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by Colleen Friesen
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

Portland Oregon conjures up lots of words that start with the letter P'. To start, there's Pinots, pints, pedals, petals, paddles, Powell's...But a recent visit confirmed that the two P' words that best sum up the Portland experience are passionate people.

Whether winemakers, lamp makers, distilled-spirit makers, tea blenders, sushi servers, Vermouth drinkers, beer brewers, sake makers, bicycle guides, or kayak paddlers, the theme remains the same, people in Portland are not just creating a product or service, but with the creativity and enthusiasm they bring to their livelihood, they are creating a passionate life.

Josh Mabry is one of those people, "I was bartending and just kind of drifting. I knew this isn't what I wanted to do with the rest of my life." He saw a flyer for some classes at ADX and, "...basically I tried every class they had."

ADX is Art Design Portland (a fun-hearted play on the PDX airport code), a 14,000 square foot warehouse filled with makers; people building guitars, helping local school kids build boats, conducting classes on learning upholstery, artists, and artisans, along with ongoing workshops for any interest you could dream up.

(Photo #1 - Work Together @ ADX )

It was when Mr. Mabry put together the woodworking and the electrical that the proverbial bulb lit up when he discovered how much he loved making lamps. For a while he had to keep bartending while perfecting his craft. Mabry, much to his surprise, had discovered, like his father and grandfather before him, the satisfaction of woodworking. Combined with all things lamp-like, he now supports himself doing something he loves.

ADX is filled with other people like Mabry, artisans excited about making well-made and useful items rather than mindlessly purchasing them from an overstocked aisle crammed with the latest cheap goods.

Portland's favourite bumper sticker reads, Embrace Your Weird. After this trip, it's clear to me that weird is simply another word for embracing your uniqueness and following the path to whatever gets you excited.

And, if excited is what you're looking to find, then you don't have to look any further than nearby Oregon City. The kayak guides at eNRG Kayaking make squirrels look calm. These guys love their sport and they love to tell you that kayaking in the pouring rain on the Willamette River is a good thing

(Photo #2 - Colleen Friesen & eNRG Kayaking Mascot)

Turns out, they're telling the truth.

Paddling toward the Willamette Falls while sea lions bark and roll, a sturgeon's pre-historic spiny ridge breaks through the waters and one of the guide's kayak-riding dog lolls on the front of his kayak are beautiful moments that the rain does nothing to diminish. In fact, tucked into one of their dry suits means the rain only adds to the atmosphere.

Another way to embrace some of Portland's wonderful weird-uniqueness is to take a bicycle tour with Pedal Bike Tours. On my May visit, we wheeled through drifts of pink blossoms, while Sarah, our guide in a funky skirt, knee-high boots and an electric green helmet, pointed out tiny homes and funky shops.

(Photo #3 - Sarah in the Blooms) She delivered us to Smith Teamakers, a 13,000-square foot facility with a glass-fronted view of the entire process. Smith has been importing teas and botanicals for the last 15 years, creating relationships with tea growers from around the world. We drank chai on tap, and learned the finer tasting points of all things tea, while listening to the tea master enthuse about his world of tea.

(Photo #4 - Chai On Tap)

Nearby, founder and master-distiller, Christian Krogstad is excited about a different distillation. House Spirits Distillery has just moved into its $6-million new home where several of their favourite cocktails are on tap, their Aviation American Gin was awarded 97-points from Wine Enthusiast, and Christian oversees an expanded operation that has become an anchor to Portland's ever-growing Distillery Row. Krogstad's enthusiasm for all things distilled and botanical is catching.

(Photo #5 - Christian Krogstad)

Then again, it might have been the cocktails on tap...

In Portland they have figured out that a good life is all about finding whatever makes us truly tick and following whatever that weird pursuit might entail. By embracing that particular wonderful whacky idea and dogging it with persistence and love, we will find our raison d'etre.

Visit Portland. Go for the pints, see the spring petals, drink some Pinot, paddle a kayak and soak up the vibe at Powell's books. But more than any of that, talk to the people. Listen to their passion. Go to Portland and prepare to be inspired.



When you're ready to feed your Portland Passions:

PHOTOS: By Colleen Friesen, unless otherwise indicated Photo

#1 - Work Together @ ADX by Colleen Friesen Photo

#2 - Colleen Friesen & eNRG Kayaking Mascot - Photo Supplied) Photo

#3 - Sarah in the Blooms by Colleen Friesen Photo

#4 - Chai On Tap by Colleen Friesen Photo

#5 - Christian Krogstad by Colleen Friesen

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