Caryl and Brian's World Bike Tour

Ganges, BC to Potlatch, WA

Back Home Up Next


Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 20:28:02 -0400

Copyright (c) 1996 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.

Chapter 29 - Aug 31 to Sept 14 Ganges, BC to Potlatch, WA - 10,930 miles cumulative

In every long adenture there comes a time for rest. So we decided to take off of the bikes in the Seattle region. It was a bit tough to make that decision, though. Our bigget question, would a week delay us enough to force us to ride too hard later on. But, the ride through Alaska, the Yukon, and north B.C. was tough. We both wanted a rest. So upon reaching Anacortes we managed to find ourselves a little rental car within about 1/2 hour. It was a little Ford Escort station wagon. Amasingly, with little pushing, shoving, and grunting we managed to pile everything in. Looking much like one of those families with a far over stuffed car, headed out on a long vacation we took off to Seattle.

First order of business was to see something we've been wanting to see each of the previous 3 times we've visited Seattle, the Boeing factory. 90 minute tours of the 747 assembly building are given Monday through Saturday. Although Boeing Seattle used to manufacture all their own components, their role today is primarily final assembly. Finished parts, fuselage, empenage, wings, nose and cockpit, are recieved from vendors world wide. Vendors in 44 states and 14 countries contribute. Even the Boeing Wichita plant gets involved. I had to wonder who the remaining 6 states are. Alaska perhaps? How about Wyoming?

We climbed aboard a very luxerious bus for the short hop to the assembly. We walked for about 10 minutes down a brightly lit conduit tunnel running the full length, underneath the building and still stopped only half way through to take the elevator. The elevator dropped us off at an upper level "cat walk" where we could overlook several tage in the assembly; nose cone assembly, wing to wing stub and then root fuselages attachment, finl addition of the rest of the fuselage and tail, and then the interior and other bits and pieces. Now perhaps the most impressive aspect of this entire process is not the plane, which is a major engineering accomplishment in itself, but the building. When measured by volume, this is the larget building in the world, 250,000,000 cubic meter (not feet, meters). To give some perspective of its size, while n the cat walk we looked directly down on the nearly completed assmebly of one 747-400. Off to the left were three more stations each having one set of wing and the wing root structure. Behind were four or five assembly stations for the nose cone and forward fuelage. And way off to the right were three stations where fully assembled 747s sit while the interior finihing touches are added. The distance to the plane itting inthe final assembly spot was so large it actully appeared to bbe significntly smaller than the one directly below. An optical illusion as they were the same model. Now keep in mind 747s can fit over 400 passengers. The fuelage alone ha a 24 ft diameter and the wing span is something like 350 ft. So just having so many fully assmebled 747s in one building is amazing.

But....that's not all. We got to see perhaps only 1/2 to 1/3 of the entire building. The rest of the building was dedicated to the assembly of not just one, but two of Boeing's other planes, the 757 and 767. We didn't get to go anywhere near this part of the plant. The building in its entirite is truly a testement to the ability of architects and engineers of today.

We learned a few other odds and ends about the Boeing Company. It currently has about 105,000 employees but will be expanding to 115,000 by the end of the year to meet an expanded 747 demand. In another one of those huge aerospace consolidation efforts, Boeing recently purchased the Rockwell LA division. This now places Boeing in charge of the shuttle as well as being the prime contractor on the space station. They did say that the Rockwell facility will probably remain in LA, but the addiional 25,000 employees have as yet to be added to the 115,000 employee count. It sure seems that the aerospace industry is quickly becoming a world of only giant companies, such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. It takes them about 5 months to assemble a 747 to its basic configuration and 11 months for the entire cycle. They have the capacity to build about 21 planes per year and, should you want to do a little shopping, they cost a mere $180,000,000. We just opted for a Boeing baseball cap for $8.45.

Our stop in the Seattle area once again involved running around to purchase equipment, chains, tires, some clothes to replace ones that where getting holes, and once again we had to reevaluate our tent selection. Don't get me worng, we really, really liked our Marmot Bastille. It was roomy, great in rain, and incredibly solid in a high wind. Also, it's construction was excellent. It did have one small design flaw that started our rethinking, after just 6 weeks we experienced a zipper blow-out. In the lower corner of the door the zipper makes a real sharp curve. Flat curves are just something zippers aren't meant to do. Simply changing the zipper to a single, gradual curve would quickly eliminate this problem. Since we don't have the capability to make such a change we opted to try another tent.

