A few days ago, I was in a weird place. I don’t mean physically – there’s nothing odd about my townhouse – but rather, in a strange state of mind. How do I know this? Because I found myself looking at classified ads in Omaha. Omaha! WTF is that all about?! Omaha isn’t even one of the places I visited, though I did pass through. For some reason I got it in my head that Omaha might be a nice place to live, so I started researching the job market and the climate and looking at the demographics, cost of living, etc. My reasoning for this temporary bout of Nebraska madness? I’ve always said I wished it would snow more here, and Omaha is not hurting in the snow department. No, sirree: they average 30″ a year. Plus, I reasoned, there’s a Raising Cane’s about an hour away. Anytime I craved chicken fingers, I could get ’em! Based on the abundance of snow and the proximity of chicken fingers, for a few brief minutes I seriously considered uprooting my whole life and moving to the midwest.

Fortunately, sanity prevailed. An hour later, I wondered what the hell I had been thinking! I’m sure Omaha is great – the Counting Crows sing a nice little ode to it, after all – but, come on. I don’t have a Cornhusker mentality! The Pacific Northwest is my home, and I love it here. I don’t want to live anywhere else. Something similar happened years ago, after I took a business trip to Boston. Suddenly I was sending away for Massachusetts relocation packets and studying the housing market. I even started watching Good Will Hunting often, so I could pick up the Bahs-ton accent and blend in with the locals. Again, that time too, I came to my senses. I guess it’s just the allure of something new. I’ve often said, those first six months after moving up here in 1994 were the most exciting and happiest time of my life. Everything was new, and life was one big adventure. I sort of feel like a crack addict trying to chase after that elusive first high – it’s never the same again, no matter how many hits you take.

I’ve heard, that is.

I attributed my weird Omaha craving to a passing fancy, a fleeting “what if” moment in time that quickly disappeared. Still, I figured the best cure of all – one sure way to guarantee this wouldn’t happen again (and I mean no offense to Omaha people, of course) – was to give myself a fun day in Portland. It had been about a month since I’d even seen my favorite city, so I was overdue anyway. I needed a big ol’ dose of the Rose City in order to set myself straight again and ensure those crazy thoughts would not return. Kind of like a Portland immunization, if you will. An inoculation to prevent any weird I-think-I’ll-become-a-Nebraskan! diseases from developing.

So this morning, I took myself to town, if you will. It was lunchtime, so my first stop was the food cart pod at 10th and Alder. After debating my choices, I opted for a Thai chicken and rice dish from Nong’s Khao Man Gai, which I ate in O’Bryant Square, beneath a gunmetal gray sky that carried with it the hint of a light breeze. I love the hustle and bustle of the city – it energizes me, and makes me feel electric. And the weather? Perfect! A lot of people are complaining about our lack of summer this year. It has been unusually cloudy and cool – the temperature hovered only in the mid-60s all week, and we barely saw the sun – but with news reports of this massive heatwave gripping 2/3 of the country, I am certainly not complaining! I experienced heat and humidity aplenty during my trip. I am loving our weather this year! (Seven day forecast for Omaha: 92/93/96/100/100/100/97. Seven day forecast for Portland: 76/69/73/72/74/70/74. It’s not even close: we win, hands down. And I’ll bet those 70s are optimistic).

After lunch, I drove myself to Forest Park. Forest Park is a sprawling, vast forested wilderness that covers 5100 acres and stretches for eight miles over the hillsides of the Willamette River. It’s a leafy green oasis that is within the Portland city limits, making it the largest forest in a major metropolitan city in the U.S. It’s got a vast network of hiking trails and is home to all sorts of wildlife. And, shockingly, before today I had never been there. This was a serious wrong that needed righting! After all, not only do I love Portland to death, but I’m also an avid hiker. This month’s issue of Portland Monthly featured a big spread on Forest Park and a handy, detachable map, so I stuffed that into my backpack, wound my way into the park, stopped the car, and commenced my hike.

And promptly got lost.

Actually, that’s not true. I was never lost! I just didn’t exactly know where I was at all times. But I knew how to get back to my car, so again, I contend that there is a difference and I was. not. lost. The problem? Forest Park is so big, it’s overwhelming. There are trails bisecting other trails that intersect still other trails. Many of them are interconnected, like a giant spiderweb. But they’re not all marked. Case in point: I came to a junction of five trails, and only three had signs. I studied my sort-of-worthless map for a good five minutes before deciding the trail I wanted was second from the right. The good news: it turned out I was correct! The bad news: I was by now way off course. It really didn’t matter, though – the scenery was stunning. After walking forever, I came to a sign for the Ridge Trail, and came to a screeching halt. “What the hell?” I said out loud, whipping out my map and studying it again. The Ridge Trail was a hike I had contemplated originally, but decided to save for another time as it was way out of my way. Only, apparently, I had hiked so far off course it was right there! “How can this be?” I said, still talking to myself out loud, when another approaching hiker made me jump. She was coming off the Ridge Trail and had clearly heard me holding a conversation with, umm, nobody. How embarrassing! We chatted briefly, though – she was cute, after all – and I decided to walk the twenty minutes or so down the Ridge Trail for the fantastic view of the St. John’s Bridge that had caught my eye in the magazine. Cute hiker assured me it was worth it “if you like bridges,” and I’ve never met a bridge I didn’t like, so I decided to check it out. The Ridge Trail descends 1000 vertical feet (!) and though I wasn’t starting from the top, it was still plenty steep enough. Sure enough, the view of the bridge was breathtaking. Then, of course, I had to conquer the uphill portion of the climb, and that was a killer. Totally worth it, though. I finally made it back to my car 3.5 hours after setting out. I had planned on taking a gentle, scenic 3-mile loop hike, but ended up doing nearly 9 miles instead. Oops.

