Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring Break

Best payoff ever.  Summit of Mount Saint Helens to Marble Mountain Snow Park; over 5,600 feet on skis.  Marble Mountain to Cougar, Washington; 2,200 feet of pavement through the woods without a stroke of the pedals or a single car.  Living the Dream.  Photos by Cliff Leight.

A tough question.  

What was your highlight of the week Matt?  Jenny asks as we sail eastward home across a blustering Puget Sound under the ever darkening skies of a spring storm.  We play the "Highlight" game often and it is usually easy for me to pick out best part of any given day.  

I sit back and grin with content as I rewind the events of my spring break through my weary head.   You know you have it good when it's hard to pick the best among the many great things that happened over last seven days.

A childhood memory. 

I am almost three years old standing near the couch and staring out through the glass of my living room window.

When the hell is my Dad coming home?, the resounding thought in my juvenile brain.

Mom tells me something about a mountain that blew up and Dad having to go clean-up the mess.  Still I stand, staring and waiting, not really understanding what a mountain is why one would blow-up in the first place.

When the hell is Dad coming home?

On May 18th, 1980 Mount Saint Helens, the nearly perfectly symmetrical "Fugiama" of North America awoke from a brief geologic slumber and blew its top spewing over a 540 million tons of debris sixteen miles into the atmosphere of a clear spring day.  The blast created from the lateral uncorking of the mountain and subsequent release of pressurized gasses could be heard as far away as Idaho and Northern California. The collapse of the entire north flank of the mountain caused the largest landslide debris avalanche in recorded history of man and sent a wall of molten rock, ice and water downhill at over 150 miles per hour with enough force to climb 1500 foot ridges over four miles away.  Prevailing winds carried a dark cloud of dust eastward over the crest of the Cascade Mountains blanketing Eastern Washington towns with up to 2 inches of fine volcanic ash.

Washington went into a state of emergency and municipalities from around the region sent personnel, equipment and services to the most heavily impacted areas of the state.  My Dad was working as a heavy diesel mechanic for Snohomish County in the early 1980s and the fleet was sent over the mountains to help clean-up the mess.  As the vehicles went, so went my Father.

In all likelihood Dad was only gone from home a week, but that is a hell of a long time when you are only two-years old.  The experience was profound enough to etch a memory in my brain that I can recall like it was yesterday 33 years later as I pedal my sorry ass and a pair of skis up the last steep miles of Forest Service Road 83 towards Saint Helens in the waning evening light.

Earn your turns.

I am anything but a good skier, but I think I might be starting to wrap my head around why folks prefer to hike a hill over taking a lift to the top.

The ethos seems similar to one I was raised with; work before play.  Like life, grinding your way slowly uphill is not always the most enjoyable part of a journey.  But in the struggle and pain of the ascent often lie the greatest opportunity for learning and growth.  The steeper and longer the climb, the sweeter and more joyful the coast.

Jen and I have been climbing hard for quite a while and are getting ready for the downhill ride of our young lives.  Over the last nine years we have built careers, a home, and set roots in a community of people that have become family to us.

On July 1st, 2013, with a deep sense of joy, a true sadness and overwhelming excitement Jen and I will depart the Front Door for one year to do a little exploring around this great planet of ours. The plan is rough, but the commitment is strong and no matter what happens, we ride from here.

High entertainment value.

Quarter to noon on a Thursday at the Fat Moose Bar & Grill in Woodland, Washington.  I am not quite lost but trust that a short conversation with a small town barkeep might save me a little time and effort on my journey back to Kelso.  A cold beer on a hot day sounds pretty good as well.  Armed with verbal directions, a mental map and a slight buzz I step outside into the sun.  Two old boys dressed in their best for the pre-happy-happy-hour specials examine my rig.  

Them waterskis you got there son? one pipes up.

No sir, they are snow skis.  I responded with earnest and respect in my voice.

The both shake their heads in disbelief and shuffle slowly towards the front door.

You're a hell of a long way from any snow boy.  The taller one snickers over his shoulder as he holds the door for his compadre.  They continue to giggle as the door slams behind them.

I smile and saddle my bike, happy to provide these men a story from the bar different from the bullshit that usually comes home on Thursday afternoons.


