August 22 2011 by Jason Fogelson
I wake up refreshed from a great night's sleep at the BEST WESTERN Grand Manor Inn. On my way to the lobby for a hot free breakfast, I stop and chat with Ivy at the front desk. This is my first-ever visit to Corvallis, and I don't need to rush away so quickly. Ivy gives me a map of the city, and points out some highlights. I study the map while I drink some coffee and nibble daintily on a toasted bagel.
I load up the Electra Glide and set out to tool around the city. 50,000 people call Corvallis home, and another 100,000 folks live in the surrounding area. Still, Corvallis retains a small town feel, with a real sense of the natural environment and a respect for history.
Downtown, I park near the Benton County Courthouse, a historic building that is still active. Built in 1888, the four-story building is a classic, and obviously well-loved and cared for in downtown Corvallis. Guided tours are available by appointment. I admire and photograph the beautiful building from the outside.
I saddle back up and ride a few blocks over to the Willamette River, which defines the eastern border of Corvallis. City planners have devoted the land along the river to a beautiful public park, Corvallis Riverfront Park. Graceful walking paths, ample seating and lovely landscapes form a relaxing gathering place for the whole town. Numerous restaurants, shops and art galleries have sprung up along the park, and it would be easy to loll away the afternoon in the pleasant neighborhood.
Back on the bike again, I ride to the center of town to explore the campus of Oregon State University. The school is like a city unto itself, with over 23,000 students and 3,400 faculty members. Lush greenery, plenty of flowers, elegant buildings and a very relaxed vibe make me wish I could go back to college again -- almost. OSU is best-known for its leadership in Environmental Studies (and for its athletic team name, the Beavers). It's easy to see how the school's setting inspires students and faculty to want to protect and preserve the environment.
I ride through some of Corvallis' neighborhoods, admiring the way that the town's homes make the most of nature. Even after five days riding through Oregon, I'm still struck with how clean everything is, especially compared to my hometown. Oregonians really take pride in their surroundings.
I depart Corvallis on Route 99W, and head north toward McMinnville. I'm heading into the wine region of the Willamette Valley now, and I start to see orderly rows of grape vines climbing over the rolling hills. Vineyards and wineries interweave in the landscape with family dairies, sheep farms and other agricultural lands. The road delivers me down an undulating journey of the senses. I'm glad that I'm not trapped in a car today, and that I'm able to take in all of my surroundings. It's good to be a biker.
I stop for lunch in McMinnville. I'm immediately drawn to historic 3rd Street, the heart of town. I snag a parking spot next to another Harley-Davidson. That's one of the side benefits of riding a motorcycle -- parking is always a breeze. I'm now walking distance from dozens of nice restaurants, shops and galleries. It's Thursday, and the Farmer's Market is setting up on a side street. A few hundred people have gathered in a small park, watching a folk band performance on a stage. Locals and tourists intermingle, and the whole environment is both relaxed and upscale. I meander up and down the street, finally settling on the Wildwood Café for my lunch. The food was good, but the service was great. With so many restaurants clustered in such close proximity, it's hard to make a bad choice in McMinnville.
In addition to the charms of 3rd Street, the McMinnville area is also home to one of the man-made wonders of the world -- Howard Hughes' famous Spruce Goose, the plane with the largest wingspan of any ever to fly. The Spruce Goose is the star attraction at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, where it has been since 1993. The museum also houses a B-17 bomber, a Titan missile and many other aviation artifacts, along with a water park and an Imax theater.
After lunch, I continue my ride north. I leave Route 99W for Route 47, which will take me right into Forest Grove. Along the way, I detour for a ride around Henry Hagg Lake, a manmade lake in Gaston. The lake was created in the 1970s by the damming of Scoggins Creek for the purposes of water management in the Tualatin River. The lake has become a popular local boating, fishing and recreation area. A road runs around the lake for about 15 miles, making for a pleasant, scenic side trip. I haven't been able to find out who Henry Hagg was, but I'm certain that he'd be pleased by the lake that bears his name.
After my ride around the lake, I cruise into Forest Grove and find the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites. General Manager Stacey Richey greets me at the front desk, and hands me the keys to a lovely second floor suite. Today has been a hot one, so I decide to take the opportunity to swim in the Inn's indoor pool, and to use the convenient guest laundry to freshen my clothes. I've traveled light on this trip, as always, so I have to do some rinsing and hanging dry along the way to avoid wearing dirty clothes. Finding a guest laundry is even better -- I can wash and dry my jeans, which otherwise might get up and walk away on their own.
Stacey can see that I'm a bit worse for the wear today, so she recommends that I have dinner at Prime Time, a very unpretentious sports bar and grill across the road from the BEST WESTERN. Once I've dried off from my swim and finished up my laundry, I dress comfortably and go out to dinner. Prime Time proves to be a popular local hangout, with a friendly staff, good hearty food and a nice selection of local beers. It's just the ticket for my dehydrated bones. I enjoy a burger and fries, along with a dark brew from Forest Grove's Off The Rail Brewery.
Satisfied and rehydrated, I stroll back to the BEST WESTERN University Inn & Suites. I fall contentedly into bed, my eyes closed almost before I can turn off the light.
Tomorrow, I explore Oregon's wine country.
NEXT UP: DAY SIX: FOREST GROVE.