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Guest Author | 04/04/2022 | Biking, Hiking, Nature Walks/Trails, Outdoor Recreation

Recharging in the Heart of the Willamette Valley

When I attended the University of Florida, my college roommate, Joanne, hailed from Portland, Oregon. After graduation, we stayed in touch, and over the years, I visited her in Portland, falling in love with the Pacific Northwest in the process. For a time, I even thought about moving to Oregon for its killer brews, cool people, creative food scene, spectacular natural beauty – and, of course, because I knew I had a close friend there.

But then Joanne moved to Corvallis. I loved Portland when I visited, why would anyone want to leave? “This is going to sound crazy,” Joanne texted me. “But the city got to be too much.”

Though Corvallis is just an hour and a half south of Portland, “The vibe is different,” she texted me, attaching smiling selfies taken at wineries, on the trail and in town. Then she followed with an invitation to come check it out.

Her invitation is especially tempting – work has been insane. “Wish I could,” I sent back. “Deadlines” – with a sobbing emoji.

Joanne replied, “I know what you mean, and now I know you need this.”

Maybe some of Joanne’s bliss will rub off on me during my visit.

View from behind the splash fountain at the Riverfront Commemorative Park in Corvallis, Oregon, with the Saturday Corvallis Farmers Market in view along First Street.Riverfront Commemorative Park and Corvallis Farmers Market, Downtown Corvallis, Oregon

“Suz!” Joanne shrieks, catching sight of me at the airport.

“Jo!” I holler back.

“You ready to find yourself?” Jo asks with a big smile.

“As ready are you are,” I reply.

As we drive through town, I’m introduced to Corvallis, which is nestled in the Willamette Valley in western Oregon. Corvallis is just as leafy, lush and sun-dappled as you’d expect and home to world-class wineries, as you might not expect. And Corvallis is green in more ways than one - it’s one of the most eco-conscious towns in the US. Downtown also has some great breweries and unique shops, but Joanne and I are focused on exploring some of the 60 miles of trails that wind through one of the state’s prettiest areas. Whether you’re into biking, hiking or horseback riding, there are excellent multi-use trails suitable for outdoors enthusiasts at all levels. So, there’s every opportunity for us to find that sweet spot of natural beauty and quiet – no excuses.

We reach Joanne’s place and I immediately unload my suitcase. As soon as I get them out, I begin lacing up my hiking shoes. I’m anxious to get out and move, but my buzzing phone keeps distracting my attempts to table my deadline-driven schedule. Joanne, having been in my place only a few months earlier, offers an understanding smile and explains the day she’s mapped out for us.

“We’re gonna hike the Riverfront first. It’s paved and it’s a good way to get acquainted with the area. When my sister and her family visited last month, they loved it.”

It’s a beautiful, balmy day and lots of folks are out strolling the tree-lined main path in Riverfront Commemorative Park, which follows the Willamette River and skirts downtown. I set a fast pace, hoofing it past couples holding hands, stroller-pushing moms and spirited dogs walking their owners. Sounding a little out of breath, Joanne says, “What’s the hurry? We don’t have to be anywhere.”

It was a small wake-up call, but a wake up nonetheless. When I slow my pace, I realize how much I’m missing. There are soccer fields and baseball diamonds, tall trees and decorative sculptures and fountains. It’s an escape for the entire community. Before long, Joanne and I are catching up as if no time has passed, the way old friends do.

“On Saturdays, there’s a farmers market, which rocks,” says a beaming Joanne. She’s clearly thrilled she moved here.

We’ve both got energy to spare after completing the ¾-mile walking path, so Joanne suggests we drive north to Chip Ross Park. Our timing is perfect: the sun is setting and we have stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains bathed in a warm orange glow. I take a deep breath and feel my shoulders lifting as I exhale. As I see night falling on our way back and wonder what time it is, I realize I hadn’t even thought about checking my phone since leaving Joanne’s house.

A woman, surrounded by wildflowers, looks out from the meadow on Marys Peak, taking in the views of the Coast Range.Wildflowers and beautiful views of the Coast Range on Marys Peak.

Today, we are stepping things up, hiking-wise. I check my phone once before we leave then pack it into my backpack, vowing to ignore it for the rest of the day. Emergencies only - loss of limbs, loss of direction, etc.

We’ll need most of the day to reach the summit of Marys Peak, which rises to almost 4,097 feet, the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range. Located in the Siuslaw National Forest, Marys Peak is snow-clad in winter, but as the longer, warmer days roll in, wildflowers begin to pop up.

We pick our way through vast, verdant meadows dotted with purple, yellow and white blossoms, and natural rock gardens. As we ascend over six strenuous miles, we spend long stretches in silence. At first, my head goes to deadlines waiting for me, but as we gain elevation and old-growth firs give way to panoramic views, my thoughts go to other things. Should hiking every week be my New Year’s resolution? How many miles have I hiked in my lifetime? I understand why some compare the setting here to “The Sound of Music.”

With every step closer toward Marys Peak, my legs feel sure and strong with the exertion. I savor the reward of the climb when we reach the summit. Lucky for us, it’s a clear day, so we can see all the way west to the Pacific Ocean and north to Washington’s Mt. Rainier. We strip off our boots and socks, wiggling our toes in the deep grass. We snap a few photos, the two of us grinning with accomplishment.

Joanne pulls sandwiches, cheese, nuts and apples – purchased from the aforementioned farmers market – from her backpack. I chug more water, gazing up at the brilliant blue sky stretched above me. Then I close my eyes and turn my face to the sun as Joanne assembles an al fresco picnic. I vow to spend more time back home on trails, regaining my own work-life balance and keeping this blissful feeling I hold now.

“Found your Zen?” Joanne asks.

“Yes, sensei,” I reply.

Find your bliss in Corvallis and plan your vacation with the online visitors guide.

Article by Suzanne Wright. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happenings by signing up for our email newsletter.

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