My fulltime-RVer friend Eileen and her two doggy-companions (Trax and Sally) came to visit for a long weekend in July. Being incredibly organized is a defining characteristic that Eileen and I share, so these visits are usually completely planned well in advance. But due in large part to me being way too busy this year, we played this visit a bit by ear.
Last year I got us each a McMenamins passport, so we decided to let that form the backbone of this visit. The RV Park in Tualatin where she had a reservation for her short visit is a nearly equidistant 45 minutes from my house and the large McMenamins properties in Forest Grove and McMinnville, so we planned to put our McMenamins passports to good use.
I reserved a night in the Hotel Oregon in McMinnville for Thursday, and we planned a day-trip to the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove for Saturday.
Thursday, July 25: Grand Hotel, McMinnville, Oregon
After a late brunch with my Dave, Eileen and I headed off to McMinnville. We (I?) thought it would be nice to go there without making it a tour of the Oregon freeway system, but 20-30 minutes into the back-roads drive, signs warning about a steep grade (18%!) had Eileen turning the RV around. We backtracked quite a bit, eventually finding our way to a flat road that would take us directly to 99W. By then we’d been driving maybe an hour, and we were hitting the stream of traffic in rush hour. That was a bummer.
We got to McMinnville at around 5:30. It is a really cute town — I’m very glad to have seen it. We found a place a few blocks from the hotel to park, then headed to McMenamins.
We’d originally planned to have a wonderful dinner, but that didn’t pan out. Our over-long drive meant that we were too hungry and thirsty to spend much time looking for options. Further, it was a very hot day — too hot to leave the dogs in the RV. This meant having two dogs with us, which reduced our options on this excessively hot day to only outdoor options.
On the sidewalk outside the McMenamins Hotel Oregon pub we found an empty small table with a convenient metal bar next to it that the dogs’ leashes could be attached to, and were soon enjoying our cold beer. Perfect. I won’t say that a dinner at a McMenamins pub is all that great. Many have additional restaurants with excellent menus, but the menus across all their pubs are the same, with food that is a smallish step above average typical pub fare. But the hungrier you are, the less all of that matters.
We ordered burgers to have with our beer, and we wondered aloud how much we could pay the busker across the street to stop playing the guitar and singing a la Neil Young. It was hot out, but it was still nice, and the dogs were happily drinking from a water bowl under the table. All in all, a nice dinner, especially when the busker went away.
After dinner, it was time for the collecting of our McMenamins passport stamps.
Getting stamps in your passport involves tromping around the property, snapping a pic of something, visiting each of the pubs, etc. It can be a little tiresome, but it’s fun — and these places never disappoint in displaying quirkiness and creativity. I was going to be staying at the hotel overnight and could take care of my passport later. So while Eileen was on her 15-20-minute passport adventure and as the dogs weren’t allowed inside beyond the lobby, I stayed at the table with the dogs.
Then there was a mishap.
When someone came up to pet Trax (which is fine), I didn’t see that he had a dog with him. As soon as Trax saw that dog, he started barking and leapt, his leash jolting the small table. A mustard bottle that had been perfectly happy standing on the table decided it was time to end it all and it jumped — exploding onto the sidewalk and turning into a massive bright-yellow glass-laden splat that was almost beautiful. The guy who caused the ruckus scurried away and I worked to clean up the mess and pick up the glass, all while keeping the dogs from licking it up or getting too much of it on them.
I hate mustard.
With the bill paid, Eileen’s passport stamped, a profuse apology to the wait staff for the mess, and positively reeking of mustard, we decided to explore the town a bit.
McMinnville is a nice little town with more up-scale restaurants than I expected. But “little” is a key word here. With the town explored and as it really was uncomfortably hot, Eileen soon decided it was getting late and was time for her to start the 45-minute drive to her RV park in Tualatin.
They took off, and I headed into the hotel to do my passport thing, receiving the same prize that Eileen did: two nice wine glasses with the name of the hotel faux-etched into them.
After wandering around a bit to admire the art, I headed to the rooftop bar for a glass of Black Rabbit Red wine and a view of the last light of the sunset. It was really lovely and I had the rooftop to myself for a little while.
Back in my room at nearly 11pm, the AC wouldn’t work, and the indicator on the thermostat said it was 85 degrees in the room. I fiddled with it a while and finally called the front desk to have them send someone to get it working, which they did. But the AC was insanely loud and came on so suddenly when its thermostat told it to that, even with my earplugs, it startled me awake every time. I think it was maybe 2am when I turned off the AC and opened the window. Thank goodness I bring a little USB fan with me when I travel! It saved the day. (Here’s the one I have*— actually, I have three of them! I never travel anywhere overnight without one unless it is in the middle of winter.)
