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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Backlot Adventuring: The mysterious path

Somewhere in the bramble is a bike.
I like to think that with all the urban exploration I've done in Portland in the past twelve years, I have a good grasp on the city. I wouldn't say it's a "back of my hand" knowledge, as there are neighborhoods I rarely venture into, like the SW Hills. But if it's the inner eastside and downtown, yeah, I know my way around. So it's always nice to be surprised by an unexpected discovery, especially if it's in an area I feel I know.

On Sunday I was riding out to the South Tabor neighborhood in SE* to pick up an item from Craigslist. As I wound my way through the hood, I realize it's been awhile since I've been out here, the last time to buy the Crested Butte. South Tabor is off the grid for many a folk, even in SE, but I've had many a reason to pass through it over the years. I lived here briefly, during a pretty miserable four months in the winter of 2008. (Okay, my life wasn't sucking then, but my housemates were.) And when April and I lived in Montavilla before "The Big Trip", going through South Tabor was one of the ways to get to the inner eastside. So I feel that I know the 'hood well enough.

Well, I took a turn on SE 70th towards Division and I came across a less-than-one block stub of SE Windsor Place. Windsor Place is the street one block south of Division, if one were to follow the "imaginary grid" of Portland. Of course, there are breaks in this grid, especially the further you get from the river. The longest contiguous section of Winsdor runs between 43rd and 47th, with a few stubs in South Tabor. This is one of them, though this is the first time I noticed this one.

It's a dead end half a block long, paved with gravel. But beyond the end of the road is some overgrown woods, with the faint sign of a trail. Is this simply an unimproved section of Windsor that was never plowed and graded? Does the path lead over to 71st? I had to check it out.

The area was full of blackberry brambles, so not the most hospitable place for a bike. I walked the path in for about 50 feet, until it terminated in thick brush. A fence was beyond the brush. No, this wasn't a cut through.

But there was signs of people doing things. Someone had built a cone-like structure of branches and fir boughs. Very primitivist. I'm guessing it's less wiccan and more the neighborhood kids hanging out.

Thinking about this, I realized how few vacant lots I've noticed in inner Portland, at least vacant lots that would be accessible. In the outer, less developed reaches, like SW Portland or east of 205, there are plenty of undeveloped spaces. But not so much in here. Such a shame. Vacant lots are fun places for adventure when you're growing up.

I remember my beloved vacant lot: It sat on the steep hillside behind my house in Ansonia, Connecticut. Even though my neighborhood was heavily developed, the parcel of land behind my garage remained dormant. You better believe me and the other neighborhood kids hung out there a bit. It was the prime spot in the winter for sledding, and in the spring and summer for BMX riding.

Yep, that's right, your favorite Retro-Grouch has a hidden history of BMX. (It was the 80's, you know.) I wasn't a very good BMX rider, though, and on the hill was where whatever little hint of my "career" was laid to rest on a spring day in 1986. Myself and my so-called friends were taking turns riding down the hill, and it started raining. Rather than stop, which would have been the sensible thing to do (I'm pretty sure our Huffys and all had steel rims), we carried on. And at the end of one run, I managed to ride head-first into a van that was parked in the neighbor's driveway.

I came to while two of my amigos were dragging my sorry frame up the steps to my house to deposit to my mom. No noticeable injuries than a cut lip, but I was sore and hurting so I didn't go to school the next day. Yep, my first real bike accident. Somehow I didn't have another real one until 2011, when I ate it in the tracks, this time leading to an ER visit to stitch above my lip. Isn't it ironic that both my bike accidents involved something happening to my face? Isn't it also ironic that both times I've been to the ER, it's been to stitch my face?**

Anyways, there wasn't much time left for that lot. About a year later the lot got plowed over and a house got built. Thankfully they didn't chop down the majestic elm tree, which still stood the last time I visited that house in 2005. (My mom moved after that, so I don't know the state of the elm.) It wouldn't be too much longer until I moved in with my dad out in the more rural side of things, which promised full on woods to go explore! I still miss that lot, though.

Did you have a vacant lot you hung out in when you were growing up?

*South Tabor is obviously South-of-Mount-Tabor. Mount Tabor has four neighborhoods named after it: Mount Tabor, North Tabor, and Montavilla, with is a syllabic contraction of Mount Tabor Village.
**Fell on my chin in the tub in 1978.


  1. Nice post, reminds me of my childhood adventures growing up in the village. All those seemingly unused spaces seemed to hold such promise at that age. I remember finding a bag of hundreds of self-adhesive plastic hooks on the edge of some farm land with some friends and it seeming like an amazing find to us at the time.

  2. We had a few hundred acres of woods behind our tract house community where all manner of things went on with us kids. Camping, tree houses, bike trails, a little grade school romance...I have not been to my home town in over 25 years but Google Earth reveals that now, alas, those woods are mostly gone and in their place are a lot of those mini-mansions...sometimes I still have dreams that take place in our old magical forest...


    1. Ahhh welcome to my hood. I too have fallen for the false trail there, but since I live in S. Tabor and the sharrows out here are kind of a joke, I've passed that one a few times. And even have fallen for that same path in hopes that it could be a short cut.

      Just wish we had better East/West routes around the volcano. But hopefully they'll be here soon with the 52nd bike "highway", and talks of redoing Division and Foster make me hopeful. But it's hard not to feel like the Eastsides red headed step child with how much better the bicycle infrastucture is for most the rest of the city.

      Sorry I'll get off my soapbox now.....

      I had access to woods to "hang" in when I was younger in the Detroit Burbs. Including one woods/trail affectionatley called the "Humpies" named for both the off road trail that ran through it, and the fact it was a local spot for parking. And another woods that actually had a really old abandonded commercial truck trailer in the middle of it that of course was the center of all sorts of miscieff.

    2. It would be nice to have more routes around Tabor, but not having the options made me ride over Tabor instead. (And yes, on a Three Speed.) It made me a much stronger rider, and more fit. Now I'm soft and out of shape.

  3. Hey, it's never to late to go back to BMX (I write this despite having never been on a BMX bike). You could get a vintage Kuwahara and still retain some sort of retro-gouch cred.

    I grew up in a pretty rural area, so there were lots of wooded locations to hang out in. Due to the economically depressed nature of the place it is actually MORE grown over now than when I was a kid.

  4. yeah, I know this trail. So. Tabor is my hood too, when I'm stateside. I have ridden past this a few times, but never ventured down there. I'm glad to hear you say So. Tabor is "off-the-grid" That's precisely why we bought a house there. Close in, but not (yet) overrun. Enjoy! :)


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