Since climbing the most active in Indonesia’s “Ring of Fire” many years ago I’ve been fascinated with volcanoes. And since leaving Northern California over a week ago I’ve been hot on the trail of the Cascade Mountain range. Stretching from British Columbia (meager Mountain) to Northern California (Lassen Peak), The Cascades roughly parallel the Pacific coastline. Dominating the landscape of the Pacific Northwest great volcanoes such as Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake, Mt. St. Helens, Mount Hood and Mt. Ranier, The Cascades might be what is the Pacific Northwest’s “Ring of Fire”, with these tempting and explosive sultresses of power. But more than that, this region is also famous for its frequent earthquakes.
I Feel The Sky Come Tumbling Down
While Crater Lake blew its head off 7,000 years ago and the most recent explosion from Newberry dumped obsidian 1,300 years ago, the Cascades and the West Coast has changed and been defined by volcanic and seismic activity. But when we read of great geologic events in the history books, it’s hard to get a grasp of how such things affect us today other than provide us with dramatic backdrops and fields of scientific exploration. Yet just 25 years ago Mount Saint Helens garnered national attention to the Cascade Mountains and provided us with a closer view at the still continually changing landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
After taking in my last day in Portland, I mounted my bike and headed for a campsite somewhere on the Southeastern side of Mount Saint Helens and waved my friends good bye and good luck with their continually changing lives. Fueling in Vancouver, Washington I estimated an 8:30pm arrival at my campsite. And with each mile north the days get longer and so does my riding. At 9:30pm the sky is like dusk in Southern California — usually around 7:30 – 8:00 in the summer.
But winding through dense forests day quickly turns to night and sun breaking through the trees causes playful and deceiving shadows to scatter the roadway. Not that concentration is ever lacking when riding two wheels, whenever the road changes, looks different or seems to change suddenly attention levels rise, and your guard raises.
I rounded one corner and crossed a bridge when I saw it. With a rose colored misty cloud emerging from its summit I met Mount St. Helens. Big and bold and looming high above the road I had to pull over and stare.
As I pushed on, I had great rhythm winding my BMW through and endless series of S-curves when the shadows got to me and a truck toting a ski boat decided to borrow part of my lane. Minutes later an elk darts in front of me. My face shield littered with bugs didn’t help visibility. I glanced at the clock and at 9:30pm I thought by now I’d be settled in at the campground. Did I miss it? Using both a forestry map and my GPS I figured I’d passed the two campgrounds I was planning on making home for the night. I decided to keep pushing on and stay at the last campground on this road for hundreds of miles.
Visibility was touch and go. I have a rule to never ride at night. Too many risks. But by now I was breaking my own rules. When I got to the campground it was full. Unfamiliar with the area, I hesitated about taking a dirt road toward the mountain and finding an ad-hoc campsite, but was prepared to if I felt I was in danger.
I decided to turn around. The last town I passed was closer than the any towns going forward. My lights caught the eyes of another elk and by the speed he dashed off I figured we were of like minds — neither of us wanted to be a statistic.
I finally found the campground. Managed by the power company that operated the damn at Cougar Lake, security had closed the gate at 9pm. When I blew by in my S-curve rhythm it appeared as another closed access road to the damn or daytime recreation area. It was past 10pm. I blew off setting up the tent, cooked dinner on my MSR multi-fuel stove and crawled into the sleeping bag and counted the stars until I dreamed of elk and volcanoes…