Spirit Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale. It’s still a miracle just to have achieved the gift of flight, but we’re sort of talking apples and oranges.

Ali and I had the pleasure of staying in the town of Napa which is located right on the Napa River which now has a lovely boardwalk – ideal to watch to 4th of July fireworks.

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After 2 days of wining and dining, we headed back to San Francisco to pick up the newly renovated Bumblebee. I think you can see in the photos that the repair work was quite an improvement. She’s now ready to finish the drive up the coast and back home to New York. I love that bike so damn much!

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Before

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After

Next stop: Up the West Coast to Portland & Seattle

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

The bloom is off the rose in Napa. I’ve heard numerous wine experts lament the fact that many winemakers now think they can slap a label on a bottle that says Napa Valley and automatically charge $70 a bottle, regardless of quality. The fact is, it’s hard to grow a bad grape there, but it’s starting to get a bit egregious – not that it slowed our consumption one bit.