Friday, April 26, 2013

Beers & Bikes: A Weekend Getaway to Eugene

Greg & I have a list of places we want to visit that would be good candidates for a weekend trip from Portland. While we could certainly fly somewhere, the ideal 1-2 night getaway involves neither airplane nor car. With the extensive public transportation options we have here, there are plenty of destinations that are reachable by train, light rail, and bicycle.
Eugene is the second-largest city in Oregon but is essentially tied with the state capitol, Salem, in terms of population. It is primarily known as the home of the University of Oregon, from which Phil Knight (co-founder of Nike) graduated in 1959. Knight has since donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the university. The university is also famous for Hayward Field where the USA Track & Field championships and Olympic trials have been hosted multiple times since the 1970’s.
While Greg had some interest in visiting the university, particularly Autzen Stadium which will host the University of Tennessee Vols football team on September 14th this year, the main reason we wanted to go to Eugene was to visit the numerous breweries that are located in the city center. Eugene was also an excellent candidate for a short weekend getaway as it is only 110 miles south of Portland, a distance that is easily traveled by train or bus. Eugene is also one of the top bike-friendly cities in the U.S., ranked #9 by Bicycling magazine in 2012 (Portland was #1).
Since Greg had to work a full day on Friday, April 12th, we did not leave Portland until 6:15pm. We rode our bikes from our house to Union Station (3.5 miles) and then loaded them on Amtrak Cascades for the 2.5 hour ride to Eugene. I had made sandwiches to eat for dinner (although there is a dining car on the train) and we carried all of our gear in two panniers and one small backpack. I used Amtrak Guest Rewards points to purchase the tickets, so this segment of our journey was entirely free.
We actually arrived in Eugene about 20 minutes ahead of schedule so, after collecting our bikes from the baggage car, we walked from the depot across the street to Jackalope Lounge. While the bar is a bit on the dive-y side, we enjoyed a couple of brews (I particularly liked my Hop Valley Alphadelic IPA) then biked to our hotel one mile away.
Thankfully, I had reserved a ground floor room at the Econo Lodge as they were fully booked for the weekend with the exception of a few suites. Greg & I typically choose not to spend a lot of money on accommodations when we know we will be spending very little time at the hotel. Our room with a king-size bed, mini-fridge & microwave, free wifi and complimentary continental breakfast was only $46.75 per night and it had just enough space for us to park our bikes inside. (Note, I had also tried to reserve a room in the local hostel but it was already fully booked.)
After a good night's sleep, we were out the door by 9am Saturday morning. We had mapped out an itinerary using Google Maps which we could access on our iPhones, and I also had a hard copy of the Eugene/Springfield bike map which I had requested in advance from the city's Department of Transportation. Our general plan was to ride several miles on the southern portion of the Willamette River Trail, loop around the University of Oregon, then end up in the city center for a pub crawl.
With proper pacing which included drinking plenty of water and eating enough hearty food to soak up the alcohol, we had quite an enjoyable day of bicycling & beer drinking. We rode a total of 13.5 miles, with stops at four breweries (Falling Sky, McMenamins High Street, Oakshire, Ninkasi), one beer bar (Sixteen Tons, where I tried a local beer from Agrarian Ales), two very popular local restaurants (Toshi's Ramen & Papa's Soul Food Kitchen), and the Saturday Market & Lane County Farmers Market.
While my original goal had been to hit five breweries (those listed above plus Rogue) and one more beer bar (The Bier Stein which, sadly, was closed for remodeling) on Saturday, we were pretty much exhausted when we finished our last beer at Ninkasi just after 9pm. We decided to call it a night knowing we could still look forward to more biking & beer drinking on Sunday.
The weather forecast for the weekend called for rain showers with highs around 60F and lows in the upper 30's. That's pretty much how it played out, with intermittent sunshine, plenty of clouds, some rain, and even hail. We were pretty lucky on Saturday, and were already indoors whenever the rain came through. Sunday, the weather was less in our favor, and we had to don our Goretex gear to stay dry for our beer & bike adventures.
Again, we got up fairly early to have plenty of time to eat breakfast, pack up our gear, and visit a few breweries before our return trip to Portland. This time we had mapped out a more ambitious bike route, which involved crossing the Willamette River to ride the northern portion of the greenway trail all the way to Springfield (of The Simpsons fame) to visit two breweries before returning to Eugene in time for an early afternoon bus. The complicating factor was that none of the breweries opened until 11am so we knew we couldn't linger at any one place too long.
With dogged determination, we biked through steady rain to Hop Valley Brewing Company and persuaded the bartender to serve us a full sampler tray before they were officially open. The effort was worth it; all of the beers were quite good and some were fantastic! We then rode a few miles south to the newly opened Plank Town Brewing Company. While the brewery isn't up & running just yet, they have brewed a few beers at Block 15 in Corvallis on a contract basis. I was happy to have a pint of the cask-conditioned Plank Town ESB. Too soon it was time for the ride back to Eugene.
Due to the less-than-ideal train schedule on Sunday, we had opted to purchase bus tickets for our return trip to Portland. However, Amtrak will only allow you to book one bicycle per bus, since they use an entire cargo bin for each bike to avoid damage. As there is no way to know in advance how much luggage other passengers will be carrying and thus how many extra bins will be available, we had booked Greg on the 2:30pm bus and me on the 3:35pm bus. This time we paid for our tickets, which cost $26 per person plus $5 for each bicycle.
My later bus gave me just enough time to try one more brewery, Steelhead, which is just a block from Eugene's Amtrak station. After helping Greg get his bike loaded on the bus, which wasn't exactly easy, I zipped around the corner to Steelhead and ordered a taster tray of their flagship beers. Sadly, I wasn't impressed by any of the seven beers I tried and actually had a hard time finishing them all before I had to leave.
The 2-hour bus ride back to Portland was uneventful except for some traffic on I-5. I enjoyed staring out the window at the lush green fields (the Willamette Valley is the grass-seed capital of the world) interspersed with flocks of sheep, cows and horses. Once we arrived at Union Station I rode my bike through downtown then loaded it on a Trimet bus for the remaining uphill ride home.
With some advance planning and research, Greg & I were able to put together a very nice weekend getaway at minimal cost. Using Amtrak was relatively effortless and far more enjoyable than driving. Having our bikes allowed us to visit breweries we couldn't easily have reached on foot (like Oakshire or either of the two Springfield breweries) and made us feel more like locals than tourists. Our accommodations, though basic, were centrally located but quiet. We drank mostly excellent beer and ate some delicious food. Plus, we rode a total of almost 40 miles in 48 hours, so any calories we consumed were offset by our mode of transportation. That's a win-win in my book!
oh, the irony - on the U of O campus
Just click on the title of this post to view all of my Eugene photos on Google +.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Three Month Check-up

