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By Ashley Arnold
I've always felt a pull to the Northwest. Oregon in particular, despite friend's accounts of the dreary coastal weather given my current roots in sunny Colorado. Its mystical, often forest-lined beaches have always intrigued me. When two film project brought my boyfriend, Austin, and I out to Oregon finally late this May (one of which is about Nathan athlete Stephanie Howe), we quickly seized the opportunity to experience the city and gape at the coastline.
We flew into Portland and spent a day wandering the hip Mississippi Avenue and Alberta Street district by foot, stuffing ourselves with famous waffles from The Waffle Window and the most amazing Northern Indian street food I've ever had from Tiffin Asha, one of the many delish-smelling food carts and trucks that coalesce in what feels like every available parking lot in the city.
But we couldn't leave the city without first spending some much needed quiet time on the trails of Forest Park, one of the country's largest urban forests. Not only does the park contain about 4,000 acres of second growth and old growth forested land--I mean, it trulyfeels like you're running in a secluded rainforest far away from a bustling metropolis--right smack in the city, over 70 miles of recreational trails!
I only explored three of them, but all three I'd recommend and happily run again. And again. And again. I needed to get in some solid hill climbing (repeats!) during my first run in the park so I headed up the Upper Macleay Park Trailwhich starts an immediate steep but runnable climb directly off the road. I ran up and up into the forest before the soft well-traveled trail leveled out in a rolling ribbon for just enough time to prep me for the next steeper and switched-back section up to Pittock Mansion. It's not long, but it's continuous and absolutely ideal for hill repeats. Not to mention the view of Portland from the mansion lawn is well worth the effort ... as is the fast descent.
The second day I started off down the Lower Macleay Park Trailand alongside Balch Creek before diverging off to the left on the Wildwood Trail a little less than a mile into the run. While I didn't make it to the end, the trail does span just a touch under 30 miles one way and is used only for running and walking. The terrain was rolling and the footing soft under a misty-rain and completely canopied trail. Coming from rocky and exposed Boulder, Colorado, trails, running here felt other worldly, calm, peaceful and almost shire like. I loved it. My only regret: I didn't have time for a long run before we were off and cruising down the Oregon section of the coastal U.S. Route 101.
We landed in Neskowin, a sleepy coastal town with a population of less than 200 and a European feel. I ran to the beach from the AirBNB where we stayed--which was up on a hillside overlooking the ocean. The narrow roads and winding descent felt like a run through the tiny mountainside Swiss town of Wengen I'd run in several years back. When I popped out on the beach I had to stop ... and simply gawk. It was beautiful. The famous Proposal Rockstood almost directly in front of me shrouded in wispy fog, luscious green moss and a speckling of trees. The sun was peaking through the heavy clouds ever so slightly and just enough to illuminate the coastal forest in a fairytale like light. Despite all my iPhone photos, the landscape I saw and felt, could not be replicated. I ran on.
The beach, at low tide, stretches for miles--in Oregon the beach is considered a highway so no section is closed and, interestingly enough, you can actually drive down the beach if you wanted to. (Although this practice is poo pood in Neskowin, you'll find an abundance of on-beach vehicles a few miles north in Pacific City.) You can make it about four miles one way before a river crossing so I did an out and back.
After my run, Austin and I bundled up (by this time it was rather chilly) and grabbed some food--and wine!--at the Neskowin Marketplace, a quaint little shop with an abundant selection of local items including coconut cake to die for. We enjoyed a meal and emptied a bottle of wine from our rental basking in a panoramic view of the coastline as the sun set and darkness slowly shifted the landscape. It felt like the ideal way to end an Oregon beach day.
The next morning we were back in the car and headed east to Bend. .... And that, my friends, is an entirely different story.
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