RR On The Road: Astonishing Natural Beauties And Welcoming Main Streets

Day 1: July 8, 2024

An orange home depot bucket holding a yellow fan outside.Thanks for asking–yes, we did schedule our Radically Rural on the Road trip during an exceptional heat wave in the pacific northwest, whew! It’s been hovering right at or below 100 degrees. As we have navigate the trip, that seems to be the number one thing that locals are talking about. There have been interesting homemade cooling stations and many welcoming signs in stores inviting folks to come in and cool down.

Today marks the first official day of the RR on the Road trip, though I flew into Portland on Saturday to have a little stay in the city on my own time. I couldn’t help myself and put some “tidbits” below that I gathered while there.

The drive from Portland to Hood River was absolutely stunning. The first thing we saw when getting on the interstate was the absolutely awe inspiring Mount Hood in the distance. Very quickly we were driving along the Columbia River, which is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America–it stretches 1,243 miles. It forms in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and flows into Washington and subsequently forms most of the border between Washington and the state of Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. “The Gorge” is a canyon in a section of the Columbia River, which is up to 4,000 feet deep and stretches for over eighty miles. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but the conditions make the Hood River section incredibly windy, which has made it famous for wind and kite surfers, just a few of them many opportunities for outdoor recreation tourism in Hood River.

On the drive we saw many beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails. We pulled over at Bridal Veil Falls to hike. In reading historical markers, we learned that the native peoples that have called the Gorge home for over 10,000 years used the river as a pedestrian corridor through the mountains via canoes. The trade network was so extensive that items from the Gorge have been found as far away as Alaska and Missouri. 

A waterfall nestled between bright trees.When we got to the falls I couldn’t help but jump in in my clothes–it was so hot and the water was perfectly refreshing! As I sat on the rocks at the edge of the falls and enjoyed the beauty, an older woman came up to me and asked if I had swam below the falls. I told her yes and she said that it was one of the goals of her life to swim under a waterfall. I gave her some safety tips and asked if she wanted me to go with her. She didn’t even hesitate, just handed me her things and got right in. She was ecstatic. It was a beautiful human moment and a good precursor to the notes about community we got from Hood River residents later in the day. 

Our focus in Hood River today was to get to know some of the local folks staffing the shops on the main street in town. Themes emerged during these conversations. Nearly everyone we spoke with had grown up in the area and loved it. They all said that community was the biggest reason why. They liked knowing most people and knowing that they had each other’s backs.  Several described the challenges of the cost of living, particularly affordable housing. They indicated that finding jobs wasn’t too hard, but finding well paying jobs was tougher. They described how much the town had changed in the last ten years as it has grown to accommodate the outdoor recreation tourism boom. Further, the seasonality of foot traffic provided an opportunity for businesses to rest in the winter, but it was hard when most of the profits were made within a three month period of time in the summer (when the population triples in size). That part reminded me of our trip to Plymouth, NH last year, except in their case the summer months were the emptier ones because the Plymouth State students went home. 

A boutique with a woman standing at the counter.Casey Nicol with Parts & Labour boutique said she moved here over 20 years ago because she wanted to raise her kids in a small town. When she became a single parent, she couldn’t cover the cost of living with the job she had as a dental hygienist, which is when she started her store. She will have been in business twenty years next year! As we were chatting in her shop, she greeted several folks by name. She reiterated the themes we had heard from others, particularly about the benefits of the close knit community, and said that she didn’t know how her son, now 25, would be able to find an affordable place to live. 

Today we were just getting the lay of the land, but tomorrow we’ll have some innovative community efforts & models coming your way! 


  • One thing that stuck out to me in Portland was all the color! Even on their trash cans they had murals. It made an ordinary necessity a happy moment. 
  • Many stores also had water bowls out for pets, which felt very welcoming.
  • Most people use their very small yards as gardens of some kind or another. The cumulative biomass built up really matters, and is good for wellbeing. 
  • It’s super important to have well marked trails. Wandering around Mount Tabor Park for hours showed me that, ha!

What’s next?

  • Meeting with Matt Swihart from Double Mountain Brewery to talk about refillable, returnable bottling in a rural area + general conversations about circular economy.
  • We’ll be doing a section of the “Fruit Loop,” a self-guided tour of fruit stands, orchards, wineries, cideries, farm stands, and other pieces of the food systems puzzle. In our research it seems that some of the more remote towns around Hood River struggle more with food access, and we are curious how the network comes together for the good of all.
  • On Wednesday we’ll meet with Michelle Martin and Alicia Flory with The Ford Family Foundation (TFFF)! TFFF staff have attended Radically Rural before and both of them are signed up for this year. We are excited to get to know them on their own stomping grounds. Among many other things, we are looking forward to hearing about their “Oregon by the Numbers” project and how that is contributing to measuring and increasing community well-being. 

Written by RR Director, Julianna Dodson.

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