Over the past couple decades I’ve led bicycle rides in and around Portland. These rides tend to focus on what I call Portlandia Obscuria: The weird and unknown little bits and pieces, often hidden in plain sight. I’ll think of a theme, say palm trees, and build a ride out of checking as many out as possible. There’s plenty out there, more than there were when I did my first Palm Tree Ride in 2005. But there’s no “central source” to find out where they are, at least not in a comprehensive way. I had to build up a database in my head by seeking them out over the years. And how do I do that? By wandering around this city and checking things out.
On the surface, this sounds easy: Go out and observe. But the problem is that we tend to stick to our well-worn paths, routes learned over the years via trial and error. This means we’re going to see the same things over and over. Now one can make a point in exploring an area intensely to seek out new stuff, but that’s a commitment. What I often find works just as well is to simply get a little off your beaten track. It could be as simple as traveling one block off of the route that you normally do.
This happened to me a couple weeks ago. I rode over to the Belmont Library on Friday February 5th to pick up some holds. I rode down via my normal route. On the way back I decided to stop at Belmont Station (which is now on SE Stark) to pick up some beer. I found myself at SE 45th and Stark. Normally I’d either head north via 41st or 53rd to cross busy E Burnside St. But on a whim I decided to follow SE 45th to cross Burnside. While 45th is a mellow side-street, the Burnside crossing is not, so this is why I don’t include this route normally. And I was pleasantly surprised with a few discoveries!
First, there was this cool steel or iron gate:
And I liked this cool house. In fact, there were plenty of cute houses on this street.
And past the Burnside crossing, I found this nice Little Free Library decorated with a reading dinosaur and book-bird:
Now all of this is within a block or so of a route that is very well trodden for me. But this is the first time I remember seeing these things! And now that I know that they are here, I’ll probably come back, bunk Burnside bisection be blasphemed.
Several days later I needed to pick up my bicycle at Portland Bicycle Emporium down on SE Division. It’s a couple miles from my house, so I decided to walk. Walking is a very good way to explore, as you see things at 2-3 miles an hour. And when I walk I try to take routes that I don’t normally bike. I ended up walking a bit of SE 60th Avenue as it passes by Mount Tabor Park. I’ve driven SE 60th a bunch, but you don’t notice as much at 30 miles an hour.
There were definitely some cool things I found. The Mount Tabor neighborhood has lots of great houses. I snapped this Craftsman wonder.
There’s of course Mount Tabor Park itself.
Further down, I used this nice path section of SE Sherman.
And encountered this clever sign defacement.
And here’s the takeaway: There’s lots more weird, wonderful, and interesting things out there. They may just be a block or two off of your normal route. So go switch up your route sometime!