Once again we pent hours, setting up every tent in the REI store, climbing in like small children, opening a,d closing zippers, and weighing the options. We were real tempted to just try another Marmot, but Brian still wanted to reduce the weight. Since he carries the tent it's his choice. The Bastille with everything, poles, stakes, ropes, bag, and footprint, weighs about 9 to 9 1/2 lbs. Wanting to stay with the high quality Marmots, we tried the Nutshell. But its strange, nonsymmetrical shape seemed too confining. So we finally elected a North Face Lunar Fire. This is a symmetric 3 pole tent that is quite high in the front, but very low at the foot. It seemes to be of good quality, has only 3 zippers one having a fairly large radius circular shape. The vestibule size is reasonable, it has two very large inernal pockets and a custom mesh loft can be purchased to add more room. They've places velcro material at the locations where the poles cross, so our concern about poles rubbing through the pole sleeve (which happened on our Sierra Designs Meteor Lite) may be unfounded. Currently our only concern is that this tent may not be as stable as we'd like in high winds. But, we do have ideas for additional tie-downs that could take care of that. It just seems like we're field testing every tent that REI carries, sort of like Goldilocks and her porridge. One of these days we'll find one that's just right.

One other thing we picked up was a cover for our new lantern. The Coleman Co. generously sent us one of their small Peak I backpacking lanterns when we sent them a long letter giving suggestions for a lighter version. Through our long winter in Florida we discovered that living with a 2 1/2 W Petzel light simply was not acceptable. For a week or so it's fine. But month after month we found we really wanted more light. With darkness happening at about 5pm, spending 5 hours with minimal lighting gets old fast. This little Coleman lantern will be a big help. It's literally a miniturized, one mantle version of their large lantern, you know those famous green lanterns that last at least 100 years or more. This little lantern fits in a backpack pocket and runs on unleaded gas. It's perfect for our needs. It weighs 2 lbs including fuel, 2 lbs well worth carrying.

After 2 days running around, we finally hit the road toward Mount Rainier National Park for a few days of a different sort of leg exercise, hiking. Mt. Rainier is one impressive snow capped monolith that literally towers above all else around. I recall flying into the SeaTac airport on different occasions. Off to the west this enormous mountain appears to dwarf even the surrounding 7,000 ft mountains, making them appear as no more than rolling green hills. At 14,710 ft this towering giant stands alone.

Mt Rainier is covered by the largest ice field and the most number of glaciers of any mountain in the contiguous U.S. It has more than all mountains of the Cascade range put together, which could spell disaster someday as I will explain later. It was first scaled in 1893 by two men and by the first woman in 1899. I did have to giggle at the appearance of the woman's climbing costume. Black knee length boots, legs covered by huge, baggy, dark bloomers looking more like a long skirt cynched in by elastic at the bottom, and a huge thigh length coat covering everything. It looked almost like she was wearing a bustle underneath it all. Compare this to today's rock climbers who wear not much more than spandex tights and a short top. And this lady was even considered quite scandalous for her time.

Mt. Rainier offeres something for everyone. There are the grass and flower covered alpine meadows with bits of snow even in the late summer months, the hushed pine needle covered grounds under old growth forests of western hemlock and red ceder, challenging peak climbs that include difficulties rivaling those found on Everest, lakes and ponds for trout fishing, and hundreds of trails for exploring. I can easily see why this park, the fifth created in the country, is such a popular destination.

Fortunately we chose to visit after school was back in session. We've found that our overall park experience changes dramatically after the kids are back in school. During summer, parents and kids seem to frantically rush around trying to squeeze in as much sight seeing as humanly possible in 2 weeks. Parking lots and campgrounds are full, cars are everywhere, and lines upon lines are formed for everything. Everyone is anxious, impatient, rushed, and often angry and tired. The air bristles with a tenseness felt even by those of us who aren't in such a hurry. After the Labor Day weekend, all that changes. Literally overnight the atmosphere calms and relaxes. People wander, pause, reflect rather than rush. There's a library like silence as people try to respect the enjoyment other's have in the sounds of nature. There's time to pull up a rock to read, draw, or just watch. It's a grand time to visit the parks.

>From the snowy heavens and lush green forests of Mt. Rainier we returned to the smoggy, hurried I-5 to head to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Folks who are older than, say, 25 (we won't mention any names) can easily recall the news photos showing the colapse and explosion of the mountain or the sights of the downwind towns trying to shovel inches deep piles of fine, dusty silicon with snow shovels and snow plows, or the day turned to pitch black night in a matter of minutes, or the people running through the streets with filter masks. It was an event of global impact few will see again in their lifetimes ...... or will they?

