July 2, 2014. We pack the car and check out of our Jantzen Beach hotel, just outside of Portland. Bill surprises me with a plan: he will take the kiddos, and I will have the freedom to wander Portland on my own a bit, perhaps peruse more of Powell’s Books alone. We are headed back to Eugene next (we had stayed overnight there on June 29th and had plans to stay the 2nd-4th), but we are not in a rush.

I leave Bill, Katie, and Eric at the Jamison Square Park on NW 11th Avenue, and I begin to roam. I feel every bit of my freedom in so vast a space; I am part of the crowd yet deliciously solitary; I am but a small cog in the wheel but also limitless in independence. I have wandered enough cities now, both with others and alone, to know I am scrappy and savvy enough to make it through, but still that vastness works on my sense of the sublime—and I am aware of being alive, alive, alive. There are the men in the suits with ties flapping their way to a cafe; there is an old man in a raggedy blanket holding out a tin pan. There are historic buildings and Whole Foods. Panhandlers address me, but at this point I know how to handle myself. I, too, am part of the city, part of its early morning breath, part of its glory, part of its grime. Big cities beg to be wandered, beg to be discovered and known, in every  nook and cranny.

I wish I could spread my wings over this immense space and soar into every curious spot all day, though eventually I find my way back to paradise on Earth: Powell’s Books. We have been there already on our first day in Portland, but still it calls me. I dream of this city of books even now. Floors and floors of books…so enormous a space that I could wander in there forever and forget to emerge. What strange waters flow in there? Are they Lethe? Or are they waters of eternal youth and knowledge and self-awareness?

As I meander among the stacks, I am with my friends: words, ideas, literature, non-fiction. The language of my innermost being. I am awash in the lifeblood of all I try to speak, but can only write instead. The deepest words in me stay internal and can emerge only through my fingertips and never through my lips. All that I am exists entirely in that phantasmic written space. Even now, as I write, I am both within and without my body; I exist in the words themselves, the words that are alive and organic, the words that have always felt as though they write themselves and come when they come, the words that have meaning only in the relational context with other words (our lexicon is self-referential). The structure of language itself as an emergent system…it’s all here, surrounding me on these shelves. The bulk (even if not the entirety) of human knowledge rises on every shelf around me.

If ever I were to get on my knees, I feel, it would be here: to feel the presence so keenly of all the thinkers and writers who have come before me. I could spend every minute of my life reading and not begin to touch the vastness of human thought and words here in this city of books. The knowledge dwarfs me yet calls me to suck in and interpret as much information as I can before I die. I want to weep at the beauty and the pain of it all at once.

And there among the words, more knowledge comes. I begin to imagine all the lives I might have lived… All the possible timelines. What if I had chosen a different college? What if some version of me on an alternate timeline lived in a loft in New York? Or taught English in India? Or worked at this bookstore in Portland? Among the stacks of books, the emotions come, in company of the host of lives I imagine. There are staggering possibilities, as I imagine myself as a teenager and then in my early 20s. But there is time only for one trajectory, for all of us. I know for certain I would never give up the life I have and the husband and children in it, and for a moment I wonder at how differently it all could have gone, how any one choice could have meant I missed out on them…

The mind of a prolific reader is inherently peripatetic, I would assert. We wander from life to life through the characters and settings we meet. We are bound not by time, traveling easily through history, wandering through words as though they are real. I am, at heart, a wanderer. I can imagine infinite versions of myself, and some of those versions I might never get around to becoming, even for a moment. Some of those, I guess I wouldn’t want to become. But there on my solo wander amid the books in this huge city, I wonder if I should mourn those imagined versions of myself that never had a chance to materialize on a finite timeline. I think about all the recent women’s books about “having it all” or “leaning in” or how we are supposed to become ourselves, or whatever.

Then it hits me. I am standing in Portland in a costume I packed a week ago for just a moment like this one… All of the lives I imagine exist right this very second, in me; that I am living out right now a small part of another life, except that through imagination and the active creation of my narrative, that life is actually happening—for a small moment—on this timeline. If we are to “have it all” then it shall be hour by hour and day by day. I think about the lives I might have had as a younger person and realize that I am having them, maybe not all at once, maybe not for long periods of time, but in little carved out moments like this one.

So for an hour I sit and sip a latte and read my game-theory-meets-Austen book that was a present from Bill a couple of days ago. I write in my new journal and remembered not who I was; I remembered all that I will be. We live many lives in our one life, sometimes in tiny moments and all at once. I reconnect in this space with my essence, the essence which has always believed anything is possible and that life is the best adventure. I have a moment of clarity in that cafe when for a moment I see more clearly all who I can be. I am a Wanderer. Not just physically, although that is certainly true, as well. My mind is a wandering mind. It loves every subject, flits with curiosity from idea to idea. I must touch and smell and hear and feel…

To explore and wander is infinite happiness for me, especially on my own. I love to feel my independence, my solitariness. And what I discover, I then relish showing to my Bill and my children—I want to curate knowledge of the beautiful and sublime, and then give it away to those I love best, or to anyone who will come along with my zany plans. I want to live at the height of sensation and show others how to do the same… I want to experience as many lives in one life as possible.

We can be all that we imagine. Portland reminded me of this, made me know it, in fact, in a new way.

