By Bob Lowry
One of our favorite cities is Portland, Oregon. As a cool escape from Phoenix in the summer it can’t be beat. The downtown is vibrant, full of restaurants, bars, museums, parks, and interesting (weird?) people. The local neighborhoods don’t have a big box store in sight, just endless mom and pop stores to fascinate and delight. The light rail system is efficient. Bikes are everywhere. The Willamette River through downtown is a refreshing sight for the eyes. And, we have dear friends that make every visit something special and a very important part of our satisfying journey.
Betty and I are back from a week in Oregon. A flight of less than 3 hours took us from 104 to 76 degrees. Our airport area hotel and rental car were waiting. Friends and things we wanted to do had our week packed full enough maybe we should have planned on two weeks.
Friday was spent visiting a place that is part of a very vivid memory from my past: Mount St. Helens. On the morning of May 18, 1980, a massive eruption tore almost 1500 feet from the top of the 9,600 foot mountain. Fifty seven people were killed, almost 300 homes vanished, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railway and almost 200 miles of roads were destroyed.
At the time of the explosion I was on a train that had just left Portland, on my way to Seattle for a business meeting. We had crossed into Washington State and were approaching the town of Kelso when the train abruptly stopped. We were told that a few miles ahead a bridge over the Toutle River was in danger of being sweep away by the huge rush of water, mud, trees, and volcanic flow pouring out of the mountain.
Less than 40 miles from the volcano, the air had become smoky, dusty, and dangerous to breathe. As passengers looked out the windows on the east side of the train, we could see a plume of smoke tens of thousands of feet in the air, and the first stages of destruction evident near the mountain. After a five hour delay the train was finally allowed to proceed to Seattle.
This was well before cell phones were available. My wife knew I was on a train and my approximate location on that May morning, but had no way to find out my condition. And, of course, I couldn’t contact her either until arriving at the Amtrak station in Seattle later that day. When I was finally able to reach her, the relief in her voice was evident. I was never so glad to be 5 hours late, instead of washed out to sea or buried under tons of mud by the eruption.
Today, the Volcano Visitors Center is a very well done reminder of what happened and why. Frankly, seeing the power of the event and how close I was to being very personally affected left me rather emotional and in awe.
Saturday we reconnected with the energizer couple, Mike and Tamara Reddy. In Portland as part of a two month RV trip, they had asked us to reserve a day for winery tours, a picnic lunch, and dinner in Dundee, and a day full of meaningful conversation, coffee, and great memories. We will see them again in January at the Palm Springs Film Festival, but meeting up with Mike and Tamara always guarantees a great time.
Sunday, Betty and I visited Silver Falls State Park. About 90 minutes south of Portland, this park is home to 10 waterfalls and deep forest beauty. What a fabulous day spent enjoying cool sunshine and drop-dead scenery. The hike was a little tougher than we normally tackle, but all seemed fine.
Monday, we ventured north into Washington State for a hike along Salmon Creek, then back to Oregon for a drive around the west side of Sauvie Island. I will admit I took a peek at the clothing optional beach on the island and quickly hurried back to the car. Then, on to more normal activities with a stroll through the very busy Nob Hill section of Portland
Tuesday, our good friend, Beth, Betty, and I spent the afternoon at Oregon Garden. Enjoying amazing flowers and planting, seeing the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in the Pacific Northwest, and another perfect weather day allowed Betty to snap hundreds of stunning photos.
Then, everything changed.
As I was returning to the hotel, I began to feel a powerful band of pain clamp across my chest. I started to sweat. I felt nauseous. My right arm started to tingle. By the time I made it to the hotel I could tell I was in trouble. I asked Betty to call 911. Within 10 minutes EMTs and firemen had swarmed into the hotel lobby. I was wired up for an EKG, given nitro pills, aspirin, and oxygen and rushed to a local hospital.
Yes, I had a coronary problem. Obviously, I survived but with a new lifestyle, medicine regimen, and diet ahead of me, plus an abrupt slap in the face from life. What started as a vacation ended up altering my life.
Look for a post in a few days about my heart problem. Frankly, I need a little time to process what happened and share with you.