At 8:32 AM May 18, 1980 the world was stunned by the view of the most dramatic displays of Mother Nature's awesome power, the explosion of Mt St Helens. Yet few of us realize that the erruption, which lasted a matter of minutes, was actually a chain reaction of some 5 individual events. Up until about 7 weeks earlier, the mountain had been peacefully sleeping for 123 years. Suddenly, in March, a small earthquake (3.1 on the Richter scale) was measured. At first this did not cause much alarm. But the earthquakes continued and gained in strength which clearly indicated something was happening.

By early April scientists, and a boatload of volcano watchers, had descended upon the mountain as the earthuakes continued to build. Thousands of people pulled up in their cars and campers, yanked out their lawn chairs, and waited to see what would happen next. Even entrepeneurs got into the act with T-shirt and other volcano souvenir sales. Isn't amazing just how quickly these T-shirt sales people will appear at any well publicized event. They must just magically make all those shirts virtually overnight. They all came, ignoring warnings of danger and peril like gawkers watching an auto wreck on the highway.

In late April the mountain finally started errupting with a huge chasm opening in the summit and pillars of steam and dust blasting from the top. The surrounding forest service lands and campgrounds as well as several homes were declared to be either in the "red zone" in most danger or the "blue zone" not so much danger. The red zone extended about 5 miles from the summit and the blue zone another 5. To the general, volcano watching public the mountain appeared to have settled into a relatively harmless series of earthquakes and dust expulsions. So the Forest Service was having a very difficult time convincing the public of the necessity of keeping the grounds off-limits. But, the scientists new better. Near the end of April they started seeing an enormous bulge developing on the "north flank". The cause of the bulge was magma in a semi liquid, semi solid state moving up the core displacing the weakest side of the mountain in the process. The scientists knew that all this mountain material of rock, dirt, ice and snow sitting on this plastic magma would easily sluff off if the mountain did no more than move. So the scientists watched as the bulge grew to be about 1/2 mile wide, 1 mile long, and 500 ft high.

Meanwhile, the public was getting restless. People with homes in the red zone wanted to get into the area to remove some of their belongings. The YMCA and Scouting organizations had had the opportunity to remove their things from around Spirit Lake, so private homeowners felt they should also get the chance. So on May 17 a caravan of 50 trucks, led by the State Patrol, went to within 5 miles of the summit and if the mountain stayed quiet, another sortie would be shceduled for May 18th.

Dawn, May 18 found the mountain in a relatively quiet state. All siesmic activity had subsided, the air was still, and the sky a clear blue. It looked to be a fine day. But at 8:32 AM the earthquake the scientists had awaited happened. At 5.1 on the Richter scale it wasn't much compared to those occurring in S. Calif. But it was enough to knock off that bluge. From his perch up on a ridge just in front of and only 5 miles from the mountain, a young and very excited geologist, named Johnston, radioed in "Vancouver, Vancouver This is it!" The devastating chain of events had started.

First came the landslide as literally half of the mountain slid downhill. We were told that the amount of material involved would equal one ton of dirt, rock, and ice for every man, woman, and child on the planet, about 4.5 billion tons. This makes it the largest landslide ever in recorded (get that point ... RECORDED) history. In a matter of seconds the mountain's height was reduced from 9677 ft to 8363 ft.

The next event, not predicted by scientists, was a huge lateral blast. As the mountain side slid down the semi solid magma that caused the bulge was exposed. Magma is a combination of liquid rock and pressurized gas. As long as it's contained it remains stable. But once exposed it behaves much like a partially frozen can of soda that is vigorously shaken and then opened. Being sort of solid it's more difficult for the gas to escape. So it doesn't just fizz, it explodes. Sizzling hot gas and rock came blasting out the side of the mountain at speeds up to 700 mph, quickly overtaking the landslide. This caused a strange impact on Spirit lake just in front of the explosion. The blast reached the lake first and quickly expelled all the water up onto the sides of the surrounding ridges. The landslide came and filled in the bottom of the lake. The water splashed back resulting in a highly revised lake, 200 feet higher and much larger. You might call this a major design modification. Some folks may remember an old coot named Harry Truman. He became famous because he refused to leave his lodge on Spirit Lake. He, his lodge, and his cats are now some 200 ft below dirt. Also the geologist, Johnstone, was poitioned on a ridge just in front of the mountain. The blast and landslide also covered his camp as it whoshed up the ridge and bounded into the next valley. Johnston Ridge now carries his name as a memorial.