The large roadside sign reads:

What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the world and lose his own soul?  Mark 8:36

Historically and culturally I am a Christian.  My Dad taught me how to play Bingo during his rotation for Sunday School, my vacation Bible camps were taught by a First Nations Chief in a Tepee,  I have been baptized and Jesus is Just Alright with Me.  I figure I've got my bases covered, but have always had really hard time putting my name on any brand of mass conformity.  People in power have a unique way of fucking up and twisting anything truly sacred in this world, and faith is a private matter anyhow.  This is likely all you will ever hear me say about the issue.

Country roads can be a lonely place and the sign got me thinking about things a little though.  Mark the Apostle seems like a decent enough fella, although rumor has it that he turned tail when shit hit the fan on his first world tour for Jesus.  I can't decide if he was really smart or just lacked conviction.

In any case a few of his philosophical meanderings resonate with me and think that he actually might be on to something with this one here.  I am no biblical scholar, but think Mark 8:36 can easily be translated to The best stuff in life really isn't stuff, or The shit you own eventually ends up owning you.

Seems like an awful lot of folks these day work themselves silly to afford big houses and fancy toys that they never have time to enjoy because they are so busy earning money to pay for them.  I am not here to judge, but feel like if we all spent a little more time appreciating what we have instead of trying to collect more of it, the world may be a little happier place.  

Highlight of the week.

Jenny is fast asleep;  a six AM wake-up call on the beach, forty-five miles of hilly terrain and a beer are the best sleep medicine a doctor can order for a girl who has trouble getting quality shuteye.  

The ridge of high pressure over the Pacific Northwest has collapsed and the wind is blowing hard outside; my spring break is drawing to a close as raindrops beat off the skylights above my head.   

Jenny's question drives hard at me as the cursor blinks against the white of the screen. 

What was your highlight of the week Matt?

A small snip of bourbon, another bite of ice cream and I close the screen and sit content in the dark.  

When you had a week as good as mine, you just don't need to pick out the best part.

Living the Dream,


 Bike love at the Front Door in Greenwood.

Rails are fair game in the FDA and I love the Amtrak Cascades.   Edmonds, WA.

 The Amtrak Cascades runs the Interstate-5 corridor from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, OR and provides reasonable access for a motivated bicycling alpinist.

Yale Lake Reservoir, Lewis River, WA.

The highway ends and the forest service road begins.  Ten miles and 2000 feet to climb before I sleep. 

A peek just before the lights go out motivates me for another hour of hard climbing. 

Peel a layer, stick the skins, and sunscreen up.  

The man, the myth, the legend Cliff Leight charges up the frozen slopes on the southern flank of Mount Saint Helens.

The Luscious Light Bar by Jenny Hurst.  By far the best adventure fuel I have ever eaten.  

Mom, don't look at this photo. Photo credit Cliff Leight

Gazing across a mile wide crater, it is hard to imagine the amount of energy released when Mount Saint Helens blew its top.

 D. Rainey enjoying the payoff.

 Tres Amigos.  Much to the relief of my lovely wife, Darren and Cliff met me at the trailhead for the ski.

 Cougar attack, Cougar, WA.

 LeLooska Cultural Center, Ariel, WA.  Much to my disappointment,  nobody spoke the Chinuk Wawa here.

 Dennis Eli of Eli Creations.  Dennis took the time to show me where he got smashed between two storage containers on his property a couple years ago nearly popping his eyes out of his head.    He sells hand made wooden flutes and various other Native memorabilia out of a Tepee on Highway 503.  An interesting stop if you are in the neighborhood.   

I know this girl who really loves water, sunshine...

 and her husband's hairy face.

 Another terrible day in the Emerald City.

Mount Rainier from the Puget Sound. 

 Where did you wake up Saturday morning?  Fay Bainbridge Park is one of the best overnight FDA destinations within striking distance of Seattle.  

The Front Door to the Front Door.  Dad Hurst, this one is for you, slowly but surely the walkway is coming together.  


  1. I keep promising myself to never again use the word epic, but somehow stupendous sounds silly. So...


    You crammed more living into this post, more reflection and appreciation of life and your surroundings, family and friends than can be immediately processed. I find myself wishing it were in print form so I can look at it before falling asleep tonight.

    Good work, in every sense of the word. It would be an honor to one day tip a glass and share a ride with you.


  2. A fine compliment my friend and I am flattered. The day of ride sharing and glass tipping might not be far off. The Mrs. and I are taking a little tour in the near future and aim to hit your neck of the woods in November.
    I'm buying the first couple of rounds.