As it has now been 12 weeks since my hip arthroscopy, I had another follow-up appointment with my surgeon yesterday. She is still very pleased with my progress and I continue to have no issues with any of the areas of my hip that were surgically repaired. However, my physical therapy, which is now focused on large muscle group strengthening, is complicated by knee pain (plus a nasty grinding noise in both knees that makes my therapists wince when they hear it) and right shoulder pain (I was diagnosed with bursitis in 2011). Dr. Herzka examined my knees and discovered that I have patellar tendonitis and “cartilage irregularities” in both of them.

We briefly discussed my medical history (I had surgery to repair torn cartilage in my left knee about 20 years ago) and then Dr. Herzka fitted me with a Cho-Pat strap. She had me perform a few squats and walk around the exam room. Unfortunately, I found the strap to be extremely uncomfortable where it exerted pressure directly below my knee (as it is designed to do). Even after adjustment, the pain was almost unbearable. Dr. Herzka said that she has found that people either get instant relief, or, as in my case, cannot tolerate it at all.

The next treatment option, which I will start next week, is called iontophoresis. My physical therapist will administer an anti-inflammatory medication onto my knees transdermally. Dr. Herzka said this method is more effective for patellar tendonitis versus steroid injections. We have already regressed my physical therapy regimen back to a less strenuous level, particularly eliminating any exercises that put additional strain on my knees.

Another issue which has flared up recently is the inflammation of my right hip flexor. This tendonitis previously occurred about six weeks after surgery, when I was doing a bit more walking than my body was ready for. At that time, Dr. Herzka prescribed a month's supply of piroxicam (an anti-inflammatory drug) and told me to use crutches for any long periods of walking. I felt much better within a week. This time she ordered an ultrasound-guided steroid injection, which I will have done on April 16th.

