Seattle & back, ACT IV: The birthday

A celebratory ride to Mount St. Helens
Published July 14, 2009
ACT I: California-1 ACT II: Oregon coast ACT III: Washington's wet ACT IV: The birthday ACT V: 101 home

My weekend in Washington coincided with the birthday of an area friend and he wanted to mark the occasion with a celebratory moto ride to Mount St. Helens. We agreed the night I got into town that we’d make the pilgrimage only if the weather forecast permitted, and I’ll admit that I secretly prayed for rain. Already a thousand miles into my interstate journey, a day off the bike struck me as a very good idea. But I didn’t get my way. Overcast and early in the morning, the call came in that the ride was on. On auto-pilot, my body pulled itself out of bed, geared up, and saddled the bike to meet at the rendezvous point across town.

June 20, 2009

Though weather reports claimed rain was unlikely, the varied shades of gray hiding the true sky hinted otherwise. Nevertheless, we soldiered on. How do we get there? Oh right, two hours of I-5.

A lifetime later, we exited the freeway, refueled, and turned east up the Spirit Lake Highway which some book allegedly rates as the second best road in all of Washington. Our hodgepodge bike trio–an R6, Buell Lightning and my Ninja 250–snaked through the tame corners, at first held slow by a bit of drizzle that glazed the road. Pushing further east, we found dryer asphalt. And much colder air.

The scenery expands approaching Spirit Lake, stretching in wide-angle like a Top Gear camera trick. The narrow focus of the early bits breaks out to an open valley pushed down like a great nest lined with the state’s most vibrantly green trees and gated by rocky castle spires. I surveyed the spires and wondered which point might be Mount St. Helens. And then I looked over my right shoulder and wondered no more.

The great Mount St. Helens is unmistakable, those rocky spires so much less than peers. Where subordinate peaks overlook the valley from measurable heights, only the impressive base of St. Helens showed. The mountain’s pinnacle thrust into the lofty cloud cover, veiled from our humble view some 4,000 feet above the sea. By comparison, the peak of California’s Mount Hamilton stretches only as high as our lowly viewing point, St. Helens towering another half-mile-plus skyward. I didn’t expect to be awed like this. I’d’ve been stunned in place, were my attention not divided between the sights and navigating the epic sweeping corners approaching Spirit Lake.

The highway dead-ends at the top of the Johnston Ridge, just north of St. Helens with a bang-on view of the volcano’s lava dome. On the late June day we visited, snow still accented the creases of the mountain like the veins of a straining hand. After posing for pictures and munching our quickie-stop bagged lunches, we boarded our bikes to return to civilization.

The descent delivered more drama than the ride up. Nearly 1,500 bicyclists littered the hilly highway on their annual Tour de Blast, which would’ve been no problem except that the cars attempting to pass the self-punished gluttons acted as if their cages had chainsaws sticking out the sides. The drivers didn’t grasp that a bike lane provides the cyclists with all the space they need, and that pulling twenty feet into oncoming traffic lanes was an unnecessary precaution. Waiting for the spatially-challenged to circumvent the endless line of bicycles added frustration to the downward spiral. And the clouds added rain.

A few fairly serious showers further spoiled the fun. Worse yet was the biting cold, which had long ago breached four layers of leather and textile defense. A gas station at the foot of the Spirit Lake Highway provided temporary shelter, hot coffee, and 87 octane–just as it had the previous day on my rain-soaked invasion of the state–before we rejoined I-5 for another two hours of, yawn… Where was I?

June 21, 2009

Friends, video games, cake batter, sleep, video games, Rambo II, country club dinner in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, sleep. In that order.