Adventure Log: Mt. St. Helens (and jury duty)

April 14, 2021

It happens every year. My sister adventure blogger starts posting about her 3:30 AM risings to drive for hours to snow-free trails closer to my house than to hers. While she’s on the road, I’m sitting at my desk by the electric fireplace writing about my parents’ war and waiting for the rising sun to cast its alpen glow on my distant mountain.

I start feeling like a slug and thinking maybe I won’t even want to hike this year at all, because I have no motivation now. Then I remember to ask myself, “Where is the evidence that will be the case?” There is no evidence. I’ll know when it’s time. One day the weather, my calendar, and my enthusiasm for the adventure will align, and I’ll be ready. It happens every year. Also, it’s not a competition.

On Sunday, this happened:

The family was with me until Wednesday; and it appeared I really was, finally, going to have to report for jury duty. I started praying to be excused, so I could find a trail on Thursday. Masked up, I walked into the cavernous fairgrounds building—the Covid-friendly courthouse alternative—at 8:45 Wednesday morning and was given the randomly assigned Juror #80 badge. The bailiff ushered me to my seat, one of some 100 chairs spaced six feet apart. He told those in the section at the end of the room there was something seriously wrong if we got asked any questions. My hike seemed to be a go.

I watched the video about my civic duty and how it would all go, listened to the judge’s instructions, raised my right hand and took the oath, and sat through voir dire for two and a half hours; first, questions for all of us (the balliff was mistaken), then individual questions to the first twenty jurors. “If you go to bed and there is no snow but when you wake up there is, what do you conclude?” It was a question about circumstantial evidence. I felt like I was watching an episode of “Bull.” I wondered if those questioned felt like they were taking an exam on material not covered in class. I was glad not to be in the front row.

I struggled to understand the questions with my diminished hearing (I need to make that audiology appointment—but I can’t this month because . . . jury duty), speakers wearing masks, microphones, crappy acoustics. It was very frustrating and I felt old. And then I was dismissed, as expected.

The family was gone when I got home, the last scheduled time both boys would be here. I’d moved downstairs for the seven and a half months of Pandemic School and online work, and given the moms my bed. It was time to reclaim my bedroom and ready the Airbnb space for reopening next weekend—and a reservation for it just came in. I spent the afternoon moving, making trail bars, and repacking my knapsack—including washing my brand new, non-leaking water bladder with an intact mouthpiece.

I’m up at 4:30 and at the coffee kiosk at 5:05, five minutes behind schedule. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes to Elk Rock viewpoint on the way to Mt. St. Helens’ from which to watch the sun come up over the ridge. But I’ve forgotten both that goal and how long it takes. I also make a wrong exit from the interstate. Or, more accurately, my orange Rogue is on autopilot and my brain is not engaged to overrule her. Our more traveled route, later in the season when the snow melts, is to Mt. Rainier and the back side of St. Helens, one exit before the one I want. That error costs me ten minutes.

I spend the drive half listening to a recorded book while thinking about options for my next legacy writing project and running through my ideas for marketing my memoir next year. My WWII letters book is wending its way toward the printing process. There are many projects to replace it, but I probably should get cracking on the memory book I volunteered to do (what was I thinking?) for my pandemic-postponed fiftieth high school reunion. Geez, I am old.

Mt. Rainier across Cowlitz Prairie
Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens from Elk Rock viewpoint

I stop at Coldwater Lake for the bathroom and to watch the sun coming up over the water, then cross the bridge to the Hummocks Trail loop. I have seen not a single car after Toledo, the last town. And none on the road there either, residents were still in bed. There is one car in the trailhead lot.

Coldwater Lake

Hummocks is an easy loop trail, but I take the other fork first, thinking I’ll walk the Boundary West trail to the foot of the cliff then backtrack to the loop trail. I forgot about the upshit through the alder copse that comes before the cliff. By the time I’m winded, on this first hike of the season, I’m committed, so I keep trudging through the uphill loose gravel. There is a lovely sit rock at the top, which I’ve also forgotten about.

While I walk I write and rewrite the beginning of this post in my head, knowing I will forget by the time I sit down to put it on the screen. If the twittering birds could hear the racket in my head they would surely fly farther away. I sit on the rock and write it down so my head will shut up for the rest of the hike.

North Fork Toutle River, the carrier of the rock and ash that formed the hummocks. Enough was dredged out of the river by the Corp of Engineers to build a twelve-lane highway, one foot thick, from New York to San Francisco. Wrap your head around that.

Back at the car, I return to the lake with my trail bar. What a glorious day. The thing about going to St. Helens before there are flowers and before the road to the visitors’ center is open and the more challenging hikes are snow-free, is there is still snow on the mountain. By the time the trails open, this volcano will be nearly bare. Also, no people. I saw one group on the trail, coming toward me near the end. Tiny people and their big people who all pulled their shirts up over their mouths and noses and waved, calling out a cheery “good morning!”

I’m home by 1:00, with energy to do one yard project before I shower then sit on the deck and read, St. Helens gleaming in the distance.

Next up, maybe jury duty again on Tuesday (I surely hope I’m not in the front row), unless they change it, in which case, Adrian duty in Seattle. Adrian, who didn’t want to go home this week and says he’s all in for Camp Gigi without his brother this summer. I can’t wait.

13 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Mt. St. Helens (and jury duty)

  1. Dear Gretchen,

    Here is to one honest, civic-minded, hiker extraordinaire who takes phenomenal photos—thank you for waking us up early for a feast of photos in the spring high country when the rest of us are in the lowlands relishing our tulips and two-inch high pea seedlings. Ann

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Full of admiration for all of it! Waking early, doggedness, commitment, gorgeous trail goals, writing goals, overcoming doubt and trusting your gut, and your special buddy. I also like your shoes, what are they? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, you are so intrepid about getting out there early (and all winter to the preserve). I trust you recognized yourself! But you are right, it just takes one adventure to get the juices flowing. New kiosk people, never saw them before. Hopefully my favorite chickadee isn’t gone. Thanks for the bird ID! AJ makes me smile too. He’s a sweet soul. I hope he will be an adventure buddy some day. He tends to not want to go anywhere once his brother nixes the idea. I need to get him alone as often as possible!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be exploring a brand new trail in a new-to-me place tomorrow. Somehow THAT feels intrepid to me 🙏 Sounds like Camp Gigi with Adrian this year will be a discover-fest !

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this so much. I know that feeling at the beginning of the year when our memory fails to produce the necessary ingredient for adventure season. It takes that first drive before dawn, that first turn when the mountain comes into view, that first step onto the trail. Bliss. The day through your lens looks stunning (and a white-crowned sparrow) ! I’m guessing they missed your early arrival at the coffee kiosk over the winter. May the season of adventure begin in earnest from here. That Adrian makes me smile every time you write about him. He will surely inherit your spirit of adventure !

    Liked by 1 person

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