Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Perfect Hike: Elk Meadows, Mt. Hood OR

I try to get out and do a hike now and then, and a couple of years ago a co-worker introduced me to one that has since become my favorite. So much of a favorite, in fact, that now I only want to go on this particular hike, because I think it’s perfect.  (I guess it’s the hiking equivalent of ordering the same dish every time you go to your favorite restaurant.) The hike is to Elk Meadows on Mt. Hood.

A little whitewater on the way to Elk Meadows

So what is that makes this my fave hike? Well, let’s just say it has everything. Rushing water, colorful wildflowers, a roughhewn footbridge, a healthy climb – and to top things off – a gorgeous meadow. Plus, this hike is rated “moderate”– which means you can feel that you did a somewhat challenging hike – not just some easy two-mile stroll to look at a waterfall. (Nothing wrong with those, by the way.)

For starters, there's a well-marked trailhead (complete with a decent Porta-Potty nearby).

The beginning

Fairly soon into the hike you encounter Clark Creek, complete with a rustic footbridge.

Clark Creek footbridge

Not long after Clark Creek, you hit Newton Creek, another rushing body of water. But this time, you cross by walking across logs. A little scary, but just scary enough to make it fun.

Hiking buddy crossing Newton Creek

Along the way you can see some interesting fungi, like this other-worldly mushroom formation.

A large forest mushroom clings to a tree

You can also see a multitude of blue lupine in bloom.

Blue lupine abound

The path then leads to eight long-ish switchbacks.  Fortunately, on that hot August afternoon, the switchbacks were mostly shaded. (More perfection!) Also – eight is about the right number, and makes you feel like you earned what lies ahead.

Hiking buddy climbing switchbacks

After the switchbacks, the trail leads to the piece de resistance – Elk Meadows. Once you hit the meadow you can hike the perimeter and glimpse Mt. Hood from various vantage points.

Elk Meadows

This is an amazingly scenic spot, and it’s worth lingering to admire the picture-postcard beauty. It's also a great place for a picnic. Or just bring a book and a blanket and while away the afternoon.

A few things worth noting:

I’ve done this hike in July, August, and September, and the experience varied by month:

July was a bit buggy (due to melting snow pack, I believe). A lightweight long-sleeve shirt plus insect repellent came in handy.

August was quite warm, and a little dusty and dry – but minimal bugs.  

September was idyllic.  Wildflowers gave way to fall colors. It was warm but not hot. No bugs. This is picnic weather.

The hike to Elk Meadows is about a seven mile round trip. There is an option to continue on to Gnarl Ridge, making for a ten mile round trip. (I’m saving that for next time ... if I get past the picnic part).

For a more detailed account of this hike (and the Gnarl Ridge option) check out William L. Sullivan’s ever-popular 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Radio Shack to the Rescue: Portland OR

For me, to venture out in Portland means sometimes I go east of 82nd Avenue.  Don’t get me wrong – I'm no “close-in” elitist snob. In fact, I believe there are many hidden gems past 82nd. This month I stumbled upon once such find – an unassuming Radio Shack at NE Halsey and 115th Avenue.

My reason for going was to prepare my 1998 Subaru Forester for an end-of-summer road trip. As we know, no decent road trip is complete without a playlist. However, as we also know, playing music is a hi-tech undertaking these days, and I was on a personal mission to dial in the whole iPhone/iPod/iTunes/stream-Pandora-while-driving thing before I hit the road.

Knowing I wanted to keep things simple (and inexpensive), I decided give Radio Shack a try. Best Buy was an option, but I don’t care for Best Buy. It’s the Home Depot of electronics – big, impersonal, and hit-or-miss customer service. Also, I kind of like the old school vibe at Radio Shack. I even like the old school name.  It’s so pre-digital.

Radio Shack tech guru, Mark Ramirez (left) 
and store manager, Kiley Asato (right)

So, I pulled into this particular Radio Shack in the non-descript mini-mall. When I entered, I was immediately greeted by the friendly and helpful store manager, Kiley Asato. I told him what I was trying to achieve, and instead of suggesting something complicated and expensive, he called over the resident tech guru, Mark Ramirez. They proceeded to hook me up.

Kiley and Mark introduced me to a cassette adapter, a handy little device for about $20 that would convert my obsolete cassette player into a power source for my iPhone, which would allow me to use it as my car stereo. The price was right so I purchased it, then excitedly went to my car and tried to get it to work. 

Through the store’s plate glass windows, these guys could see I wasn’t making much progress. That's when Mark the tech guru came to the rescue. He came out, fiddled with it, then took it back into the store. A few minutes later he emerged and popped it into my cassette player and - voila - music! Somehow, he had “tricked” the thing into thinking my iPhone was a never-ending tape so that it would “play” continuously. I’m not sure how he did this – maybe with a paper clip or a ballpoint pen. Regardless, it worked like magic.

For his brilliant on-the-spot troubleshooting, I suggested tipping him. He politely declined, but did say he would take a piece of my gum. I gladly handed him the whole pack.

Overall, it was a superb customer service experience: friendly, unhurried, and efficient. I suggest that next time you need some electronic gadgetry, visit Mark and Kiley at Radio Shack on NE Halsey. They’ll take care of you. 

Just remember to bring some gum.

Radio Shack

11525 NE Halsey Street
Portland, OR 97220
(503) 256-0505