It's pretty frustrating to have all of these issues occurring at once, not to mention that I'm always in pain! The timing makes sense in that everything started when we changed my physical therapy routine by adding strength & agility exercises. My recent regimen has been twice weekly physical therapy at OHSU, 30 minutes on an exercise bike at mild resistance plus 15 minutes on an elliptical machine 2-3 times weekly at the gym (followed by a soak in the hot tub and relaxing in the steam room), plus exercises at home 2-3 times weekly. With the new developments, I will have to continue twice weekly physical therapy (it was supposed to be reduced to once per week after three months) and scale back on most of the strength-building exercises and anything that hurts my knees.
Of course, I haven't let that discomfort stop me from enjoying life! The last weekend in March was unbelievably beautiful so Greg & I planned some activities to take advantage of the nice weather. On Saturday, we took the bus to SE 82nd Street (where a large number of Portland's Asian population resides) and ate some delicious dim sum at Ocean City, then traveled an hour north (really only about 14 miles but it takes forever on a bus!) to the St. Johns neighborhood. After enjoying a beer at Plew's Brews, we did a self-guided walking tour of the town, then strolled through Cathedral Park before making a well-deserved stop at Occidental Brewing to taste all of their German-style beers. We ate dinner on the patio at The Baowry before starting the long bus ride home.
I was very excited to ride my bike outdoors on Easter Sunday, the first time I did so since the surgery. It was another unseasonably warm & sunny day, so Greg & I rode one mile to Laurelhurst Park and enjoyed lounging on a blanket reading for a few hours and then had a picnic before riding back home.
This weekend we have planned a short getaway to Eugene, OR. We will bike from our house to Union Station and take the train down tonight, a 2.5 hour trip. Tomorrow we are going to ride our bikes along the southern section of the Willamette River Trail, around the University of Oregon, and to as many breweries as time allows. On Sunday, we'll ride the northern portion of the river trail all the way to Springfield (namesake of the Simpson's hometown), stop at one or two breweries there, then ride back to Eugene. As there are no trains scheduled in the mid-afternoon, we will be taking an Amtrak bus back to Portland (after we stop at one more brewery!).

Prior to the escalation of my knee pain, I had decided I was ready to start working as a background actor again. You never know when you are going to have to run, crouch, or just stand around for long periods of time and it was too risky to put myself in that situation while I was still healing from the surgery. Over the past two weeks, I have gotten numerous casting notices for Grimm and for a new TV show now filming in Portland that stars Geena Davis as a bounty hunter. While I indicated I was available to work in all but one instance, I have yet to be selected for a role.

I'm the cop directly behind the dead bodies. Grimm Episode 214: Natural Born Wesen
In closing, I am scheduled to have sinus surgery at OHSU on Tuesday, April 23rd: a septoplasty to fix a deviated septum and turbinate reduction to alleviate chronic nasal congestion and nasal obstruction. I know you're probably thinking "Why in the world would she want to have another surgery so soon?!?!" But I've already reached my out-of-pocket spending limit for my health insurance plan this year, so it makes sense to address any other medical issues that arise.

I was diagnosed with both problems in New York City in 2006 and advised to have surgery then, however my boyfriend at the time had the surgery while we were together and it was not a pleasant experience. Methods have improved in recent years and my ENT has assured me that it won’t be that bad. I’ll have to limit most activity for the first week following the surgery and then will see my doctor for a follow-up appointment on April 29th and hopefully will get the green light to resume my usual routine (whatever that may be!). I’ll have another check-up on May 13th and then can focus on getting ready for our 2-week Alaska vacation which starts May 25th.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Is Nashville the next Beervana?

