As I was blogging and posting in the forums this morning, I got a phone call. It wasn't a bill collector this time. It was a geocacher I hadn't seen in the forums in quite some time. One of the forum regulars had contacted a cacher local to the area (nicknamed Hoppingcrow) to make sure my planned route to Mount Saint Helens wasn't already closed for the season and he gave her my number (thanks, Jim). She was located just about an hour south of me so we decided to get together for a few minutes at a truck stop just off the highway, where highway 12 meets I-5. It turns out that 12 runs into 5 from one side, shares the road for about 20 miles, then continues on its merry way on the opposite side. Turns out Ms Crow was at one exit and I was at the other, even though we were both at the intersection of 12 and 5. Worst part was that we were talking on the phone telling each other that we were "right here!" at the Shell station and the 76 station is across the street. Both exits had both brands of gas station. The Shell station was closed where she was, though, so she thought I was nuts when I told her I was sitting inside the McDonalds at the Shell. We finally figured out the problem and I drove south to meet up with her. We spent a few minutes in the parking lot socializing and taking pictures, then went our separate ways. Hoppingcrow is definitely another of those people I've met who are even nicer in person than they seem to be in the forums. Seems to be a running theme.
After pulling away from the truck stop, I headed for Mount Saint Helens. It was around noon by that point, so I pulled into a little mom-and-pop diner for lunch. After I ordered I realized that all the tables were occupied. Moments later, however, three ladies offered me their fourth seat. For the rest of my lunch we chatted about the ride, where I'd come from, where I was headed, the best place from which to see the mountain, and other things. I said that I was interested in going to Death Valley to see the moving rocks there (http://geology.com/articles/racetrack-playa-sliding-rocks.shtml) and one of the ladies said she had been there a few times. We had to describe them to the other two ladies. Overall, it was an almost surreal lunch with the leather-clad biker dude chatting with the little ladies from the local bank.
The drive was almost 40 miles from the freeway on a smooth, newly-paved gently twisting road. As I got closer to the mountain, the surrounding environment changed in a predictable way that was still weird to see. Outside of the blast area was mostly old growth or second growth fir trees of different sizes and ages. As I got within the blast radius, the forest was still there, but it didn't seem real. All the trees were the exact same size and there were stumps interspersed densely through them. Apparently all these trees were exactly 28 years old, having been started soon after the eruption. Within about ten miles of the blown out side of the mountain, the land was still barren, 28 years after the blast. There are still acres of downed trees that look for all the world like a giant Pick-Up-Stix game gone horribly wrong. Grass only grows in sparse patches if at all.
When I finally arrived at the visitor's center at Johnston Ridge Observatory (http://www.mountsthelens.com/), I was able to see how massive this mountain really is. All the best photography in the world can't give you the true scale of this thing the way leaning over the guardrail and realizing that you are still several miles from this thing and that even the crater is a mile wide. What looks like a riverbed flowing down from the mountain is actually a canyon with walls fourty our more feet high on each side. The mountain just dwarfs everything around it on such a massive scale. Then when you concentrate for a minute and realize how much rock was there before the thing exploded, it's a lot easier to understand all the devastation around you. One scientist estimated that the 1980 eruption blew enough ash in the air for every person on earth to have 15 buckets. Yikes. Inside the visitor's center they have a tree stump on display. This thing is probably six feet in diameter and solid. According to the display, the tree was several miles from the mountain when the eruption occured. The entire tree just broke off. If you've ever tried to break a stick that was as big around as your wrist, you might have a tiny idea how much raw power it took to snap a tree off. Amazing.
After leaving the observatory, the ride back to the freeway was very nice because the sun was out and the temperatures were in the 60s by that point. I rode a couple of hundred more miles, all the way to Eugene, Oregon, and then turned west to get to 101 in Florence. It was dark by that time, and I had already ridden 390 miles by that point (for a total of 3648 on the trip) and was beat again. It had been another great day and I was ready for sleep. If I do this right tomorrow, I will be well into northern or maybe central California by tomorrow night. More scenery with the beaches and the redwood forests, but I didn't know if it would be able to rival the mountain from today for sheer overwhelming grandeur and size.