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Monday, June 03, 2002

Mount Saint Helens

(as seen from a mountain bike)

After investing in a bike carrier for my car I now have the ability to carry three bikes whenever I leave town for a ride. This should increase my chances of making new friends but will certainly mean that I’ll always be doing the driving. If you have read this page before you should know my simple motto: biking good, driving bad.

I just drove back from the Mount Saint Helens area. This volcano, named after a man (Baron St. Helens), has recovered nicely since it was blown all to hell back in May of 1980. The new growth forest has come back as strong as ever in the soil enriched with volcanic ash. I got my first peek at the peak from I-5 coming down south. We lucked out and got a fairly cloud-free day yesterday.

It is still an impressive mountain even though it lost 1,300’ from its pre-blast height of 9,677.’ This peak, pointed out in the journals of Lewis and Clark, was once called the Fujiyama of the Cascades for its near prefect, cone-shaped beauty. My Cascade Alpine Guide is a 1973 edition and has a picture of the old summit. I wish that I had seen it back then.

Once again, as is true of much of Washington state mountain areas, this area is a huge wilderness with few paved roads and fewer services. Driving on the southern end of the area we followed the highway in an attempt to circle up the eastern side. An ambiguous sign said “road closed” but I didn’t believe it until I made had to make a 50 mile U-turn. Once again snow had stopped me from forward advancement. The pass is marked 'closed in Winter.' Did I mention that today is June 2nd?

I was going to make a trail loop on my bike yesterday and was also stopped by snow. This was only at 2,200’or so and I was surprised by how much snow was still on the ground at this elevation. We road on the summit pass road, carrying our bikes over the drifts for a few miles, before we decided we wanted some off-road stuff and less snow.

After coming down 1,000’ feet or so we started up a fire road. These fire roads are all over the mountains and are fairly well maintained. We pedaled straight up for about a mile when we came to a big wash-out in which twenty feet of the road had been swept down the mountain. We were able to cross over to the other side on a makeshift log bridge and continued up.

With every switch-back the view of the lake and valley below became more and more dramatic. The downside was that the road, now off-limits to motorized vehicles (or any sort of traffic as far as we could tell) became more and more inhospitable. We had to carry our bikes over and under trees that had fallen across the path. It was pretty obvious from the trees growing in the road that this area had been out of service for at least a year, perhaps two.

We did our best to clear as much debris from the trail as we could on the way up so that our dismounts on the return trip would be minimal. When the trail started going back down the mountain we decided to turn around and head back down the way we came up.

What makes mountain biking a hell of a lot more fun than hiking is that all of the work and anguish you go through on the way up is rewarded on the way down. I like that about gravity. Sure, hiking is easier going down but it isn't exactly fun either. Going down was pretty much a blur and I was back at the car before I could stop laughing from the sheer fun of it. The stability I felt flying down this hill, jumping logs and sliding through heavy gravel, further convinced me of the merits of my new full suspension bike.

We stayed overnight in Cougar, Washington, population not-very-fucking-many. The town has a general store, a visitor center, one motel, and one restaurant, and everything closes at 10 pm on Saturday. A couple beers (Rainier in a can for that whole 'When in Rome' thing), some really bad TV (America's Most Wanted), and lights out.

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