The Great Volcano Road Trip – forlorn Jesus & a chance of rain

Planning a road trip can be almost as much fun as hitting the road itself. The possibilities are endless, as you sit in front of a sprawling great map figuring out not only how to get from A to B but also discovering things to see along the way. When my friend Jo suggested a road trip earlier this year, I had maps pulled out ready to peruse before she even finished speaking.

It was early June when we first talked about visiting two of the great volcanoes in the area – Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens. I have had up close and personal encounters with volcanoes in Guatemala, climbing Pacaya and watching Fuego erupt by the light of a silvery moon, but have only gazed in awe from afar at the volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. On a clear day, Rainier looms majestically over Seattle, and you can’t live here for long without hearing someone talk about the catastrophic day Mount St Helens erupted on May 18th 1980.

We planned our trip for the end of June and checked out trails and camp sites in the area. Summer doesn’t usually hit the higher elevations until well into July which meant many of the trails were still closed due to snow, but we didn’t want to wait, so we checked the weather forecast every few days in the hopes that the sun would magically appear. It didn’t. In fact, thunderstorms were predicted and we started to consider changing our destination; heading over the mountains to Eastern Washington instead. One of the great advantages of living in the Seattle area is that if it is raining this side of the mountains (as it so often is), a short drive over a mountain pass will land you bang smack in the middle of high desert. So we came up with a plan B, just in case, which involved a Gingko petrified forest and Soap Lake. But as the time to leave drew closer and the forecast grew rainier, Jo admitted to me that she really wanted to go to the mountains. I agreed readily, because I had just remembered that Eastern Washington has poisonous snakes and I didn’t want to die impaled on the fangs of a venomous, legless reptile. If I’m going to get killed by an animal, it should at the very least possess legs. And eyelids. Actually, I’d much rather get hit by a bolt of lightning, and judging by the weather forecast around Rainier, that was going to be a distinct possibility.

We had originally intended to visit Rainier first and then go south to Mount St Helens, but as we watched the weather man on the local news station carefully place little cardboard cutouts of black clouds with lightning bolts shooting out of them all around Mount Rainier, we decided to go to Mount St Helens first. We also threw in a possible loop over to Eastern Washington in case of sudden downpours. This is the proposed route we came up with.

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Jo got the camping gear together while I drew up a rough plan of where we were going. The day before we left, we scurried through Trader Joe’s picking up food for the trip with all the excitement of school kids in a sweet shop. I went to bed late and had a restless night thinking about the trip ahead. No sooner did I drop off to sleep than the alarm clock rang and Jo and I were up and dressed and packing all our stuff into the car.

The southbound traffic on I-5 was slow at first; rain was falling and a thick layer of fog made for difficult driving but we didn’t care; we were officially on our road trip. About a hundred miles south of Seattle, in a little town called Toledo, we took exit 63 and made a quick detour to see the Gospodor monuments. The legacy of an eccentric millionaire by the name of Dominic Gospodor who passed away in 2010; they are a bizarre collection of statues atop hundred foot tall rusty pillars and odd orb-like cages. The statues themselves pay tribute to the strangest of bedfellows, from Mother Theresa to Native Americans, Holocaust victims to Jesus and an eagle thrown in for good measure. I had read that the site was being maintained and there was public access but when we got there, there was no evidence of any access, or maintenance, for that matter. Garbage was strewn all over and as we picked our way gingerly along a pathway that seemed like it might lead to the statues, discarded tires and an upturned sofa stopped us in our tracks. Jo whispered in my ear “I’m afraid if we go any further we’ll find a meth lab.” I had been thinking the exact same thing. I met her gaze and we giggled nervously, then beat a hasty retreat. Back in the safety of the car we shook off the gloom of this disturbing place and got back on the road as a forlorn Jesus watched cars zoom by.

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It wasn’t the most auspicious start to a road trip but as our little car hurtled through the drizzle and swirling fog towards the volcanoes, our hearts grew lighter with each mile we put behind us. Ahead lay adventure. We were sure of it.

(Continued here.)

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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30 Responses to The Great Volcano Road Trip – forlorn Jesus & a chance of rain

  1. pommepal says:

    Good to be on the road again Ailsa. I’m coming too (but in cyberspace 🙂 )…

  2. vastlycurious.com says:

    How much fun, I cant wait to read more!

  3. mvschulze says:

    Only partly because of your wonderfully engaging writing style, I’m hooked by your tale and eagerly awaiting the next post. Some years ago while on a break from a business trip to the Northwest, I drove around Mt. Rainier. Calling home (NJ) from the lodge, I hesitated to tell my family exactly where I was (i.e. having too much fun!) M

    • ailsapm says:

      Oh how wonderful, did you stay at the lodge in Paradise when you were at Rainier? Such an appropriate name, don’t you think? 🙂

      • mvschulze says:

        Yes to the name, no to the stay, as I only had a few hours in the day before meeting a friend in Port Angeles (WA) to do a whirlwind half day teaser visit to Olympic Park – then get back to work, and home.

  4. I love your hesitation and shared feeling that you might encounter a meth lab. Sometimes our guts give us such bizarre warnings, don’t they? My son and I shared a similar moment at a Goodwill store last month. We were walking toward the back of the store toward the books and two different people slowly swerved their carts away from us and ran into shelves. I can’t really describe how bizarre it was. But when my son and I got to the books, I said, “I feel like we’re surrounded by zombies.” And he said he was thinking the exact ssame thing. Kinda like your meth lab.

  5. sudapoedia47 says:

    Hi Ailsa, Never done a road trip of the kind you describe. Must be such fun. We do not have camp sites in India – unfortunately

  6. markd60 says:

    I’m hoping for more photos from this trip!

  7. chrisstov says:

    I also look forward to the continuation of the story.

  8. Expat Eye says:

    That is one seriously forlorn Jesus!

  9. wish I’d known you were headed my way, I’d of loved to have met you. 🙂

  10. Oops … As I was saying, I kind of like the statue. And I am so looking forward to the adventure! 😉

    • ailsapm says:

      Yaay, I love a good adventure, just got the next installment up today. Yes, the statue is kind of cool, shame about the surroundings though…

  11. I’ve always wondered about those statues by the side of the freeway…thanks to your info I will continue to admire them from the car. 🙂

  12. Steve Hanley says:

    “Planning a road trip can be almost as much fun as hitting the road itself. The possibilities are endless, as you sit in front of a sprawling great map figuring out not only how to get from A to B but also discovering things to see along the way.”

    Exactly.Today’s digital devices can tell you how to get from A to B, but not what other interesting places there might be along the way. Remember when we used to have a pile of road maps in the glove box and each one was a souvenir of some road trip or other?

    When my daughter was young, we spent an entire winter planning a road trip to Nova Scotia. We sent away for a map of the province and a tour book, then planned our route from Amherst to Baddeck, around Cape Breton, through Halifax and eventually over to Yarmouth, where we met the ferry that took us home.

    I might stop by AAA in the morning just to pick up an Eastern States road map. You never know when I might get a hankering to go somewhere south of New York City and east of the Mississippi! Wonder if AAA still HAS road maps?

    • ailsapm says:

      Actually, Steve, my pal Sylvia and I popped into the AAA just last month when we were about to embark on a massive cross-country trip and they were amazing. They drew up a TripTix of the entire route, gave us roadmaps for every single state we were passing through and even gave us tour books for each state. I was in map lover’s heaven!

      And you’re so right, I love your story of planning a trip to Nova Scotia with your daughter. The whole process of poring over maps and planning a trip is utterly romantic and adds to the excitement – that is something you can never say about GPS!

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