After the lateral blast released the internal pressure the erruption could behave more normally with a huge vertical mushroom looking cloud of ash. This cloud rose to a spectacular 40,000 ft, getting caught in the west to east trade winds. Ash flowed east dropping for hundreds of miles like snow, wrapping itelf around the globe not just once, but twice. Some of you may recall the jesting bumper stickers; "Don't come to Washington, it will come to you."

Finally there were the pryoclastic flows and lahars. Pyroclastic flow is the flow of the hot magma and gas down the side of the mountain. Lahar is an Indian word for mudslide. The magma that was sitting in the core quickly followed the landslide down the hill. Remember the landslide was composed of rock, dirt, and ICE. Being moved into a much lower, warmer area and then being exposed to that hot blast and the pyroclastic hot magma, the ice quickly melted causing an enormous mudslide. Fortutiously a National Guard helicopter happened to be flying over the upper landslide area looking for survivors. Instead they saw this enormous wall of mud traveling at about 75 mph down the hill. They quickly flew back down the Cowlitz river, their speakers blaring telling everyone to head for the hills. Most people headed the warnings. But a few couldn't believe they were in danger as they were over 20 miles away. How wrong they were. The mud flowed down the river, tore out bridges, threatened even the I-5 bridge, and even ended up clogging the shipping lanes of the mighty Columbia river. Al in all, the mudslide probably caused the most amount of damage.

When that day was done 57 people were dead or missing, the damage was in the billions of dollars, and the landscape for miles around was irrevocably changed. Since then, life has returned to nearly normal along the Cowlitz and surrounding towns. Logging companies were able to salvage some of their timber on their private lands, the Corps of Engineers has been taking measure to prevent foods and mudslides due to the new lnadscape, and a new National Volcanic Monument has been created to allow some of the devastated area recover naturally and to give us a better view into the makings of a volcano. The mountain was somewhat busy until 1986 building a new dome in the gaping cavity, 1200 ft high and 1 sq mile in area. Then it fell silent once more. Snow now collects behind the dome and soon a new icefield with glaciers will form. But if the mountain should once again wake and move, this new ice pack will once again cause a mudslide.

So what about Mt Rainier? Mt Rainier, being part of the "Ring of Fire" surrounding the Pacific, last errupted about 2500 years ago. Consequently it's been cooling and the internal rock is severely fractured. Also, if you look at photos of its peak you can see a ring around the crater that's not covered in snow. It is continuously venting hot, sulfer dioxide gas. Sulfer dioxide erodes rock. As one ranger put it; "It's rotting from the inside." So if Mt Rainier should just move a little all this loose, fractured rock could come tumbling down, the largest ice field in the contiguous U.S. could melt, and a mud slide far larger than that from St. Helens could happen. In fact most of the shoreline of Puget sound is the product of one such mudslide from Rainier. When could this happen? Any time and with as little as 24 hours advance warning. So, all you folks in the Seattle area, have you checked your homeowner's insurance for volcano damage?

On a more positive, less destructive note, our lat top before leaving the car back in Anacortes was the Chittenden Locks right in the heart of Seattle. Located just to the east of Puget sound lay lakes Washington and Union. In the late 1800s Lake Washington presented quite a barrier to logging and mining industries. Fruits of their labor had to be hauled overland around the lake before being put on ship in the sound. So the city dreamt of building a canal suitable for ocean going vessels linking Washington lake with Puget sound. Even one ambitious, but perhaps naive, fellow tried to build the canal by hand with his own pick and shovel. It wasn't until the early 1900s that the U.S. government stepped in with funding for the project. They would provide $2 million for the locks if the local government would pay for the canal. So building began in earnest around 1906. It was supervised by a general from the Corps of Engineers named Chittenden. This was to be Chittenden's last COE project so he really wanted to make a good contribution. His three most important changes:

1. Put in one lock between Union Lake and the sound instead of two with the extra one being between Union and Washington. This rised the level of Union and lowered Washington.

2. Have two parallel locks, a small one and a large one. He figured the majority of craft would be of the small variety. So why use all that energy to open and close a huge lock when it wasn't necessary.

3. Use concrete locks rather than wood so it would last longer.

As the locks approach their 100th year of continuous use it's easy to see that Chittenden's decisions were correct.

