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 +.

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