Sauvie’s Island

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Apparently, when the mercury rises in the city of Portland, there is a massive exodus. The seemingly entire Rip City population packs up their inflatables and heads out to Sauvie Island.

If you’re not a local, you’ll pronounce it “Saw-vee” Island, but those who live here call it “Sew-vee” Island. And only one person I know makes it possessive and calls it “Sauvie’s Island” as if Mr. Sauvie was the missing triad to the Lewis and Clark expedition and, travel weary and fed up, decided not to reach the Pacific Ocean, threw in the towel and claimed the island as his and “far enough.”

Truth be told, the island was named after a French-Canadian from the Hudson Bay Company, Laurent Sauvé, a dairy farmer who ran farms on the island in the 1830’s, so it was, in fact, Sauvés Island.

To get to the island, you drive. And drive. You watch the city-ness fade into industry. You ride along industry, parallel to train tracks, for quite some time. The road and the tracks and the industry stretches on for so long that you wonder, “what on Earth gets made, manufactured or shipped here?”

Half-way to the turn-off there’s a Bikini Barista and I highly recommend stopping in for a Bob Marley Iced Mocha and the opportunity to stumble upon Superhero Theme Day.

When you get to the turn-off, you’ve only just begun. You feel like you got picked up and dropped into Technicolor Oz.  Farmhouses, and flower fields and green, green rows of corn.  Rope swings and rusty cars and giant trees and cows. The road winds and winds and you feel like you’re travelling back through time. The road winds ever on into this Little House on the Prairie backdrop, but there is no way Dorothy or Laura Ingalls Wilder is prepared for what’s up ahead.   You slam on your brakes suddenly because the car in front of you slams on their brakes, barely noticing in your nostalgic reverie, that ahead of you has been a steady stream of cars winding through this wonderland for the past 25 minutes.

That’s when you know: you’ve made it to the beach.

The line is long today, because the temperature is creeping up towards 100 degrees, and as you inch along in traffic, knowing full well that this road leads to a dead end, where somewhere along the way, you may or may not find a parking spot. After the 45-minute drive to get there, defeat was unacceptable.  There’s no turning back.

Me and a Porsche saw the reverse lights simultaneously and threw on our turn signals, each aggressively nosing our way into the spot. We fought through our dusty windows for a few minutes, before I suggested: “Rock, paper, scissors?”

Rock beat scissors, (or Porsche beat Civic) and I was back on the search, grinning from the brief interlude. #onlyinportland.

You juggle your beach bag, and your cooler and your inner-tube, and nudge the sunglasses up your sweaty nose. To get to the beach, you have to walk through the Frisky Forest, where the only thing certain to be frisky are the mosquitos. Your hands are full, and you cannot slap them away, so you resolve yourself to the bites as necessary and worth-while battle wounds.

It’s as if this whole journey is a series of passages, taking you deeper and deeper into the proverbial Heart of Darkness and asking “how bad do you really want this?”

When the forest opens up to the beach, there, lining the sandy shores of the Columbia River is the entire population of Portland; frolicking, swimming, strolling, floating and….completely, totally: Butt. Nekkid.

I suppose it should be no surprise. This is the city with more strip clubs per capita than anywhere else in the country, and in a place where you can get married in a doughnut shop, participate in the Naked Bike Ride, a yearly event with thousands of birthday-suit wearing participants peddling their nether regions all throughout the city; the notion of Keeping Portland Weird (or naked) does not exclude Sauvie Island.

There are legends here. Urban, suburban or otherwise. For example, everyone knows of the Mayan man with the extremely big, um….walking stick. I saw him once with my own eyes, like a nudie-beach Sasquatch sighting, and it’s true, his staff is quite substantial.

There are so many varying degrees of nude: the tank top with the penis just peeping out of the hemline, the naked except for a tu-tu, and then my favorite…naked while wearing Teva’s. What’s up with Teva’s, Portland, seriously???

But the amazing thing about Sauvie Island is that being naked is the ultimate equalizer. Nobody really looks all that hot when they’re naked. They just look….human.

There, for all to see, is your cellulite, and your nipple hairs, and your tiny penis, and doughy-ness; and when you get a sandy strip of beach lined with a throng of naked humans, you start to realize that all of your notions of hot or cool are just illusions. There are no push-up bras or Spanx.  When you strip it down and peel back all of the layers, all of the outfits that define your personality and style; hide, cover or accentuate the good and the bad, there lies you.

To get to Sauvie Island, you shed your layers. One by one. You shed the city, and the industry, and the wonderland, and a little blood, and then your clothes and all that is left is just you. Flawed, beautiful….human. You.

 

 

 

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