Portland Road Trip 2013: Part One, Bellingham, WA

Time had come, for a road trip. I was turning 60. Discussions ensued as to where to go. Finally Sue and I decided on Portland as neither of us had spent much time there and friends highly recommended it. Also there was the influence of Portlandia, the excellent TV comedy sketch series. How could we resist visiting such a mecca of culture? and beer!

I researched various travel websites, including those showing filming locations for Portlandia. I put an app, PDX, on the iPad for maps and guidance. I contacted friends between here (Pender Island) and there. Sue flew to Alberta to visit family and I stayed home a week before leaving, picking tomatoes, fishing and watching the final episode of Breaking Bad.

A big storm hit the coast just before I left but the forecast looked good for the day of departure. This photo from the ferry shows the atmospheric conditions:

view of Georgia Strait sky
Skies Over Georgia Strait

As I made the slow approach to the border crossing (the lanes filled with cross-border shoppers heading south for food and gas) the clouds piled into the hills.

stormy weather at the Blaine border crossing
Flags Snapping in the Breeze

I arrived in Bellingham, WA by noonish where I was to spend a couple of days staying with my longtime friend Alicia, with whom I share a birthdate. We spent the afternoon cruising around Mount Baker; first stopping at Nooksack Falls, which were in full flow due to the big storm.

Nooksack Falls, Washington State
Nooksack Falls

That faint blue patch at the top right is a woman standing at the top of the falls. The falls were loud and visually impressive. Signs explained how there had once been a power plant located on the river with diagrams showing the various components, including a huge pipe that still wound through the forest. One sign also listed the names of the dead, people who ventured to close to the edge. A very vivid warning to would-be adventurers (who, me?).

We drove further inland and up and up towards Mount Baker. The road was covered with debris left from storm-felled trees. Snow started to appear along the road.

Snow along Mount Baker highway
First Sighting of Snow

Lakes with snow crusts appeared, the snow deepened along the road and within miles the road was closed due to snow. We turned back and stopped for some refreshment at the North Fork Brewery aka The North Fork Beer Shrine. It’s a funky little pub featuring excellent brews and snacks. Locals were filling the place as the afternoon light faded, some bringing their growlers in for refills. If you’re around Bellingham I’d highly recommend making the journey there, out along the Mount Baker Highway (542). I tried their Strong Scotch Ale and was very impressed. This was to be the first of many beer tastings on this journey.

Later we stopped at the Bellingham’s Community Food Co-op and loaded up with dinner ingredients, including a small selection of craft beers to sample. While having dinner we watched the ‘One Moore Episode‘ episode of Portlandia followed by the pilot episodes of Battlestar Galactica, a series which is very susceptible to binge watching.

The following day was dedicated to visiting sights in Bellingham. We spent hours at the amazing  Spark Museum of Electrical Invention. When Alicia first mentioned it I thought “What? A few old radios?” It was so much much more than that. The museum features educational displays, (with docents demonstrating electrical principles using tools such as plasma balls and  Tesla coils)…

The Spark Museum, Bellingham
Hair Raising Electricity

and room after room filled with a huge collection of radios, phonographs, TVs, wireless devices, telegraphs, electrical health appliances and more. The craftsmanship used in the making of many of the devices is in itself wonderful to behold.

The Spark Museum collection
A Small Part of the Collection

The electrical health appliances were  bizarre, weird and just plain scary.

Object at The Spark Museum
Electrical Health Appliance

Tucked away in a corner is a radio studio, KMRE-LP Radio, specializing in music of the early 20th century, played from their huge collection of 78s.

radio station at The Spark Museum
KMRE Radio Studio

As a former community/college radio DJ I recognized the little soundboard and lusted after the modern DJ turntables and the collection of old microphones.

We met, and were given a tour, by one of the co-founders: Jonathan Winter.

Jonathan Winter, The Spark Museum
Jonathan Winter

We spent longer than I expected at The Spark Museum as it was so fascinating with the docents and Jonathan providing interesting informational tidbits that brought the exhibits to life.

After visiting the museum we headed to the Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen for lunch where we ordered a sampler tray of their brews and some very tasty food. I especially enjoyed their Rauch Lager which had a distinctive smoky flavour. We wandered around the neighbourhood and watched folks fishing in a local salmon stream. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking another ride into the hills where I saw an outstanding example of sustainable living using solar power, huge water storage tanks and a beautiful log home. Living on a fairly small island I do miss the ability to just hop in the car and head off into the hills or down the highway (not that I’m complaining too much ;o).

That evening we had dinner at (wait for it!) another brewery!: The Boundary Bay Brewery. The food was excellent as was the brew.  I had a bottle of their Oatmeal Stout which was very rich and enjoyable. It went well with the delicious Smoked Salmon Chowder followed by Fish Tacos. Somehow after all this we shared a dessert. After all, it was our pre-birthday celebration.

Bellingham was a harbinger of more great food, frothy fluids and good times. Many thanks to Alicia for showing me around Bellingham and the surrounding area. The weather forecast was looking better and better. The next morning Alicia whipped up another great breakfast (eggs provided by her own chickens) before I set off down the I-5. Next stop Seattle for lunch with Brian, followed by a cupcake accident and a close encounter with a Giant Popsicle before continuing on to Portland.

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