Wednesday, February 11, 2015


View downstream, north, from the tip of Ross Island.
Portland, Oregon is a river city, or so it is said by some. Yes, the Willamette River runs through the middle of Portland on its way to the Columbia River. The meeting of these two rivers is also in Portland. One would think that Portlanders are river people, by which I mean they use their river for many different activities and consider it one of the most important parts of the Portland identity. Well, that is not the case.

Like so many other American cities, Portland was developed along the river, but the river was considered only a place of business between land and water, and a place to dump things people wanted to get rid of. In the past few decades, however, Portland has changed its mind about the river in many ways, and the land along the river is now seen as an amenity and a public and natural resource.

But there are still problems in regards to Portland truly becoming River City. One of those problems is access to the river, not visual access, but physical access. This is especially true for people who want to put a small, human-powered water craft in the river in the downtown area (I'll call these people paddlers). I am a paddler, and the portion of the river that flows through downtown Portland offers a variety of interesting experiences, if I can get to it.
The new Tilikum Crossing transit bridge behind the Ross Island Bridge,
viewed from Ross Island.

This morning Dry Bag Dave and Paddlin' Paul (that's me) loaded our kayaks and gear and headed off to do an easy and relatively short paddling trip. Our goal was to paddle under the new transit bridge, a cable-stayed beauty named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. The new bridge, that will open in September, will only have light rail trains, buses, cycles and pedestrians; no automobiles or trucks.

So we decided to launch on the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland and paddle a short distance upstream and under the Tilikum Crossing. There is a low floating public dock just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge designed for use by rowing and paddle craft where we have launched before. When we arrived there, we found that there are some visitor spots in the parking lot, but parking is limited to 2 hours; not enough for a paddling trip. Parking there used to be for as long as desired. So we got back in the car and drove to the downstream side of the Hawthorne Bridge because it seemed to me we could launch from the dirt beach under the bridge. I know that the Human Access Project has cleared a lot of rocks from that beach so people can get into the river. There were some parking spots in the lot near the Eastbank Esplanade (pay parking, of course), so we figured we could carry the boats to the beach under the bridge. Well, the river was high, and that spot did not have a safe or easy place to launch kayaks.

We had spent a lot of time trying to find a place to put into the river. Our fallback was Willamette Park on the other side of the river and a few miles south of the Tilikum Crossing bridge. We arrived at Willamette Park and found an almost empty large parking lot. I went to buy the parking tag, and it was $1 per hour, or $6 for all day; pretty reasonable. I figured I would put in $4 for 4 hours - plenty of time for our paddling. But as I pushed the time button on the meter, the dollars kept going up, but the hours stayed at 3. Hmmm; well I read the fine print, which informed me that after 3 hours, a full-day fee would be charged. Really? OK, well the Park Bureau needs the money to maintain the park, so I was kind of OK with this scheme.

I went over to the restroom building at the park to get rid of some excess liquid - and the restrooms were "closed for the season." What? No bushes nearby, either. Luckily for us, there were 2 porta-potties on the other side of the parking lot, probably related to work going on in the park. OK, problem solved, but still, I paid my $6, what did I get for it?

We had a terrific paddle of about 7 miles round trip and spent about 3 hours total. But I was disgruntled about the experience of paddling in Portland.

Why isn't there access for paddlers to the Willamette River in the downtown area of Portland? The public dock on the east side and just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge is a convenient location, but parking is limited to 2 hours. (I later found out that after 3PM parking time is unlimited, but that really only works in the summer when days are longer.) The only places to launch from close to and south of downtown are Willamette Park and Sellwood Park. Going north from downtown, I can only think of Swan Island Lagoon and Cathedral Park, both very far from the downtown area. These four launching opportunities are shown on the map below.
The only four formal and convenient launching spots for paddlers in Portland are shown as red stars.
And by the way, Willamette Park, operated by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, is set up for power boats. The parking lot is mostly long spaces for trucks and trailers, with a much smaller number of spots for cars (and you get ticketed if you park a car in a truck-trailer spot, even if there are very few truck-trailers in the lot). The ramp into the river is concrete that is deeply ribbed for tire traction - real hell for the hull of my wood kayak. There should be a gravel ramp into the river for canoes, kayaks and other paddle craft to make this facility truly convenient for paddlers.

There is a new ramp that is being described as a kayak launch in the South Waterfront Central District immediately south of downtown; it will be open later this year. It is a narrow concrete sidewalk that I consider to be a tricky launch spot at best, and a dangerous spot especially when the river is low in the summer. Because there is no way to drive a car close to the ramp, and public parking is not located nearby, it will likely be used mostly by people who live in the condos in the South Waterfront who can cart their boat to the ramp without a motor vehicle. This does not solve the problem for the rest of us.

