NEARLY EVERY WEEKEND for the past few summers, I've used Paul Gerald's 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland. Out of all the local hiking books I've tried, Gerald's boasts the best trails, the clearest directions, and cheerful encouragement that each of the 60 hikes are worth your time and sweat. Now in its fifth edition, Gerald's guide caters to every skill level and includes hikes in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington, including a couple right next to Portland. Gerald's also the guy behind Breakfast in Bridgetown: The Definitive Guide to Portland's Favorite Meal, so when I sat down to chat with him about hiking, I also asked if I could murder him and take his job. He said no.
On moving to Portland in 1996:
"I moved out here because of the hiking—and also because of the coffee, and the beer, and the cool summers, 'cause I'm from Tennessee. But really, I was like, 'Here's a cool city that's two hours away from wilderness trailheads—let's go there.'"
Why he hikes:
"I like the simplicity of it all. Everything I need is on my back, and I can go wherever I want, and there's no TV, there's no phone. The woods are nice, the mountains are nice. I grew up in a very hot, flat, boring Southern city. Mountains were always this kind of magical place that I could go off to. But what I was doing was living in Memphis—[I'd] save up all my money, drive out to the Rockies, hike 'til I'm broke, go back to Memphis, work some more. And then I was like, 'What if I lived near the mountains?' I moved here because I figured out you can drive an hour or two, hike an hour or two, and you're camped next to a lake in the wilderness at 5,000 feet. And the variety, too! Oceans, mountains, desert, lakes, rivers. We've got waterfalls here that don't even have names that in Tennessee would have three hotels built nearby. We take this stuff for granted, I think, sometimes."
How to start hiking:
"Start with something easy and short, with lots of people around. Take lots of water. This sounds goofy, but take food you like to eat. Some people are like, 'Hiking food! I must take a bag of nuts and raisins!' Like, how often do you eat nuts and raisins? Go get your favorite sandwich and take it with you! Go with other people, tell somebody where you're going, and just start out easy."
Good first hikes:
"Triple Falls [in the Columbia River Gorge] is less than five miles, and you're gonna see four or five waterfalls, and go behind one of them, and not really do much work. And not many people go! Siouxon Creek is up by Battle Ground, Washington... it's a super-easy hike with gigantic trees and waterfalls and a beautiful creek. Everybody that goes is like, 'I didn't know that was there.' Opal Creek [in the Willamette National Forest] is a two-hour drive to the biggest piece of low-elevation old-growth forest that exists in America. Everybody should go."
On if he has any secret hikes he doesn't put in the book:
"No. 'Cause first, I don't really mind crowds. And also, you know, it sounds kind of corny, but what I really enjoy doing is, I go on a hike, and I'll like it, and I'll have a particular experience, and I actually want to help other people have the same kind of experience. At the very least, my responsibility is to find the best places and don't get people lost."
What not to do with his book:
"If I get something wrong in a book that nobody buys, who cares? I get something wrong on the blog, I can fix it. I get something wrong in [60 Hikes], and there's 8,000 people walking around with it? I have this ongoing thing whenever I read in the paper somebody's lost or injured: Literally, I think, 'Please don't have my book. Don't be crumpled at the bottom of a cliff clutching my book.'"