This is my sixth attempt at writing this post on Bend, Oregon.
My first draft was precisely four weeks ago. I got stuck midway through and told myself I would finish it on my upcoming flight from Seattle to Dallas. I watched TV shows instead. Then I told myself I would finish it in my Dallas hotel room after work one night. That was a pipe dream.
Then I told myself I would finish it on my flight from Dallas to Seattle. Again, I watched TV shows instead. Then I flew across the USA four times in 10 days, each time telling myself I would finish “that post” as it was now referred to in my head. I never even opened WordPress to look at the post.
Five days ago, I tried to tackle the post again. I read through it, thinking I would pick up where I left off, but I found myself stuck again – at the same point I got stuck several weeks ago. I closed my Mac and watched TV shows instead.
This post is holding up the rest of my travel posts from 2018. Our weekend trip to Leavenworth, our trip to Nashville, and our trip to DC. When there are long breaks between blog posts, it usually means I’m stuck on one particular post.
I started thinking. Thinking hard. Thinking hard over multiple days. Why is it so hard to write about a city I love dearly?
The answer came to me today. Not all trips are packed with adventures and experiences. Some trips are meant to be low-key. Some trips are meant to be relaxing. Some trips are a way to escape the daily grind and reduce the stress levels of everyday life.
Our trip to Bend was to do as little as possible. Other than Peter running a trail race, we had no agenda. Nothing about our trip is exciting, which is why writing a blog post about our trip is difficult. For example, when in Bend, we went to Target and loaded up on all household essentials because there is no sales tax in the state of Oregon and because getting to Target in Seattle is a pain in the butt.
So here I sit in a coffee shop in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle, wracking my brains on how I can woo everyone reading this post to visit Bend, Oregon, at least once in their lifetime.
I guess I’ll start at the beginning of that weekend when I decided to drive to Bend via central Washington and the city of Yakima. I wanted to surprise Peter with a stop at JB Neufeld‘s wine-tasting room. The “J” in “JB” stands for Justin, the winemaker at Gilbert Cellars. JB Neufeld is his personal “wine line” that he produces as a side hustle and operates out of Gilbert Cellars.
I punched Gilbert Cellars into Google Maps, and a few hours later, we arrived at the winery. It was a ghost town aside from the two chaps moving cases of wine from an SUV to the “warehouse.” They smiled and asked if we needed help.
I asked, “Is Justin around?” (as if I knew Justin and we were on a first-name basis). They informed us that Justin was on a fishing trip in Canada. After a short conversation, we learned that tastings at the winery were by appointment only and that Gilbert Cellars has a tasting room in downtown Yakima where we could taste wine RIGHT NOW.
We slithered back into the car, drove to the tasting room, tasted the wine, purchased wine, and then settled in for another 4+ hour drive to Bend.
The drive from Yakima to Bend along US-97 is long and tedious. It is a one-lane highway home to trucks hauling stuff and cars driving below the speed limit.
Shortly after crossing the state line into Oregon, we found ourselves driving through a forest fire. The Pacific Northwest was on fire all summer. At one point, over 600 wildfires were burning in British Columbia alone. We have often experienced forest fire smoke in Seattle, but this was my first time actually seeing a forest fire in person.
Peter and I stayed overnight in Bend in July 2017 on our way to Crater Lake National Park. During that 13 hours in Bend, we saw downtown Bend (“Old Bend”) and the Old Mill District. The following morning on our way to Crater Lake, we agreed that we needed to return to Bend the next summer, which led to our trip this past August.
Though only in Bend for a short period, we knew we wanted to stay in the Old Mill District (versus north Bend where our July hotel was located). We stayed in an Airbnb property just south of the Old Mill District.
Our “casita” was a self-contained guest house owned by a local realtor. It was set deep in the forest amongst expensive-looking homes.
Fun fact: Bend is home to the only operating Blockbuster worldwide.
Our casita was equipped with two cruiser bikes and all necessary river-going gear.
Peter was set on riding the cruiser bikes, and I was set on bringing our own bikes. I lost the bike battle, and we spent the weekend riding one-gear cruiser bikes around the city. I loathe cruiser bikes! They are awful!
