(July 12, 2019 – written by Dave)
One of the ways I got Nancy to commit to the Alaska to Argentina bicycle ride was to agree to spend part of this northern hemisphere summer in our US home state of Oregon. Nancy loves her berries and Oregon berries are some of the best out there. It should also be noted that Nancy really did want to ride her bicycle from Alaska to Argentina. It’s just that she knew that I wanted to ride even more so she used this knowledge to negotiate a Pacific Northwest berry season. Don’t get me wrong, eating fresh picked Oregon berries is not a difficult chore – paying Nancy back on this small request is nothing close to hard labour.
The west coast of the US is famous for berries. California has great strawberries. Oregon strawberries are pretty good as well. Oregon and Washington have prolific blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. The Cascade Mountains that run through Oregon and Washington are home to native elderberries and huckleberries. And of course, there are Washington’s famous cherries, which are also darn tasty. In other words, summer in the Pacific Northwest is a berry lover’s paradise.
We lived most of the past 20 years in Australia. They have berries in Australia but you have to remember that the continent of Australia sits close to the equator and you see a lot more tropical fruits than you see berries. Think mangos and papayas. The rarity of berries down under means that they are very expensive. I scraped the image below from a well known Australian grocery chain’s website. This is their current offering on blueberries.
The price is in AUD, $28.00 per Kilogram so it’s probably a little hard to wrap your head around.
Allow me to translate.
$28.00 AUD per Kilogram is equal to about $9.00 USD per pound. For comparison, we saw fresh picked Oregon blueberries for $2.00 per pound in the store yesterday. In other words, blueberries cost 4.5X more in Australia than they do in Oregon. Needless to say, fresh berries at a great price make them taste even sweeter.
Aside from the amazing berry prices in Oregon, the other thing you notice when riding around here is that the berry fields are everywhere. In Australia, we are not sure where they grow berries. Clearly it’s not up north. Perhaps the fields are hidden in deep mountain valleys way south on the Island of Tasmania. To be honest, we’ve never seen an Australian berry field so it really is a mystery.
In Oregon, ready access to berry fields leads to the proliferation of U-pick opportunities. The U-pick prices are about the same as the good sale prices in the big grocery stores – so in some sense, if you pick your own, you are just doing the berry pickers job for them. But there’s just something about grabbing a bucket, heading out into the rows of berries and picking your own tasty morsels. You get a little dirt under your nails, a few flies buzzing your head and lots of refreshing tasty bites to sample while filling your bucket.
The blueberry season is only about 3 or 4 weeks long here and is really weather-dependent so anytime we are in the US during season, we try to hit at least one U-pick field. We headed out to a U-pick field the other day and had a blast. Somehow we ended up with 22.5 pounds of berries – yes we really picked that many. Blueberries freeze well – lucky us. For the record, I picked 0.5 pounds more than Nancy. Winning the picking contest does not make up for my disappointment of losing last year’s annual bike mileage contest but I’ll take any victory that I can get.
As you only pay for the berries after they weigh your bucket, you are technically stealing if you eat berries right off the plant. Because tasting is so tempting, most berry vendors just give up and, actively encourage tasting in the field. It’s a good thing as sampling in the field tends to turn your tongue blue or purple – making for potentially embarrassing moments at the weigh in if tasting were prohibited and you were forced to speak at all, thereby revealing said blue tongue.
Nancy loves to bake with fresh berries. So far since we’ve been in Oregon, we’ve had blueberry pancakes, blueberry scones, blackberry scones, blueberry/blackberry/strawberry cobbler and of course rhubarb strawberry pie (made by Nancy’s mum). Here again, my penitence for “making” Nancy ride to Patagonia is hard yakka – that is sampling all of here delicious bakes goods. Life could be worse.
Being summer in Oregon means that we are also able to get out and enjoy a few bike rides. We got the Co-motion bikes that we rode to Patagonia completely overhauled and are still enjoying riding them. The Co-motion guys came through with great warranty service to repair our broken water bottle bosses and Michael, our ace bike mechanic friend from The Bike Gallery, got everything else finely tuned – new brake rotors/pads, new chains, new rear cogs, new chains, new cables and new paint (after the frame repair). Naturally, we have also been riding our super lightweight road bikes – boy are they fast and fun after having ridden 100+ pound Co-motions with gear for almost two years.
We are here in Oregon for a few more months. We have to stay long enough to eat through our frozen berry supply. We are trying to get on as volunteers for Cycle Oregon in September. We have to be back in Australia in November as we’ve signed up to be riding guides for the Great Victoria Bicycle Ride late in the month. When we are not eating, picking, baking and/or dreaming of Oregon berries, we are working on the plan for our next big adventure. We are hoping to ride Japan top to bottom in 2020. We have some mapping to do, plus we need Nancy to do more brushing up on her Japanese! Senior editor’s note – You think learning one language is hard, try two at the same time (we are still trying to progress our Spanish), one of which requires you to learn three separate very unique ‘alphabets’. Needless to say, I am experiencing that early stage, ‘What the he** was I thinking?’ feeling at moment. Thank goodness there are many months left to study before we plan to head off next year!