Mt. St. Helens

Even as a kid, I was a science nerd. I remember when Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. Volcanos were interesting, but one erupting in the same country I lived in was especially exciting, even if I lived on the opposite side of it at the time. Now that I’m in the neighborhood, I wanted to see this recently active volcano for myself. I already have a plan to visit the north side, which is the side that blew up and slid down the side of the mountain. But Google told me I could go see the south side on a rather easy route from Vancouver, so I decided to take it. Of course, I took the motorcycle, because why not?

From Vancouver, I made my way to Highway 503. This took me to the town of Cougar, right in the mountain’s backyard. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the people who live here to have a volcano erupt so nearby, and soon realized I can’t imagine it.

As I rode alongside Yale Lake, I thought about how familiar the area looked. I’d never been here before, but it looked just like the photos I’d seen of the area during and after the eruption. This area, on the south side, wasn’t affected very much, at least compared to the total destruction on the north side. Probably far more than 57 people would’ve been killed if it had blown in this direction, toward populated areas instead of into the National Forest.

I came around a corner, and there it was. I had to pull over and look at it for a while. The trees here were cut down, not blown down by the eruption, which blew out the other side of the mountain. This is still the most active volcano in the continental United States, and the most dangerous. But today, all was calm and serene. Unfortunately, my pictures didn’t turn out very well. The snow-covered mountain blended into the cloudy white sky. This is the best one I got.

I’d planned to ride to the Lahar Viewpoint, which provides a great view of the south side of the mountain. Unfortunately, the road was closed, and snow lay just beyond. Never mind that it was late May, at an elevation of only 2,500 feet. So I turned around and decided to go explore some other places nearby. I’d seen an extra loop on the map of both paved and gravel roads that I could take that would drop me back into Cougar. I was itching to see how well my new front tire held onto a gravel road.

This, too, was thwarted by snow-covered roads. I finally took a hint, turned around, and went back the way I came. This wasn’t at all a bad thing. The ride out and back was a great deal of fun, with hilly, twisty roads through the forest. It was certainly not a waste of time, based on that, alone.

I’m not done with Mt. St. Helens yet. There’s another visitor’s center not far off I-5 in Castle Rock, about 55 miles from Vancouver. I have no desire to ride my motorcycle two hours up and down the interstate to get there. It’s not happy at those sustained speeds. When I leave Darryl and Marilyn’s, I plan to drive to the area, unload the bike, and ride out to the end of 504, where there’s an excellent view of the north side. The trailer makes it much faster and easier to load and unload the bike, so using it as a shuttlecraft like this has become much easier, encouraging me to ride more.

However, I will check with the visitor’s center before going, just to make sure the road is actually open all the way there — and not covered in snow.

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