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.
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.
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.