 

 

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Enjoying a latte and reading in Portland during my solo wander

 

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Moments and a new journal… Few things excite me more than a new journal, with the utter blankness for writing of new adventures and new life stories. We can be all we hope and dream.

And here are some other memories and moments of our time in Portland. We went from Sacramento to Ashland for two days, then to a pit stop in Eugene, then to Portland for a few days, then back to Eugene for a few days, then to Brookings (along the coast), then to Bodega Bay, and then home (to give some context).

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When I reunited with my family after my solo wander, we spent more time playing at Jamison Square Park. How awesome is this park? We totally could use something like this, in an open and public meeting square, in Temecula. So lovely and informal. Katie and Eric played for hours, and Bill even got their scooters out. (Those scooters, I swear. I will be packing them for every road trip from here on out).

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Eric in Portland

 

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A wider view of the whole park—the water feature is on the right in this picture, but there is a grassy sprawl, too. Around the park are restaurants and apartments and stores.

Our first stop in Portland: Powell’s Books, naturally.

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We could get lost in here…for eternity…

 

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Our first visit

 

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Katie was in heaven. She picked out several sci fi selections and a graphic novel of The Tempest with original language. I normally advocate reading source material and not a watered-down or simplified version even when young, but we are definitely fans of quality graphic novels, and this one is really good. Because we had just seen The Tempest in Ashland, and had been talking about it for weeks, she understands what is going on in the play, and she couldn’t put this down.

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On our first trip to Powell’s, we left Bill to meander at his leisure and I took the kiddos out and about for a couple of hours to explore. We had bubble tea, walked all around downtown, and read in a coffee shop. I am not gonna lie: I feel pretty hardcore being able to navigate huge cities with two kiddos on my own and entertain ourselves for hours. I did this all over Sacramento, as well. In a way, realizing I am able to work that scenario capably is the ultimate in claiming my freedom to go anywhere, and do just about anything. I do not need to rely on anyone else to handle my children with me, and we can find our way around together, even in the most novel and large of places.

 

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My little reader did not want to put her book down for a moment. Katie read six chapter, novel-length books on our 12 day trip. She is voracious. Her summer reading list is already huge (we are logging every chapter book she reads). I love that she has found reading as way to unwind after a long day, or to enjoy time in the car.

On the second day we went to Multnomah Falls at the Columbia River Gorge.

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This was a highlight of our trip. Katie and Eric and I hiked all the way up to the top of the falls, and they were troopers. Eleven switchbacks up a substantial hill for about 1.5 miles. Not bad, Team McGaugh! We were rewarded at the top with a stunning view, but the whole hike was gorgeous: ferns, firs, views of the Columbia River, old stone walls, a creek. There are so many beautiful hikes/walks/climbs in Oregon.

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Also on the second day, we went to Southeast Portland and tried on vintage. I wanted to drop a penny on all the 30s and 50s vintage I found, but I restrained myself. Katie had a blast!

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We treated ourselves to Salt and Straw, an gourmet ice cream shop. I had the goat cheese marionberry habenero and the olive oil as a single split scoop. I also sampled the strawberry cilantro lime cheesecake, the pear with bleu cheese and a couple of others. Delicious. This was one treat that was utterly worth it. We had skipped Voodoo donuts (line too long, and I don’t eat donuts), but Salt and Straw was a rec from my friends Erin and Erik. Erin has impeccable taste in everything, and she was right on here. I have been craving Salt and Straw since we left Portland…

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Later that evening on the second day, we unwound with a swim in the hotel indoor pool. That’s always a favorite on road trips for us. Fun memories!

And a word about our lodging… Bill has lodging super-mojo. When we rolled into Portland, we were contemplating a place to stay. We thought about staying in the city, but we realized that A) we would have to valet the car, and we needed easy access to our stuff; B) my training runs would be more difficult to manage with so many people around; C) two nights would add up quickly in downtown. He quickly researched and found a place in Jantzen Beach, just outside of the city: Oxford Inn Suites. Okay. This place blew my mind, and I am a realistic sort of person. I’ve been in crappy motels (Rodeway Inn in Utah—do not go, not unless you want to sleep in pubes with doors that don’t lock properly), and I have been in five star hotels (Four Seasons in Istanbul, Turkey, to name one). I could not believe what we got at that inn for about $100 a night. Super clean. Guest laundry (of which I availed myself). A complimentary breakfast that was unreal: more like a buffet anywhere else, with eggs cooked to order (uncommon at motor lodges for road trippers). Indoor pool. Gym. And the capper: a complimentary soup and salad (and cracker) session during the dinner hours. That pushed the whole inn over the edge, for me, because: soup and salad and crackers are all the three of us need for dinner. So that meant breakfast AND dinner were essentially free. Sure, we ate around a bit at lunch and had the ice cream, but our meals were largely comped for the Portland portion of our stay. I kept remarking how I could not BELIEVE it. It was the perfect lodging mid-trip. Bill had a major win on that one. We would recommend it to anyone. I am not sure what else an inn/hotel could possibly do, for so little a night, to make anyone happier.
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Breakfast at Oxford Inn

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Bill in the lobby of the inn: he earned several kudos for finding this!

Other highlights: we went to Lake Oswego for a bit, drove into Washington state for a few moments, and drove around looking at as much of Portland as we could. There is certainly quite a bit more left to explore there, and I hope we make it back at some point soon. (Actually, I am dying to return to Eugene, but that’s another story)!

 

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