My adopted hometown of Portland, OR lays claim to the nickname "Beervana" and rightfully so. We have over 50 breweries within the city limits, the most of any city in the world. Of course it's not just all about numbers; the high quality and huge variety of beer here is hard to beat!
there's nothing better than drinking local beer & cider outside on a sunny day in Portland
During my recent trip to Nashville, TN, I had the opportunity to visit many of the breweries that have opened in the city in the past year. Previously, if you wanted to drink a craft beer in Tennessee, your only options were a few well-established restaurant/breweries like Big River Grille, Blackstone and Bosco's, or beer-focused bars like Flying Saucer. There were just a handful of bottle shops with an emphasis on beer.
t-shirt at the Nashville Visitor Center
One of the biggest obstacles to producing craft beer in Tennessee is the beer tax. At 17%, it adds $37.00 to the cost of a 31-gallon barrel. By comparison, the Oregon tax on a 31-gallon barrel of beer is $2.60. It's impossible for a small business owner not to pass on some of that exorbitant cost to the consumer, who is only willing to pay so much for a pint or bottle of good beer!
posted by the entrance to Yazoo Brewery
Thankfully, an effort is underway to Fix the Beer Tax. But even with the current situation, new breweries are opening all over the state to meet the increased demand for high quality beer and the desire to support locally-owned businesses. There are now six breweries in Nashville (Blackstone, Big River Grille - recently rebranded as Rock Bottom, Bosco's, Yazoo, Jackalope, Fat Bottom) with more to open soon, as well as four breweries in Franklin (Cool Springs Brewery, Turtle Anarchy, Bosco's, Granite City), 20 miles south of the state capitol. In addition, you can attend one of several beer festivals throughout the year and get a growler filled at places like Frugal Macdoogal or Mount Juliet Beer Company.
Mt Juliet Beer Co has a great selection of craft beers
Of course, beer lover that I am, I planned one entire day of my Nashville visit around drinking beer! As I wrote about in my previous post, my grandmother & I stopped by Fat Bottom Brewery in East Nashville to cap off our "Playing Tourist in Your Hometown" excursion on Thursday. After relaxing for most of the day Friday, I was ready for Saturday's pub crawl. Sadly, Greg couldn't join me because he was still sick with the flu.
samples of Fat Bottom beers
The day started with a 12:30PM brewery tour at Yazoo. For $7.00, you get a taster glass and three 4oz samples of their flagship beers (Dos Perros, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen) to enjoy during the 45-minute tour. Even though I have been on too many brewery tours to count, I still think this is a fun way to go behind the scenes and meet people who love craft beer as much as I do! As it turned out, I started chatting with two ladies from Toronto, Canada, and after we enjoyed a few more samples (The Beacon, Sly Rye Porter, Onward Stout) in the brewery bar, we all headed to my next stop together.
Yazoo tasters
Jackalope Brewing Company is just a couple of blocks from Yazoo, making it super convenient for a pub crawl. They brew three standard beers: Thunder Ann American Pale Ale, Rompo Red Rye Ale, and Bearwalker Maple Brown. My new friends & I shared a sampler tray of all three beers as they had just run out of the fourth, a limited edition American Stout called Tannakin.
The Canadians were on the hunt for a local (not touristy) BBQ joint to try before their evening at the Grand Ole Opry. After some debate, I decided to take them to Hog Heaven, next to Centennial Park. After a brief driving tour of Music Row, I dropped them off and headed south to Franklin to meet up with my dad & step-mom at another new brewery.
my new friends from Toronto, Andrea & Lori
Granite City Food & Brewery is part of a Midwestern chain of restaurant/breweries with 27 locations in 12 states. The recently opened Franklin outpost adjacent to a new Drury Hotel is their first in Tennessee. They brew five regular beers (Northern Light Lager, Wag's American Wheat, Duke of Wellington IPA, Brother Benedict's Bock, Broad Axe Stout) plus one or two seasonals. Of course, I had to try them all, so I ordered a taster tray to enjoy with their delicious flatbread pizzas.
Not wanting to waste any time, we dropped off my car (actually my grandmother's car which I had borrowed for the day) at their apartment and continued to our next stop, Turtle Anarchy Brewing Company. We had all gotten to know the brewmaster, Mike Kraft, when he worked at Cool Springs Brewery and I was anxious to try his latest creations. Once again, I ordered samples of everything they had on tap (three year-round beers plus several seasonals): Another Way to Rye, Aurumglass, Portly Stout, Infidelis Helles Ale, Card A Mom, Down With The Coconut). These were by far the most interesting and flavorful beers I drank the entire week!
tasters at Turtle Anarchy
Although Turtle Anarchy was officially the last new brewery on my list, that didn't mean we had to stop drinking beer or call it a night. Thankfully, my dad & step-mom love good beer as much as I do (guess where I got the beer "genes" from?!) so we dropped in to one of the popular local hangouts, Mellow Mushroom.
more beer at Mellow Mushroom
One of the great things about Franklin is the historic downtown comprising 16 blocks of restaurants & bars, antique shops, art galleries, and beautifully restored homes. Mellow Mushroom is located on the Main Square and, while it is part of a southeastern chain, each location is unique. The Franklin "friendchise" has 30 taps, including the requisite mass-produced national brands but also plenty of craft brews. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to sample more local beer, so Debbie & I shared a taster paddle of IPA's (including Yazoo Hop Project and Victory Hop Devil) while my dad went with the Brooklyn Brewery's Chocolate Stout.
music on the square
After enjoying some live music outside on the square by 64, a local Beatles tribute band, we walked a few blocks down Main Street to McCreary's. This tiny Irish pub is a great place to drink a pint of Guinness, munch on some fish & chips and listen to more live music, all of which we did before calling it a night!
Irish food & beer at McCreary's
After getting some much-needed sleep, the three of us had breakfast at a local coffeehouse then spent a few hours at a dog show (always fun for people-watching) before I said goodbye and headed back to Hermitage to spend my final evening of the trip with my grandmother. My mom, step-dad, sister and two nephews also drove down from Orlinda to visit with Greg & I one last time before we flew back to Portland.
my step-mom Debbie is greeted by a Shar-Pei at the dog show
Keeping in mind that I have previously visited (in months/years past) all of the other breweries mentioned in this post, as well as most if not all of the specialty beer bars, I can now say I have fully experienced beervana in Nashville. That this can realistically be done over the course of a weekend (with a designated driver) means Nashville still has a long way to go to catch up with the likes of Portland. Hopefully, the beer tax will get "fixed" and I can continue to look forward to trying new breweries every time I fly home, which is once or twice a year.
Andrea took this photo of me (dreaming of going to all of the beer bars on this map) at Jackalope
If you want to stay up-to-date with the latest Nashville beer news, I recommend following Nashville Beer Blog. Beer Me has a list of all the breweries in Tennessee.