So about this book. Originally I'd signed on to coauthor Walking Portland with my pal Ryan Ver Berkmoes, who wrote Walking Chicago for Wilderness Press. He'd moved to Portland a few years back and we thought it would be fun to team up on a project. I've known Ryan — and our friend Tom Downs, who wrote Walking San Francisco — since my first Lonely Planet author workshop, around 10 years ago (is it possible?). The way I (fog-headedly) remember it, after the workshop one night Ryan (who worked in-house for LP at the time) led us all on a boozy meander across San Francisco. We went to all the places you would go: Vesuvio, Tosca, the (old) Gold Dust, Specs', undoubtedly others. Attrition was high, but everyone who stayed out until 3 a.m. trying to find the very last open bar in the city ended up getting work on the next USA guide. Coincidence? Maybe. Poetic license, more likely. I won't swear that's exactly how it happened, but it's close enough. A career built on pints.
Anyway, it turned out that Ryan's travel schedule kept him on the road approximately 378 days a year, so he had to bow out of Walking Portland. But by then he'd sold me on the idea: a chance to explore here at home and to write about a place in a more relaxed format, with room for going off on weird tangents, airing grievances, talking up places like the Sandy Hut, a bar I love that is nevertheless a pretty tough sell to, say, a midrange international traveler. I mean, there are certain expectations. Not everyone instantly sees the appeal of the Hut.
So this book is not about getting from place to place so much as it is about slowing down and seeing the city in a new way. Possibly as a result of aging, I tend to feel, lately, that everything goes too fast (not including the workday), and walking is a nice way to slow it all down.This is also a book that I hope encourages a little disobedience. Veer from the path! Don't let it boss you around. Ideally the book should put you in a neighborhood and give you a general sense of character, then turn you loose. It's important to stumble across interesting things on your own. (But if you find anything really great, tell me!)
Most of the walks are built for sauntering unambitiously through areas with a high potential for distraction and discovery. They're easy to customize: you can mix them together, do half one day and half the next, get tired and hop a bus, or even just "walk" vicariously while sitting in a pub, reading the book. I support that approach.
Some of the best things in Walking Portland are gone: The steakhouse with deep red booths. The creek that disappears. The pawn shop that used to be a rock club. The building shaped like a shoe. But there's a lot in Portland waiting to be found.
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Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer and critic living in Portland, Oregon. She has written guidebooks to Sweden and the Pacific Northwest as well as reviewed books, film, food, and drink for various publications. Walking Portland is her latest book.
Books mentioned in this post
Becky Ohlsen is the author of Walking Portland: 30 Tours of Stumptown's Funky Neighborhoods, Historic Landmarks, Park Trails, Farmers Markets, and Brewpubs (Walking)