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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Rambling and Re-Routing: A philosophy for urban exporation

During my Palm Tree Ride last week, the inevitable question came up: "How did you find all these palm trees?" And my stock and somewhat facetious answer is "Two wheels and two eyes."

I'm guessing the gentleman who asked the question was hoping for something more pat, like a book about Portland palms or a website. But unfortunately neither source exists. I do have a book, titled "The Trees of Greater Portland" that does have a page on Chinese Windmill Palms and lists locations of examples. But the book was published 20 years ago, and provides only a half-dozen listings. And while one can create a Google map with locations of palm trees, I don't know of one.*

The way I found out about all those palms was just by rambling around town over the past decade. I've always been one to try to explore the place I live in as much as I can. It was in my early Portland ramblings that I stumbled across the first few palms. My interest piqued, I kept a lookout for palms in my subsequent ramblings. I made notes (both mental and physical) on the locations of these palms. When I accumulated enough of them (and found the confidence to lead bicycle rides), I created my first Palm Tree Ride in 2005. And since the first ride, I've gone on more and more rambles looking for palms, slowly moving outward from inner SE.

I think the aimless ramble around town is underappreciated. It's a great way to learn about the place you live, and it's fun! I've done scores of rambles over the years, mostly by bike, but sometimes by foot and public transportation. In these rambles I've discovered a lot of secrets and surprises. I doubt I would have found as much of these things out either by a simple "point A to point B" journey or by searching online. These curiosities could be a cool cafe, a hidden footpath or stairway, an interesting looking house, a great view, a geographical anomaly, or a palm tree. I've incorporated a lot of these happenstance discoveries into the rides and walks I do.

To do a ramble "right"**, one should have time. A day unencumbered by obligations and deadlines is ideal, but if you have only a half-day or so, that should do.

My rambles can take form in one of two ways. Sometimes I'll take the intensive approach, exploring the heck out of one geographical area like a neighbrhood. I might make a serpentine approach, going back and forth, moving forward one street at a time. This way I try to take in everything in an area. I sometimes employ this strategy when I create a new Palm Tree Ride and need to take inventory of the palms in the area.

More often, I take a more leisurely approach to my rambles. It can have an end destination in mind (a lot of them seem to end in St Johns, Portland's furthest-flung eastside neighborhood) with the idea of exploring the areas in between. I'll start with the more commonly prescribed bike routes, but I'll veer off them to see what else is out there. The route will by no means direct, there will be lots of weaving to-and-fro. I'll let things unfold as they will. If a detour seems promising and leads me to a different end point than I had planned, then I'll go with it. There's no reason to feel like you have to go to a certain place, in fact, the ramble works best when you let things happen on their own.

Maybe you're thinking about this and saying, "A ramble is all well and good, but I don't have time!" Well then! Let me introduce you to the simple joy of the Re-Route.

The concept is simple: take your normal Point A to Point B journey of the day, which for most people is either home/work or home/school. You probably use the same route daily or have 2 or 3 standards that you switch between dependent on circumstance. Take your route and simply tweak it a bit each day. Go one block off your standard routing, or 2, or maybe 3. You should probably have enough time to do this in your normal commute, but you might want to budget a few extra minutes. (If you are coming home, you probably wouldn't have to worry about time constraints as much.) It's amazing what you can discover with simply re-routing by one block! New vistas may await, interesting houses, businesses you didn't know of, etc. Re-Routing doesn't have to be permanent, you can always switch back to your original route if the re-route isn't interesting or as convenient or safe as your original route. But you won't know until you try.

*Which I guess means I should be the one creating that Google Map. Yeah, sure. After I do all the dozens of other things I need to do.
**Can you really
do a ramble right?

To make those in cold climates jealous, all the photos were taken over the last week. Yes, the grass is green.

1 comment:

  1. I'm amazed how many times I have discovered short-cuts to places by "rambling" slightly off course on occasion, even after living in my current city (Calgary) for several years.

    Not to mention all the other cool stuff waiting to be discovered, as you've already mentioned.


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