Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.
As I was pushed for time to get up to Anchorage by 20th June (when I would pick up my G Adventures tour), I had the genius idea of catching the Greyhound overnight from Sacramento to Portland, OR. It was due to leave Sacramento at 7pm and arrive into Portland 9am the following day, giving me a whole day in each destination. Brilliant. Unfortunately, the gods of bus maintenance had other ideas. Due to previous problems before it even got to us, the bus didn’t leave Sacramento until gone 8pm. Then, as soon as we left the flat land of northern California and began to encounter hills, the bus began to struggle again. One of my fellow passengers did explain to me what had happened, but in all honesty all I understood was that there was a snapped belt lying on the floor outside the bus door and without it we couldn’t go anywhere. So, just after midnight, we found ourselves stranded in a place called Reading with a water fountain and a broken vending machine. Oh, and about a thousand cockroaches, mosquitoes and a few homeless people asking for money. It didn’t help that the driver kept getting our hopes up only to dash them again. I kid you not, this was her announcement to a bus full of tired, sweaty travellers stuck in the middle of nowhere with no air conditioning:
‘In a few minutes a really nice, new Greyhound bus will stop here. It will say Portland on the front.’
Good so far, right?
‘That is not our bus.’
‘In another hour, a really old, white box bus will pull up. That is our bus.’
Was she kidding us?
Despite its age, however, and sounding like it too might pack in every time we hit an incline, Old Faithful did not let us down.
The delay also allowed us to bond with our fellow passengers on the bus. Greyhound buses are much roomier than other similar transport, which leads to a more relaxed atmosphere where you don’t feel you want to commit mass murder by the time you get off. We all swapped stories of why we were there. Some people were making their way home, some to visit family. A few, like me, were travelling (although no-one else to Alaska). One guy looked like even he wasn’t sure why he was on his way north. All in all, though, I couldn’t have wished for a nicer group of people to be stranded with.
We didn’t reach Portland until 1pm, four hours behind schedule. I considered staying on the bus with the others and continuing straight on to Seattle, but changed my mind when I heard they’d have to wait until 5pm for yet another bus to pick them up. They weren’t going to get to Seattle until 9pm.
Another person due into Portland the same day was James Lawrence, also known as the Iron Cowboy. He’d challenged himself to complete 50 triathlons, in 50 states in 50 days. I had no right to complain about 17 hours on a bus and having to walk from the Greyhound station with swollen ankles.
By this time it was already gone 3pm. I needed to find a way to see as much of Portland as possible in a short time. I wandered down to Pioneer Square (Portland’s ‘living room’) to find the Visitors Centre. On the way, I’d passed children playing in the water fountains. In this heat they probably had the best idea, and I considered joining them.
In the Visitors Centre, a bright pink leaflet caught my eye. The Big Pink Sightseeing Trolley is a hop-on, hop-off service that stops off at 12 Portland highlights. I scanned the schedule – the last trolley didn’t leave until 4pm! I wouldn’t have time to hop-off anywhere, but at least I’d get to see some of Portland. The lady at the ticket booth even gave me a discount because it was the end of the day.
Although the commentary could barely be heard above the noise of the trolley, our driver was really nice and happily answered questions that he probably gets asked a thousand times a day.
I definitely made the right decision by taking the trolley tour. It took 90 minutes to go around the whole of Portland, and the driver wasn’t holding off the gas, believe me. There’s no way my swollen, blistered feet would have carried me up to Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden or the Oregon Zoo. And it was worth it for the panorama. We had a clear view of Mount Hood, with it’s snow cap teasing us as we sweltered in the city heat.
Due to its unusual number of breweries, Portland has many nicknames that revolve around beer. What I noticed was not so much the breweries, but the number of bridges that cross the river. Our driver explained to us that, before the bridges, there were 3 ferry services. Before the ferries, a local businessman taught his horse to swim and would charge people to be dragged along behind it.
One of Portland’s famous sons is Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. Apparently, there are still teachers at Lincoln High School who turned into characters in the show, and you can see road signs and landmarks around the city that obviously inspired the young cartoonist.
I’ve always wanted to shop in Whole Foods, and it particular try one of their to-go boxes. Portland gave me that opportunity at long last. My take-out dinner of quinoa, beans, salad and veggies with a bottle of Kombucha (my new obsession) was the perfect way to relax after my dizzying tour of Portland. It was sobering to think that while I’d been touring Portland and eating two whole meals, by the time I was back at my hostel some of my bus companions from the previous night would not have even reached Seattle yet. Hopefully, my bus journey the next day would not prove as eventful.
Greyhound Sacramento to Portland: from $75
The Big Pink Sightseeing Trolley day ticket: $32
HI Portland: from approx. $30 per night