Coffee Outside at Poet’s Beach, 26 June 2021, plus Portland’s relationship to the river and biking in record-breaking heat.

My Trangia 27 setup. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Silberra Pan 50

After my Sunset/Moonrise Ride on Thursday June 24th, I was in the mood for more sociable bike activities. Unfortunately for me Portland and the rest of the Northwest would be headed for an unprecedented heat wave for the weekend, with triple digit (in Fahrenheit, for you Celsius peeps it’s 38C and up) heat and all-time temperature records broken. In short, not a good time for social bike activities unless they were very early in the day or after dark.

Thankfully PDX Coffee Outside is all about the early, so that was a social bike activity I could do. The bonus for this particular Saturday was it was downtown-ish by the Willamette River, above a location known as Poet’s Beach. This small sandy beach on the west side of the river and directly under the Marquam Bridge (I-5). It initially opened in 2000, but the improvements like a path to the water and all the poetry found along it did not happen until 2014.

A public beach in the heart of the city is a pretty big deal in itself. When I moved to Portland in 2001, the Willamette was definitely cleaner than it was mid-century. But beyond being in a boat going into the water was something people just didn’t do. If on a hot summer day you decided to wrangle your friends and ride to the Willamette for swimming, they’d think you were crazy. I’m not going to even dip a toe into that nasty water, I might get hepatitis! No, the aughts was all about riding out to the pure and cold Sandy River (or even the Clackamas or Washougal if you wanted to go that far) on a hot day. Nevermind the fact that everyone in this area has the same exact ideas on hot days, so you’d be competing with hundreds to thousands of other folks for a spot by the river. Nevermind the fact that you’d get fried by the heat on the 20-ish mile (10-ish if you took the MAX part-way) ride to the river, then get fried again on the ride home. That was what people did.

Nowadays people are less leery of the Willamette. This has been hugely helped by the Human Access Project, who get people to reconnect with it via activities like The Big Float. So people can and will swim in the Willamette, though it usually won’t be their first choice in the area. But unlike the more popular destinations like the spots I mentioned above or Broughton Beach on the Columbia River, the Willamette River beaches aren’t usually crowded, and much more easily accessible to people on foot, bike, or transit.1

Anyways, I rode down from my house to Poet’s Beach, a distance of six miles one-way. I was playing it safe as it was already 77F/25C when I left a little before 9 am. I had my long-sleeved button-up shirt, a summer strategy learned from Mr. Retro-Grouch Grant Petersen. Best to cover your arms with a light shirt then go bare-armed and slather with sunscreen. 2 (I’ll wear sunscreen, but hate it.) A big dorky straw sun hat to cover my dome, a bandana around neck, wetted when needed, and sandals. I rode my Raleigh Superbe, currently my most upright bike. I didn’t want to go fast, and I’d rather be un-aero as possible.

There was about a dozen or so people when I got there. Everyone was on the path above the beach instead of the water itself. I thought about bringing the Esbit coffee maker, but the city is currently under a fire ban, and burning an Esbit tablet is basically an uncontrolled open flame. So I brought my Trangia 27 stove set instead.3 We chatted about the summer, bike plans, the heat. We were in the shade from the Marquam Bridge and could feel a bit of a breeze from the water.

Eventually coffee outside wound down and everyone went their separate ways. I decided to actually go down to the beach for a little bit. There were a few folks down there at 11 am, I’m sure more people showed up later in the day. I walked into the river, the big benefit of wearing waterproof Keen sandals in the summer. The water was refreshing. It was a slow cruise home: I grabbed a burrito and ate it in Piccolo Park and paused frequently in the shade for water breaks. The big problem with riding to the river is everywhere else is up, but I chose the most mellow bike route home (Tillikum Crossing-SE Clinton-SE 42nd-Couch/Davis/Everett). The climbing is pretty gradual for the most part.

Despite all the preparations and precautions, I was still plenty fried by the time I got home around 12:30. The thermometer was 93F/34C then, copiously hot. It would top out at 108F/42C later, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Portland. And Sunday and Monday would get even hotter, reaching an unfathomable 116F/47C that Monday. It’s going to be a long summer, and I don’t know if I’m looking forward to it…

Below are pics I took with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. It was my first time trying out Silberra Pan 50, a low-speed black and white film. Like other Russian/Soviet film black and white stocks I have tried, the results are a bit dramatic, in this case too dramatic for my liking. I’ve got some Ilford Pan F+ on the way, hopefully it’ll give better results…

Coffee Outside at Poet

1 Broughton Beach’s access issues annoy me. It’s of course easy to get to by car. It isn’t hard to get to by bike either, as it’s on the Marine Drive bike path. But the nearest bus stop is about 1 1/3 miles away. I don’t know why Tri-Met doesn’t extend the 70 bus line to the park during the summer months (it doesn’t need to be every trip, even) so people without cars or bikes don’t have to walk an hour round-trip.

2 This is a strategy that works better for the dry West than humid East. I would have never considered it in Connecticut, when having more clothes draped across my sweaty body didn’t sound pleasant. But the summers here are anything but humid, unless you’re from SoCal or Arizona, where you’ll think we’re in a sauna.

3 While some might also consider an alcohol stove an “open uncontrolled flame”, the stable base, big windscreen, and ability to snuff the fire with a cap makes it much better to use in these circumstances.

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