bend oktoberfest

A Late September Adventure (Day 1: Bend, OR)

At 4:15 a.m. my alarm went off and my eyes blinked slowly open. Waking up seemed impossible, unbearable, illogical, but somehow I dragged myself into the bathroom, turned on the surface of the sun grade light, and brushed my teeth.

It was 6:00 when I got to the airport, and everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing as me: why the hell are we here this early? followed closely by: because the adventure ahead will be worth it.

I boarded my first flight, and almost immediately after my butt hit the seat, my eyes closed. The flight attendant walked by and tapped me on the shoulder, informing me that while I was more than welcome to sleep, I was also sitting next to the emergency exit. Me and the other three people sitting in the row were required to audibly agree to our responsibilities in case of emergency, but judging how fast the lot of us fell mouths open asleep after take off, I’d say the plane was pretty lucky they didn’t need us.

On my second flight, I was sat next to a man who immediately pulled out a laptop and began furiously typing. I pulled out my copy of The Glass Castle and read the last few chapters, all the while feeling my stomach begin to churn and my fingers begin to fidget.

The first day of any vacation is the hardest for me. Expectations run rampant through my mind, promising to be let down. I knew my best friend was waiting patiently for me on the other side of this flight and I worried that the stories I’d been waiting to tell her wouldn’t be interesting or exciting enough. What if the distance between us had made us grow apart? What if this trip wasn’t everything we’d been hoping it would be?

The captain came on the intercom and announced our initial descent into Redmond, Oregon, and for a split second I wished I could stay on the plane forever, free from all the responsibilities to satisfy, impress and succeed that awaited me on the ground. But before I knew it, the wheels hit the pavement and the plane rolled to a stop. I walked through the terminal to the baggage claim, knowing there was no turning back now.

When I stepped outside, I saw my best friend, Allison, waiting by her car, her dog Jersey’s head poking out of the back seat. A wave of relief washed over me as we made a series of nerdy jumps and squeals to close the distance between us and initiate the hug we’d been waiting 6 months for.

“How are you?!” she said, and her voice in my ear was a startling reminder that she was no longer a text message or an email or a late night notification on Instagram, she was a living breathing person that I call my best friend, and we had finally been reunited.

“So we have an interesting afternoon ahead of us,” she said once I got in the car.

“Tell me more.”

Being a producer for a news station in Bend, Oregon, and the girlfriend of an anchor for a rivaling news station, Allison had been challenged to race her boyfriend—and fight for her channel’s honor—in a heated, balls out, tricycle race.

We stopped by her house for a quick change of clothes, she squatted and mimed tricycle riding motions to ensure she’d chosen a good pair of pants, and then we drove into town, where the Bend Oktoberfest—sure, it was September and we were a bit confused, but we won’t talk about it—was in full swing.

Beer steins were in every hand, pretzels crumbs were on every face and there was one very bold man sporting lederhosen. We took a seat on the bleachers that sandwiched the 200ft tricycle course and, alongside Allison’s boyfriend Mike, stared at the incredibly small tricycles, wondering how on earth either of them would not only fit aboard, but operate them in a way that would lead to success.

The first heat of racers left the starting line, giving life to every fear we had. Grown men leaned and wobbled and one woman let out a terrified squeal. Allison and Mike shared a glance, then took their places in line, fitted themselves with a helmet, and shrugged at me with a “here goes nothing.”

In the end, neither of them came out on top. While Allison finished in a close 2nd place, Mike’s long legs proved to be his greatest enemy and a resounding reminder that he was in fact an adult trying to operate a children’s bike. We all shrugged a collective shrug, then agreed that pizza was the obvious next step.

Mod Pizza, which is a build it yourself Pie-ology/PizzaRev equivalent, proved to be the ultimate right choice for our lunching festivities. I ordered a chicken, corn, tomato, red onion and feta masterpiece, then allowed myself to be tempted by the “no name cakes” that sit next to the cash register.

Tip: Always get the No Name Cake. It’s like a freshly made Ding Dong that your taste buds need.

Back at Allison’s house, we took a seat on the couch and let the conversation start flowing. We covered the topics that sat just below the surface, shared a few current music obsessions, and looked out the window at the impending fall weather.

At 5:30, we drove over to see Mike’s 6 o’clock show, where he Ron Burgundy-ed Bend’s latest news. Allison and I sat off camera, a mere 50 feet from him, in fold up chairs. She watched with trained eyes, all too familiar with the format and production of a newscast, and I sat with my hands in tight fists, worried I might accidentally scream or sneeze or pass out and ruin the show.

Afterwards, the three of us drove out to The Bite in Tumalo, which is essentially a corner street park converted into a homey picnic area with food carts, a fire pit, corn hole, and a bar with a ton of beers on tap. We all ate at Ronin Sushi & Japanese Grill, which, bottom line was delicious, but listen to me and listen to me now. Do yourself a favor and order the Bento Box with the Japanese fried chicken. Listen to me when I tell you that anything else is a mistake. Listen to me when I tell you that while I’d previously never heard of Japanese fried chicken, it’s also safe to say I was previously living a dark and dingy life. Also, from the bar, I’d recommend the Atlas Blackberry Cider, it tastes like the mature, has-their-shit-together-cousin of red wine.

Once we were thoroughly full, though not even close to finished harping on the magic that is JFC—Japanese fried chicken, a.k.a the new, improved and as far as I’m concerned ONLY colonel of protein I’d like to associate with—Mike headed back to work to prepare for the late show and Allison and I went to McMenamins.

Now, if I had a way to explain McMenamins briefly, I would, but I feel as though that would be both dishonest to you and a disservice to McMenamins. On their Facebook page, they tag themselves as related to pubs, breweries, historic hotels, concert venues, wineries, distilleries, coffee roasters, movie theaters, golf, and spas, and honestly that should tell you everything you need to know about this place, which is that you’ll probably never know everything there is to know about this place.

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Allison took me through an outdoor cigar lounge and into a building with dark carpet and wood paneled walls.

“We’re going to find the secret bar,” she said, “but first you have to find all the other secret rooms.”

I looked up and down the hallways, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, then I looked back at her.

“The only clue I’m going to give you is blue light,” she said.

And while I’d love to be the spiller of all secrets, Internet, this is the only clue I will leave you with as well. Just know that it is actually a great clue and that there are hidden doors among the wood paneled walls that lead you into rooms like this:

As well as a hidden bar that will give you some major speakeasy feels upon discovery.

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I’d like to say I Sherlocked my way through every puzzle and celebrated with a beer at the top, but unfortunately a handful of people in front of us ended up giving away a bunch of the secrets. So after checking in at the secret bar, we made our way back down to the car and over to Bonta Gelato. Allison and I both got waffle cones full of goodness—I recommend the Vanilla Bourbon Pecan!—and cheers-ed to the first day of our adventure.