City planners know that river access is a problem, and they are working on ideas to create more and better access. They will need to change some city codes, figure out access and parking for motor vehicles, and also deal with federal agencies that discourage river access because of alleged issues with fish habitat. In the meantime, I'll paddle the downtown stretch of the Willamette once in a great while, and drive to other places on the edges of or away from Portland that are more welcoming to paddlers.


Monday, February 02, 2015


I am a 70 year old man who tries to keep up with the digital age in which I live. I have a smartphone (Android OS), a tablet (iPad) and a laptop  (MacBook). I spend a lot of my time using these marvelous devices in a variety of ways. And it has truly ruined my real life.

My digital life is dominated by the apps on my smartphone, the apps on my tablet, and the software on my laptop. All of my devices are synced in various ways, mostly in the cloud. The apps shared by me and my wife, such as google calendar, enable us to keep track of our individual as well as shared schedules, as long as we don't make any mistakes when entering data (which we sometimes do). My consulting business relies on my devices, apps and software to communicate, coordinate, collect information, create reports and letters and memoranda.

I have 92 apps on my smartphone (probably a small number compared to many people), including apps to: measure the amount of propane in the tank of my outdoor grill, measure the inclination of a hill, do mathematics, magnify and take photos of things, measure sound level, convert units, convert money, translate languages, record sounds, check the river level, check the weather, buy movie tickets, waste time on facebook, check email, send and receive text messages, take photos. And cables and chargers and dongles - a boatload of them because Apple cables don't fit Android devices and visa-versa, and every device has it's own charger, and I carry a travel-size extension cord when we travel because most hotel rooms don't have enough outlets for the phones and computers we carry.

Photos - I have taken uncountable thousands of pictures with various cell phones and digital cameras. I have these scattered throughout the cloud in various free storage services, most of which I've maxed out without paying an annual fee. This is why I now have a flickr account - they give me 1 terabyte free! But what do I do with all of these photos? Nobody else can see them unless I post them somewhere like facebook or google+ (has anyone heard of google+?). But there are so many photos I don't even remember what they are, or how to find the ones I do remember.

And the convenience of my digital life. I don't have to leave the coach to go shopping - is all I need. (Does anyone else remember when Amazon was just a book seller?) And books - I read on my iPad. I have a banking app on my smartphone, so I can deposit checks and pay bills and all of that from - yes - the couch.

My digital life is becoming more of who I am than my biological life. I have a lot of friends - digital. A lot of people "like" me - digital. I go to exotic places in the world - digital. I read a lot of books, newspapers, magazines and technical journals - digital. I map out where I am driving or cycling - digital. I write to people and have nice chats with them - digital. I have discussions with people who see me and I see them - digital. I write about life and politics - digital. I schedule events and appointments on a calendar - digital. I watch movies, TV shows and listen to music - digital. I keep notes and journal items - digital. I print labels and postage on packages and have them picked up by the postal service - digital. I explore new digital applications for my digital devices - digital!

My digital me is always afraid. My digital being is constantly threatened by hackers who want to steal my identity and rob me of my credit and money. To defend my digital self I need passwords - lots and lots and lots of passwords and user names and secret questions with answers I'm supposed to remember. And the passwords can't be simple, they need to be complex. And I am told to change every password frequently. My digital self is so nervous about safety that I think I need digital drugs to calm me down!

I am no more than 0's and 1's, a vessel of data harvested every nanosecond of my digital life. Minions of madmen ad men algorize my digital being non-stop looking for clues and patterns so they can sell me to those who push advertisements at me. I have no secrets. My own government tracks my digital self everywhere I go, every key stroke I make, every search I google, every email, text and chat I have is harvested and analyzed and stored for the future in vast server farms scattered around the planet. My digital self consists of billions of fragments.

I grow flabby from lack of exercise because more and more of my shopping, banking, communicating and everyday activities are as a digital being rather than a biological being. How will this end?

Can I end my digital life? Is it possible to commit digital suicide - digicide? Is there life after the digital life? After all, my jillions of on-line posts and photos and messages will still be in the cloud even after I've pulled the plug.

If I do commit digicide, how will you know? Maybe you will notice that I haven't posted stupid things on facebook for awhile, or posted to this blog, or tweeted or tooted. Will you notice? Will anyone?  Especially once I install this new DigitalMe app; you know, the one that analyzes everything I have ever done on-line and then starts to generate posts from the digital me, without the biological me having to do anything. The ultimate app for digital immortality!

In fact, how do you know if the digital me or the biological me wrote this blog post?