I remember when we first hopped on the bikes and started to peddle away from our casita. Peter shouted, “I thought the bikes would at least have a couple of gears!”
Regardless of how difficult the bikes were to ride, they got us to breweries, restaurants, coffee shops, and wine-tasting rooms. And that’s what we did for most of the weekend – we biked, ate, and drank.
I have two favorite memories of our trip to Bend. The first was watching the sunset from the back patio of the Va Piano Vineyards tasting room. Their back patio overlooks the Deschutes River, and our only mistake was not ordering a whole bottle of wine.
My second favorite memory was floating down the Deschutes River. It is a must-do when visiting Bend. A mere $18 gets you an inner tube rental for the day. The inner tube “Park and Float” shop is located near The Pavilion at the corner of SW Simpson Ave and SW Bradbury Dr. There is a huge parking lot there; however, it can fill quickly when the weather is nice, as it was on the day of our visit.
After paying for our inner tube rental, we were fitted with a wristband, shuffled onto a shuttle bus, and ferried to Riverbend Park. We put our inner tubes into the freezing river. The day we floated down the river, it was scorching, and the water was ice-cold (the river is fed by snow melt).
There are a few rules when floating down the river.
- No glass containers permitted
- No alcohol permitted (this is actually a law)
- Do not litter
- Have fun
It takes about 90 minutes to float from the “start” beach (Riverbend Park) to the “end” beach (Drake Park). The float was much slower than I thought it would be, and there was one time when I stopped moving and needed to arm-paddle to get me floating again.
About halfway down the river, there is a purpose-built “whitewater park.” Peter was keen on taking on the rapids, and I was not interested in the rapids, so when the time came, I arm-paddled over to the shore, hopped out, and drug my inner tube along the gravel trail past the whitewater park. After the whitewater park, I put my inner tube back into the river and hopped back in.
In retrospect, it would have been safer for me to float through the whitewater park (“Passage Channel”) than it was for me to get out of the river and walk (“Portage Route”). The inner tube was heavy, and though the length of the whitewater park was not long, it took 5-7 minutes to walk it. This was due to the narrow trail and people walking upstream to put their tubes back into the river to ride the rapids again.
Safely back in the river, we continued our float to the “end” beach (Drake Park). Between mid-June and Labor Day, a shuttle runs between Drake Park, The Pavillion, and Riverbend Park. The cost to ride the shuttle is $3 per person. The shuttle drivers cannot make change (you place your money in a locked box upon entering the shuttle), so be sure to bring exact change.
My only regret was that we did not start our float earlier in the day, which would have allowed us to float twice. The inner tube rental and shuttle process are [mostly] efficient; however, shuttles needed to run more frequently.
The website states that they run every 15 minutes, which was true; however, the problem was the number of people waiting for the shuttle. I didn’t think the line was extremely long, but the people in front of us filled up the first two shuttles, and we ended up boarding the third shuttle.
Our total wait time was 45 minutes.
Essentials to floating down the river:
- Wear water shoes like Keens, Tevas or Chacos
- Have a waterproof bag that can be clipped to the tube
- Wear sunscreen
More literature on floating down the Deschutes can be found here.
Peter and I donated to the local economy by purchasing our water shoes and waterproof bag at the local REI.
To close this post, below are a few recommendations if you ever visit Bend (which you should).
- Drink espresso at Thump Coffee, Palette, and Strictly Organic
- Eat a vegetarian breakfast from the food truck (A Broken Angel) behind Palate coffee bar (seriously amazing food)
- Eat at Jackson’s Corner, El Sancho Taco Shop (great happy hour prices!), and Joolz
- Drink beer at Immersion Brewing, Bend Brewing Company, and Crux
- Drink sunset wine at the Va Piano Vineyards tasting room
- Taste spirits and drink mini cocktails at the Crater Lake Spirits tasting room
- Tube down the Deschutes
- Go for a hike
- Go for a trail run
- Go for a bike ride
Sounds like an amazing trip! Chalk up another jealous point on my end. :-)