But you know what? I had an amazing day. This was exactly what I needed! Omaha who?! Portland and I are a match made in heaven.

View of the St. John’s Bridge and Portland, from a confusing junction of five trails in Forest Park. Love the cloudy, cool day!
Forest Park is aptly named.
Tiger lily (according to my Nat’l Audubon Society Field Guide). These were growing in clearings throughout Forest Park.
Most definitely not scenery you’d find in Omaha.
Forest Park, Portland
The St. John’s Bridge, as seen from the bottom of the Ridge Trail.

Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

24 thoughts on “Oma…huh?!

  1. I would never be able to do a 9 mile hike here in CA., our trails are dusty, rocky, full of spiny cactus and rattlesnakes…but in WA., those trails are so nice and shady. Even the ground beneath your feet is cushy and soft. You’re SO lucky! Looks like you had a good day, I could picture O’Bryant Square! Scott and I had our food truck lunch there too 🙂


    1. You would have LOVED it, Esther. The weather was perfect for hiking – a little on the cool side, even. And the trail had a few puddles and muddy patches…no dust, that’s for sure! No rattlesnakes, either. But a ton of mosquitoes. Fortunately, I had OFF.


      1. Ugh! Mosquitoes! THAT’S the one thing about WA. I don’t like….but that’s what mosquito spray is for 🙂


  2. Mark, it’s so ironic that your saying this because I just so happned to be in my apartment elevator, riding down with a guy I had seen a few times in the building. And as we were talking, I asked him where he was from and he said NEBRASKA! I immediately told him of the photos you shared on your trip and expressed how beautiful I thought it looked. And he said, “Yes…it is beautiful, but it’s waaaaaaay too conservative for me.”

    So I say….Portland and you are a match made in heaven!

    And judging by the looks of these photos….it’s STUNNING!

    I love the grey clouds hanging overhead. That’s my kinda weather.

    I’m like you in many ways. I have the heart of gypsy, and if it were up to me I’d live in a different state every couple of years. I live in Philadelphia, but my heart will ALWAYS be in NYC. But right now, this is were I need to be. However, I will never count out moving back to the Big Apple one day.

    Thanks for sharing your day, bud. Enjoyed it!


    1. The midwest is crazy conservative…that would drive me nuts! Fortunately, Portland is about as left-wing as you can get, which perfectly suits my liberal tendencies!

      I also love NYC, and have been to Philly many times. Even saw a Phillies game with my uncle once. Your part of the country has its own charms, too!


  3. Loved this! Even though I do still live in the Northwest, I do miss Portland. Seattle is just getting too big!

    The pictures are gorgeous and the weather is even better. I’m absolutely loving this summer and get mad at the naysayers who are constantly complaining about how cool it is. I just want to go slap them upside the head and say “WTF is wrong with you?!?!?” but then I would probably get fired for hitting a customer so I just shut my mouth and nod my head.


    1. This is why I dread the idea of working directly with people again…you have to watch what you say! But I’m glad you agree. This weather is just perfect.

      And, if I couldn’t live in Portland, it’d be Seattle. Or Olympia. But definitely not Omaha.


    1. I know, right? “Stir crazy” doesn’t begin to describe it! And you’re right…it’s probably hard to find a tiger lily in a florist shop in Nebraska, let alone out in the wild!


  4. Don’t Scare me like that again! Sheeesh… I just made a new friend, I don’t want to lose you!


    Love your blog posts as always!

    Steven “Those are not the corn husks you’re looking for” Wolff


  5. The park pictures are gorgeous, and I think knowing that park isn’t a sweltering 99 degrees might make it look even better! I think you are right where you need to be. That’s not to say I haven’t done the same “What If I Stay?” game myself. Luckily it was in San Francisco, and I’d have had to sell my soul to afford to live there 😦


  6. Nice photos! We drove through Portland twice on vacation – but we were just passing through. Before we come back that way again, be sure to study your park maps – sounds like we’ll need a guide if we decided to take a hike in this amazing city forest.


  7. Love the photos! Looks more like trails and actual forest than Laurelhurst Park, which had the giant foliage but is more “residential” looking if that makes sense?


    1. Makes perfect sense. And that’s exactly right. Laurelhurst is beautiful, but really nothing more than an urban oasis. Forest Park is HUGE! And perfectly suited to hiking, biking, running, etc.


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