I was reluctant to tell my Portland friends my plans for the day. Who would be interested in a tour of their own home town?
I was motivated for a couple of reasons. Sometime in 2014 the City of Newport Beach will likely apply for Bicycle Friendly America recognition and the process looks at Encouragement — what we’re doing to encourage people to get out and ride. Accordingly, I’ve been planning a series of local rides, one with a tour theme, not a race-type ride, so I was taking notes on Sarah’s technique as she described the local highlights on the Pedal Bike Tours’ Historic Downtown Tour.
Of course, many of the tour’s features point to their Platinum status as a Bicycle Friendly Community. They’ve been at it a long time, since the 90’s, so they’re recognized as one of the best places in North America to ride a bike.
There’s a lot of civic pride in any city’s downtown bike tour and this was certainly evident on this ride. Over the next few days I would annoy my friends and family by sharing the factoids I learned on the tour: How Portland got its name — it was a coin flip from being called Boston — to the story behind the Benson bubblers scattered across the downtown — Benson was a teetotaller — there’s even one installed in their sister city in Sapporo, Japan.
What could I possibly learn from this tour that would help with my ambitions back home?
Sarah spoke of local historical facts, but also of simple things, too, like trees and, at one point, sidewalks. We take for granted that streets are paved today, but in Portland’s pre-asphalt past the roads were a muddy mess. Sidewalks were made of wood, but that’s just the setup for Sarah to explain how scandalous Portland women were once perceived. Because walking around town could be quite messy, women wore their hemlines above their ankles, to avoid muddy petticoats. In its day this evoked moral outrage all the way to San Francisco.
It was a great way to start our week-long vacation. Just a few days later we rented bikes for a self-guided return to some of our favorite spots. I can’t wait to visit some other city and take their downtown tour.