Surrounding the locks were some beautiful gardens that had been the dream of a man named English. I love gardens and could spend hours and hours wantdering through them, as long as I don't have to do the maintenance. As I read the history of Mr. English I thought about my grandfather. With a degree from the College of Forestry in Syracuse, he worked for and eventually was in charge of the Buffalo City parks. I couldn't help but wonder if there may be some plaque commemorating his years of service to the city of Buffalo. Probably not as we surly sould have heard about it. But I will always remember his comment, when looking at my pathetic early tenage effort to grow a backyard vegetable garden; "If this were in my gardens I assure you there would be no little weeds left." He was a perfectionist when it came to his gardens and I suspect Mr. English was the same way.

We returned the car to Anacortes and once again headed on our south to San Diego. It really is amazing, even after such a short break from riding we both felt ready and almost anxious to get back to it. I suppose this just shows that the bicycling addiction has not worn out. But it always surprises me how quickly the muscles lose their endurance. Small hills that only a week earlier we'd bound right up and over seemed like minor mountains. If there were only some way to conserve that physical conditioning for later. Can't we just put it in some fitness bank to call up at any later time. No way, sigh.

Fully aware of how wet and rainy the Olympic penninsula can be, we planned our route to stay on the east side of the mountains theoretically in the rain shadow. We cruised along Whidbey Island's easy rolling hills. It's a pretty island with a quiet lifestyle and a fair amount of tourism. There are still several farms in the valleys between the hills with farm houses dating from the late 19th century. In fact, the central section of the island has been set aside as the first ever National Historic Reserve. Established in 1978, it is intended to preserve a community whose basic characteristics and culture provides a continual link to its late 19th century settlement. But, I must admit we had a hard time really understanding its purpose. Theoretically they work with island athorities to ensure the character of the island doesn't change much in the future. But why Whidbey Island? Why not some of the incredible towns in the east that have even more history? Why can't they achieve the same purpose simply through zoning regulations? Why are my Federal tax dollars being spent on this? I had a lot more questions on the need for this reserve after reading all the signs than I did to start.

Of more interest are the three 1890s forts built to guard Admiralty Inlet, the only inlet to Puget Sound that could be navigated by 19th century ships. Ft Casy on Whidbey Island along with Fts Worden and Flagler on the Olympic penninsula formed an impenetrable triangle of defense for the inlet. As we walked toward the battteries of Ft. Casey we overcome with the feeling that we've been here before. Yet we both know that wasn't true. The ugly cement walls, reinforced steel doors, overhead lifting devices, all of it looked familiar. Of course, those forts we saw last December guarding Mobile bay in Alabama had virtually the identical construction. Built at about the same time for the same type of 10 inch disappearing guns it's no wonder they used essentially the same type of construction. We were relieved that our feeling of deja-vu had a real cause. So we haven't entirely lost our minds, at least not yet.

All the time we spent on the Casiar highway and much of the time we were in Alaska and on the AlCan we were not able to get any weather information. There simply was no CNN weather channel, newspapers were days old by the time they'd reach the roadhouses, and local radio was nonexistant. When we got to Washington we suddenly found weather information everywhere and we did not like what we saw. Weather maps all showed that characteristic fall cold front series with their cruel, jagged south pointing teeth reaching into the heart of the country and coming across the west coast. The rain accompanying the fronts quickly dropped the snow level from 6,000 to 5,500 ft. We kept getting wet day after day. But this is not the Casiar. There are places we can duck into when the sky breaks open, motels that aren't too expensive we can stay in, and laundrymats we can use to dry things out. So with a little looking ahead and planning we think we can make it to dry California without getting too fed up.

Appendix A - Route

British Columbia

Ferry Salt Spring Island to Swartz Bay Ferry Sidney BC to Anacortes


Car around Seattle area return to Anacortes Rt 20 spur east from Anacortes Rt 20 south to Whidbey Island Ferry to Pt. Townsend Rts. 20, 19, and Center Rd to Quilsene Rt. 101 to Potlatch

Appendix B - Campsites

British Columbia

McDonald Prov. Park near Sidney ($)


Motel 6 Everett($), Motel 6 Isaquagh ($), Kanaskat Palmer State Park ($), Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock Campgrounds in Mt. Rainier Park ($), Ike Kinswa State Park ($), Lake Pleasent RV Park ($), Deception Pass State Park 2 nights ($), Ft. Worden St Park ($), Jefferson Co. Campground, Potlatch State Park ($)

($) indicates fee camping


Copyright 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.



We'd like to thank my father, Charles Johnson, whose diligent mail forwarding and other logistical support make this journey far easier than it could be otherwise.


Wendy Strutin Riedy for archiving the newsletters on her WWW site,

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