Friday, July 26: The journey home
In the morning I spent some time getting a little work done and catching up on email (yes, of course I brought my computer with me and of course I had work to do!), then got ready to go. I went next door to the Red Fox Bakery and Cafe for a nice, simple breakfast of oatmeal and a triple-shot Americano.
After breakfast I went back to the hotel, checked out, then sat at a table in front of the hotel with my two bags (three if you include the paper bag with my two new wine glasses). I picked up my phone to call an Uber to go to Tualatin to meet Eileen, about 45 minutes away. The app said the ride would be $50-something (57?), but oh well — proceed. It silently churned for quite a while, claiming to be looking for a driver. That’s not good. I cancelled the trip and tried with Lyft. That was going to be $60-something, but the results were the same: no luck. Okay, on to Plan B: I called a local taxi company, but was told, in so many words and with what was almost a laugh: “No way are we going to drive that far!” The taxi company told me that I was a mere few blocks from the local transit center and that I could take a bus.
Off I walked, luggage in tow, to the McMinnville Transit Center to execute Plan C. About 75 minutes later and only $1.25 poorer, I was on a bus headed for Sherwood, which is the next town over from Tualatin where I had originally wanted to go. I’d been texting Eileen to keep her up to date on my drama, and she knew where to come get me and when. I promised that I’d have solid lunch plans when I arrived, so I googled for that for a bit before I settled down for the hour-long ride, complete with photo-ops of the lovely countryside rolling past, framed by the bus windows and a sleeping fellow traveller.
Traveling by bus or train, especially in rural areas, shows you towns and landscapes you probably never would otherwise have seen. From my air-conditioned seat on the little bus I enjoyed this mini side adventure, but it didn’t erase the fact that I’d really made a strategic mistake in the first place. What if there’d been no bus, or the next bus was the next day?
The lesson here is, no matter how busy you are, be sure to check that the transportation you plan to use on your trip is actually available there.
Normally I am good about doing this, but McMinnville is so close to Portland that I just didn’t think it would be a problem. On a lark during the long bus ride I googled it, and found several pages claiming it was available, leading to more searching, and ending with me thinking the answer looked like Yes — but I knew it not to be true.
So the real lesson here is that you don’t have to be very far away from a major metro area in order for ride-sharing to either not exist or to be so poorly covered that it might as well not exist. This was my problem when I almost stranded myself about 45 minutes south of Munich last January, and here I was almost doing it again in McMinnville.
I hope I’ve learned the lesson this time, but I doubt it.
Eileen was waiting for me at the bus stop in Sherwood, and as we both are remarkably laid-back, we were pretty amused by the whole thing. As Eileen pointed out, showing up to something an hour late when the person you are meeting is in an RV isn’t too bad, as she’s just at home.
We went to a great little restaurant in Sherwood called Fat Milo’s Family Kitchen where our sandwiches were served with a generous helping of homemade potato chips that have no business being in anyone’s diet but were out-of-this-world delicious.
We got home, hung out a long while sharing some wine, then Eileen headed back to the RV park in Tualatin so she could get there before dark.
Yes, the trip had a few unexpected turns, but the passengers on this journey have great attitudes and a healthy sense of humor, so a good time was still had by all.
Saturday, July 27: Grand Lodge, Forest Grove, Oregon
The next day, Eileen took the dogs to doggy-daycare for the day, then after a quick breakfast we headed to the McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove.
After a coffee break in the little pub near the entrance, we enjoyed the mini wild-goose-chase involved with getting our passport stamps. The art at all the McMenamins is interesting, and I think it was even better than usual at the Grand Lodge, with more gems here and there than usual, even on the pipes along the ceilings and more. I particularly enjoyed that explanations for what you were seeing was painted on the walls along with the art.
In any case, other than getting most of our stamps here and at a few more McMenamins on the way home, the trip wasn’t all that eventful and we headed back toward Beaverton early.
We stopped at three more McMenamins to get stamps in our passports, ending the day at Rock Creek Tavern where we sat at the perfect table for an early dinner and a flight of beer.
I confess I wasn’t as impressed by Forest Grove as I was by McMinnville, but the Grand Lodge, more than any other McMenamins I’ve visited so far, is one that I’d like to visit again and plan for a long enough stay to see everything and take more photos. As for Eileen, she will be leaving in a few days to head to points west and south. You can follow her blog here.
* Full disclosure: When I link to something on Amazon, it uses a referral link.